Walking on Water
From their ease of deployment and stealth, through to offering an exceptional platform for spotting and casting, Derek Grzelewski discovers that stand-up paddleboards – or SUPs – could just be the ultimate fishing craft. He adds the cautionary note, howev
IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT FLY FISHING IS much like problem- solving: basically, the fish
are feeding, and you can’t catch them, so here’s a problem needing a solution, ideally a quick one. Depending on where you’re at with your fishing, and the nature of the game itself, there are many variations on this theme – flies, techniques and strategies – though my particular quandary had to do with access to some of the most explosive dry-fly action on the planet.
I live amongst the Southern lakes, which are massive bodies of water and full of trout, yet surprisingly they are little fished except by the usual brigade of putt-putt trollers who tend to stick to predictable lanes and deep water. So, the best stretches of sight-fishing shorelines – those with plenty of structure and abundance of food – are rarely touched by anglers. Trouble is, they are also the most inaccessible.
These are the crumbling cliff-lines and natural breakwater shores of giant boulders, overhung with trees and shrubs, hard to get to, even more awkward to follow, not to mention casting from them. The water there is deep- blue or black, with little or no littoral zone and, in season, the trees and shrubs are alive with insects, many of which end up falling into the water. There, just under the surface, large trout cruise in quick zig-zagging patterns, reacting to anything that hits the water, examining twigs and leaves, gulping beetles, hoppers or cicadas though never bees or wasps.
It is a sight that makes your mouth go dry and sends the heart rate spiking, for these are not the spooky fish from any popular drive-by river that can shy off at the mere wave of a
fly rod but the top-of-the-food-chain predators worked up to a feeding frenzy, curious and confident. If you’ve experienced such a sight, even once, like me, you’d be coming back again and again, hoping to relive it.
But, as I say, access is a major problem, ranging from hard to dodgy, through to impossible. Belly boats and kayaks are next to useless (too low to the surface to see from), motorboats too noisy and clunky. So, it all seemed a bit hopeless and limited to a few accessible rocks until, somewhere on the web, I saw a picture of a guy sight-fishing the Florida flats from a stand-up paddleboard. My eyes lit up. Now here was a vessel perfect for the task – stealthy and portable, quick to deploy, ideal to see and to cast from. A few emails later, my fishing-specific inflatable BOTE paddleboard arrived and changed my lake fishing forever.
You’ve surely seen them around, as stand-up paddleboards – SUPs – have become one of the fastest-growing fitness fads… and for a good reason. As a way of getting into shape, paddling a SUP is right up there with swimming and cross-country skiing, a low-impact fullbody workout. You paddle with your arms and upper body but the power transfer is through your legs and feet into the boat so that all the muscles are engaged.
Your legs get stronger, your ‘flabdominals’ tightened and toned, and as your core strengthens and stabilises – just through mere balancing on the board – a lot of back pains and niggles tend to disappear as well. And it’s not like this kind of fitness regimen is a chore, right? You’re out there, in fresh air and beautiful places, with a fly rod in your hand. Getting fit while fishing? Definitely my kind of workout.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but then most worthwhile things usually aren’t. If you just grab your rod and fly vest and hop on a SUP you will most likely spend more time swimming than fishing. Yet with a bit of practice a SUP becomes a remarkably stable fishing platform. The progression is a lot like learning to ride a bike: your balance, turning and propulsion need to become almost second-nature before you start fanging down technical trails.
To start, I put a good few weeks into just paddling, without the rod. This was a revelation in itself because the first thing you notice from the SUP is just how many more fish there are on the flats and shallows than what you could ever see from the shore.
CHRIS DORE WORKS A NICE ROCK LEDGE AND DROP-OFF
GEARING UP AND PREPARING TO LAUNCH IN PERFECT CONDITIONS FOR SUP FISHING