Canoes and fishing go together like cops and donuts! Long before sleek and expensive bass boats hit the water in the 1940s and 50s, canoes had already been the craft of choice for hundreds of years of fishing! I’ve been fishing from my canoe for just a little over 40 years and I have some thoughts.
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Are Canoes Good for Fishing?
The answer is an emphatic YES. Canoes fit the profile of the absolute all-around best craft for fishing when you average out all the factors that enter the equation. When you consider factors like cost, transportability, convenience, maintenance, effectiveness, and about 20 other considerations, I think canoes would be considered the best choice, while not ranking #1 for any individual factor.
Is it hard to Fish in a Canoe?
After decades of fishing from a canoe, my answer to this question is NO. But, I need to add some qualifications to this. You’ll need to have a canoe with a few important qualities in order for fishing to be quite easy and enjoyable from a canoe.
We’ll explore some of these qualities later, but for now, here they are:
- Be sure your canoe is relatively wide and stable(ish)
- If you have a choice, get a prospector-style canoe
- Be sure you can carry the canoe by yourself (which only makes it easier if you have a partner)
- Don’t even think about long hours on the water without a very good quality set of stabilizers
- Try to incorporate a 30-lb to 40-lb thrust electric motor for “non-portage” outings
That’s just a short list I’ve found to be true in all my years of pursuing Walleye, Pike, and Bass throughout Southern, Central, and Northern Ontario since 1975.
How Do I Set Up my Canoe for Fishing?
Here’s one of the most important questions for anyone researching this topic.
I believe in simplicity. So, I’m not going to discuss how to pack for a camping trip with your canoe or any related topic. The idea here is how I set up my canoe for a 2-4 hour session of morning or evening fishing on a lake or calm river.
The first thing I did was make sure the canoe I use is light enough for me to easily carry. If it’s not, the likelihood of my fishing very often is just not good. So, I have a 16-foot Kevlar Prospector canoe. I’ll tell you later why I think it’s the best option for angling.
The next thing I did was make my own trolling motor mount. This was crucial for my enjoyment, which is really what fishing is all about after all right? Of course, I purchased a trolling motor (this one) and rigged it with my battery.
At this point, I should say that you ABSOLUTELY need a trolling motor electrical extension. Trolling motors come with a very short set of electrical cable leads. That means that the weight of the motor, along with your own body weight, along with the extra 80 lbs of battery are ALL in the same place – the back of the canoe.
The weight distribution is so poor, it’s dangerous and awkward. For about 2 hours’ worth of minimum wage labor, you can get an extension that will allow you to place the very heavy marine battery at the front of the canoe for a near-perfect front-to-back balance of weight. Here’s a great option;
The Newport Vessels Trolling Motor Battery Cable Extension Kit is the one I use for my rig. It’s the best deal and offers the most supple and soft cables I’ve ever felt in my life – literally! Also, the 10-foot length is a must!
Then, the next item on the list of how to rig my canoe for fishing was the STABILIZERS. The WHAT, you ask? Yes, stabilizers are probably the single biggest factor that will affect the enjoyability of your fishing (not to mention safety, comfort, convenience, and the head-turning “wow” factor).
Stabilizers allow you to not only stand up, but you can actually walk around your canoe if necessary. It gives you the vague sensation of stability you feel on the bow deck of a bass boat, and that’s saying a lot!
Finally, the last thing I did was to get a good removable, clip-on rod holder for trolling. I find I don’t actually use it that much, but for just a few bucks, it’s a worthwhile addition to your rig.
Here’s a video I made recently to show you how I set up my canoe for lake fishing in Ontario.
Is Fishing From a Kayak or a Canoe Better?
Here’s a great question where you’ll see my bias come screaming through! Fishing from a canoe is way better than fishing from a kayak!
Once again, I’ll have to explain myself before I get hater comments! In fact, let’s do a Pro/Con list, and I’ll start with the PROs of kayak fishing.
Kayak Fishing PROs
- Many kayaks are made specifically for nothing but fishing and are exceptionally well-equipped for the task
- Kayaks definitely have that “cool” factor that usually can’t be achieved by even a nice canoe
- Without added stabilizers, a fishing kayak is at least a bit more stable overall than an average canoe
- Many models to choose from with wide range of prices for every budget
While there are technically better fishing kayaks than the Lifetime Tamarack (though they all fit into a generally equal category of quality and functionality), for the price, this is an unbeatable value!
Canoe Fishing PROs
- Noticeably lighter options that make canoes much easier to manage (especially solo) while transporting
- Far more capacity for gear and anglers
- Don’t need a trailer to transport
- Easy to portage
- Much more versatile for uses other than fishing (if you get the canoe I will suggest)
In this angler’s opinion, the canoe fishing advantages far outweigh the kayak fishing advantages. Having said that, it’s important to get the right canoe for fishing. If you mess up that step, then it might be better to have the kayak!
What’s the Best Canoe for Stand-Up Fishing?
The best canoe to fish from while standing is a flat-bottom, stable, and wide canoe (with stabilizers). It’s important here to understand what I’m talking about when I use the term “best”.
The “best” canoe is most often the most expensive canoe you can afford. That’s probably true in this case. But, more to the point, the best canoe to stand up in would, above all, have to have the stabilizers I wrote about earlier.
While not 100% necessary, the beam should be at least 30 inches and preferably 35 inches or even more. For even more versatility and stability, I’d get a canoe at least 16 feet long. If it has all these qualities, it’s in the category of the best canoe to stand up in and fish from.
What’s the Best Canoe for Solo Fishing?
The best canoe to fish from solo would be a flat-bottomed, light, 15-16 foot-long canoe with a symmetrical-shaped hull.
The flat bottom makes it stable. The length gives it some ability to track in the water without being to heavy to carry. The lightness obviously makes it easy to get on and off the water.
And, the symmetrical shape of the hull makes it versatile and easy to turn your body to face the opposite direction without any performance consequences.
What’s the Best Canoe for Tandem Fishing?
The best canoe for fishing with a partner would be a 16-17 foot long canoe with a wide beam and relatively flat bottom. The canoe should be light (Kevlar is my suggestion) and should have the Spring Creek Stabilizer system.
The length should be a foot or so longer than a solo canoe (although 16 feet seems to be the sweet spot for both solo and tandem fishing canoes). You’ll still need lightweight if you’re going to make a habit of heading to the water regularly, and without the high-quality stabilizers, you’ll both be more or less stuck on your butts all day long.
Why Choose a Canoe Over Any Other Boat?
It’s true that a canoe is by far my favorite vessel for chasing fish, but why? A canoe is infinitely more versatile, affordable, transportable, fashionable, saleable, portage-able, and stealthy…able, than any other craft.
A bass boat can cost over $100,000 new and has zero ability to be portaged into a lake where even a novice angler can catch his limit in 30 minutes!
A bass boat can really only be used for fishing on calm waters. It doesn’t even have the ability to tow skiers well, or even fish for lake trout on a large lake!
Inflatable pontoon boats or rings are transportable, light, and fun, but they don’t allow for gear, pets, or friends to tag along and they’re less dependable than canoes.
Kayaks are fine, but not very easy to portage, and usually exclude a second person, and they’re not fast and efficient if you need to deal with a headwind and whitecap waves.
An aluminum Jon Boat or car-topper fishing boat is also not portage-able and can still cost over $5,000 used and banged up. It usually needs a trailer as well, making it less convenient to use regularly.
A ski boat or any other larger, family-style boat is effective, but crazy expensive, and the costs of ongoing maintenance (not to mention docking and launch fees, winterizing service fees, fuel, storage, on and on…).
Plus, you still can’t transport it to an uninhabited lake with fish that are wearing “I bite on anything” t-shirts.
You can rest assured I have thought long and hard about this topic and have considered many boats. In my opinion, one of the joys of fishing in general and fishing from my canoe, in particular, is the environmental conditions.
What I mean is that if I’m in a large boat with a gas-fuming motor and lots of people around as I maneuver around other boats in a marina and see hundreds of cottages over there, a marina over here and 15 water skiers way out there, I’ve lost the mystique of what makes canoe fishing so attractive.
I want to be alone with the call of a loon through the mist of a still lake as the sun rises, revealing nothing but forest. I want to hear nothing but that loon and perhaps a distant set of rapids and dripping of water from the tip of my paddle.
This experience is best found with a fishing canoe and is all but impossible to achieve by all but a few types of craft.
Do I Need to Anchor My Canoe While Fishing?
Here’s another age-old question and of course, I have an opinion. No, you do not need to anchor your canoe or kayak, and I would actually discourage it.
You see, if you anchor your canoe, you immediately run into a thousand problems that IN MY OPINION make matters far worse than if you chose the alternative of gently drifting along the outside of a weed bed with the occasional course correction via paddle.
I’ve spent many years using an anchor, and what I’ve found is that I need to cover lots of territory quickly (like a pro bass angler) and drifting is often not fast enough to do that.
Why would I want to slow down the process even more by anchoring my canoe?
I can cast an area about 10 times before I drift out of it so I certainly don’t need to waste more time casting 50 more times with my anchor planted on the bottom (unless maybe there’s a school of fish that just won’t leave – but then again, I can just gently paddle back upwind and start the drift again).
When you anchor your canoe, you stop working with the waves and wind and start to fight them.
That could at least be awkward as the wind slaps water against your hull and your anchor line and anchor disturb the natural underwater environment.
At worst, anchoring could be dangerous as larger waves threaten to swamp you. My strong suggestion would be to fish in mostly quiet waters from 6-9 pm in mid-summer or early in the morning about 60 minutes before sunrise and another 60 minutes after sunrise.
With quiet waters, you’ll experience nature as it was intended to be experienced, you’ll have far more fishing success, and you won’t need a friggin’ anchor!
Oh, did I mention that an anchor makes your canoe floor disgusting, mucky, dirty, and wet, along with making your gear list far heavier?
What Material is Best for Fishing Canoes?
I would strongly suggest that Kevlar be your go-to material for your fishing canoe. Other materials like aluminum are heavy and noisy (and all-around unpleasant) while carbon canoes are out of most canoeists’ budgets.
Royalex or T-Formex canoes are meant for rough treatment in whitewater and are restrictively heavy as well.
Any boat that’s lighter than Kevlar (ie. skin on frame canoes or pack boats) won’t have enough durability to withstand constant bumping into rocks and debris or hold a hard, sharp 90-lb trolling motor marine battery.
Key Takeaways When Considering a Canoe for Fishing
Remember, canoes are arguably the most versatile and “best” craft for fishing in most bodies of water (other than very large lakes in the middle of a windy day).
Their score in all relevant categories will be higher (when averaged out over 10 or more factors) than any other fishing vessel for recreational anglers looking for a secluded, unfished environment.
To maximize your experience I would strongly suggest you consider a 16-foot Prospector (symmetrical shape) canoe made of Kevlar and equipped with at least a set of Spring Creek Stabilizer pontoons.
Then, if you have the budget, add a 30-lb thrust trolling motor on your homemade motor mount, and don’t forget the electrical extension cables for your battery.
That’s it! You have the virtually perfect fishing machine for 95% of the lakes and rivers in most states and provinces, and you also have yourself an efficient tripping canoe you can use on a wilderness outing without the stabilizers – all for around $2K – $3K.
Now that’s a good deal!
References: Spring Creek Manufacturing