Canoe Fishing Essentials
  |  First Published: December 2008

Ever since I was old enough to drive, I’ve just about always had a boat of some kind or other. They’ve ranged from an old Brooker CT12 tinny to a 5m fibreglass Seafarer Victory and each one of them has been special to me for various reasons. However, while my taste in boats has chopped and changed over the years, there is one type of watercraft I have always been able to find a space for in my shed and that’s a good old fashioned Canadian style canoe.

The reason is simple, I love fishing from a canoe. Yes they may be cramped, they may be wet and they may not have the ability to cover long distances like you can in a larger craft but there is just something so special about paddling along in a canoe. I think it’s the simplicity of it. No noisy motors, no mountains of gear, just you with your backside only inches from the water. Every facet of fishing is so up close and personal when you do it in a canoe.

While canoes are generally designed to be used on smaller or more sheltered waterways, I must admit to pushing the envelope in mine a few times. Take my first misguided attempt at powering a canoe with an internal combustion engine for example.

Being short on cash at the time meant that all I could afford was an old British Seagull engine. Now don’t get me wrong, Seagulls were a good motor in their day, being simple to maintain and use, as they only have about four moving parts. However, the biggest problem I quickly discovered is that they have no neutral, meaning they are in gear as soon as you got them going.

This presented an interesting challenge in the canoe, as they weren’t the easiest motors to pull start. To get mine going, I had to get out of the canoe, pull the cord and they quickly try to jump back in before the canoe took off without me, which it almost managed to do on numerous occasions.

Despite having only four horses, it was a grunty little motor too and it made the whole canoe snake and flex as it pushed it along. There was no keel to help control things either, so we had some white knuckle rides up rapids and between bridge pylons I can tell you.

We also did a lot of drift fishing down trout streams in that canoe and some of the trips down the rapids in the Mitta Mitta River caused even more white knuckles than the upstream ones under petrol power, especially when the river was running high. For some strange reason, I seemed to go through a lot of new fishing partners about that time.

I also chased a lot of Murray cod in it and very nearly had the canoe pulled under on one occasion by a very large and disagreeable fish. It was a great platform for quietly sneaking around the smaller side creeks and billabongs and I reckon I actually hooked more cod out of it than I have out of any other type of boat I’ve owned.

When bait fishing, you could literally get right into the snags and sit straight on top of the fish. In the days before electric motors became widely used, it was the silent but deadly craft, at least until a real big fish got involved or the ever-present water skiers got to close.

I’ve also tackled quite a few of the larger saltwater rivers and creeks in canoes, as well as having a few shots at oyster lease fishing. I’ve ported canoes over kilometres of soft sand to get to some remote estuaries on the south coast of NSW a few times too, as well as too many other adventures to mention. I have to admit looking back, some of the extremes we went too were a little crazy but it was all great fun at the time.

Canoe Clues

You don’t have to spend much time in a canoe without realizing that some bits and pieces of equipment are well worth finding the space for and some aren’t. You also tend to get a new appreciation of the sort of fishing tackle that suits the confined and often rough and ready environment you find yourself in. So, what follows is a list of some handy gadgets (some new, some not so new), as well as some advice about realistic tackle selection for anybody thinking of giving this increasingly popular branch of angling a try.

Tackle Time

Let’s get one thing straight, right from the start. No matter how careful you are, there is always a risk of capsizing when you fish from a canoe. Once you realize this, it makes tackle selection a lot more straight forward than it otherwise could be.

Personally, I don’t believe that it is worth having your best bits of graphite kicking around in the bottom of a canoe where it will get wet, broken or trodden on or possibly all of the above. With that in mind, I generally take less expensive and slightly more robust outfits on my adventures, as they are a lot easier to replace if they go to a watery grave.

These days, there are some very acceptable rods and reels in the lower end of the market. Most of the better known brands like Shimano, Daiwa and Abu have solid and reliable models, with very modest price tags.

Personally, my current favourite canoe fishing outfit comes from the Pioneer range and I have found it to perform well above its price tag. To be honest, I’ve come to love my little 5’6” Perfect Cast baitcaster, as it breaks down into two pieces. This means it can be safely stored inside the canoe where it can’t catch on passing bushes and get broken or pulled overboard.

Go the Blob

I’ve written about my home made blobby anchors in these pages before, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say, that a lead weight on a length of venetian blind cord makes a great temporary anchor. Blobbies work so well that every canoe should have at least one. After using a blobby, you’ll wonder how you ever fished without it.

Brush Grippers

I’ve only just started using these Blakemore Brush Grippers but, like the blobby anchors, they have quickly become essential equipment. They are ideal for quickly and securely tethering the canoe to overhanging branches or tying off to the shore. They are cunningly designed so that the harder you pull the tighter they grip. With a blobby anchor and a brush gripper, you can hold your canoe just about anywhere without tying yourself up in knots.

Oh Oh!

Two words you don’t want to hear when you take a kid or a novice angler out with you in a canoe – “Oh, oh!” particularly if they are proceeded by a splash.

These rod floats are also relatively new to me but should you fail to heed my advice about leaving your expensive rods and reels at home, then at least invest in a pack. Rod floaters are made from the same sort of stuff pool noodles are made from and can be quickly attached and removed from your rod butt, just in front of the fore grip. Being foam, they weigh next to nothing and don’t affect the rod’s action in any way. In fact, after a while you’ll almost forget they are there, at least until your rod ends up falling overboard. Consider them cheap tackle insurance.

Let there be light

If there is one drawback with fishing out of the canoe it’s that you always seem to have your hands full. With that in mind, a head torch or cap light of some sort is a very worthwhile investment. While we have been known to dabble in the odd nocturnal bass fishing adventure, I’m not for one minute suggesting that you should be out on the water in a canoe after dark until you know exactly what you are doing. That said, if you do get caught short of daylight, then a cap light could be a real lifesaver, literally.

Save your back

One of the best things I ever bought for my canoe was a pair of old plastic garden chairs. I cut the legs off and sat them over the thwarts. You won’t believe how much more comfortable it is to sit for extended periods once you have a backrest. They may look odd, but they are the best $20 I’ve ever spent on my canoe.


If there is one thought I could leave you with, it’s to buy or make yourself an outrigger. I have a homemade rigger on my canoe and it is simply brilliant. With the rigger, we can stand up to cast, or even fly fish without fear of tipping over. It does take a little more time to set up and put away, but the versatility and stability it adds to your craft is well worth the effort and expense.

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