My favorite canoe fishing trips were all day excursions in our squareback aluminum canoe, trolling for hours on mountain lakes for trout. Fishing from a canoe is a time-honored, nostalgic tradition. And while different waterways may require distinct types of canoes for fishing them, figuring out which canoe is best for your fishing needs is not as difficult as it might seem.
What’s the best fishing canoe? The best fishing canoe is a multi-purpose recreational canoe—it’s the most versatile. For fishing from lakes, streams and harbors. A multipurpose canoe will allow you access to widest variety of waters and weather conditions. But for trolling all day, a squareback canoe is the best fishing canoe.
There’s a little more to it than that. For instance, you don’t want to take a canoe built for lake fishing onto a white water river or into the rough ocean and try to go fishing.
So stick with me and let’s find the best fishing canoe for your needs.
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Quick Answer – 5 Best Fishing Canoes
- Best Multipurpose Fishing Canoe – Mad River Adventure 14
- Best Fishing Canoe to Put a Trolling Motor on – Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS
- Best Fishing Canoe to Carry a Lot of Gear – Old Town Discover 169
- Best Solo Fishing Canoe – Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman
- Best Fishing Canoe for Rocky Beaches – Grumman 17′ Aluminum Double End Canoe
Can I Fish From a Canoe?
Wait, can you even fish from a canoe? Yes. People have been fishing from canoes for literally hundreds of years. A canoe actually makes an extremely versatile, easily transportable, and conveniently storable fishing vessel.
And depending on its size, a canoe can fit several people, including their gear, for a full day of fishing.
For solo fishing, there are canoes that are sized correctly and if you get the right one that’s wide enough to provide good stability, you can even stand up and fly fish from it.
Is a Canoe or Kayak Better for Fishing?
Before we focus on canoes for fishing, let’s address this question. Having fished from both a canoe and a kayak, I can tell you that kayaks and canoes are both great fishing vessels. However, they each have slight advantages over the other, depending on how and where you plan to fish.
Fishing kayaks are better for:
- Fishing Solo – Fishing kayaks are primarily designed as individual fishing vessels. They are optimized to be occupied, propelled, and land fish by a single occupant.
- Fishing in the Ocean – Hands down, a good ocean fishing kayak outperforms a canoe on varying ocean conditions, maneuverability, and multitude of fishing kayak options and accessories you can get for it.
Fishing canoes are better for:
- Fishing Multiple People – A 2 or 3-person canoe is a wonderful vessel for comfortably carrying multiple people and their gear for all day fishing excursions.
- Fishing Lakes and Rivers – Due to its versatility and stability, lake fishing and gentle river fishing are great uses for a fishing canoe. Not to mention the nostalgia and serenity of slowly paddling a flat calm mountain lake is good for the soul. It’s not that you can’t do that from a kayak, you can, but for enjoying that with a friend or two, it’s the canoe.
- Fly Fishing – I’ve stood up in both and I prefer fly fishing from a canoe. Of course modern fishing kayaks have come a long way and you can definitely stand up in the good ones.
Trolling from a Canoe or Kayak
Put a trolling motor on a canoe and set me free on a lake for the day… Nothing better. Absolutely, you can troll from a kayak also, but for versatility, roominess, and pure “put-put” enjoyment, a squareback canoe is awesome! In addition, if you want to troll with more than one person, a good 2 or 3-person canoe is better than several solo kayaks, in my opinion of course.
Let’s get back to canoes…
Multipurpose Canoe and Where it’s Useful
If you want to get the most versatility out of your fishing canoe, you’ll want to explore multiple types of waterways. A multipurpose canoe is the best design to fish in:
- Tight Streams
- Small Ponds
- Calm Lakes
- Slow-flowing Rivers
This canoe could even be used in the ocean with pontoons attached, but that’s not my preferred vessel for ocean fishing.
Also, a multipurpose canoe may not be the best choice to take on extreme rapids, however it can handle some swift currents while fishing. The best thing about a multipurpose canoe is it performs on both flowing and flat water. A multipurpose canoe with a pontoon may be useful on large rough lakes or calm ocean inlets, especially if you plan to stand up in it quite a bit.
The multipurpose canoe is ideal for the person who wants to fish on different bodies of water. If you’re going to fish on slow rivers and relatively calm lakes, there’s no reason to buy more than one canoe. A multipurpose canoe is durable and stable enough to get both jobs done pretty well.
The History of the Multipurpose Canoe
Humans have been making canoes for at least 10,000 years. In ancient times a river may well have been the quickest and easiest way to get from one area to the next. People used canoe building materials that were readily available to them. Dugout canoes have been discovered all over the world.
People used these rather heavy and awkward dugout canoes to transport food, and other goods long distances in a shorter time to carry more cargo than they could by carrying it over land walking. In addition, they could fish rivers, lakes and swamps.
And if needed, they could hunt from the canoe and bring back killed game with ease and speed.
Types of Canoes for Fishing
The type of water and the type of fishing you want to do will determine what canoe’s best for your particular fishing needs.
When lake fishing, recreational canoes are often a great choice. For river fishing, especially if you will be paddling some small rapids, you’ll want a river canoe. Ocean fishing requires speed, strength and stability. An Outrigger canoe is the best choice, however a multipurpose canoe with a pontoon attached would work as well.
If you’re not into paddling, you can put an engine on a canoe. A square stern or flat back canoe is great for mounting a trolling motor, but with a canoe motor mount adapter, you can put a small trolling motor on a traditional canoe as well.
Let’s have a closer look at the types of canoes made today.
- Flat Bottom Canoe – Stable and made for ponds, lakes, and flatwater
- Multipurpose Canoe – Maneuverable, strong and lightweight, this canoe is great for ponds, lakes, and slow flowing rivers.
- Outrigger Canoe – If you plan on standing up a lot or going in the ocean with your canoe, putting an outrigger on it might be your answer.
- River Canoe – River canoes are tough and designed to withstand impact and scratching from rocks and river beaches and banks.
- Square Stern Canoe – designed to attach a motor to them, square stern canoes are great trolling canoes for fishing all day or running across the lake to your favorite spot.
A river canoe is designed to withstand bumps and dings. Its design is best for the current changes and paddling extremes presented by flowing waters.
The sides of a river canoe are higher to help prevent water from coming in. This vessel is designed for the paddler to kneel while paddling.
Today the best materials for a multipurpose canoe you can also use on the river are rotomolded polyethylene, or heavy duty PVC. Rotomolded polyethylene is light and very durable. As is the heavy duty PVC.
Most PVC canoes are inflatable, so it’s easier to pack these canoes into your car and transport.
In the past, river canoes were made from a material called Royalex. Royalex was made of layers of vinyl, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) foam, and ABS plastic.
Royalex was considered the best for material for swift waters and was often used by whitewater canoers. They discontinued manufacturing Royalex in 2013 because the vessels would dent when hit hard.
A river canoe must be lightweight. There may be times you need to pull your canoe from the water and carry it to a new location. Having a canoe light enough for the occupants to carry is a necessity.
In a river there are many obstacles, so river canoes need to be strong and withstand impact.
River Hazards and Canoe Safety
Rivers are often narrow with banks and cliffs on their sides. The water’s moving due to gravitational force. The steeper the descent of the land the quicker the water will move. You need experience in traversing rapids and other hazards to go on anything beyond slow-flowing lazy rivers.
There are challenges on a river you would never meet on a tranquil pond. The navigator of the river canoe must swiftly and safely maneuver their craft through white-water rapids, huge boulders and tree limbs.
Having the right equipment in case you run into trouble could save your life.
- Wear a PFD, Personal Flotation Device
- Know Your Abilities
- Map the River Before You Go
- Keep a first aid survival kit (affiliate link) with you
Recreational Canoe for Fishing
“Back in the day…” As my father used to say, there weren’t different kinds of canoes for every nuance or type of water. No fishing canoe vs recreation canoe. There was just your canoe. And you took that canoe wherever you wanted to and made due with whatever limitations it had.
Today, there are more selections in canoe types, materials and purposes, but the good old recreational canoe can do most of what you’ll need/want it to.
Recreational canoes are great for going from splashing and paddling summer fun, to morning still fishing to strapping on the trolling motor and zipping across the lake.
Calm water fishing
Imagine a pond, lake, or even a calm ocean inlet with little to no wave action. These waterways are ideal for a novice fisherman, canoeist or anyone who just wants to relax in their canoe. The best canoes for these waterways are considered recreational. Though the square stern canoe with a motor or an inflatable canoe will also be good.
Square Stern Canoe for Mounting a Motor
The square stern canoe is yet another option for the angler. Square stern canoes are often used for fishing and for hunting waterfowl.
Square stern or squareback canoes are built to accommodate a small motor attached to the back of the canoe, eliminating the need to paddle. The downside of this design is the square back causes water resistance which makes it more difficult to paddle should you need to.
The Inflatable Canoe
The inflatable canoe is one of the lightest and easiest canoes to transport. When not in use, they deflate and fold up. These vessels can range in price from a couple hundred dollars to over $2,000.
The price range reflects the strength and ability of the canoe. On the lower end they’re good recreational watercraft meaning they’re good for calm, flat waters. On the high end inflatable canoes can be strong enough to traverse river rapids.
Canoes for Ocean Fishing
Ocean fishing requires a different approach. If you want to fish from your canoe in the ocean you need to have a canoe that will handle ocean conditions. For the sea you’ll need a canoe with a design to cut through the waves. It also needs to be strong and stable. This vessel will be sleeker than other fishing canoe designs.
Flat Bottom Boat World recommends “A shallow-v outrigger canoe.” This Outrigger (affiliate link) for a canoe is a time tested canoe accessory. It’s sleek enough to help get past the breakers, while stable enough to fish from.
For stability, an outrigger or pontoon (affiliate link) is used in the ocean. Pontoons, also known as stabilizers, are buoyant devices attached to the canoe via an arm that holds it a certain distance from the boat. This helps the vessel maintain balance in ocean conditions.
Depending on your needs and ability, an outrigger canoe can be small enough for one person or large enough to sail the ocean. Some outriggers are essentially two canoes held together.
Ocean Canoeing Safety Practices
It’s recommended that ocean canoeing be done in pleasant weather. Watch the local weather report before venturing out. Pay attention to the weather conditions, you can often see a storm approaching long before it reaches you.
Know where you’ll be canoeing and fishing. Tell others where you will be and when you will be back. Many people lose their lives in the ocean because they ran into trouble and no one knew where they were.
Wear your personal flotation device. Should something happen and your canoe be flipped a PFD might save your life.
Take a survival kit with you. This should contain dry matches or fire kit, a mirror, flashlight, sharp knife, flare gun and flares.
Even in pleasant conditions rogue waves can appear. A rogue wave is a very large wave. They have capsized many boats, as well as injured or killed unsuspecting people on shore.
Know your limits and be sure you can handle the size fish you are planning on catching.
One day at the shoreline in Hilo, Hawaii, we noticed a lone fisherman in a small kayak not far from shore. He’d hooked a large fish.
A crowd gathered onshore watching the man fight with the fish. We were cheering him on. He just about had it landed when the fish swam quickly underneath the vessel. Suddenly the little kayak flipped upside down. The boat, the man, and all of his gear were in the water.
The fish got away. And luckily the guy got his kayak turned back upright and paddled to shore. Even luckier, he had a life vest on…
Canoe Designs Comparison
There are many different designs of canoes. These differences have an effect on the canoe’s performance in different types of water.
Canoe hull design is probably one of the most important factors in how well a given canoe performs. The roundness or narrowness of a canoe’s hull will determine its stability, speed, and carrying capacity. There are six hull shapes of canoes.
- Flat bottom
- Round bottom
- Moderately round bottom
Canoe length is also and important part of a canoe’s performance, weight capacity, and stability. Canoes range in length from under 14 feet to more than 17 ½ feet. And canoe length helps determine how many people and how much gear a canoe can carry.
Keep in mind the longer and wider a canoe is the heavier it will be to transport, so there are tradeoffs…
We have come a long way from the wood dugout canoe. The type of material your canoe is made from will determine its weight and strength.
The material a canoe is made from, as well as it’s size, will determine how much it weighs. If you will be navigating a canoe, you may want a lighter and smaller one. How will you be transporting your canoe on land? Will you carry it on top of your vehicle, or will you need a trailer?
Above all, a fishing canoe needs to be stable. You don’t want to capsize once you catch a fish! However with stability you’ll lose speed.
Fishing is usually a very relaxed sport. The angler knows speed is not a prerequisite, but patience is. The only time speed may be a factor is in ocean fishing. This is why an Outrigger Canoe is recommended for ocean fishing.
To learn more about canoe materials, read our article on What are Canoes Made of?
Canoe Paddle Primer
Now that we have covered types of canoes and where they’re used, let’s take a moment to talk about paddles. You can’t control your canoe without a paddle.
Choosing the right canoe paddle for fishing is just as important as choosing the right canoe. Paddles are used to displace the water and push you and your canoe along. They are made to match where they will be used.
Here’s a quick refresher on the Parts of a Canoe Paddle. And here’s how to figure out How Long a Canoe Paddle Should Be.
Recreational Paddles are the Best
Especially when you’re first starting out fishing from your canoe, paddles made for recreational purposes are the best choice if you’re going canoeing in different bodies of water. Recreational paddles have a stiffer flex to increase stroke efficiency. This makes them the most versatile of all canoe paddles.
River/whitewater paddles are good for paddling in fast moving water.
And wilderness or freestyle paddles are great for long paddling trips.
For fishing, a tough plastic or aluminum canoe paddle may be what you need. Your canoe fishing paddle will be used for anything from paddling to pushing your canoe through shallow water. So it needs to be tough and durable because it’s going to take some abuse.
Canoe Paddle Materials
The most common paddle is made of wood. Other choices are available and include:
While plastic and aluminum are inexpensive, they are best used as back-up paddles. They are durable but some find them awkward. Carbon paddles are more expensive, but they’re lightweight and powerful, making it easier to paddle more efficiently.
Carbon paddles also last longer. And finally, fiberglass paddles are best for paddling rapids where damage can occur more easily.
Different Paddle Shapes and Their Use
The shape of the paddle is all about where it will be used. The shapes have special names.
- Otter Tail
- Sugar Island
Beavertail and Ottertail resemble the shape of these animals’ tails. They are both good multipurpose oars. Whitewater style includes the Sugar island. On long paddling trips oars such as the wilderness or Algonquin are commonly used.
Canoe Paddle Shaft Choices
Once you choose the paddle to fit the waterway you will need to decide on a straight shaft or bent shaft for your paddle. A straight shaft is used for:
- Fast currents
And straight shaft paddles are more often the best choice for stern paddlers who need to steer, correct, and guide the canoe with more complicated strokes.
A bent shaft canoe paddle is used for tranquil water where you need to move your vessel more efficiently. Bow paddlers use bent shafts more often as they’re responsible for maintaining a steady, efficient and constant pace.
Canoe Paddle Materials
Just like canoes, paddles are made from a variety of materials and prices.
Canoe Paddle Length/Sizing
Paddles come in different lengths to fit the person. They even come in children’s lengths.
Here’s a quick guide to getting the right canoe paddle length.
Take some time to measure for the right length. First find your grip span. This is the length between your hands when gripping the paddle, the correct way.
If you don’t have a paddle there are a few techniques you can use to get a good idea.
Bending Branches recommends “If You’re at home without a paddle-kneel down with your bottom 6” off the floor, as if sitting in a canoe. Measure from the floor to your nose. Add this measurement to the blade length (commonly 19”) for the overall length.”
The paddle is an extension of you. Choose one that fits you comfortably so it is easy for you to use it.
The Best Canoe for You
Knowing how to select a canoe for the type of water you will fish will make your trip safer and more enjoyable.
The best canoe for fishing is a multipurpose rotomolded or polyethylene recreational canoe. They’re inexpensive, durable and stable. Recreational canoes are designed with materials that give you the adaptability to fish on different types of waterways.