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The NRS STAR Wonder Bug is a self-bailing raft with a raised floor and a unique tube design that blends a raft with a cataraft. The result is an inflatable that functions like a raft but shares the nimble handling characteristics of catarafts.
To get us a closer look, NRS provided Man Makes Fire with a demo unit. This is what we learned when we took a STAR Wonder Bug setup with an NRS Fishing Frame out for testing and review on the St. Joe River in Idaho:
STAR Bug Series Review
The STAR Wonder Bug is the mid-size raft in the Bug series. NRS offers three length options for its STAR Bug series of rafts:
STAR Lightning Bug – 12’2″
STAR Wonder Bug – 14′
STAR Super Bug – 15′
The oversize tubes and raised floor give you cat-like stability, tracking and rowing. However, the floor gives you the safety and container-like ease of a raft. Is it the perfect blend of cataraft and raft? Maybe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right raft for you — but it could be. Let’s take a closer look.
How’s It Row?
On flat water, the STAR Wonder Bug is fast and easy to row. It spins and tracks well. The 26″ tubes (diminishing to 16″ at the front and back) provide plenty of volume to float you, a couple fishers, and gear. It’s super stable. I didn’t take it over any major rapids — in fact, I spent quite a bit of time dodging low water-level rocks — but it’s capable of handling whitewater.
For fishing, I liked how I could float over low water and scrape the occasional rock but still slide right over. The raised floor and two large-diameter tubes seemed to reduce the amount of material that could come in contact with rocks, making it easier to slide off. For instance, the floor rides above the water.
You’ll get your best performance when the Bug is balanced front-to-back on the water. If you load up the front with a big guy and have a light rower and no one in the back, you can still row easily, but the boat won’t be quite as nimble.
If I were going to run it primarily as a fishing raft, I’d set the rowing position slightly back from center to help compensate for big guys leaning forward against the thigh bars at the front of the raft. Alternately, you could modify your load — or change nothing at all when you’re running with one rower, an angler up front and an angler in the back.
To be clear: I’m not saying the balance is bad, I’m saying that you might be able to notice the difference in performance when you’re not balanced.
Also, when you’re a bit unbalanced, it’s not like the rowing experience gets worse than a raft. It’s just not as sweet as when it is balanced.
The Wonder Bug is stabile and agile — a bit easier than some rafts with more water contact and drag, but not massively so. Let’s put it this way: If I had the choice between a traditional raft of similar size and the Wonder Bug for low-water navigation I’d likely pick the Wonder Bug.
In addition, if you do get hung up in low water and need to exit the boat, the cataract-style tubes let you rock the Bug up and over rocks easier than rafts that have more contact with the water. Obviously there are a ton of variables, including moving water — sometimes all that extra contact can help the current pull a raft off a rock.
Still, that’s not the whole story.
If you’re fishing rivers where you’re getting in and out of the boat a lot, the large-diameter tubes are a bit tougher to step over and scramble around than smaller diameter tubes. I’m a relatively tall guy, so it didn’t bother me much, but I did notice that smaller friends and family had to pay closer attention to entry and exit.
The biggest consideration for me personally is the width of the center compartment — it’s just 24 inches. As a comparison, the center compartment width in a traditional raft is wider — in the STAR Outlaw 142 it’s 37 inches. That gives you a lot more room for bigger coolers, gear, dogs, and simply space for passengers.
If you’re primarily doing day trips with three people, this won’t matter much. If you want to take more people, go on multi-day trips, and/or treat your raft as a float-and-play boat, you’ll want to size up to the STAR Super Bug or consider a more traditional raft like the STAR Outlaw 142 (read our full Outlaw 142 review for more detail).
The overall quality of the STAR Wonder Bug is very good. It’s made from PVC, which is durable and is used in most boats in this price range. The NRS STAR rafts now use welded seams, which makes them more durable and long-lasting.
NRS offers a 5-year warranty on its STAR rafts for retail/consumer use and a 3-year warranty for commercial use.
As for durability, if you’re not familiar with white-water capable rafts, you should know that they are surprisingly durable when it comes to hitting rocks and getting dragged onto rocky shores. It usually takes quite a bit of work to puncture them — they are seriously tough. If you do manage to puncture your raft, it’s usually repairable — often even in the field (and NRS includes a repair kit).
Frames and Fishing Frames
It’s hard to go wrong with NRS frames. They’re lightweight, strong and easy to modify to fit your needs. The NRS website indicates the suggested NRS frame widths for its boats, so that’s the key element you’ll use for orders. The Wonder Bug fits a 54″ wide frame.
You can add an NRS Stern Seat Mount for the back, and then add NRS thigh bars as desired: NRS Frame U-Shaped Thigh Bar or NRS Frame Thigh Bar for up front and/or the NRS Frame Rear Thigh Hook for the back.
The Bug Series doesn’t include thwarts, but if you want to ditch the fishing frame you could add thwarts and paddle it with a crew.
The raised floor includes D-loops that you can strap to the frame to help support it. You can stand on this floor, but for long-term use I recommend that you use the NRS Frame Casting Platform up front and the NRS Frame Rear Casting Platform in the back. Your fishers will get a very durable and stable casting platform — and they work well, by the way.
All-in-all, the NRS STAR Wonder Bug is a capable fishing raft with a cataraft-like tube design. It’s portable, durable, and great to row. If there is a downside to the design, it’s that the center width compartment is narrower than similarly sized rafts that have more traditional tube/floor designs. Still, you can comfortably set it up for two fishers and a rower. Plus, the STAR Bug rafts are all particularly good for navigating rocky rivers in low-water situations. If you like the idea of blending a cataraft with a raft, it’s hard to go wrong with the STAR Bug series. Highly recommended.