I admit it. I’m a sucker for fool’s gold. If there’s a gadget, I’ve got it, which is why my garage is always full of stuff. For me, more has been better. I’ve gone through more fly rods, canoes and kayaks than the average angler. I swore I would stop hoarding after I got a kayak, a Native Ultimate, but I didn’t. I recently added a paddle board to the fleet. For years, I had resisted buying one, because I figured I was too stiff to stay upright, even against the weakest of tides. While casting a fly rod? Not unless I took Pilates.
But one day, a neighbor, a non angler, suggested I paddle board. So I tried it. I didn’t even carry a rod. I figured the less that could go overboard the better. Remarkably, I stayed dry — and I was hooked. The skeptic became a believer. Less than a week later, I bought my first paddle board. I use it as much as possible.
You can’t beat the workout. You use your whole body --- your feet, legs and torso --- to balance. I thought a half-day walk for beach snook was sufficient cardio. Use a paddle board and you can skip the gym. Your abs will thank you.
The canoe or kayak gives me a bit of a workout, but you’re sitting much of the time. With the paddle board, you stand. It’s more work, but the visibility is superior. I can stand in my Ultimate, but get more height --- and see more fish --- from a paddle board. And in fly fishing, particularly in the salt, visibility is everything. Before, I spent far too much time trying to probe for fish. Now, I hunt for my quarry. All of my senses are engaged.
A word of advice: Don’t hit the water solo initially. Go to a paddle board shop and get a few lessons. And sometimes, instruction does not prevent a tumble.
Even after a week or two on the water, I got swamped when two boats surprised me with a sizeable wake. Had I been more experienced, I might have prevented a dunking. Needless to say, a busier-than-expected morning on South Florida’s intracoastal waterway can yield plenty of tarpon, but a paddle board is not always the best option for the silver king. In retrospect, I should have played it safe or gone with a more experienced paddleboarder.
As far as the gear, you want a stable board. Some boards are made for speed. Get one that floats high. I’ve got a BOTE Flood. It’s got soft matting to keep your feet comfortable and it’s pretty easy to paddle. You can add a tackle rack to hold your rod and a Yeti cooler to sit on and store drinks. Rarely do I carry much gear. It’s nice to have, but it’s more work to set up, requires more paddling and can throw the board off balance. Less is better, particularly for short trips.
And let’s not forget the obvious. Paddle boards offer a cleaner casting platform than kayaks and canoes. There’s little for the fly line to snag. The downside is one wrong move and your stuff can slide into the brine in an instant, which is why I prefer to fish shallow water. If my rod falls in the drink, I simply stop and grab it. When fishing deeper water, I use one of my cheaper rods and, after my ICW wipeout, I’m more cautious.
Paddle boards are not a no-motor panacea for the sight-fishing, long rod specialist. While paddle boards offer better visibility than kayaks or canoes, they also have less security and wind-protection than other non-motorized craft. Like most things in fly fishing, there’s a tradeoff.
Lastly, there’s no solution to the age-old paddle-craft problem of managing your drift while dropping your paddle, grabbing your rod and making a cast. I had the same issue in the canoe and kayak. Nothing changed with the paddle board. Ideally, you see the fish well ahead of time, so you have a few extra moments to prepare, but rarely does it seem to work out that way. I like fishing from the board, but at times I will anchor and wade.
I still have my Native Ultimate. It’s right next to my paddle board. Both serve a purpose. And both will always have a place in my garage.