How to Choose a Watercraft: SUP Edition
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).
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.
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.