Considering the canoe

by James Smedley | June 26, 2019

There is no denying the appeal of powerful outboards on comfortable boats loaded with angling gear, but there’s something poetic about the canoe. Maybe it’s the back-to-basics approach that canoe angling demands, or the stealth of a well-formed canoe silently parting the waters, but there is an allure to paddling a canoe down a river or around a small lake.

Even without the speed and technology embraced by modern anglers, the canoe continues to reign as an effective angling craft.

For anglers open to paddling enlightenment, here are a few things to consider.

Choosing a canoe

Canoe design is a compromise between speed and stability. A narrow, round-bottomed 16-foot canoe will be much faster than a wide, flat bottomed canoe of the same length. But, it will also be less stable. Generally, fishing canoes skew towards stability, but some anglers are comfortable fishing from a relatively tippy, long and narrow cruiser.

The right length

Family canoe for at least 2 paddlers, 2 kids and cargo: 18+ feet.

Canoe for a couple of daytrippers with some room for gear: 16-17 feet.

Single-paddler canoe with room for a bit of gear: 12-15 feet.


Construction considerations include strength, weight, aesthetics, and durability. Modern materials like fibreglass, aluminium, kevlar and ABS plastic join traditional wood canvas, cedar strip and even birch bark. Each has their own set of qualities and choosing a canoe depends on individual values and expectations.

The paddle

Paddle design, construction, and materials vary widely.

Carbon fibre, bent-shaft paddles are designed for lightweight efficiency.

Aluminum shaft, plastic bladed paddles for durability.

Wood paddles provide everything from economy to work-of-art aesthetics.

For flat-water anglers, a shoulder-height hardwood paddle with a 5- to 7-inch wide beavertail blade, straight shaft, and comfortable grip is a good choice.

The J stroke

You don’t have to be a particularly skilled paddler to catch fish out of a canoe, but at the very least you should learn the J stroke. Whether paddling solo or with a partner, the paddler in the stern (back) steers the canoe. The J stroke allows you to both travel in a straight line and alter course without switching sides every few strokes.


Dip the blade ahead and pull back to propel the canoe forward. Near the end of the stroke, turn the power face of the paddle (the side that is pushing water) outwards and pry it away from the canoe to bring the canoe back on course. Propulsion comes at the beginning of the stroke and steering is accomplished at the end. The J stroke can be done on either side and, with a bit of practice, is an efficient means of propelling a canoe towards fish.


The fact that you can pick up a fishing boat, rest it on your shoulders, and carry it past barriers that spell the end of the line for other craft, is one of the great advantages of the canoe. Predictably, the number of portages required to reach an angling destination often corresponds with the quality of the fishing.

Travelling light

Anglers harbouring an unhealthy attachment to a boatload of gear must learn to let go. A canoe has only so much room and if there’s a portage trail between you and the fish, everything you bring must come in on your back. Bring the gear known to work for the species sought. Remember that specialized techniques and secret weapons are not usually necessary on remote waters with good fishing. A rod or two and a small tackle box that can slide easily into the outside pocket of a pack will suffice.


Originally published in the August 2018 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.

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