Bought my first Canoe (Bell Wildfire)

I bought my first canoe last night, used Bell Wildfire ($600). I went ahead and pulled the trigger hoping I got a good deal and would be able to resale if I determine this isn’t the right boat for me. Not sure how I did I’m hoping I can get some feedback and or advice. I am brand new to the sport and am booking my canoe basics skills and training class(es) soon. Still need to get a paddle and life vest (suggestions?). Thanks for any feedback!
Here’s the canoe:

It looks to be in good condition. If so, you should have absolutely no trouble selling it if you decide it is not for you. Royalex Bell Wildfires are sought after. The price is good, especially considering it came with bags.

The Royalex Bell Wildfire was later renamed the “Yellowstone Solo”. They are the same boat.

Nice looking boat. Gosh, I wish my garage was as tidy as yours.

You will be happiest at first kneeling… It may be a wet learning experience sitting. Reading your title I thought that you had a WildFire which is not usually a first boat.

You have the Yellowstone Solo… When Bell decided to make a Royalex boat they branded it WildFire initially as it was based on the WildFire design but with differentlal rocker and a skegged stern which is different from the original WildFire. ( symmetrical bow and stern rocker and shape under the waterline)… The WildFire is harder to get to track but is a little more responsive than the Yellowstone Solo. Does this matter for most paddlers? No… It matters for FreeStlylers who go backwards as much as forward but that is another discussion.

DY decided to make those tweaks to broaden the market as a new mold for Rx had to be developed anyway ( couldnt use the old composite WildFire mold). So your craft while branded a WF ( the early ones circa early 2000’s were) Bell later changed the logo to Yellowstone. as there was just a bit of confusion going on. There might have been a glut of WildFire stickers early on as the composite boats may not have sold to expectation.

Based on what I can tell from the photos; I’d say you got a “damn good” deal.
If those flotation bags are in good condition, and hold air, they could be a welcome addition to your boat.
Just to replace those air bags would cost you the best part of $180.00, or more. The straps to secure the bags aren’t free; neither are what appear to be knee pads and other pieces of closed cell foam outfitting.
I have a Royalex “Wildfire” with wood trim. It’s red; the faster version. If I threw in 2 quality air bags, straps to secure the air bags, knee pads, and some other outfitting I wouldn’t sell it for less than $850.00. If nobody was willing to pay that price; it wouldn’t bother me at all?I’m not interested in selling mine anyway; it’s one of my favorite boats.

Suggest you start out kneeling, and slowly adapt to sitting on the seat, if it feels uncomfortable at first.

Nice find.


Rest assured that you got one heck of a good deal! I paid $750 for my bare Royalex Wildfire/Yellowstone Solo 6 or 7 years ago. Then I added the bags, lacing, tie downs and a saddle. With the demise of Royalex, I expect to eventually sell my boat for more than I paid for it (when I eventually get too old to paddle it.)

I absolutely love my little canoe. I mostly use it on Class I & II, but it’s handled an occasional easy Class III (followed by lots of bailing.) If this is your first canoe, then get thee to a calm lake and practice a good solid J stroke until it comes naturally. You’ll need to perfect a few other strokes, but the J stroke is king. After a few days of this, you’ll be ready to hit the rivers. Good find!

Regarding paddles: Check out some of the wooden paddles made by Bending Branches, Grey Owl, and Sawyer.

Don’t let anyone convince you that you “need” some featherweight, composite, bent shaft paddle, that cost in the neighborhood of 200 to 250 dollars. You don’t “need” one of those.

Some paddles made by the companies I suggest are pictured.


Actually people buy paddles as an afterthought. That is misguided. A paddle is an investment and ought to fit the environment you paddle in. For flatwater my two hundred dollar paddle that I bought 15 years ago is a good investment… When you paddle 25 miles of lake in a day you will understand the importance of weight.

Now for rivers that will take you faster a good moderate priced straight shaft blade is more appropriate.

As for a good PFD, I have an Astral V8. If you google it, you’ll see that it’s very airy and ventilated. Like most, I paddle more in the summer than during cooler weather. For the shoulder seasons, you can always add layers. In the summer, you can only remove so many. The Astral V8 is about as comfortable a PFD as you’re likely to find. I guess it will depend on the weather in your area, though.

Well done, great buy. I have the same boat and love it. This year I’m going to add some outfitting and will have more invested than you spent. A question: how long are those airbags?

Thanks for all the info. I am excited to get going. I just bought a PFD and have been reviewing paddles. I decided I would wait until after my basic skill class to purchase a paddle to make sure I get help with the right size and measurements (etc.). I also get a pro deal discount for being the “industry” on a few brands (BB, Aqua Bond and Carlisle) . Looks like I can get a pretty great paddle for about $100 (wood). I will also continue to keep an eye on Craigslist.

Kona, not sure how long the airbags are but I can look/measure tonight. Any way I should do that? I’ll be happy to check for you.

The bags look to me like nominal 60 inchers. Bags do shorten a few inches from their flattened length when inflated. Manufacturers go by the deflated, flattened length.

If you can get a discount on Bending Branches paddles and are looking for a wood paddle, I would give them a hard look. You should be able to get a decent paddle for $100. Aqua Bound and Werner have good quality synthetic paddles.

In addition to the brands mentioned by Bob, you might take a look at Mitchell paddles and FoxWorx. FoxWorx has some good quality wood paddles at a very reasonable price. When you know your size, check their Special Deals page. They might have a second in your size at a reduced price.

In addition to Craigslist, ebay sometimes has some good deals on used paddles.

The the Royalex versions seat is any thing like the composite versions seat height and angle you might wish to lower the seat by 5/8 of an inch by using spacers. This will make it a lot more stable for sitting. Then carry seat cushion foam to bring seat back up to height for kneeling. My size ten feet can still fit under my seat after this mod. Good buy on this canoe. Welcome to Wildfire canoeing. Nothing better for its intended water type.

Paddle length and type can change quite drastically from one canoe design to another. Then there is the question of are you going to sit or kneel? So unless the Wildfire is going to the basic skills class with you take the paddle length you use there with a grain of salt. The paddle I use for my composite version is a little long for sitting and a little short for kneeling.

I have the exact same boat in green

It’s a great boat that will do pretty much anything. I paddle it mostly in rivers, but have also used it for easy whitewater, lakes, multi day trips, and even the ocean. I can put float bags in it, but I rarely do. I notice that you have the short seat drops (like me) that puts the seat up pretty high. That’s great for kneeling, but you will probably find it a little tippy for sitting, at least at first. Bell sold 3” seat drops that put the seat lower for sitting. If you are comfortable kneeling you’ll love the short drops. If not, you may want longer drops.

I’m 5’10”, kneel most of the time, and use a 58” whitewater paddle (Werner Bandit) almost all the time. If I’m going to play around with freestyle moves, I use a 58” Bending Branches Explorer Plus. Not really a freestyle paddle, but it works for me - I’m not really a freestyle paddler.

If you are interested, here are some pictures of the royalex Yellowstone Solo (green) next to a composite WildFire (red)

I know people say that the skegged stern makes the Yellowstone track easier, but to be honest, I don’t notice much of a difference – I think they both track pretty easy. I do think the composite boat heals over easier and feels more stable, but you really need to be a freestyle paddler to take advantage of the difference. Both boats are great.

There use to be huge debates here at P-net on the merits of the composite vs. the royalex WildFire/Yellowstone Solo. In a couple of posts back in 2009, Charlie Wilson explained the history of the two boats. I found them last year and copied them to my blog.

Unfortunately, I didn’t save the link to the original post, but you can probably search for it in the archives.

I’ve been wondering when you were going to chime in, Erik. You were a real help to me when I first got my YS.
When I read this thread, It makes me excited for the OP. I know how excited I was about my boat when I got it, and I still get excited about it every spring.

@ScottFree said:

When I read this thread, It makes me excited for the OP. I know how excited I was about my boat when I got it, and I still get excited about it every spring.

I was the same way. My Yellowstone is a 2004 that I bought in the Fall of 2005. It was suppose to be a Christmas present from my wife, but I couldn’t wait and snuck it out a couple of times before Christmas without her knowing. The first time I took it out I was sitting in the seat and flipped about 10’ from shore. It got better from there.

I found the long seat drops from Bell - they are 3" in the back and 3 3/4" in the front.


I’ve only had them in the boat once - I had a bad case of bursitis and couldn’t kneel, so I had them in the boat for about a month one summer. I took them out as soon as I could - sitting is not for me.

@kona said:
A question: how long are those airbags?

Those do look like 60" bags - that’s what I put in my boat. I buddy of mine put in 28" bags so he would still have room for gear - you can see one in the bow here:

Happy to get started

I paddle whitewater boats all the time which turn much more readily than a Wildfire or most any non-whitewater canoe. So I tend not to notice tracking issues much. Although I generally prefer symmetrical rocker, I agree with Erik that the stern of the Royalex Wildfire/Yellowstone Solo really does not feel sticky in comparison to other boats with asymmetrical rocker.

I guess the Yellowstone Solo might feel a bit tender to someone who is relatively new to canoeing. I paddle a couple of Dragonflys which are much more tender, so again, I tend not to notice.

@pblanc said:
I guess the Yellowstone Solo might feel a bit tender to someone who is relatively new to canoeing.

Kneeling with the short drops is fine, but the boat is definitely tender if you are sitting with the short drops. Lowering the seat will make a huge difference for folks who sit.