Canoe Fishing 101

by Simon Fitzpatrick from Northern Rivers Sportfishing

There I was standing on the surface, like Jesus walking on the water. Only I didn’t have to walk. As the river moved me along, I could see occasional big green fish in eddies behind the rocks. Immediately I would snap out a cast and hope to connect with one of these beautiful creatures. If not, it didn’t matter, I was in no hurry. For the next five days and nights it was just my canoe and me. I had plenty food, drink and supplies on board to fuel my fishing expedition and there was nowhere else I would rather be.

Canoe Fishing 101 - Bass

The Australian Bass is a welcome catch from a canoe.

Since its inception among indigenous people around the world, the canoe has been a reliable form of transport across waterways. The canoe has connected communities together by opening up communication and trade. For fishermen it has long been a vehicle to access fishing grounds. The modern day canoe has changed little in its design. Its multi-purpose shape continues to ensure the canoe will remain the vessel of choice for fisherman the world over.

The style of canoe I am referring to is the traditional Canadian canoe with a fully open cockpit, seats inside and a hull pointed at both ends. Examples in the Australian market place include brands such as Rosco Canoes, Australis, Coleman, Old Town and Mad River Canoes. They are predominantly made from polyethylene, making them tough, durable and light.

Canoe Fishing 101 - Preparing to launch

Preparing to launch.

The main advantage of a canoe over a vessel such as a kayak is its carrying capacity. With its comparatively wide beam (width) and high freeboard (walls), a good length canoe can carry upwards of 200kg. In addition to this, a heavily loaded canoe can actually increase the boats stability allowing the angler to stand and fish (albeit very carefully). These two features make the canoe the vessel of choice for extended multi-day fishing trips.

Buying a canoe

When choosing a canoe for just such an adventure I would recommend something in the 4.3 to 5.0 metre (14 to 16 f00t) range. A canoe with a nice wide beam and big open spaces will allow more options for carrying gear. A canoe with too many seats and thwarts (cross members) that take up too much space could inhibit carrying capacity.

Canoe Fishing 101 - Gear

Some essential items for canoe fishing – a bottle of water, a dry bag, short handled landing net, hat and fishing rod.

Buying a canoe is a big investment, so you want to ensure you choose one that suits your needs. Before you make your purchase be sure to ask yourself the following questions.

  • What am I using the canoe for?
  • How am I going to transport the canoe to the water?
  • How heavy can I manage?
  • How many passengers (seats) do I need?
  • How much gear do I need to carry?
  • How am I going to propel the canoe?

Propelling a canoe

Traditionally a single blade paddle is used to paddle a canoe. This is fine if there are two paddlers. If you are by yourself and you only have a single blade paddle you will need to learn to ‘j-stroke.’ During the j-stroke the grip is rotated in the paddler’s hand. This eliminates the need to alternate your paddling from the left side to the right in order to prevent yourself from going around in circles. The j-stroke can be frustrating to learn but once mastered it is like riding a bike. Alternatively a double bladed paddle can be used if the paddler(s) are seated in the front or rear of the canoe. From the middle seat the beam is usually too wide to comfortably use this type of paddle.

Other more creative options for propelling your canoe include standing up and using a pole or a paddle. A paddle with an extendable shaft can be employed so the user can choose between seated paddling and standing. Be aware however that standing up in a canoe increases your chance of getting wet tenfold. In other words, don’t stand up if you don’t want to get wet. Elevating any object in the canoe (including people) will reduce the stability dramatically.

Another option is to use an electric motor. These days you can pick up a new electric motor from around $250. No need to go for anything too powerful, just an entry level stern mount motor with around 30lbs of thrust will suffice. Connected to a decent size 12 volt battery, there is enough power to motor all day for a couple of days. There are motor mounts available on the market or if you are good with your hands you might try to build one yourself. There are plenty of designs available on the internet.

Canoe Fishing 101 - Electric motor

An electric motor and a homemade mount.

Weight Distribution

Weight distribution has a dramatic effect on how your canoe will handle on the water. If all your gear is to one side the canoe will lean to that side. Not so obvious is when all the weight is either down the front or down the back, the paddler will struggle to get the boat to track in a straight line. This is because any momentum caused by wind, current or paddle strokes will dramatically alter the course of the canoe.

For the most part, weight should be distributed evenly throughout the canoe. If this is not possible then put the heaviest things in the middle of the boat. For example if you are using an electric motor down the back of the boat, it will be beneficial to put the heavy battery in the middle. A 10-20lt water container can be placed up the very front of the canoe as an additional counter balance. I never go canoeing without one. Particularly if I am canoeing solo. When paddling my 16ft canoe alone with no gear on board, I always sit in the back seat and put a 20lt container up the very front. This helps the canoe track correctly.

Canoe Fishing 101 - Loaded up

This canoe has a beam of 900mm allowing enough room for two barrels and an esky. Strapping can be screwed to the gunwales (edges) to prevent loss of gear should the canoe upturn.

So there you have it; canoe selection, propulsion and handling. Understanding these basics before heading out on the water to fish will help you to position the canoe where the fish are. With lure casting in particular, good positioning of the canoe is one the greatest challenges. Get this right and you will improve your chances of catching fish dramatically. Tight lines and happy canoedleing!

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