SUP fishing 101

by Alyssa Lloyd | August 4, 2017

SUP fishing 101 - feature

With the popularity of kayak fishing in Ontario, it hasn’t taken anglers long to start using stand up paddleboards (SUPs) too.

Their advantages are crystal clear: they are simple, portable, low cost, low maintenance, customizable, stealthy on the water, and just plain fun.

They come in a variety of materials so anglers can choose from expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam core, wood, or a portable and an easily stored inflatable. SUPs are the perfect craft for a quick fish or a full day excursion. Here are some SUP tips to help you get paddling.

On a budget?
No problem. SUPs come in many price points. A great way to choose the best board for you is to visit a retailer that will allow you to try multiple styles on the water.

Getting comfortable

Pablo Bonilla of SUPnorth in Haliburton uses SUPs as simple fishing vessels targeting both fresh and saltwater species.

As an instructor, Bonilla recommends first and foremost you become accustomed to paddling a SUP before you attempt fishing from one. “Gaining confidence is the first step, the more comfortable you are on your board, the more enjoyable fishing will be.” says Bonilla.

Taking courses can be an excellent way to learn safety, paddle strokes, balance, what gear to use, and tips that will make your life easier — such as how to freely walk around on the board. Once you’ve mastered these basics, you can start adding fishing gear to the mix.

Safety first

Carrying a personal floatation device (PFD) while on your SUP is not only important, but the law. You must have a properly fitting PFD accessible to you at all times on the water, whether it’s a full vest or inflatable waist PFD, and it’s an even safer choice to have it on.

That said, the number one rule of expert, Jon Babulic, of Backcountry Custom Canoes in Guelph, is to always wear the leash that attaches to your board. “I can’t stress enough how important it is,” states Babulic. Jon has been fishing from SUPs for the past five years. “SUPs are notoriously bad for seemingly carrying themselves over the water even without a human as a sail,” he added. If you fall off without a leash, it could take a while to catch up with your board.

Fishing tip 
As with any water sport, be sure you’re keeping an eye on weather conditions and checking wind directions. Paddling with the wind is a cake walk. Paddling against it is a different story. Wind can create a real headache. Being blown into your casts is a nuisance, and a safety concern.

Note that Transport Canada does not consider a leash to be a substitute for a flotation device.


Bonilla’s arsenal is perfectly uncomplicated; he brings a PFD, leash, fishing rod, net, Fishermen’s Caddy, paddle, and a food barrel that can carry extra gear and triples as a seat.

Babulic doesn’t find himself sitting down much on his board, so he opts for a dry bag to hold his extra gear and camera rather than a cooler or barrel. He also uses an anchor frequently. He straps his fly rod flush with the board using bungee cords to keep things tidy.

You can outfit your SUP with the same gear as a boat. Adding mounts, you can adapt rod holders, net holders, anchors, waterproof lights for the underside of the board, cupholders, and even sail kits.

Be sure to remember your fishing rod, favourite lures, and pack an anchor. If you find a spot full of fish you’ll be cursing that gentle breeze making you work twice as hard to stay in that area.


When getting on SUPs, Babulic recommends kneeling first. Stand up only once you’re comfortable with the board.

If you’re ready to stand up, a good trick for balance is to look forward instead of at your feet. The tendency to look down trips up a lot of beginners.

Stance is by far the most important step in keeping your balance. Naturally, Babulic suggests a wide stance until you get used to working your way around the board. Keeping your feet shoulder width apart will make a world of a difference, especially in rough water.

Paddle tip
Paddle size plays a big role in your ability to enjoy yourself and stay safe, but is commonly overlooked by beginners. If you are constantly leaning too far forward to put your paddle in the water, your balance will be thrown off; you need a longer paddle. If you are over-reaching to get your paddle out of the water, your paddle is too long.

Lastly, when you stand on your board, be conscious of how it’s sitting in the water. If it isn’t flat, you’re likely standing too far back or forward on your board.

Stroke technique

The forward stroke is the clear winner for important strokes. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and shoulders back. Keep your arms fairly straight with a slight bend in your elbows. Holding that stance, bring the paddle forward to the water and stroke back to your foot. Using the same rotation, repeat the stroke.

Almost every beginner tries to paddle with the blade angled backwards. It may seem foreign to have the blade angled forward until you feel how it lifts the board instead of pushing it down.

Another common mistake beginners make is holding their hands too close together on the paddle. The closer they are, the less power your stroke will have. A good practice is holding the paddle halfway down the blade, depending on your arm length.

To keep your board tracking straight, keep your paddle straight up and down close to the board. Only angle your paddle out to the side when you want to make a steering stroke. This should help you make the most of your day and get to where the fish are biting.

Click here to learn the best lures for topwater summer smallmouth

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