Stand & Deliver

Mick Fletoridis attempts fly fishing from an inflatable paddle board.

For quite a while I’ve been wanting to take a bit more advantage of local waters. Where I live in southern Sydney the ‘local’ is the Woronora River, a tidal tributary of the Georges River that begins at Botany Bay and winds its way many kilometres west. In comparison to the Georges, the ‘Wonnie’ is narrower and shallower and has man-made and natural structure such as bridges, pontoons, moored boats and mangrove stretches spared from urban development. The little big city river offers fishing for bread and butter species like bream, flathead, luderick, whiting and, at the right times, estuary perch, bass high up and the odd jewfish for those in the know. While I sometimes fish close to home, more ‘serious’ extended trips usually take place a few hours north or south — the grass is greener, and all that… So along with committing to doing more local fishing came another challenge. While I own a tinny and kayak, getting them to the water involves hitching a trailer, or loading the (heavy) kayak onto the car, and driving to a ramp. Short, close to home missions required a light craft that could be on and off the water, fast. In a US kayak mag a while back stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) were featured being used for fishing (also see FL#74). A recent search on YouTube verified that the trendy craft aren’t only used by surfers, Instagrammers and yoga instructors (yes…) but had potential for fishing, particularly for my home waters. Researching suitable and relatively cheap boards eventually turned up Aqua Marina’s Drift Inflatable (iSUP). Marketed as a fishing board, the 10'10" (3.3 m) Drift came backpack-like with tie-down icebox with foldback seat, anti-slip deck, rod holders, and lots more. At 12 kg it also looked easy to get on and off the water. Perfect. After making an offer on eBay I scored a new Drift package for a bargain price. First time out Preparing the board involved fitting its supplied bungee tie-down and removable fin and inflating the main deck and two outer sponsons with the hand pump. Inflation took about 10 minutes. The board is made of double-wall drop stitch core material and looked very durable. The first time I got on it, stability wasn’t anywhere near the level I’d hoped… so how the hell do I fly-fish from it? It turned out that as the pump’s pressure gauge hadn’t worked, the board was well down on air. With the gauge sorted (it wasn’t screwed in far enough) and 12 psi in the main deck, the Drift was transformed into a rigid board I could confidently climb on, stand up and paddle. I left the ice box and rod holders behind (the latter suit spin rods anyway) and with a fly rod secured under the bungee tie-down, and leg rope around an ankle, I was away. Standing up I was amazed by the thing’s stability, no doubt helped by outer chambers, which give a generous 38-inch width. Short paddle strokes easily got things moving at a good pace. The only hurdle, literally, was boat wake from the local tinny brigade providing wobbly moments. After settling in to the board, throwing a line felt pretty easy and catching a good bream first time out topped it off. This SUP fishing thing was a goer. What SUP? Anyone with kayak or canoe experience and average balance should easily take to a SUP. As mentioned, boats can be an issue depending on where you fish. In the last summer holidays our river saw lots of traffic and a couple of incidents when powerboats passed by too close could have seen me in the drink, but thankfully just falling clumsily to my knees. That said, the board easily copes with average slow rolling wake. The outer chambers add stability and act as a buffer to water ingress. While not mandatory on a paddleboard (in NSW) I wear a lifejacket, just in case. I just upgraded to a Sea To Summit model designed for kayak anglers and it’s comfortable to wear and has handy storage pockets in which I fit a small fly box, scissors, tippet and other essentials. A great aspect of the Drift is that it’s easy to steer and change direction on. Underneath the board is a removable fin that aids tracking and stability. I’ve found it best to stand nearer the back of the board for optimum balance and control; feet planted just in front of the rod holders is about the right spot, while mindful of not standing on stripped line. The standard paddle has been good to use and is length adjustable, fairly light and gives good propulsion. Paddling distance isn’t a chore as slow strokes easily get the Drift moving in the right direction. I find re-positioning the board while fishing can be done one-armed while holding the rod in the other. When fishing, the paddle blade slots easily under the bow bungee; a couple of hours of bending down to pick up the paddle though can provide a stiff back. The main hindrance to paddle board fly missions is usually wind. While standing, your body acts like a sail and strong gusts quickly push the board from prime casting position to no man’s land. In light wind and current a kayak drogue can slow the board down enough for effective fishing. In stronger wind or for working over snags and prime water I’ve found a 3 kg dumbbell and 10 metre rope tied off to the bow bungee cord works best. The dumbbell can be quickly rolled in and holds bottom well. I’ve also decided though that SUP fly-fishing in strong wind is not worth the headache! On little or light wind days though it’s a pleasure. iSUP fishing Being an inflated soft board the Drift is quiet on the water and adds a stealth element to fly missions. Being upright you get a good view of the water around you and added ability to spot fish and the areas they hang out. Another advantage is the ability to pack the Drift into its bag and explore areas less accessible to boats or even kayaks. While I’d love to say the board has been a fish producer, it’s a work in progress. That said, every fish hooked from it, big or small, feels like an achievement. The catch has mostly been average yellowfin bream and flatties, but not through lack of trying. There’ve been some decent fish hooked and lost without sightings; a couple ate while I was busy untangling line. After solid headshakes and a bit of toing and froing the leader wore through both times. On one trip, several big long toms obviously not spooked by the iSUP followed the fly almost to the rod tip before turning away every time. The same outing a big mullet looked as surprised as me when it took to the air and threw a Clouser. Yesterday, amongst a handful of bream came a small unusual trevally, later identified as a juvenile GT or Papuan trevally — an exotic for these parts. Hopefully the Drift brings more such surprises. Taking a leak For anyone worried about the durability of inflatables I’ve learnt that while the Drift is tough it should also be treated with care. While regular contact with snags, rocks and the like hadn’t been a problem the board got a slow leak after a couple of weeks without use — for quick access the board is stored inflated in a boat shed. The source of the leak was a few small pinholes, most likely from the dorsal spikes of a cranky bream I clumsily dropped on the deck. While attempting to repair the leaks (with the supplied kit) I found some tiny leaks on a seam obviously caused during manufacture. The seller replaced the board without a problem and after a lot of use since the replacement hasn’t had any leaks. Extras There are some other extras that make fly fishing from a paddle board easier. As well as wearing a lifejacket I prefer to cover my feet for protection from fish spikes, hooks and sunburn. I’ve found Astral Brewer 2.0 water shoes up to the job. They’re lightweight, comfortable, provide excellent grip and drain water quickly — as well as on the board I often have the Brewers on for general wear and local bushwalks and rate them highly. I also carry a small mesh landing net and have a waterproof Olympus TG5 camera in a lifejacket pocket or, recently, on a small Gorillapod tied to the deck bungee. For safe storage of phone, keys and wallet I carry a Hummingbird waterproof waist pack. So after paddle board fly-fishing fairly often for six months I’m very confident in the Drift iSUP. While there was a break-in period before I was effectively fishing and not missing the tinny or kayak, I’m really enjoying the challenge of SUP fly fishing. If you’re after a fun new way of fly fishing, jumping on a paddle board is definitely a cost effective option. With summer holidays now a distant memory and fewer boats on the river I plan to paddle mine as often as possible.

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