For going on a decade now, each spring I've been fortunate enough to be able to take my family to the incredibly fishy island waters of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusett's famed Cape Cod. We arrive before the summer season starts, before we're priced out of all the vacation rentals, and spend as much time as we possibly can soaking up the salt air on the beaches and waters that ring the island. Over the years, we've hopped from one vacation rental to another, but we always aim to find something with convenient access to Katama Bay—a protected, inland harbor that is sheltered to the west by the main island of Martha's Vineyard, to the east by its much smaller sister island of Chappaquiddick, and to the south by a thin spit of barrier island that nature's fury breaches a few times per century. In addition to being an important harbor, home to a bounty of shellfish farms, and offering up much warmer swimming than the ocean waters that are just a stone's throw away, the bay is also known to be a springtime playground for striped bass.
Chasing stripers is something you'll find east coast anglers doing from Maine to the Carolinas and beyond. But finding anglers who chase them on the flats is still relatively rare. For my money, however, flats fishing for stripers is where it's at. Although we always arrive early in the season, for the bay, we're a bit later than would be ideal for those whose primary goal is to chase striped bass on the Katama's sun bleached flats. By mid-late June, the bass are in less abundance in the bay, thanks to warming water temperatures. The bass that are there are more spread out and often migrate between coldwater creeks and other thermal refuges in the bay and thus finding them means covering water.
In past years, I've spent many hours in chest waders, wading the flats of Katama, trying to spy shadows moving across the sand, searching for nervous water, or just blind casting off of drop-offs hoping to encounter migrating bass. But, given the conditions and the limited ground I was covering, it was mostly a fool's errand, and only occasionally did I end up encountering my quarry. Determined not to squander the annual opportunity, however, I set my mind to finding a way to access more water. Kayaks were an option, but I've never been fond of fishing sitting down and especially not from the particularly low vantage point a kayak offers. Of course I could commandeer a skiff, but $40,000 boats aren't something that people typically lend out freely. But a skiff was just what I wanted — something that could access skinny water, allow me move quietly, and provide a tall vantage point to up my chances of spotting fish.
Eventually, after consulting with folks on the island and flats anglers I trust, I landed on the idea of a stand up paddleboard (SUP). It's true, SUPs are no replacement for a Hell's Bay skiff, but they're also around 1/30th of the price. I was sold. And, given the fact that I needed something compact and portable, an inflatable SUP seemed the way to go. Enter BOTE's Rackham Aero, an inflatable SUP that comes in a "Bugslinger" edition that BOTE has adorned with features aimed specifically at anglers.
"Get ready to eat shit," was the first bit of advice I received from angler friends when seeking guidance on what board to venture out on, what types of water I could navigate and, in general, what to expect when attempting to fish from an entirely new platform.
The message was straightforward: to the uninitiated, SUPs take a fair bit of getting used to and until you've found your legs, expect trouble staying upright. And these folks were speaking from experience—experience with struggling to remain stable on their boards and ending up in the drink as a result.
And so, heading out onto the chop of Katama Bay for the first time, I expected to get wet. And quick. But from the first few strokes with the Rackham's adjustable paddle, I was struck by the board's stability. It's worth clarifying that not only were these my first few strokes on this SUP, but on any SUP. And yet I couldn't manage to push the board, or myself, into a position where I felt like I would end up "eating shit," as it were. I moved around on the board; took different positions fore and aft; headed up, down and crosswind; and moved the board into heavier water. But at no point on that first day, or on any of the next 10—whether paddling or casting a fly rod—did I end up spilling the Rackham. Neither did my kids, or the other first-timers that tried it.
As a SUP novice, I can't tell you whether BOTE's Rackham Aero is more or less stable than the average SUP. What I can tell you is that, in terms of stability, the board far exceeded expectations. Given such, I'd assume that any reasonably athletic and fit person can expect to hop onto the inflatable Rackham and have at it. The learning curve, while there is one, ain't steep.
While the Rackham Aero works perfectly well with nothing more than the board itself and the included paddle, BOTE offers a number of accessories for the Rackham (some of which are available/included on other models as well) that increase the versatility and usability of the board considerably — especially for anglers. The Paddle Sheath (included) allows you to easily stow the paddle and pick up your rod without needing bend to the deck or strap the paddle down to secure it, and it keeps the paddle within easy reach when it's time to stow the rod and start paddling again. The Rac Receivers (included) attach to the deck to ready the board for BOTE's Tackle Rac (not included), which provides upright rod storage, keeps your tackle bag at arm's length instead of lashed to the deck and offers up additional storage for other gear as well. The Sand Spear Sheath (included) attaches to the side of the board and allows you to use BOTE's Sand Spear (not included) to anchor your board (more on this below).
Inflatable = Transportable
There's not too much to say here. SUPs normally range from 12' to 15' or more. Inflated and water-ready, the Rackham Aero is 12'6" long. But, because it's an inflatable, the Rackham Aero packs down to a mere 41" long. Bagged up it's a bit heavy (more on that below), but it's also incredibly transportable. Toss it in the back of your SUV, the bed of your pickup, the backseat of your car, or take it on a plane. At 41" x 17" x 12" when stowed in its provided carrying case/bag, the Bugslinger can go pretty much anywhere.
Lash points / Storage / etc
It's easy to imagine that most folks would want their SUP as sleek and minimalist as possible. And when we took the Rackham Aero out for no more than pleasure cruising, so did we. But anglers have a bad habit of hoarding gear, and then bringing all that gear everywhere they go, even when they don't need it. Even if you're a more minimalist angler, if you're out for a day chasing quarry on the Bugslinger, you're going to need to bring along at least a few essentials: rods, reels, flies and/or lures, flats boots or water shoes and maybe a cooler. Thanks to an abundance of lash points, bungee webbing, velcro straps and more (or in other words, thoughtful, intelligent design) on the deck of the Rackham Aero — there's no shortage of places to stow and secure your gear.
Like BOTE's Tackle Rac, the Sand Spear is an add-on that you'll need to purchase separately, but depending on where you intend to use the Bugslinger, it might be a crucial addition. The Sand Spear doubles as both a push pole and a stake anchor, each of which can be invaluable if you're using the Bugslinger to stalk the flats. Having a push pole on board is a significant advantage when stealth is key, as even the most gentle paddle strokes will cause considerably more commotion than a push pole. But it's the latter function of the Sand Spear where you'll most often put it to use. Whether on the open expanse of a saltwater bay or the backwater reaches of a slow-moving creek, once the paddling stops, wind or current will typically take over and send your board where they please. Being able to use the Sand Spear—which is 8' long and so can be deployed even in fairly deep water—to anchor in place is no small advantage.
Once assembled, inflated and ready to hit the water, the Rackham Aero isn't particularly unwieldy. BOTE says it clocks in at around 45 pounds in this state, but it feels heavier. I wouldn't want to carry it 500 yards, but one person can reasonably shoulder the load. Smaller people might have a bit more trouble.
Packed up into the Rackham Aero's handy storage bag with all its odds and ends, however, the board becomes a bit of a bomb at around 70 pounds (though, again, it feels heavier). The good news is that the board's bag is made of hardy vinyl, sports burly rolling wheels and therefore you can typically get it where it needs to go without hoisting it on your shoulders. Still, the weight is worth noting. When you do have to lift it, it can be a bit of a bear, and if you're tossing it on the roof of your vehicle — as I often do, be aware that it's going to use up a big chunk of your weight capacity.
It's hard to imagine a more positive experience as a first time SUP user than the one provided by BOTE's Rackham Aero inflatable paddleboard. First-time endeavors in the world of angling have a tendency to end unsuccessfully and one that involved balancing on a board on moving water while casting seemed pre-ordained to end in frustration if not hilarious calamity. Only the experience with the Bugslinger inflatable SUP was anything but frustrating or calamitous. Instead, the board turned out to be a functional, agile, easy-to-use pleasure that has opened up new fishing waters not just in Katama Bay, but well beyond.
Anglers considering the Rackham Aero ("Bugslinger" edition or otherwise) as their first step into the world of stand up paddleboards should do so with confidence.