For a landlocked state, Colorado is home to a surprising number of boat builders making world-class watercraft. These boutique brands have attracted a cult following among fly-fishermen and sailors from Key West to Washington’s Skagit River—not to mention folks exploring our own state waterways this summer.
At the helm: Craftsman Greg O’Neil constructed wooden boats and repaired yachts before Sage owners Sal and Gail Glesser (who also founded the knife company Spyderco) recruited him to build their line.
Claim to fame: Some of the most meticulously crafted “trailer sailers” (boats that can be easily transported by a road trailer) on the market. The Sage 17 features a hull shape designed for speed and a full carbon-fiber deck that’s light but stiff—perfect for the ocean or Lake Granby. The smaller Sage 15 is built using an innovative vacuum-infused resin composite (rather than fiberglass) that makes it lighter yet stronger than yesteryear’s boats. And with quality metal hardware, Sage boats look as good as they perform.
Annual production: Six to 10 sailboats
The next wave: The SageSport 160 skiff, debuting this summer, can be paddled, rowed, or powered by a motor or sail—and can fit on a car roof. It starts at an estimated $3,000, and O’Neil expects to produce two per week.
Price: $3,000 (skiff) to over $25,000 (sailboat)
At the helm: CEO Tim McMahon, a retired CPA and attorney (and avid angler), bought the company in 2017 after it relocated from Longmont to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Claim to fame: Drift boats made of high-density polyethylene. Sheets of the tough, light plastic are welded together to create a durable white-water rowboat (BBW offers a lifetime guarantee) that rides a few inches higher than most. Designed by company founder Andy Toohey, who still collaborates with McMahon, the maneuverable boats can access shallow, technical streams where less-durable fiberglass models would struggle. The high-end Pro Guide is also a real looker, with gleaming hardwood gunwales and trim.
Annual production: 55 boats
The next wave: The fitting station at BBW’s new Carbondale factory and studio allows designers to optimize oarlock position and other components to suit the rower. Forthcoming models include a shallow-water skiff and a smaller, two-person boat perfect for narrow sections of the Colorado River.
Price: $10,000 and up
HQ: Steamboat Springs
At the helm: Johnny St. John, a former furniture-maker and hunting and fishing guide, was inspired in 1999 by a boat his brother produced for a Titanic exhibit. St. John’s own boats hit the market back in 2003.
Claim to fame: Virtually indestructible drift boats made from high-density polyethylene. St. John’s rotational molding construction method gives them that durability—and accompanying popularity with big-water and expedition paddlers. This month, an adventurous Montana duo will use one for a 1,775-mile trip from Pinedale, Wyoming, to the Gulf of California. The quiet boats win converts among stealthy anglers, too: Flats fishers use the shallow-water skiff, which debuted in 2011, for expeditions in the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. There, its one-inch draft lets it approach fish in shallow hidey-holes.
Annual production: 50 drift boats and skiffs
The next wave: New, customized fittings let boaters adapt the skiff to a range of environments, from poling shallow flats to rowing Colorado trout streams to jetting up rocky Alaskan rivers.
Price: $5,950 (skiff) to $8,700 (drift boat)