Stand-up paddle boards, also known as SUPs, have been around for several decades. They originated in Hawaii back in the 1960’s but they’ve really increased in popularity here in the mainland US over the last ten years. Chances are you’ve seen someone rowing one of these oversized, and exceptionally light, 10 to 12 foot surfboards around the shallows of Matlacha and Pine Island or off one of the Southwest Florida beaches recently. Standing upright and using a single bladed paddle, SUPs can be a phenomenal workout or a leisurely way to go sight-seeing for a few hours.
They’re also one of the best ways to sneak up on tailing redfish that I've ever seen. In calm water a paddle board is absolutely silent and they have none of the “push” that the displacement of a flats boat, no matter how light, can’t help but create. Paddle boards are as close as an angler can come to actually walking on water.
Last month was the first time I tried fishing from an SUP and it was a lot easier than I had imagined. The board I was using was an 11 foot Ark Silencer that I borrowed from my buddy Jory Pearson at Florida Paddlesports, our great new kayak shop located just outside of Matlacha. This model is specifically designed for fishing and even has a couple of recessed rod holders molded into its stern. At 38 inches wide, the Ark Silencer is more stable than most SUPs, making it a better platform for casting without losing your balance.
Since I was going to be fly fishing I brought along my collapsible leaf basket that doubles as a rod holder and line tamer for the nose of the board. It worked perfectly and kept my fly line out of the water and never got in my way while I was paddling. When I wanted to cast I simply laid the paddle across the board at my feet and held it there with my toes.
I loaded the Ark board onto the bow of my Beavertail skiff and ran to a couple of islands just over a mile north of Matlacha. I could have paddled out to this spot but I wasn’t looking at these boards for their awesome workout potential. I just wanted to use them to sneak up on some fish, not chisel myself a new six-pack of abs.
After the short run I launched the board and set off for the mangroves with my 8-weight Sage. I picked a stretch of water where the slight breeze would carry me straight down the shoreline with minimal paddling. I started casting a slider fly at the tree line for a few minutes before getting slammed by something very solid. The fish thrashed for a moment and then ran from the mangroves and out towards the open flats, dragging me and the 12 foot board right along with it. We traveled about fifty yards upwind before the fish gave up and let me kneel down and grab it by the tail. It was only a 22 inch redfish but I was amazed how easily it was able to pull all that weight, nearly 200 pounds of angler and board, across the surface of the water.
Over the past 20 years I’ve fished the flats on foot, from kayaks, canoes, and dozens of different outboard driven skiffs. I can honestly say that hooking this medium sized redfish from a stand-up paddle board was one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever done on the water. While I have no illusions of replacing my Yamaha powered Beavertail with an SUP, I can't wait to see was a catching a big tarpon will be like from one of these boards.
If you’d like to check out a stand-up paddle board for yourself stop by Florida Paddlesports in the Publix Plaza on Pine Island Road. They’re open seven days a week and offer kayak and paddle board rentals, tours, and lessons.