A few years ago I decided to try my hand at fishing beyond the breakers, out where the beach-running species were most likely to be. My cousin Jake and I had fly fished the waves of the Gulf Coast for years–mostly catching ladyfish, except in rare circumstances like after Hurricane Ivan, when the bluefish practically came on shore.
Our problem was that there was no good way to fish the waves without taking a few in the face. Even using eight weight rods and shooting heads, it still felt like we were just scratching the surface of the bait trough. We could see bait boiling mere yards beyond our ability to stand and cast. And so I weighed my options.
The canoe/kayak route seemed dangerous. We were fishing within the waves themselves, and swamping was thus a real risk. Stand up paddleboards hadn’t really made the market yet, and besides, there was no good way to anchor them. Finally I hit up a solution: I would bring my one-man pontoon boat.
At first I just planned to kneel while fishing, but once I got out on the waves, I realized that on calm days I could stand. Moreover, once you go just past the surf zone, the risk of a wave overtopping you is almost nil. For stability, I worked out that a chain linked to a fluked sand anchor would keep me in place – the anchor alone didn’t bite into the sand, but the chain kept the points aligned so that it would. (Meanwhile, a regular weighted anchor is practically useless, since wave action simply lifts it up).
Ultimately I became sufficiently comfortable standing to fish in the surf, to the point that I could reliably expect to catch enough bluefish, mackerel and sundry other surf species to feed tacos to a party of 18 for lunch. I love wave fishing – the bite is basically nonstop and you never know what you’re going to catch. In one day south of Gulf Shores, Alabama, I boated bluefish, spanish mackerel, ladyfish, cobia, rainbow runners, other juvenile jacks, sea trout, a small shark, unidentifiable snappers, and a catfish.
In the past I’d always stood on my boat with one foot on the seat and the other on the deck to the rear. It was awkward but it got the job done. Recently, I decided to perform some modifications to my boat — none permanent, since the entire frame bolts together. These are simply add on accessories.
First I modeled the plan. Next I removed the old seat and rear aluminum deck, then measured the available space. It turned out to be twenty-two inches wide by about thirty inches long — a substantial increase in overall deck area for standing and maneuvering. (660 square inches versus about 300 inches–the old rear deck was not large).
After modeling in posterboard, I cut notches for the raft frame risers, so the deck would sit flush with the center panel and so that I could maximize the deck space and leave no gaps.
Finally, I duplicated my posterboard model in 1/2 inch marine plywood, using a standard nine-inch circular saw for the long cuts and a jigsaw for the curves. (I had used the exact same technique to model and build the decks for my Gheenoe). Once I was satisfied with the shape of the deck, I water-proofed it with ordinary polyester-based fiberglass resin, available at Home Depot. This stuff is mixed (carefully) according to the labels on the packaging, then you can simply paint it on and let it cure. Most “all purpose” fiberglass resins dry somewhat tacky to facilitate building up additional layers. You can knock the tack off the final product by waxing with car wax (Turtle Wax worked for me), or you can finish with a more expensive layer of tack-free epoxy if you’re looking for a furniture-grade finish.
I was not, because I planned to cover my deck with foam. I thought about my options and ultimately ended up ordering a generic non-descript “yoga mat” off eBay for about $15. This I cut with scissors (in retrospect I should have used a coffee can to make a punch, as I did to make the screw holes), then I finished up with some Goop adhesive to apply the mat to the deck.
The end result was a reasonably sharp-looking and extremely functional improvement to the classic one-man pontoon. For river use, I purchased a Crazy Creek canoe chair, which I can fold up and stow if I want to stand. And if the deck ever fails me, I can always bolt the old system back on. Bolting my deck on was as simple as aligning the holes and drilling a couple bolt points, then attaching with 1/4 inch flat-headed bolts (the kind with Allen wrench sockets that site almost flush with the deck, also available at Home Depot). For rear support I carefully drilled out slots to accept the pre-existing straps, which wrap over the raft frame from above. This will keep me from accidentally stomping the edge of my deck off if I start to take a tumble.
For more information about stand up fishing in general, check out the May/June 2013 issue of American Angler magazine for my article, “Stand Up, Guys.” I’m a strong believer that better positioning results in better casts and thus more fish. Why handicap yourself?