tips to make your stand-up fishing from any small craft more fun and effective.
I had just blown my second shot at a tailing redfish. It was March, in the marsh behind Grand Isle, Louisiana, and I was seated in the nose of a small canoe. Local angler and guide Catch Cormier was unimpressed with my failures, and out of exasperation, I turned and asked him, “Mind if I stand?” That proved to be the key, and for the rest of the day we boated fish after fish. From that day forward my eyes were opened. Standing in a canoe—the right canoe—is actually easy, and I soon purchased my own boat and made stand-up fishing from small craft a regular part of my fishing repertoire. The following are ten simple suggestions to improve your solo-craft fishing:
#1 Use a boat with chines.
Most small craft meant for paddling have rounded bottoms to improve their speed. However, boats with chines, or sharp outer edges, are more stable. Old Town Canoes’ Guide series features chines, which make their canoes stable enough to stand in and fish from for an entire day. Likewise, the Gheenoe—a hybrid canoe redesigned by a NASA engineer named Harley Gheen—sports a chined bottom similar to that of a bass boat. A Gheenoe can be stable enough for two anglers to change positions while standing. If you are going to tote a lot of gear or plan to fish with another angler, a larger craft such as a chined canoe or a Gheenoe-style boat is superior to the standard round-chined canoe or sit-on-top kayak.
#2 Consider outrigger pontoons.
Sit-on-top kayaks, however, are unquestionably the premier choice for the angler who fishes alone, particularly if covering a lot of territory is on the agenda. Popular models such as the Wilderness Systems Tarpon (available in 10-, 12-, and 14-foot models) or the Native Kayaks Ultimate (an open-bodied design similar to a canoe in kayak form) offer plenty of deck space, as well as a long, narrow hull that’s designed for fast open-water paddling.
Outrigger pontoons add stability to assist in both casting to and landing fish.
Unfortunately, they are not as stable as a wider canoe, particularly for anglers who are, shall we say, somewhat top-heavy. The solution here is an outrigger pontoon system, such as the one manufactured by Hobie, each about the size of three footballs lined up nose-to-nose. These can be mounted to any brand of kayak and feature a rotating mount so the pontoons can be lifted out of the way during regular paddling, then quickly pivoted into place on the water for additional side-to-side support—ideal for standing. Other manufacturers offer similar alternatives, so shop around.
#3 Use a stand-up paddleboard paddle.
Stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) are all the rage with the playboat set, and they are a lot of fun to use for fishing. While their lack of maneuverability and surprisingly heavy weight makes them less than ideal for river fishing, they’re great for still water fishing. Better still, the SUP movement has given rise to a whole new crop of long-handled paddles, cupped to perfection and often made out of lightweight carbon fiber. These paddles are ideal for stand-up fishing from canoes, Gheenoe-style craft, or even micro-skiffs (small craft with motors). Kayakers can get by with their long paddles, but canoeists will save a lot of rotator-cuff strain by switching to a SUP paddles, which range from basic, affordable models that are simply regular canoe paddles with a longer shaft (most notably made by Carlisle) to high-end, carbon-fiber jobs by companies such as Werner. The high-end paddles can cost in excess of $300 and are probably overkill for river fishing, but do try to locate a cupped model for maximum efficiency.
#4 Don’t force it.
The key to safely floating a moving body of water while standing is to take it easy. Never attempt to cut straight across a strong current. Instead, study the water ahead of you and focus on making small directional strokes rather than trying to move the boat by sheer force. Drift-boat guides teach new oarsmen to “back away from trouble”—this is also good advice for the stand-up fisherman in small craft. Point the nose of your boat at the obstacle you want to avoid and use backing strokes on both sides of the boat as you approach. The push of current will naturally carry you to the other side of the river from the obstruction. In the event that you come to a treacherous section, simply sit and batten down the hatches, then stand when you’re past the obstacle.
#5 Add a pushpole to your quiver.
Guides on saltwater flats use pushpoles to help make stealthy approaches on wary fish. Stand-up anglers can use a pushpole similarly. One inexpensive option is made by Mangrove (affiliated with Temple Fork Outfitters), which is a lightweight carbon-fiber model that comes in 4-foot sections. Assemble the pieces with JB Weld epoxy to a desired length—if one section is too long, you can cut it down to size. Wrap the carbon tube in masking tape where you want to make the cut, then run a hack-saw through the tape. In general, a 10-foot pole is a good length ￼for canoe use, while 12- to 16-feet is perfect for micro-skiffs such as a Gheenoe, especially if you plan to pole from atop a cooler—the poor man’s poling platform.
Storing the pushpole on your canoe or micro-skiff can be problematic, but you can make brackets at home from PVC pipe. Cut three separate 2-inch-long sections from a length of 2-inch- diameter PVC pipe, making rings, then make a single length-wise cut through one side of each ring with a hacksaw. Place the rings in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Heat the PVC for about five minutes or until it’s malleable, then while wearing oven mitts, use basic woodworking clamps to create C shapes and try to make longer, flat tabs on the bottom. Once the brackets cool, coat them with spray paint (or not), and rivet them to the rubrails of your canoe or microskiff with a rivet gun. The front and rear brackets should be open to the inside of the boat, while the middle bracket should be open to the outside—this will “snake” the pushpole between the brackets and lock it into place. I’ve trailered a microskiff at 80 miles an hour cross-country with my pushpole locked in my PVC brackets, with no other means of securing it.
#6 Keep your knees bent.
Stand-up fishing is a lot like snow skiing: Your knees need to act as shock-absorbers in case you hit something—and inevitably you will. With your knees bent, you become part of the boat and can move with the hull rather than against it. If you lock your knees and hit an obstruction, you will keep moving when the boat falters, and you will tip over. Thus, paddling a slight rapid can be much like mogul skiing—bend your knees and shift your weight side to side as needed so you can navigate the rocks and waves. Also, know your limitations. If in doubt, always wear a life vest and a kayaker’s helmet.
#7 Inflatables excel in the surf zone.
When most people think of solo fly fishing craft, the first boat that comes to mind is the one-man pontoon, which is ideal for floating Western rivers from a seated position. Larger models are equipped with a lean bar for anchored stand-up fishing. There is, however, no means to paddle these boats while standing, because their oars are not long enough to reach a standing angler, and being essentially square in shape, they will pirouette if you try to paddle only on one side or the other. I have found that these boats really come into their own in the surf zone, where they are ideal platforms for near-shore fishing for bluefish, redfish, ladyfish, or even the occasional cobia or mackerel. These boats are unsinkable, they sit on top of the water instead of down in it, and their square shape makes for a nice stable platform. Always wear a life vest and plan to get bucked at least once, but with an inflatable, the worst that can happen is a dousing. While standing with both feet on the seat is possible, it’s easier to straddle the seat and place one foot on the rear deck of the boat. Positioned thusly, you’ll be on a surprisingly stable floating dock.
#8 Drag chains for safety.
Drag chains can be controversial as they can destroy underwater habitat. This is especially true in trout streams, but less-so in gravelly or sandy rivers or beach environments. Where appropriate, a bundle of heavy chains attached via carabiner makes the perfect inhibitor—the chains slide over most underwater obstructions rather than getting caught, as a normal anchor would. Adjust the weight of your drag by adding more or removing chains. The advantages of impeding your downstream movements are twofold. It is safer, and also allows you to cover water—pockets, seams, and back eddies—more thoroughly.
In the surf, you might want to clip a pronged sand anchor to the end of your chain bundle. A regular anchor will simply lift off the bottom with wave action and fail to hold you in place, while a sand anchor digs down and keeps you where you want to be.
#9 Use long-handled landing nets.
Often, the most difficult maneuver in a solo craft is landing your catch. With nine-foot or longer fly rods, reaching the fish can necessitate a lot of leaning, which is perilous in a kayak or canoe. The solution is a long-handled net, especially the telescoping kind. First, corral the fish with your long-handled net, then drop to a seated or crouching position to actually bring it in close.
#10 Drop down, not out.
Finally, if you spend enough time in small craft, you will eventually get bucked. Remember to keep your knees bent, and when you encounter the inevitable unexpected bump, the best practice is to drop straight down, rather than locking up and falling over. Generally speaking, the lower you can make your body during trying times, the lower you will render the boat’s center of gravity. A lower center of gravity makes any boat less likely to tip. So, if you basically squat, you will stay within the boundaries of your craft and most likely be able to recover. There will be instances, however, when you won’t be able to recover, so it’s best to plan in advance. Secure your valuables—wallet, cell phones, cameras, smart keys, any electronic device—in waterproof bags that either float on their own or stay attached to your craft. Use waterproof fly boxes that float, and wear a life jacket or at least keep one on top of your gear where you can quickly reach it. And as with all forms of fishing, fish in the company of others for safety’s sake—or at least tell someone when you’re leaving, where you’re going, and when you’ll be back.
Few thrills exceed a “Nantucket sleigh ride” behind a 15-pound striper, dragging you and your canoe.
In some respects stand-up fishing is a young man’s game and not advisable for anyone with balance or health issues. It is also among the more exciting ways to fish and can be a very effective way to reach waters unreachable by wading. Few thrills exceed a “Nantucket sleigh ride” behind a 15-pound striper, dragging you and your canoe. By taking prudent measures, planning in advance, and practicing your standing skills in still water, you too can open whole new horizons to fly fishing. And when compared to being seated in the cramped cockpit of a small canoe, nothing beats unleashing a big cast at a rising fish from the elevated perspective of your properly-equipped solo watercraft.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of American Angler magazine.