SUP Fishing Safety

Safety should always be top-of-mind when you’re fishing from your stand-up paddleboard. Here are my top tips for paddling and fishing safely…

sean callinan sup fly fishing

Wear Your PFD

I always wear a PFD. It is the single most important part of my (and everyone’s) paddling gear. Unfortunately, some paddlers never wear one, which is not only surprising but can be a catastrophic mistake just for the sake of avoiding inconvenience or slight discomfort.

The PFD I Recommend

The key to any PFD is to wear it, and do so every moment you’re on the water. For anglers, that means choosing a model that is comfortable and doesn’t interfere with fishing motion so you will strap it on.

I wear a CO2 cartridge belt because all my fishing is fly casting, so I need as free a motion as possible, and to avoid overheating. I recommend West Marine’s Deluxe Manual Belt Pack Life Jacket with Hydration Pouch or their Ultra-Slim Manual Inflatable Life jacket Belt Pack (or something similar).  

The primary drawback to this model is if I hit my head on a rock during a fall and am unable to pull the cord to automatically inflate the vest, I’m in trouble. I try to solve that problem by paddling with a companion anytime I’m fishing among near-surface structure such as tidal rocks.

For the average angler, I recommend you explore an in-shore automatic/manual inflatable lifejacket, such as is found at West Marine. This is a reasonable compromise between head/neck/chest support and comfort/range-of-motion.

Use a Leash

An unanticipated tumble off a board may propel your craft out of reach, where it is then immediately susceptible to swift wind, waves and currents, which even the most accomplished swimmer can’t overcome.

Mounting your leash to a D-Ring attachment point on the side of the board has proven to be more effective than to the stern, since it then won't interfere with other gear behind you.

Secure a Paddle Holder Onboard

I’m extremely conscientious of paddle placement anytime I need to rest it on my board to avoid a loss overboard. Therefore, when SUP fishing, it is imperative your board has the capability to secure or mount a paddle via a paddle holder.

Safety Practices for SUP Fishing

Check weather forecasts including radar, wind, fog and tide predictions. Knowledge translates to safety.

Always carry a fully charged cellphone in a watertight bag or pouch for emergencies, including weather updates and GPS.

Anytime I fish with a partner who is either on another board or in a mothership (fishing from boat), we carry a set of waterproof handheld radios, which allow you to communicate over distance without using cellphones.

The value of a simple bottle of water can’t be overstated to offset dehydration from paddling.

Always leave a float plan even if it’s just by text, with a reliable person. It should include launch site, destination, and approximate return time. Be sure you stick to it so if something goes wrong, rescue personnel will know where to start looking.

To avoid/protect against being hit by the fly always wear eye protection even at night using low light or clear lenses.
When fly casting, position yourself so the wind is at your back or coming from the side of the board you are not casting from. In other words, always cast so the line is being blown away from your body and head. For example, the wind should come from the left if casting right handed.  

Different casting techniques can also help bring the fly and line away from your body safely and effectively, such as the backcast.

Deploying a mini mushroom anchor with 20-40 feet of line can improve safety and energy expenditure when fishing in or around structure with a sustained or sudden wind.

In an emergency or to conserve energy, paddle while kneeling or hand paddling on your stomach can help cut through the wind back to safety.

It seems like a lot to remember, but after awhile all these precautions will be automatic if you practice them regularly.

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