I blame it on my parents. They took me fishing at an early age and I was hooked. Nothing fascinated me more than peering into the depths that my bait had descended into and wondering what creatures lurked down there. I soon discovered that as I retreated farther into the backcountry, the fish became bigger and dumber. And a canoe tripper was born.
Not much has changed since then. My tools—which my wife insists are toys—have become more sophisticated and take up a larger chunk of our garage, side yard, bedroom, living room, and closet. Trips have spread over several continents and last for weeks and sometimes months. Yet at the heart of it, there is still a kid tossing a fly into an emerald green pool in God's theater, waiting and expecting something to rise from the deep.
Canoes and kayaks are the original fishing craft. Somewhere along the line, paddling became a means unto itself. Yet paddlecraft are still intrinsically entwined with fishing, and few backcountry experiences are as satisfying as fresh fish in a wilderness camp. Paddlecraft also allow the angler to access waters that range from urban waterfronts, in sight of thousands of office workers, to windswept tidal flats that would be a challenge for motorized craft to reach.
Like any purchase, the best fishing boat for you depends on what kind of water you will most likely be paddling and how much emphasis you will place on the pure joy of paddling versus the pure joy of fishing. For many years I fished out of a We-no-nah Advantage, a fast solo cruising boat. It was my perfect arrow for fishing northern Ontario lakes that were days, and several portages, from any road.
You may never find the ideal fishing-specific boat, or you may find that your existing fleet has a simply grand boat that will allow you to do exactly what you want to with a few tweaks. Here are some guidelines that may help you down that path, and some boats that we tested.
With their lower profile, kayaks generally have the advantage over canoes on larger, windswept waters and keep the fishing paddler from getting blown around when working a specific area. A double-bladed paddle also makes a kayak easier to control for those who would rather focus on fishing than paddling technique. And once you cinch down a sprayskirt, it creates a toasty miniclimate for your lower torso that is impervious to the outside world. Those looking for a decked kayak to fish from are well advised to steer away from touring models and seek out wider, recreation-based models.
For the fishing angler, very few other boats can match the versatility of SOTs. They're stable enough for a paddler to pull waders on for cold, wet conditions or jump out of at any time to stalk fish in shallow water. They're ideal for use on tropical flats and capable of hauling gear for an overnight. Most are recreation-oriented and plenty stable as a fishing platform. In the right hands, an SOT can handle anything from a quiet millpond to ocean surf to Class III rivers. With your gear on board and a sunny day in front of you, an SOT is an excellent tool for serious fishing or just exploring your inner Huck Finn. While all of this is good, the very open nature of SOTs and their self-draining scupper holes means getting wet and dressing accordingly.
The Canoe Angle
Many of us had our first fishing experience in a canoe, and canoes still remain the quintessential human-powered fishing craft. Most major manufacturers have jumped on the fishing bandwagon and dressed up one of their existing models with rod holders and storage systems. Canoes come in such a wide variety of materials and hull designs—from rippin'-fast cruising boats made for northern lakes to bulbous plastic boats for rocky rivers—that your best course is to choose a hull design most suitable for your needs and then look at after-market accessories to turn it into a monster fishing machine. Visit a specialty retailer to find your perfect fishing canoe and discuss where you will be paddling. In general, though, if fishing is your game, initial stability and work space are preferable to the efficiencies found in more performance-oriented boats.