Fishing is a great way to pass the time, enjoy the great outdoors, and maybe even catch your next dinner. Whether you are fly fishing in a secluded mountain stream or fishing for marlin on the ocean, the joy of dropping your line in the water is the same. But what about fishing from a canoe?
Canoes are good for fishing because they provide a reasonable level of comfort and excellent maneuverability on the water with a bit of practice. While they aren’t perfect, canoes can provide an excellent platform for your next angling expedition.
In this article, we will take a look at what makes canoes such a good choice for fishermen around the world. We will also look at some of the drawbacks for these paddle-powered vessels, compare them to another popular non-motorized option, and outline what to look for in a fishing canoe. If you have ever wondered if fishing from a canoe is for you, read on.
The Benefits of Fishing in a Canoe
Canoes can make for excellent fishing vessels for several reasons. Let’s take a look at why so many people choose to drop their lines from these staples of outdoor living.
While “comfort” might not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about canoes, they are actually quite pleasant in most situations. The open-top and wide hull provides plenty of room to stretch out on lazy currents as well as enough space for all the tackle you could want. They are also great for camping trips since a tent, mess kit, and all your other gear can easily fit in a canoe (source).
Most canoes have a seat at the bow and stern, along with two thwarts (support struts) located midway between each seat and the center yoke. These parts of the canoe allow a variety of different sitting and kneeling positions, which is especially useful when fishing.
Obviously, canoes can not compare to a larger powerboat’s comfort, but comfort isn’t their primary purpose.
Still, these utilitarian vessels can be more comfortable than you might think, and most canoe anglers upgrade their vessel with one of the many seats designed with fishing in mind. Cushions, backrests, and a bit of carpet on the boat’s floor for kneeling can all add to the comfort when fishing from a canoe.
Mobility on the Water
This is where canoes begin to shine.
When paddling a canoe with two people, each person must fulfill their role. The person sitting at the front of the boat is called the bowman and is responsible for notifying the person at the rear (the sternman) of any obstacles or obstructions, while the sternman is responsible for steering.
Synchronization between the two paddlers is key for successful navigation. As one person paddles on the right side of the canoe, the other mirrors their movements on the opposite side. Using long, smooth strokes and communication between paddlers, the forward movement created by even paddling will carry the canoe gracefully across a body of water.
Turning is accomplished using a different motion called a J-stroke. A paddler pulls the blade of the paddle straight back through the water but then pushes it forward and away from the boat at the end of the movement, making a J. If you want to turn right, the sternman will perform a J-stroke on the right side of the canoe, and vice versa to turn left. The stronger the final pushing movement of the J-stroke, the tighter the turn.
With a bit of practice, a rowing team will become a well-oiled machine capable of negotiating the tightly packed cypress trees of bayou environments or narrow and winding estuaries.
Even with a single paddler, canoes remain highly maneuverable, although all the work falls on their shoulders. Several small, electric trolling motors are designed specifically for canoes that help you cover water faster than paddling, especially when you are on your own (source).
This maneuverability makes canoes perfect for fishing into any number of aquatic environments.
You Don’t Need to Cast Your Line Out As Far
No matter what type of fishing you are doing, dropping your lines where the fish are biting is the goal.
When fishing from a canoe, you have a massive advantage over someone casting from the shore or a dock. The mobility on the water we discussed, coupled with a canoe’s near-silent movement, means that you are less likely to disturb fish the way a powerboat would. This gives you an advantage while providing access to hard-to-reach fish hideouts.
It is still a good idea to send your lure out a distance from your canoe. However, you don’t need a 60-yard cast like you might want when fishing from shore.
The Drawbacks of Fishing in a Canoe
While there are some major benefits of fishing from a canoe, they are not perfect, and it would be unfair to gloss over their downsides. Here are the most common drawbacks people experience when fishing from a canoe:
Staying in the same spot once you’ve found fish is essential for any angler, and this remains just as true when fishing from a canoe. However, the shape of a canoe and its shallow draft can make safely anchoring a bit difficult, especially in strong currents or rough conditions.
Don’t worry! There are some solutions.
One strategy that many canoe anglers use is to utilize two anchors, one at the bow and one at the stern. By anchoring at two points, the canoe is less likely to drift and twist in strong or chaotic currents. The downside of this is that you end up doing twice the work when lowering, raising, and pulling your anchors into the canoe.
If you ever get into a sticky situation and have to cut your anchor line, you will also potentially lose two anchors, which could cost you a pretty penny if you went for a fancy store-bought anchor.
Another option that has become increasingly popular among paddling anglers in recent years is called an anchor trolley (source).
This is a system attached near the bow and stern of your canoe and runs a rope through pulleys at either end. Attached to this rope is a metal hoop through which you thread your anchor line that is then tied to an anchor cleat. By pulling the line, you can shuttle the anchor line from one end of the canoe to the other, allowing you to orient your boat according to the current and wind direction.
An anchor trolley is especially useful if you are on your own in a canoe and reduces the need to move about when dropping and raising anchor, which is a common cause of tipping over. Even with an anchor trolley, it is a good rule of thumb only to anchor from the bow or stern and not from the side of the hull, as this can also increase the odds of tipping your canoe over.
Transportation to the Water
Before you enjoy the peace and tranquility of wetting your lines from a canoe, unless you have a lakeside home, you still need to get the boat to the water, which brings us to another drawback of fishing from a canoe.
If you are casting from the shore, all you need is your rod, reel, and tackle. The size, cost, and awkwardness of transporting a canoe can be a dealbreaker for some people. Depending on the size of your canoe, you may be able to fit it into the back of a pickup truck or even a large SUV. But once again, you will need access to some sort of vehicle to get your canoe to the water.
In reality, when transporting your canoe to and from the water, it is best to have some sort of trailer. These additional transportation costs mean that—for some people—going fishing from a canoe is simply outside their budget.
While canoes are far from tiny, they have a limited carrying capacity compared to larger powerboats, which must be taken into account when packing for a fishing trip.
Most fishing canoes are designed for two people, although they can generally carry a third person in a pinch with a sacrifice in comfort. However, the average 16-foot canoe can hold a total of 940 lbs (426 kg) of gear and passengers, so they aren’t exactly lightweights either. Larger, 17-foot canoes can carry even more weight, usually maxing out around 1160 lbs (526 kg) and comfortably seating three passengers.
Whatever the size of your canoe, it is generally a good idea to pack light and stay under your canoe’s maximum weight capacity just to be safe.
Many canoe anglers like to take out a slimmed-down tackle kit with maybe two or three flies, a single rod and reel, and other tools like pliers and a knife. Optimizing your kit is especially important for multi-day camping trips since you will need to carry significantly more gear than just your fishing equipment.
Slimming down your gear becomes even more important for fishing trips where you plan on portaging over rough terrain in search of a honey hole where the fish are plentiful.
You can find more detailed information about the burdens of canoe portaging by clicking over to Canoe Portaging: What It Means & How to Do It (Full Guide).
Which Is Better for Fishing: Canoes or Kayaks?
So far, we have spent our time examining the pros and cons of fishing from a canoe, but kayaks are another popular non-motorized vessel used for fishing.
|Comfort||More comfortable||Less comfortable|
|Carrying Capacity||Higher capacity||Lower capacity|
|Stability||Less stable||More stable|
|Available Fishing Accessories||Many available||Many available|
|Maneuverability||Less maneuverable||More maneuverable|
|Transportation||Requires a car or trailer||Requires a car or trailer|
|Passengers||Two or more||Usually, for a single person, although there are two-person models|
|Portage||Easy with two people||Difficult|
Both of these small crafts have their positives and negatives when used for fishing.
Canoes are larger and generally provide a more comfortable ride with room to stretch out and move about the boat a bit. Canoes also usually have more room for gear, making them especially appropriate for multi-day fishing trips where you will be camping. Kayaks also have a good deal of space, but it is usually stowed in sealed compartments in the fore and aft of the boat, making access difficult.
Kayaks sit lower in the water than canoes, making them more stable in rough conditions or, in our case, when landing a large fish. When it comes to the availability of fishing accessories, there are a plethora of options for kitting out your canoe or kayak. Rod holders, anchor trolleys, and fish finders are all available to turn your small craft into a boat that fish fears.
Another area where kayaks outperform canoes is in the maneuverability department, although this advantage is reduced when two people are paddling together in a canoe. However, when it comes to single occupancy control, kayaks are clear winners.
Both kayaks and canoes require some sort of large vehicle or trailer combination to be transported from your garage to the water, although canoes are usually lighter than kayaks giving them a slight edge in terms of ease of transport.
Canoes are also a better option if you want to fish with a friend. While there are tandem kayaks, most of these small crafts designed for fishing are single occupancy. On the other hand, canoes are more versatile, with the same vessel capable of being manned by a single person, comfortably carrying two anglers, or accommodating a third passenger depending on the canoe’s size.
Finally, canoes outperform kayaks regarding the ability to portage by a long shot. In areas like Northern Minnesota’s lake country, getting out of the canoe and carrying it overland is a common occurrence, and, while it isn’t necessarily fun, it is easier with a canoe. On the other hand, a kayak with its cargo stored in sealed compartments and the added difficulty of getting in and out of the boat is extremely difficult to portage.
This situation is compounded by the fact that most fishing kayaks are single occupancy, so you don’t have a friend’s added hands to help.
What to Look for in a Fishing Canoe
Now that you know how canoes stack up against kayaks, we can take a look at what you want in a fishing canoe.
The first thing you need to consider when looking for a fishing canoe is the size of the boat you will need. Fishing canoes usually come in two sizes: single and tandem. If you plan on mostly going on fishing trips with a friend, then it is probably a good idea to go for the larger option. After all, if you need to, you can still paddle a tandem canoe alone, but the single person option will be seriously cramped if you decide to bring a friend along.
The canoe’s length is also a factor because the longer the boat, the faster it can go. However, when it comes to fishing, speed isn’t king, so a shorter, more maneuverable boat is your best option.
The next factor to consider when shopping for a fishing canoe is the material the boat is made out of. There isn’t a “best material” when it comes to canoes since they all have their pros and cons.
Modern carbon fiber canoes are popular due to their low weight, but they are more expensive than other options. Plastic is an option that won’t break the bank; however, it isn’t as durable as an aluminum canoe.
You have to identify your needs and find the canoe that fits your situation. If you plan on making a lot of solo trips, it might be worth spending the added cash and buying a lightweight carbon fiber boat. If the price tag is your biggest concern, go with a plastic canoe.
Along with the canoe’s size, the other factor that determines the performance of a canoe is the shape of the hull. Long, thin canoes can cruise much faster than wider boats, but, once again, speed isn’t the most important characteristic of a fishing boat.
A wide canoe is much better for fishing since it provides more stability as well as the space to fit all of your gear and remain comfortable on long trips.
There are plenty of accessories that can take your fishing canoe to the next level, including rod holders, coolers, and fish finders, and while there may be some boats that come equipped with all the bells and whistles, they are not necessary.
Depending on your budget, it may be a better idea to find a suitable canoe and then slowly upgrade your kit since all of these accessories are available in the aftermarket as well.
There are few things as serene and pleasurable as escaping into the peace of nature, and canoes provide one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors. When this is combined with the relaxation of dropping your line in the water and waiting for fish to bite, it is a truly rewarding experience.