One of the great benefits of owning a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) is its versatility. Paddleboards can take you almost anywhere boats can, without the high cost of owning a boat. You don’t need a special license or a trailer, and you can go places where some boats can’t.
The versatility of paddleboarding recently spawned another activity—SUP fishing. Folks around the country are building fully-equipped paddleboard fishing setups, complete with coolers, rod holders, and tackle boxes.
What makes a paddleboard an ideal fishing rig is the height advantage you have when standing up, allowing for better visibility below the surface. Paddleboards are lightweight and offer more maneuverability both in and out of the water. They’re whisper-quiet and small enough to get into honey holes that are hard to access by boat.
If you’re reading this, chances are you enjoy paddleboarding, and would like to build your own paddleboard fishing setup. Or perhaps you’re an avid angler who’s exploring different ways to get out on the water.
Regardless of your experience level with paddle boarding or fishing, there’s a setup that will work for you.
Paddleboards for SUP Fishing
The great thing about fishing from a paddleboard is that almost any type of board will work. There are three main types of paddleboards used for fishing: plastic, fiberglass, and inflatable. Each has its own advantages and downsides when it comes to fishing.
Plastic paddleboards are very durable, which makes them a popular choice with anglers. They’re difficult to damage, especially if you tend to fish in rocky shallow waters.
While they can take a beating, they’re also heavy, weighing in at 50 to 70 lbs. They’re slower and have more drag on the water. However, their weight and higher sides make plastic boards more stable for fishing.
Plastic paddleboards are also easier to equip. They often have more points for deck rigging, places to buckle in a seat, and spots for rod holders, which makes them compatible with many kayak accessories.
Fiberglass paddleboards are not as versatile or durable as plastic boards, but they are the quickest on the water. Their smooth hulls allow them to track better and provide greater maneuverability.
Fiberglass boards are much lighter, which makes them easier and quicker to get on the water. Their lightweight materials allow them to be constructed in longer sizes. Fiberglass boards around 12 feet long are ideal for fishing, offering a large surface area for your gear without feeling heavy or sluggish.
Inflatable boards are great for people with limited storage space or those who don’t have a roof rack to transport a solid board. While they’re easy to transport, inflatable boards take longer to get on the water. You have to factor in inflating and deflating them, which can be time-consuming when you’re ready to fish at the crack of dawn.
Keep in mind that inflatable boards can flex in the middle, which is where you stand and carry your gear. As long as they’re properly inflated, these boards are surprisingly rigid and stable for fishing.
SUP Fishing Paddleboard Configurations
Once you’ve selected a paddleboard, you’re ready to hit the water.
The key to outfitting your paddleboard is simplicity. If you enjoy bringing a variety of rods and tackle, you’ll have to cut back to the bare minimum. You’ll be set with your favorite rod and a small tackle box.
Additionally, you’ll need some form of dry storage, rod and paddleholders, and a cooler for your drinks and fish. Everything else is just “nice to have.”
There are just a few ways to set up your SUP fishing rig, and it may take a few trips to figure out which configuration works best for you.
Hard Cooler as a Seat
One of the easiest ways to configure your board when starting out is to use a cooler as a seat. You may even already own a 20- or 30-quart cooler that’ll work.
Choose a lightweight, but well-insulated model. While roto-molded coolers provide the best insulation, they’re heavy and make your board less stable.
If you’re using the cooler as a seat, place the cooler slightly behind where you would normally stand, so it acts as a counterweight.
Cooler and Larry Chair
You may find using a cooler as a seat difficult, since you have to stand up and turn around to access it. Another option is a Larry Chair, a low-profile folding chair, with your cooler in front or behind you.
When using your cooler in front, you’ll want a lightweight cooler to avoid weighing down the bow of the board. Bonus points if the cooler has built-in rod holders!
Rod and Paddle Holders
Rod and paddle holders are essential on a paddle board. The last thing you want after reeling in the catch of the day is to realize you lost your paddle while fighting the fish.
Most paddle holders on the market today are designed specifically for kayaks. They’re meant to be screwed directly into the plastic, which makes them compatible with plastic boards made of kayak material.
However, with a bit of clever zip-tying, you can fasten them to your chair or a milk crate. When buying a rod holder, look for one that with vertical mounting points.
Milk crates are a popular option for dry storage while SUP fishing. They’re lightweight, durable, and versatile, and can be placed on the front or back of your board. You can zip-tie accessories onto a milk crate and still have room inside for your tackle box and dry storage.
Milk crates work well with the “cooler as a seat” configuration, or with a removable cratewell, which doubles as dry storage and a live well.
A fishing net is more important on a paddleboard than on a kayak or boat. On a paddleboard, it’s easy to lose your balance trying to wrestle a fish onto your board. Choose a lightweight net with an adjustable handle, and don’t forget an extra rod holder for it.
A small waterproof tackle box is ideal for SUP fishing trips. You only need your favorite bait and hooks on a short trip, so avoid loading down a big tackle box.
If you’re SUP fishing in calmer waters, you can get away without having an anchor. However, an anchor is a lifesaver on a windy day. Without an anchor, you’ll constantly have to paddle back to your favorite spot. And you’re there to catch fish, not get a shoulder workout.
Don’t forget a dry bag for your small personal items. Dry bags are great for storing car keys, wallets, sunscreen, bug spray, and snacks, and can be clipped to your seat, crate, or cooler. Keep plenty of air in your dry bag so your valuables will float if you tip your board.
Waterproof Phone Case
A waterproof phone case, preferably one that floats, is a must-have if you plan on taking pictures. Choose one with a lanyard or wrist strap so you can attach it to your chair or crate, or wear it around your neck.
If you have a heavier plastic board, consider investing in a paddleboard cart to haul your board from your car to the dock.
Tips for a Successful SUP Fishing Trip
Once you have everything you need for your paddle board fishing setup, keep these tips in mind:
Think of your gear as stuff you’ll lose if you tip your board in deeper water. Always consider your board’s weight limit. This can make a difference between a good or bad trip. You can easily top the weight limit after you add gear, drinking water, coolers, and ice, making your board unstable.
As with all paddle boarding trips, keep a personal flotation device on you at all times. Not only can it save you in a bad situation, but it’s illegal to paddle in many places without one.
Many fishing trips start before the break of dawn, so carry a light when you go out in the dark. Invest in a high-quality SUP headlamp that can be worn or attached to your board. It’ll help you see where you’re going and alert boaters that you’re in the water.
Last but not least, when it comes to safety, always tell someone where you’re going, or paddle with a buddy. Better yet, introduce a friend to SUP fishing and get them hooked, too!
We hope these tips help get you geared up for your next great fishing adventure. If you have other tips for successful SUP fishing, or suggestions on what to bring, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.