Diversions

Everything You Need to Know to Get Into Freshwater SUP Fishing

The standup paddleboard trend seems to have been taking over the outdoor space in recent years. It’s hard to venture to a lake, river, or shoreline without seeing the the hefty boards out and about, paddlers easily navigating the water with seemingly effortless strokes. SUPs present a solid workout opportunity, a fun floating option for sunset cocktail hour and a fresh way to tour waterways with friends.

But for a subset of SUP users, these floating boards have also changed up another beloved pastime: fishing.

Photo: Jess McGlothlin Media

Fishing from a SUP is a good idea at times and not at others; just as it’s a fit for some anglers and maybe not the best option for certain users. For both spin fishers and fly anglers, it presents a fresh way to explore waters you may have otherwise cruised right past in the boat. SUPs draft far shallower than the average raft, drift boat or bass boat—often as little as 5 inches with fins—allowing access to water that otherwise is unreachable.

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For reasonably fit paddlers with moderately good balance who are navigating still or slow-moving waterways, paddleboards are a highly-mobile fishing platform. It’s surprisingly easy to pick up the paddling stroke, and with the option to drop to one’s knees in turbulent water, there’s no reason to be intimidated by trying out a SUP for the first time.

There are many paddleboard iterations on the market today: from surf hybrids, fishing-specific boards, fitness-minded SUPs and even gigantic, eight-person mega boards. And all paddleboards fall within one of two categories: either inflatable or hard (sometimes called fiberglass or epoxy boards).

Inflatable SUPs have grown in popularity over the past several years, and for good reason. Deflated, they typically roll up to fit into a large backpack, offering easy transportation and storage. The sheer displacement of the boards means they’re quite stable (wider or thicker board are even more so), and they are highly durable, showing impressive tolerance for accidental bumps into rocks on the river. Think about rowing a raft versus a hard-sided drift boat; the raft will fare better when you rub that hidden rock in the middle of the river.

SUPs and rafts wait on the edge of a river.Photo: Jess McGlothlin Media

Hard boards, obviously not quite as easy to transport or store as their inflatable brethren, are slightly more agile and offer better glide—important for fitness enthusiasts and touring SUP users. Offering better speed and a more efficient ride at long distances, many hard boards can be used for SUP surfing as well.

For anglers, however, inflatable boards are the overwhelming trend, largely due to their stability and ease of transport. For fishing, look for an inflatable board with a planing hull—the front of the board will appear wide and flat (with no V-shape on the bottom of the board), which provides stability and good maneuvering.

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In contrast, displacement hulls have a pointed nose and contoured bottom, and while they slice through the water more easily, offering improved energy and a faster ride, they are slightly less stable for the back-and-forth fishing.

Woman on stand-up paddleboard navigates the John Day River in Oregon.Photo: Jess McGlothlin Media

Many new SUP anglers are so concerned with the thought of falling in that they disregard gear organization on the boat. The last thing you want is for a high-end rod to be tipping off the side of your board or underfoot as you’re trying to paddle. Several brands offer suction-on rod mounts, designed to ride on the front of the board and hold your rod in a forward vertical position, keeping it out from underfoot and safely secured until you need it. It’s a worthwhile investment for both ease of use and peace of mind.

Invest in a good waterproof bag or case (I favor the YETI Hopper Flip 12 Cooler) and strap it to the front portion of your SUP. This provides you a “hub” for tackle/fly boxes, water bottles, PFD … anything that you don’t want to roll off the boat. Use the SUP’s bungee system or strap the bag to your board, and keep it closed snugly when not in use. The goal with on-board storage is to keep things well-fastened. If the board somehow flipped over (highly unlikely), would your gear still be attached when you flipped it back over? Make sure that it would be.

Dry bags are also a favorite for those items you want to keep close, like sunscreen, a cell phone or keys. Find a basic roll-top model like the Discovery View Dry Bag, and keep it sealed and buckled around a strap. It’s an easy way to keep organized and can go with you if you choose to stop and leave your board on the beach for a while. Some anglers like to bring along a full-size cooler, positioning it mid-board as a seat while paddling. It can add a lot of bulk and limit your maneuverability on the boat, so ensure you still can move and paddle comfortably if you choose to bring one along.

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SUPs are not exempt to the rules of the river. Courtesy around other watercraft is paramount, especially on busy waterways with many other anglers. Don’t be that paddler that makes the “drift boat” guys hate on SUPs for the rest of their lives. Push around other peoples’ boats with reasonable space in between (SUPs are more maneuverable than most larger boats). Watch for angler’s casting lanes and respect the space, just as you would in any other watercraft. Smile, wave and play like a big kid.

Especially for those newer to paddleboarding, remember you don’t need to be a rock-star, 60-foot caster when fishing from a board. In fact, it’s better if you’re not. Fishing from a SUP offers increased maneuverability and stealthiness, so don’t be afraid to move well within your casting comfort zone and keep your casts close as you get used to the feeling of casting from a smaller platform. Casting from a board is a new feeling and will likely feel wobbly at first, but after a bit of practice it’s remarkably stable (and rather efficient).

Floating lines are often easier to manage from a SUP, and consider bringing along a stripping basket (milk crates make great makeshift baskets) to pool your stripped line into. Eyeball the front of your SUP and minimize surfaces that could potentially snag your line. Flip D-rings down, secure the fasteners on your box or bag and keep everything streamlined—this will go a long way to preventing the frustrations that sometimes come from managing fly line on any sort of boat.

Woman fly-fishing from SUP on Oregon's John Day River.Photo: Jess McGlothlin Media

Play around on the board before you ever pick up a rod on the SUP; get used to dropping to your knees and popping up again, adjusting your course with minimal paddling, and just moving around on the boat. Pick up your rod and put the paddle down lengthwise on the boat, between your feet, and practice switching back-and-forth.

The wind can have a nasty habit of kicking up just as you hook into a fish, and at some point, you’ll find yourself juggling both a rod and a paddle, trying to correct your drift while managing a fish. A little practice in advance will make the juggling process much smoother.

And lastly, keep ‘em wet! Drop to your knees when handling fish, leaning gently over the side of the SUP and removing the hook with minimal handling. “Keep ‘em wet” is a movement designed to help anglers release fish with minimal stress: minimizing air exposure, eliminating contact with dry surfaces, and reducing handling. Try to avoid bringing fish onto the board; most fishing SUPs are stable enough it’s quite easy to drop to your knees and lean over, or even sit astride the board while managing a fish. Do your part to help ensure a healthy release so someone else can catch that same fish in the future.

A woman releases a smallmouth bass caught while fly fishing from a paddleboard on the John Day River in Oregon.Photo: Jess McGlothlin Media

Fishing from a SUP offers a new experience for seasoned anglers, and an enticing intro into fishing for watersports lovers. For those looking to get in a workout while fishing, have friends who paddleboard, or are just looking for something different, it’s a really fun way to enjoy the water, challenge one’s fishing skills, and possibly fall in love with a new sport.

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Anglers who are used to fishing from kayaks or canoes will find their ability to spot fish much increased while standing, and soon will find their attention on the fish, not on their balance.

Notes on Gear

Any SUP that’s reasonably wide and thick (many boards run 32- to 34-inches wide; some, like BOTE’s Rackham Aero are as wide as 38 inches, offering increased stability) will work great as a fishing platform. Some, like Body Glove’s Mariner, are marketed as fishing-specific boards with features designed for the angler: attachment points for rod holders and an anchor line system. NRS’s Heron features two side chambers that inflate for extreme stability, acting like outriggers—rendering the craft a little less efficient for long paddles but incredibly stable for angling.

And of course, it’s wise to pack along the requisite safety gear. Wear a life jacket (PFD)—there are so many minimalist, comfortable options on the market there’s no excuse not to. If you’re crossing turbulent water, consider a leash so, in case you part ways with your board, you remain tethered. Find a paddle that suits your individual needs; anglers often seek out ergonomic, lightweight paddles and break down into three pieces for easy storage and transportation. Add in lightweight, sun-protective clothing and a tube of sunscreen and you’re good to go.


The article was originally published on Standup Paddling


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