Get on board
Stand-up paddleboard fishing is the latest angling craze south of the border. But will it catch on here?
Angler norm Hann grins as he chucks a spinner shoreward to the lee of a pier. The pocket has smallmouth bass written all over it, but until recently such promising fish haunts on Sudbury, Ontario’s Ramsey Lake had been off limits. The reason? Since Hann had no boat, he would’ve had to traipse across private property to reach some of the best shoreline hot spots.
If only I could walk on water, the Sudbury-born schoolteacher turned adventure guide, who moved to B.C. in 1999, remembers thinking three years ago during a visit to his northern Ontario hometown.
That’s when the solution hit him. For several years, Hann had been leading small groups of stand-up paddleboard, or SUP, enthusiasts on excursions down the Inside Passage of the rugged West Coast. And on this particular trip back to Sudbury, he’d brought along his board, intending to explore some local tour possibilities.
Now Hann actually could walk on water—and tackle those hitherto off-limits fishing holes along Ramsey Lake’s shoreline.
“I just love the simplicity of it,” he says of fishing from an SUP. “You just put the board in the water and away you go. It’s so easy and it gives me a tremendous perspective of where the fish are and where to cast.” And along with enabling him to circumvent private property, Hann says his SUP also gets him into places he wouldn’t be able to access with a canoe.
Since that aha moment three years ago, Hann has expanded his paddleboard fishing repertoire to include the Squamish River near his home in B.C. His angling highlight of the past season was a 15-pound coho salmon, caught on the Squamish from his SUP.
Getting the hang of it
Not all anglers, however, share Hann’s enthusiasm for fishing off a board. “Everybody has this image that the boards are tippy,” he says. “But that’s not the case at all with the wider boards that are made for fishing. Once you’ve taken a lesson or two, you become more and more confident.”
Not only that, but contemporary SUP fishing boards are designed for stability and comfort. They’re generally 29 to 35 inches wide, which creates an amazingly stable platform for casting—even for fly casting—as well as for playing fish and paddling. As for length, eight feet is the minimum, as anything less makes for cramped quarters. Boards just over 11 feet are favoured, providing plenty of deck space for gear and rod holders. Anything longer gets too cumbersome to lug around and store.
The weight? About 35 pounds. “You can portage from lake to lake easily because the board is so light,” Hann points out.
That said, there’s a definite learning curve for handling an SUP, so you’ll want to wear swimming gear. Although balance comes quite easily on a wide board, paddling and moving about on it, as well as understanding how the board reacts in choppy water or the wake of passing boats, takes a few sessions.
Making the case for SUPs
No doubt, board fishing isn’t right for every angler. Nor does it suit every situation or purpose. It requires agility, a moderate sense of balance and a decent level of fitness on the part of the angler. And even though Transport Canada insists boarders wear approved PFDs, a natural affinity for water is definitely an asset when you’re perched atop a sleek sliver and surrounded on all sides by water.
So, why bother with SUP fishing? As Hann points out, there’s the issue of access. It also combines the stealth of a kayak or canoe with the advantage of a raised vantage point to spot fish—something that’s convincing more and more anglers in Florida to give boards a try for redfish, sea trout, snook and permit. The same goes for a core group of anglers on Washington State’s Puget Sound, where they prospect for schools of salmon.
As for Canada, SUP fishing has yet to catch on in a big way, but as Norm Hann well knows, the possibilities are many.