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How to Choose a Watercraft: SUP Edition

by Dave Karczynski
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The BOTE Board HD in its most pimped out incarnation. Note the tackle rack and YETI cooler.

I have been to the top of the mountain.  They fish from SUPs there.

This happened after a year of wondering what it would be like to paddle and fish out of one.  Would it be terrifically awkward?  Totally liberating?  Somewhere in the middle?  Would it be any more of a workout than paddling a canoe or kayak?

This year I took the plunge—though the idiom feels out of place here since paddling an SUP is much more akin to walking on water than plummeting into it.  If you haven’t ever done the SUP thing, it’s like this: you get the same liberated and buoyant feeling of paddling a canoe or kayak, plus the full-on soul-tickle of standing on top of the water and lording your gaze over it.  I’ve taken mine out about fifteen times and I still get a stupid grin on my face each time I get up on the board.

Before committing to any one board I did a good deal of research, paddled a few and eventually settled on the BOTE Board HD.  To me it represented the best in stability, weight and maneuverability, not to mention the fact that the folks at BOTE seem to have  focus-grouped the bejeesuz out of the industry when it comes to fly fishing amenities.  Simply put, it’s the best and fishiest ride in the park.

Before we discuss the board as a fishing platform, let’s first appraise it as, well, a board.  The hull is a “hybrid design” (that’s what the HD stands for), one that blends two discreet board types: racing boards and surf boards.  This means you get the tracking and aerodynamics of the racing board alongside the stability of a surfing platform.  These are two attributes that are essential to any SUP you might consider as a fishing vessel since: a) the whole point of having the board is to go where other people don’t or can’t go, eg you need to cover water, and b) you don’t want to fall out of it doing any of the things you might do while fly fishing, be it a change of direction cast or landing a 40-inch musky (I confess my goal was to become the first person to land a musky on an SUP, but it hasn’t happened— yet).

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The bare board and a single fly rod: as simple and free as it gets.

To repeat myself: in order for a board to fish well it must be stable, and the BOTE is as stable as I’ve encountered.  But what kind of stability can one get out of even the most stable SUP?  Can you walk around on the board?  Jump around?  The answer to both these questions is no.  You are always, always, even at a standstill, balancing on the board.  But getting a great core workout while you travel and fish is part of the rationale behind getting an SUP, so this is not a demerit.  If you wanted to sit on your duff you could just stick with your canoe or kayak.  Standing on the BOTE Board HD, your lower body and core is always engaged, from your feet on up through your calves and thighs.  But the reward for your efforts is this: you get the kind of visual perspective only otherwise possible in a full-on boat.

Depending on your materials, this type of stability can add a lot of weight—that’s because stability comes from the thickness of the board.  An SUP with similar volume to the HD but different material can literally weigh twice as much, which kind of defeats the purpose of the SUP—that whole “go anywhere, do anything” fantasy kind of goes out the window when you’re struggling to get your board from the car to the launch, pier or beach.

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Note: the cup well can be screwed shut to provide a provide dry storage and a safe place for small valuables.

On to fishing.  The thing that sets this board apart from all others on the market is how many fishing amenities it fits cleanly and intuitively into a finite space.  The reality of fishing from an SUP is: the more you have to reach around to out-of-the-way places for things (your beer, fly rod, etc) the more likely you are to compromise stability.  BOTE’s answer was to put everything right there in front of you—or underneath.  The full-on accessorized version I demo’ed was spot on with a YETI cooler right under your butt and a tackle rack capable of holding two extra rods and a backpack full of gear right behind you.  Tricked out this way, and while utilizing one of the storage bungees fore and aft,  you’ve got all you need for a multi-day voyage, complete with tent, sleeping bag and food.  You’ll just need water and sunscreen—probably in equal quantities.  Not that you need to trick it out.  You can rig this board up to be totally minimalist (a Scotty rod holder in the rod mount and a cold beverage in the cup holder at your feet) with the intention of having an afternoon paddle with a rod at the ready in case you spot feeding fish.

Let’s talk locomotion.  The BOTE Board HD tracks very much like a canoe, which means that you don’t have to constantly worry about moving in a straight line but also that making sharper turns will require a modified stroke and deliberate intentions.  The most common way to get around is with the light-weight carbon fiber SUP paddle that comes with the board but that’s far from the only way to get your move on.  I took to carrying a few different paddles with me for different purposes.  If I really wanted to boogie from point A to point B, I’d drop to my knees, pick up my kayak paddle and double my speed.  For a more leisurely gait you can sit on your YETI and rock out with a canoe paddle.  And fear not if you find yourself paddle-less.  By lying flat on your stomach and using a modified freestyle or butterfly stroke, you can really get the board up to speed.

One of the things that got me into fly fishing and kept me there was the removal of barriers between myself and the activity.  The hands-on practice of tying flies.  The manual strip-retrieve and strip-set.  To me, the SUP as a watercraft fits perfectly into the fly fishing ethos in that it throws you right into the fray while removing as many liaisons as possible between you and your practice.  With your bare feet pressing into foam and water washing over your feet, it also removes the symbolic separation of self from water that comes with waders.  That all said, it’s also got me thinking back to my walleye fishing canoe days as a kid, and I am unapologetic in admitting that on this summer’s bucket list is to rig up two spinning rods with crawler harnesses, troll across a bay, pick up a few walleye, beach on a small island and eat them.

Final verdict: the BOTE Board HD legitimately opens up a totally different experience of fishing.  If you like being self-reliant and physically challenged—but also well rewarded for your efforts—you can ogle and scheme at boteboard.com.

 

 

 

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Dave Karczynski's writing has appeared in The Flyfish Journal, Fly Rod & Reel, The Drake, Fly Fusion and others. A Robert Traver Award winner, he lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he teaches writing and photography at the University of Michigan.
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  • Cardo Lianez

    So, my big question is how well will a SUP do in a river with rapids and rocks? Maybe a Diablo would be better suited for that? Not jabbing at you, this is a serious question. I have a kayak but have been, well yeah, missing the stability when I stand to fish. I’ve been looking at Native Watercraft and the Diablo and I dismissed a SUP early on, but am still wondering if it’d do fine on rivers. Sure, take it on some slack water sections a lake, but a river?

    • Mike Powell

      I can’t tell you definitively, but I can tell you that the local rental place here on the Maumee River doesn’t allow renters to use SUPs on the part of the river with rocks and rapids, because it risks breaking the stabilizer fins off the bottom of the boards.

      • Cardo Lianez

        That pretty much solidifies it for me. I was thinking that, but needed a more informed opinion. I haven’t seen them on the Shenandoah, most likely for that same reason. Many thanks.

    • dp

      Depends on what the SUP is made of. Fiberglass and rocks don’t mix well together.
      I’ve got an NRS inflatable that does fine in class I rapids, but struggles a little on getting up to speed on flatwater.

    • zachmatthews

      Look into Hobie’s inflatable outriggers. The skegs make SUPs a no go in rocky rivers, unless they can be retracted from above.

  • Nate Wood

    I frequently flyfish, and …. use my spinning rod….., from a SUP I built. I based the design off of the Dragonfly SUPs, a hybrid design as well. I concur that there is nothing like standing on the water to go after the smallies in my local stream (many lowhead dams so it is more like fishing a long skinny lake). I have a retractable fin on the back to get through the shallow sections however.

    Can’t wait to see your musky!

  • aw

    There are so many reasons to fish from a paddle board rather than a kayak:

    – light weight; easy to get from the car to the water, and no trailer or boat ramp required.
    – speed; Better acceleration and speed than a kayak; it’s also a more natural paddling position.
    – simplicity; you are compelled to carry less gear.
    – visibility; MUCH better view through the water column than from a kayak.
    – sport; more challenging than kayaking and an overall better workout.
    – a deck as clean as a flats boat for fewer hangups.
    – much better positioning when nature calls.
    – sit down when you are tired, rather than trying to stand when you are cramping up.
    – your legs, abs and back are doing the work, not you arms and shoulders; you last longer on a SUP.

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  • Pingback: Fishing from a SUP Review | Midcurrent on SUP Fishing()

  • donraimeyjr

    Great article and timely as I am demo’ing boards now to make a purchase. Our area is PERFECT for SUP fishing with good access to both sides of our fishy Sound – from the islands or mainland. I am really down to either the Bote HD or the Dragonfly 13-6. I already tried the Bote HD, the board beautiful (they have a Bugslinger version), is well made, light and as a displacement (racing) board fast and fun to paddle! BTW, this was my first time on a SUP and after some tenuous moments initially, I had the board stable and going where I wanted to in about 30 minutes….granted, no fly rod in hand yet. At 30 lbs just about anyone could handle this board on and off the water. I have no doubt the HD is a great SUP and Fish SUP. The Dragonfly demo is next Saturday, it’s heavier at 45 lbs and a foot and half longer. The DF strengths however is that it is made like a real skiff – deck and hull are molded and then brought together. Because of this you can add deck accessories that are thru hull mounted, they even mount transducers and fish the boards offshore using sonar to find fish. It’s shape is also more boat like with a raised bow. Now I get the fun job of choosing which features are a winner for me, they are close in price. BTW, I think I will also be poling the board here, as you can imagine, planting a push pole and giving a 30-45lb “boat” a push can move you along in a hurry! Looking forward to fishing where I used to only dream I could go while being stealthy and “the guy who is always up on the bow ready to fish”.

    • http://www.midcurrent.com Marshall Cutchin

      Great feedback, Don. Have fun!