One of the most inviting aspects of sport fishing is that it can be enjoyed on so many levels. Fishing is fishing and no matter what vessel you utilize the enjoyment is what you make of it. An ancient Hawaiian form of surfing, stand up paddleboards (SUPs) have emerged as the latest eco-friendly fishing movement offering the ultimate man vs. fish battle.
Kayak fishing is fun and appealing, but there’s a new way to get on the bite. Making waves across the warm waters of the Sunshine State, SUPs are exploding in popularity. It’s certainly not the most effective or efficient means to put together a solid catch, but you can’t argue with the recent spike in popularity. Likely attributed to the sport’s versatility and inherent health benefits, anglers and surfers alike are making the crossover as they realize the amazing opportunities afforded by stand up paddle fishing. Inexpensive compared to owning a boat or hiring a guide, there is a certain freedom to SUP fishing that cannot be obtained with any other vessel.
Fishing big water in a SUP is highly influenced by the wind and a difference of only 5 knots can make a huge impact on your ability to fish offshore.
Although inshore anglers enjoy SUP fishing because they can reach shallows inaccessible to others and launch at nearly any access point, offshore paddle fishing is the ultimate challenge for die-hard watermen looking for their next fix. Fortunately for me, I can reach 100-foot depths within a mile and a half from the beach, making for some truly amazing paddle-powered catches. But before you stroke out past the first sandbar there are a few things you must take into consideration.
This isn’t your typical Budweiser fishing adventure, rather a strenuous and physically active way to spend time on the water. It is tough on your body and requires strength and stamina. If you’ve never attempted this rapidly growing paddle sport you need to give it a try. The moment you gain your balance and make your initial paddling stroke you’ll feel like you are walking on water. However, before you head offshore you’ll want to build up your core strength and stamina in calmer inshore waters. Be sure to take some shorter excursions along the coast so you get a feel for the open ocean’s wave action and currents. You’ll have to overcome the feeling of tipping and lack of control and like everything else, experience and time on the water will make you wiser and stronger.
SUP fishing takes a lot of focus and you need to always be aware of your stance and center of gravity when standing, sitting or kneeling on the board. One of the advantages over kayak fishing is that you have a greater range of motion and mobility without being restrained by an uncomfortable kayak seat. You’ll also be afforded greater visibility with the increased elevation. While SUPs were originally designed for surfing, manufacturers have developed fish-specific boards outfitted with rod holders and deck anchoring systems. My 12-foot Bote Board (boteboard.com) is incredibly stable and is equipped with an integrated leaning post that features two rod holders and a 35 qt Yeti Tundra cooler that doubles as dry storage for tackle and safety gear. As the popularity of SUP fishing continues to explode expect to see new designs, options and features.
When it comes to tackle and gear it will be in your best interest to only bring the essentials. First and foremost, safety items you need to carry on every trip as required by the USCG include a Type III PFD, a sound signaling device and visual distress signal. With space a premium an inflatable PFD is an option, but must be worn. I also carry a Icom handheld VHF in addition to my iPhone that’s housed in a Lifeproof Case, making it waterproof to two meters. If you really plan on going to the extremes you may want to invest in a personal locator beacon. Additionally, the buddy system applies. Ocean going paddle fishing is not for the faint of heart and something you never want to attempt by yourself.
In regards to fishing tackle you may want to leave your most cherished outfits at home. I have flipped my board before, sending my favorite jigging rod to the bottom of the ocean. It’s all part of the experience and even after getting dunked I still find it hard to wipe the smile off my face. The best part of paddle fishing is that you can get connected with your favorite method. And since you won’t be racing from spot to spot your offerings will be in the water longer and as a result you’ll have a great chance of scoring. I prefer to fish live bait and can keep half a dozen goggle eye or pilchard happy and healthy in an aerated 5-gallon bucket. No matter your favored approach you’ll want to have a backup plan. Small trolling plugs, vertical jigs, dead sardines…whatever your fancy you’ll want to have a few options.
While hooking fish is one thing, landing pelagic game fish on a SUP is another challenge altogether. Because of their inherent instability, it may take you a few tries before you find success. When it comes time to land fish I like to sit to lower my center of gravity. Coordinating the swing of a small hand gaff and lifting your catch onto the deck is extremely exciting and when you land your first fish—big or small—you will feel like you are on top of the world. However, be very careful!
You know the saying “up a creek without a paddle?” Well you don’t want to be offshore without a paddle either so on top of maintaining your balance, monitoring your lines and landing fish, you need to keep a firm grip on your paddle at all times. If you’d rather not worry about it you can attach a tether to your primary means of propulsion. My Bote has a deck lashing system that firmly holds my paddle, and my catch in place.
It obvious you’ll need to keep a close eye on the weather, as you are clearly at the mercy of Mother Nature. Fishing big water in a SUP is highly influenced by the wind and a difference of only 5 knots can make a huge impact on your ability to fish offshore. I can handle a 2-foot chop and 10 knot wind, but any more than that and you are really going to question your sanity and ability to present baits and lures.
Whether you are at the forefront of this eco-friendly fishing movement or looking to get your feet wet, SUP fishing is quickly emerging as the most popular sector in the paddle sport community. With no fuel, no noise and pure enjoyment what’s not to like?