I once heard fly fishing described as dancing with fish, and while that may be a bit of a stretch, there is no denying that pursuing fish with fly tackle is more, say, graceful than with conventional gear. There is a certain rhythm, flow, and timing to casting a fly and when done well, the cast is a thing of of effortless beauty. I don’t know about you, but in my mind many of those same fluffy adjectives also come to mind about stand-up paddleboarding, so it stands to reason that the two activities would pair well. After a few years of fly fishing from iSUP’s I can say unequivocally that they do in fact compliment each other in a way that should be experienced.
First off, nobody gets into fly fishing because they are looking for the best way to catch fish; as a professional angler I can tell you there are always easier ways to catch them than with fly tackle. People fly fish for the challenge, the aforementioned gracefulness, and the overall lifestyle, and the best fly fishers appear to be almost one with their rod and line. The same can be said for paddleboarding. Paddleboards offer simplicity; a quiet, smooth way to be on the water that demands our bodies be in tune with our craft. Our core muscles are in control, our inner balance takes over, and here again, when done well paddleboarding appears effortless.
Make no mistake though…it ain’t all about the poetry. Fly fishing can be a very efficient way to catch fish and an iSUP can be an efficient way to get to them. The whole system may be pretty to watch and perform, but there are fish to be caught. Here’s a few things I’ve learned that may help you when you hop on the ol’ paddleboard with, as the late Jose Wejebe described fly tackle, your “silly stick and spaghetti string”.
First, both disciplines are rooted in simplicity…don’t mess that up! Anglers have a nasty way of overcomplicating things in many cases but this is certainly not the time for that. On the board, I pare down my tackle to the basics of a fly box or two, the most basic tools, and typically a single rod. While my 1138 Bonefish iSUP is equipped with paddleboarding accessories for fishing like rod holders, I still find more than one fly rod rod is not better. The more time I spend messing with my tackle on the board, the less fish I catch and while the same can be said of any fishing, it is magnified when you’re confined to a small space.
Unless it is extremely calm out, fish spots instead of areas. Fly tackle takes a little longer to make ready after each time we paddle, so I spend as much fishing time as possible anchored. If the board is drifting and you have to correct your position constantly, you won’t be efficient. Instead, anchor the board fish a spot, then move. I use a 5# kayak anchor and it works very well. If it is dead calm out lucky you! That condition allows you to fish an area more comfortably, and also allows for a variety of casting strokes and angles…a definite bonus with fly tackle. The more you fight the breeze, the harder it gets so anchor down, let the board come to rest, and then fish.
Keep the deck free of “stuff” so your fly line is not catching it. I use a 5 gallon bucket in a bucket rack up front to hold my gear; it is immediately accessible, yet out of the way. I also fish barefoot with fly tackle so that I can feel it should I step on my own fly line while casting. I’ve found using a landing net helps a lot on the board too; keep it on top of the stuff in the bucket to avoid a mess when you have a nice fish boat-side and can’t get the net or its got your fly box in it!
Lastly, keep it safe! You’ll be focussed on fishing, casting angles, the pretty fish, and everything else besides staying on the board so two important sup paddleboard accessories to wear are a board leash and PFD. I use a manually inflatable belt pack style PFD for comfort and the leash will keep it close should I fall. I recommend a high quality pair of polarized glasses to protect your eyes from sun and errant fly casts, and also a waterproof floating phone case so you can keep your camera handy for those important grip-n-grin selfies to post socially.
Fly fishing on an iSUP is fun and productive, and even seasoned bug chuckers will laugh out loud when a smallish fish pulls them around on the board. Keep it simple and clean, use the anchor, and go fish…I’m betting you’ll find a paddleboard beats baggy waders all day!