Fishing from a paddle board has become a rocket trend in fishing communities over the past few years, and with good reason. There are many advantages that fishing from a paddle board versus a kayak offer, such as increased agility and stealth, increased water visibility, and ease of transport.
But in order to gear a stand-up paddle board (SUP) for fishing, you’ll need a few things first. Here are the steps you should take to set up a fishing paddle board:
- Choose your board and paddle.
- Make sure you have all the required safety equipment (and license/registration, if necessary) for operating a paddle board.
- Make a list of fishing gear you want to bring.
- Make a list of the auxiliary gear you want to bring.
- Learn to stow your gear safely on your paddle board.
- Go fish!
Paddle boarding can seem intimidating when you’re just starting out, but it doesn’t have to be. By following this easy step-by-step guide, you’ll be out on the water casting in no time at all.
Choosing Your Paddle Board
The first thing you’ll need to do if you don’t already have one is to choose a paddle board to do your fishing from. Which paddle board you want to buy will be determined by exactly what kind of fishing you want to do with it, and where.
If you are planning on fishing from a paddle board on vacation and will need to take a flight to get where you’re going, you’ll need to go with an inflatable paddle board that can be rolled up and stowed away in your luggage.
However, if you’re planning on regularly using a paddle board on local waters and have a vehicle strong enough to transport it, you can go with a more traditional and sturdier epoxy model.
Paddle boards come in two basic styles: all arounder boards and displacement nose touring/racing boards. Which board you want to choose will depend on where you want to go.
All Arounder Boards
These paddle boards are traditional boards shaped like surfboards, with a long oval shape and a planing hull. These boards run roughly ten to eleven and a half feet long and are approximately 29-33 inches wide. If you’ve never used a paddle board before, an all arounder board is probably your best bet.
These boards are also recommended for those who are paddling in calm waters like a lake or slow wide river, and for people who intend to stay close to shore. This is also the best type of board shape for those who intend to only fish from their paddle board.
Touring and racing boards have a sharp pointed displacement nose and are built more for speed and agility than they are for stability, so they are not necessarily a good choice for people choosing to fish from their paddle board.
Racing boards also tend to be narrow, which makes them less stable and does not provide adequate storage for a fisherman, so anyone wanting to fish from their paddle board should probably steer clear of this paddle board style unless they also plan to pursue other watersports with it as well. You can learn more about these in our Paddle Board Racing article as well as our How to Go Faster on a Paddle Board post.
Now that fishing from paddle boards has become a more popular sport, there are more and more paddle boards being designed specifically with fishermen in mind.
These boards feature amenities such as built-in fishing rod holders, front and rear bungees for storage, accessory mounts for bait trays/fish finders/other accessories, and plenty of stability so that you can confidently fight the big fish without having to worry about capsizing your whole operation.
One board built and promoted as specifically for fishing is the Boardworks Surftracker 11’ Fishing SUP from Watersports Outfitters at that link. It is also sold by Summit Sports Outdoor Gear. Be sure to use this link to the board. Sometimes these go on sale, so comparison shop those two sources.
There is an all-around board that is possibly the largest board out there. It certainly could be used for fishing, as it will hold all the gear needed. There’s room for a cooler, storage bin, and your rods, tackle and lunch. It’s called the Mammoth from Bluefin. At a massive 18’, you should be able to carry everything needed, and maybe a friend or a child to fish with.
Weight and Carrying
One thing to take into consideration when deciding which paddle board to buy is weight—namely, how much of it can you reasonably pick up and support. Many paddle boards, especially the epoxy-based ones, are notoriously heavy and difficult to wrangle on and off the top of a car singlehandedly.
In response to this, many paddle board companies are now putting out new models of paddle boards that are designed to be ultra-lightweight for women and smaller boarders who cannot necessarily handle a full-weight board without significant difficulty.
Another thing to look at when choosing your board and considering ease of transport is the carrying handle. Many older models of paddle board have plain straight carrying handles that make the board unwieldy and exhausting to carry.
Recently though, paddle boards have started coming out with a “butterfly” handle in the center of the board, which allows the board to be lifted singlehandedly with much less strain and finger fatigue since your fingers fit directly inside the handle for a firm, secure grip.
Board Width, Length, and Balance
How large you are is going to determine what size of board you want to buy. Women and children will typically want a smaller, lighter board that is easier to handle and shorter, whereas larger people and men will want a long, wide board for increased stability and balance.
People fishing from paddle boards are most interested in maximizing two things: stability and storage. If you’re wanting to fish from your paddle board, you should choose the widest, longest paddle board you can reasonably handle for optimal balance and plenty of space to store your fishing gear.
One thing to look for is a square tail on your potential paddle board—this will give you increased stability, which you’ll definitely need once you manage to hook a big one. Choose a board that is not stable enough, and the first large fish you catch is likely to drag you into the water along with your gear.
In addition to the boards listed above, boards discussed in our paddle board yoga article will also be stable enough to use for fishing. They may be a little too short though.
Don’t Forget Your Paddle!
A paddle board wouldn’t be much use without a paddle to steer it with. Depending on what you pay for your paddle board, an equivalent paddle should run you about a fifth of the cost of the paddle board itself.
If you spend $1000 for a paddle board, you should expect a paddle designed for its size and class to cost around $200. If you buy a more expensive paddle board, you may be looking into paying up to $500 or more on your paddle.
There are paddles built specifically for surf and whitewater environments, but if you’re designing a paddle board for fishing probably won’t be as concerned with those water conditions, so you can easily get away with an “all water” class paddle, which is the most economical category available.
You can view the entire line of of Abahub Paddles on Amazon or shop the Super Paddles store there, as well. I’m a fan of carbon fiber, and there options in both brands. I’m also a fan of adjustable paddles, but buy what works best for you.
There are three important factors to consider when choosing your paddle:
- Length: A paddle should ideally stand 8-12 inches taller than your own height. You can test this by placing the paddle blade-down on the ground and seeing if you can rest your wrist on the handle. If you can rest your wrist on the handle, it is tall enough.
- Material type: Lightweight paddles (made of materials like carbon and fiberglass) are much easier to handle than heavy paddles made of aluminum or plastic but tend to cost more. Flexible paddle blades are more expensive but also not as hard to use as stiff ones.
- Blade size, shape, and offset: Smaller paddles are easier to use, but do not move water as efficiently as larger ones. Teardrop-shaped paddles are designed for slow powerful strokes, while rectangular paddles are designed for quicker strokes.
For fishing from a paddle board, you will likely want to choose a paddle with plenty of length that has a wide teardrop-shaped blade, as you will be standing still on the paddle board for long amounts of time and being able to paddle quickly will not be a huge concern. Don’t worry about dropping your paddle, as all the different paddle materials will float.
When buying either a paddle board or a paddle to go with it, it is wise to spend a good amount of time reading reviews of various boards and paddles to see what kind of user criticisms (or praise) there might be. Some of these complaints may not matter to you, but others may be a deal-breaker.
It’s best to read up first before committing any money on such a valuable and expensive piece of equipment. Some distributors do not allow returns of used paddle boards at all, and others charge a restocking fee of 20% or more (which can add up to a lot on a thousand-dollar board).
Required Safety Gear for Paddle Boarding
Along with the fishing gear that you’ll need, if you’re going to use a public waterway with your paddle board, you’re going to need some basic safety gear as required by the U.S. Coast Guard. These items are required to be carried by all paddlecraft:
- Safety whistle: Carrying a safety whistle allows you to alert nearby boaters to your presence before they have a chance to see you, which can significantly reduce the risk of a boat-to-paddle-board collision (which is likely to be a lot more deadly to you as the paddle boarder).
- Life jacket: No matter where you’re paddle boarding, you need to bring a Type I, II, or III category life jacket or personal flotation device. Not only is it the law, the overwhelming number of people who die in boating accidents drown because they are not wearing a life jacket. The O’Neill line (Amazon) is what we use for all our watersports, including the higher impact ones like tubing and jet skis.
- Navigational light: Dawn and dusk are some of the best times for fishing, but they are also some of the worst times for visibility. Carry a strong light (like an LED head lamp) to signal other boaters of your presence and increase your visibility to prevent collisions with other vessels.
- Distress signals: Distress signals such as aerial flares allow you to easily signal for help if you get stranded without a paddle or find yourself suddenly paddling in shark-infested waters. You need at least three signals on board your vessel in any combination (pyrotechnic or otherwise).
Along with the required safety gear, many states also require registration of your paddle board and possibly a boating license as well. Don’t forget your fishing license too! The last thing you need on your trip is to get a stiff fine for noncompliance.
Be sure to check the local regulations of whatever area you’re planning to fish in to make sure you have the appropriate registrations and licenses to fish from a paddle board. Most of these rules are readily available online for any given area.
A fishing license in one state does not necessarily translate to another state, so don’t just assume you’re good to go—be sure to check first.
Choose Your Paddle Boarding Gear
Once you’ve got your basic paddle boarding gear situated, you can move on to choosing your fishing gear. The advantage to paddle boards that are specifically geared towards fisherman is that they often include things like extra storage, bungees, and accessory mounts.
If you are wanting to set up a paddle board specifically for fishing, it can be worth investing in a fishing-oriented board to have these extras to make your setup easier to put together.
Besides your fishing gear, here is a list of things you’ll generally need on any stand-up paddle boarding expedition:
- Anchor – Especially in high current environments like the ocean, having an anchor can be crucial to making sure you aren’t swept out to sea (or at least out of the area you want to fish in). Adjust the rope to the depth you want to fish at. Check out our jet ski anchor post for recommendations, as they will work well with paddle boards.
- Sunscreen – Paddle boarders are especially vulnerable to the rays of the sun because they are out on the highly reflective open water, so they get burned above and below. Bring sunscreen SPF 30 or higher and reapply throughout the day to make sure you don’t get fried.
- Bug spray – This is a must if you are paddle board fishing in any inland areas such as lakes and rivers. The best times to fish are at dawn and dusk and guess what? Mosquitoes, midges, and gnats love these times of day too. Pack a repellent to keep them from bugging you.
- Cooler – Aside from a place to store any fish you might catch, a cooler also offers you a place to keep some cold drinks and snacks, and also serves as a seat for when you get tired from standing up on your paddle board. Don’t forget to pack the cooler with ice too.
- Water – Might seem like a no brainer, but it is easy to forget to bring water with you, and once you’ve been out on the waves under the baking sun for a few hours, you’ll regret it for sure. Try to bring a bottle for every hour or two you plan to spend out on the water to stay hydrated.
- Food – Even if you’re not hungry when you first set out on a paddle boarding trip to go fishing, paddling is hard work and you might be ravenous before too long. You don’t have to pack a full meal, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring protein bars or something simple to keep your energy up.
- Towel – You never known when you’ll need a fresh towel out on the water, either for wiping your hands or rubbing the sweat out of your eyes. In case of injury, a towel can also be used to staunch bleeding. Keep your towel dry by stowing it in a closed Ziploc bag.
- Sunglasses – The glare off the water when you are out paddle boarding can be blinding, so it’s good to always have sunglasses with you. Be sure to install safety straps on your glasses so you don’t lose them in case you get knocked off your board.
- Phone – Bringing such a prized possession in the water with you is risky business, but in the case of an emergency, having a phone on board can be crucial. Most smartphones also have camera capability so you can snap a pic of your prize. Just be sure you have a waterproof case.
- First aid kit – While you should always bring a first aid kit for emergencies, this is especially important if you might be paddle boarding in places that are inhabited by apex predators such as sharks, which can be attracted to the shape and shadow of paddle boards.
- Rope – Always keep 40-50 feet of parachute cord strapped to your board. You’ll need one to strap down any fish you catch too large to fit in a cooler, and you might end up needing to tow someone (or need a tow yourself if you somehow lose your paddle).
- Pocket/survival knife – Besides using it for fishing (cutting lines, gutting fish, etc.) it is good to have a knife on hand for protection in case those aforementioned sharks and other water predators swim a little too close for comfort.
- Hat – Aside from cutting the glare of the sun and making it easier for you to see on the water, a hat also keeps your face from getting burned. Even if you think you don’t want to take a hat, take one anyway. Chances are you’ll change your mind pretty quickly once you’re on the water.
Choose Your Fishing Gear
Once you have your basic paddle boarding equipment list out of the way, it’s time to pack the fishing gear! An important consideration is this: less is more. You want to choose gear that is lightweight, easy to store in a compact way, and can be easily retrieved if lost overboard.
What kind of fishing gear you bring will be largely dependent on what kind of fish you intend to try and catch—a fisherman going after tarpon off the coast of Florida is going to need different gear than a fisherman who is going after small bluegill in a inland lake. Choose your quarry and pack accordingly.
Here is a list of the fishing gear you’ll need to complete your pack for a paddle board fishing trip:
- Rods and reels – What fishing roads and reels you bring on your paddle boarding trip depend on what kind of fish you’re trying to catch, but you’re not likely to catch any fish at all without them, so be sure you get yours packed.
- Pliers – You will need pliers to both set up gear and to sometimes get the hook out of a fish’s mouth or gill if it is particularly ensnared. It’s smart to keep your pliers on a lanyard or otherwise hook them to your SUP somehow so that they don’t get knocked overboard and lost.
- Tackle – Like your rod and reel, the tackle you bring will depend on the fish you’re going after. The main thing to remember is to pack light and bring only the essentials. You don’t need your biggest selection of tackle for a SUP fishing trip, just your best. Put it in a waterproof box.
- Leader material – Bring a spool of line in case you have a large unruly fish snap your rig (or you get it caught on something underwater) and you must set everything up from scratch again. You’ll also want to bring extra hooks and lead weights if you’re using weighted tackle.
- Landing net – Having a landing net isn’t necessary for going after smaller fish, but if you’re ocean fishing and plan to catch larger fish like tarpon or grouper, you’re going to want to have a net to help you get them safely on the paddle board without tipping the whole thing over.
- Measuring tape – Besides providing some objective photo proof of the actual size of your fish when you retell the story over drinks later, many areas have a catch and release laws designed around fish size, so check the regulations in your area and release anything too small to keep.
Storing Your Gear on A Paddle Board While Fishing
One of the advantages to choosing a stand-up paddle board that is geared towards fisherman is that they typically allow for SUP storage capabilities that are not a priority in traditional paddle boards, with plenty of storage for accessories. Some recommended accessories for SUP fishing include the following:
- Rod holder – These are extremely useful for SUP fishermen because a person only has two hands and you need one of them for your paddle. Having either paddle or fishing rod fall off the SUP would ruin your day, so this takes some of the work out of keeping track of your rod. Most of the holders for jet skis will work for paddle boards.
- Paddle leash – While it isn’t a requirement to have a paddle leash when you’re out on a SUP, you’ll be glad you have one if you ever get toppled over by a boat wake and find out that you are now stuck in open water without any way to steer your rig. It’s worth the investment.
- Tackle bags – If you don’t want to waste storage space on your board with a tackle box, you can always opt for a tackle bag instead, which is worn via shoulder strap for easy access. If you get tired of lugging it around, a tackle bag can be easily strapped down to your board too.
- Watertight box – This is where you’ll want to keep your registration, your boating license, your fishing license, wallet, keys, cellphone, and anything else you want to keep waterproof and safe. Choose one that floats and incorporates a leash for extra protection in case you get capsized.
- SUP stabilizers – SUP stabilizers are add-ons that can be installed on either side of your paddle board for added stability in the water, which makes them a great accessory for SUP fisherman. These are an especially good investment if your balance is not that great yet.
- SUP board deck light – If you don’t want to wear a head lamp and you don’t want to worry about having to handle a handheld flashlight for navigation and boat safety, consider installing an on-board deck light. This will make your SUP visible without you having to fiddle with lighting.
- Deck bags/crates – Now that SUP fishing has become more popular in the fishing community, there are a dazzling array of gear bags, packs, and crates that are designed specifically to be stowed on a paddle board via bungee rigging so you can make the most of your storage space.
While it is still a growing trend, SUP fishing has gained significant popularity amongst sport fishermen for its versatility. A paddle board allows the fisherman to stand up, giving him or her much more visibility over the water to see where the fish are hitting, and is also easier to store on a vehicle than a kayak.
Having an inflatable SUP for fishing is perfect when you’re on vacation and don’t want to spend tons of money renting out local kayaks or other fishing equipment which may not be in great shape or quality and will be very costly for a temporary investment.
It is much more practical if you plan on making SUP fishing a regular hobby to go ahead and invest in the right tools and accessories from the get-go, so you don’t have to worry about having everything you need.
You don’t want to discover you’ve forgotten something once you’re already out on the water. If you include everything listed in this step-by-step guide, you’ll have more than enough gear at your disposal to land that spectacular trophy fish and have a fantastic time doing it.
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