To Paddle For a Fin - A Dream Enjoyed by the Few
There’s nothing more inspirational than a flat. Undisturbed like a lake with life on every shore. A flat is a beast of its own. Rivers rush, oceans crash, bays and bayous flow, but flats are often just flats. It's almost as though they were made for one watercraft, one they rarely see. Not the one engineered to float shallow or remain quiet, but the one that just is. The one that was born that way, with no engineering at all.
We fish our flats in an old green canoe. While we might look like dweebs at the ramp, the fish prefer our presence over that of even the most technical poling skiffs. We paddle quietly, we float shallow, and we enter the world of the fish we're looking to feed; we don’t dominate it. There is no hull slap as there is almost no hull. We float in 5 inches because the boat is only but 50 pounds.
Boats wiz past up as guides scroll their 12” screens looking for the outermost islands and undisturbed southernmost banks. On the paddle, we start fishing the second the boat hits the water. The slow speed we travel is an advantage, we’re always hunting. The entire trip is a tail-spotting event.
I often think, why don’t more people flats fish canoes? They’re accessible, cheap, and require no maintenance. It's the perfect flats boat, for the perfect weekend warrior price.
Our favorite fish to chase on our patched-up green canoe are redfish. Some days you can only count on a small tail flip, other days you can easily mistake a fired-up red for a muskrat or beaver the way they bound over muddy banks in search of confused fiddlers. Their erratic temperament makes them unique, and as resident fish, they are highly pressured by anglers of all kinds. Skiffs pound the banks, shrimp on slip sinkers line every canal, and even if a fish makes it past these temptations, it will likely fall victim to the final boss, a free-floating crab barely fixed to a circle hook adrift through the inlet. For redfish that have seen everything, there’s one thing they haven’t seen: A patched-up green canoe.
Even the industry's most technical skiffs can’t float where we go. We find fish of our own and feed them accordingly. Fish welcome us as we sneak by and the crabs emerging from their mangrove overhangs don’t even scatter. The flats were made for a canoe.
To spot fish it's necessary to stand. It’s labor-intensive, and your calves will hurt the next day after hours of balancing on a small fiberglass spot. Line management is equally involved as fly line coils and stacks in just a small front compartment. But it's all worth it. Strip set a fish and the whole boat becomes tight, affixed to a now irate drum. The canoe is then an extension of the rod as its direction is equally important in fighting a fish away from mangrove fingers that designate safety. With a 2 man team, a canoe-captured redfish is a shared prize, a true combined effort.
The point of this article isn’t to talk about where we fish or the redfish within, it's to highlight the unique fisheries around the country and plant the seed: “Can you feed a saltwater fish, on fly, in a canoe?” Where else can you chase aggressive fish in such a humble, simple, skiff-like craft created by our forefathers as a tool to live off the land?
If you have a place in mind, I challenge you to try your hand. It's kind of like fly fishing. Do it once and you won’t be able to go back to the way you did it before.