Hi all, New here, any advice on canoes?

Again hi to all. I’ve been reading alot of the posts, and canoe reviews on here and really appreciate all the great information.

A little about myself, live on the Mississippi in SE MN, and spend a lot of time out fishing on the river. Have not done any canoeing for a long time, years back I bought a Grumman with my paper route money and used it a lot as a kid. My father and I went on many Canadian fishing trips starting when I was quite young, mostly with a power boat, but some with the canoe. Moved to Alaska when I was 20 Y/O, had the canoe up there with me, but ending up buying a raft and did much more of that, mostly fishing and floating small rivers.

Any way, I’ve had the bug to get a canoe again for many years and will be buying something next week. I’ve spent hours and hours scouring the internet reading information canoes.

For my use at this time I’ve come down to getting a small tandem since I do want a little bigger canoe, though most all of my use will be solo. Most of the time I will use it right from the house out fishing or just paddling on the river, I will also take it up stream a ways, 5-6 miles and float back down, some of which will be in the main channel. But I also want to do smaller rivers around MN and WI with some I or II WW.

At this point I’m really stuck on the Novacraft. Models being the Pal, Bob Special, Or the Prospector15. They are available new over at Rutabaga in Madtown. There are some used one I’m considering, a nice Bell Starfire ( I made him an offer of $1500, but he said he had an offer of $1700 and was going to take the best offer by 6.14, hummm, still listed?? ) probably not really the best canoe for me anyway. A Bell Wildfire, fiberglass lay up ( anyone know much about the fiberglass ? ), again not the best for me at this point. How about the Bell Yellowstone tandem, the solo We no nah Argosy ?

One aspect I’m really stuck on is I like classic looks and lines in a boat. I don’t think I could get myself to buy one of these sleek straight racing designs with a seat off a John Deere.

At some point I’m going to dish out the cash for a really nice light solo. Going on a solo wilderness trip has been on my bucket list for a long time, need to do it before I get to old! Hopefully so I can do more than one.

And further, At this point I,m probably looking to buy a Royalex hull, both for cost, durability and storage, which will be outside at times.

Any advise, thoughts or help for an old rookie would be greatly appreciated. And thanks for reading my long winded post here. Have fun and keep the right side up! John.

You can’t be far from Winona, MN

– Last Updated: Jun-16-13 1:56 PM EST –

Why not call Wenonah Canoe and arrange to do a day trip there. They used to let you demo their boats on the river, maybe still do. Who knows, they might have some used boats or seconds as well.

A 15' Prospector might not be a bad choice. Prospectors are decent river boats. They tend to be beamy with deep stems that can catch wind, and the combination makes them less than ideal as flat water boats, but they are dry, stable and seaworthy. Nova makes them in several sizes and Wenonah has a nice 15' model.

The Bell Starfire is a very nice 15' tandem that has often been paddled solo. The Yellowstone is also a pretty decent 15 1/2" tandem. Both are sleeker than the Prospectors and don't catch so much wind, but still pretty user-friendly and with enough rocker to be maneuverable.

The Bell Wildfire and Wenonah Argosy are much different animals. Both are dedicated solo boats so either would be more efficient on the water for a solo paddler. Of the two, I much prefer the Wildfire in either composite or Royalex to the Wenonah Argosy, but the Argosy has its fans. The Royalex version of the Wildfire also goes by the name Yellowstone solo (same boat, different name).

Take a look at a Penobscot 16
out of roylex.

Perfect for up to class II.

Can be outfitted for solo or tandem.

I have ours outfitted for tandem, but we were on a WW river yesterday and two friends were in two seaparate Penobscot 17’s and were paddling them solo.

Jack L

Thanks for the replies…
I"m only about 30 miles up the creek from Winona. I’ve scoured their website and other info looking at the models I’d be interested in. From what I’m seeing any Wenonah that is similar to the Novacrafts, I would buy the Nova first. For a small tandem both the Pal and Bob have at least some rocker, I do want a little at least. The prospector is spec’ed at moderate and more of a rounded bottom, not really the best for slower current and backwaters, but would be nice on smaller twisting rivers with some mild WW. All the reviews I read about the Nova’s are great, I see alot of really mixed reviews on the Wenonahs. The only real concern I have about the Nova Pal or Bob in royalex is the oil canning effect with a wide 34-35 inch hull.

The Old town Penobscot is another one I’ve thought about. Lot of great reviews about them. New, they are a little more money than Rutabaga"s price on the Nova’s, and I still like the looks of the Nova’s better. There is not to many used Penobscots coming up on CL in this area. One was listed the other day,and did not last long.

I would still consider that Starfire, but I made him a fair offer and he’s holding out for more. Its a really pretty canoe, but lots of rocker for most of my use. Plus I’d be spooky of taking a nice canoe like that through much of any WW.

I’ve now gone to look at two canoes and been burned both times. First a Bell Merlin up at Chippewa Falls WI., he said it was in good condition and frankly its in very tough shape, both on the bottom of the bow and stern its like he would just drag the canoe, the finish is wore thur in to the kevlar, plus the bottom is overall very scraped up. Next I go down to LaCrosse WI. to look at a Bell Yellowstone tandem, had agreed to be there at 1830, nobodys home, he left a bill of sale and a note saying he had to go on a motorcycle ride, the note says to just leave the money somewhere and take the canoe. NO WAY am I going to just leave the money somewhere. So the heck with it, I’ll just go buy a new one, at least I can trust the condition and know they will be there!

Critical data
How tall are you and what do you weigh?

Do you intend to sit low, just off the bottom like a kayak, sit medium height with your legs out on foot pegs like in a Wenona or kneel against a higher seat?

Until we know your size and preferred stance in the boat, all you’ll get is the usual “You’ll like what I bought”, a questionable excursion into the psychological problems associated with confirmation bias.

Hi Mr. Wilson,
Thanks for your reply. Its great that someone with your knowledge and background will take the time to help people.

I am 5-10, 180. Its been a long time since I have even paddled a canoe but from what I’m reading I think kneeling at times would be good, although my old knees my not like that for long periods of time. So I’d have to say it would be nice to have a seat at mid height and use a kneeling pad for times that it would help. I can see where the foot braces would really help out. I just don’t think that sitting on a low seat like a kayak or pack boat would be very comfortable for me. Also at this point I would like to use a canoe paddle over the double yak paddle.

My initial plan was to get a solo canoe, which is what I would prefer. After researching a lot and talking to a few people I find that a solo is not so good for fishing out of, and that would be my main use. So I kind of switched gears towards a small tandem, but now I’m seeing where that might not be a good choice for a constant solo canoe. Now I’m back in a holding pattern, re-deciding what I might want.

Most use will be on the Mississippi backwaters, but at times out on the main channel with some stronger current. Also would like to paddle some of the easier rivers around MN and WI.

Another factor is availability, here in the land of ten thousand lakes the retail choices are really poor. I could scour Craigslist for a long long time looking for the right canoe.

So whats around now, and what I have some interest in, buying retail…the Novacrafts over at Rutabaga, the Wenonah Wilderness, some private sales listed… Wenonah Argosy, a Bell Starfire might still be available, a Bell Wildfire in fiberglass lay up, a Bell Yellowstone both solo and tandem, a Bell Merlin II, Bell morninigstar fiberglass. I should do some looking for more retail choices.

I’ve looked back at some of your past posting, again thanks for all the help and advice. John.

Fishing Needs
Where have you heard that a solo canoe is not as good for fishing out of as a tandem, and what were the reasons? Are you planning on putting a small motor on this canoe (gas or electric)? In that case, I’d say a tandem is definitely better for fishing, but otherwise, for your use, I’d choose the solo. The reason is that when traveling/fishing on a river, some of your time will be spent paddling upstream, and the affect of having even very small differences in travel speed is magnified when going upstream. Also, on the Mississippi, even making your way to your favorite backwater channels is bound to require getting onto bigger expanses of water at times, and that means dealing with wind.

A tandem will be more stable, but you may find that you’d rather become proficient/comfortable in a solo than struggle unnecessarily hard when paddling a tandem upstream, or in strong wind. You’ll have to decide what factors are most important to you regarding the pros and cons of each style of boat, but for me, I prefer greater ease of travel. For what it’s worth, two solo canoes I’ve fished out of, the Wenonah Vagabond and the Mohawk Odyssey 14, are more than stable enough for me. There are other solos that are sleeker and faster that would be less ideal for fishing, so as always, there are choices to make.

By the way, here’s why a boat’s speed becomes more important when going upstream. Consider two canoes, one that you can paddle comfortably at 3 mph, and the other that with similar effort will go 4 mph. In still water, the faster boat goes 1.3-times faster than the slower one. That’s a fairly big difference, but over short distances it’s one you can probably live with. Now, paddle those same two boats upstream against a 2-mph current. Through-the-water speed for each boat is the same as before, but actual speed for the slower boat is 1 mph, and actual speed for the faster one is 2 mph. In this situation, the faster boat goes 2 times faster than the slower one, a much more significant difference than in still water.

Charlie, in my yooth I could kneel on a
5.75" pedestal in my c-1. I still need to kneel. That is the only posture acceptable for whitewater maneuvering. But kneeling way down the way you describe is feasible only for people like the ghost of Omer Stringer and my grandchildren. Discomfort associated with kneeling on a ten inch pedestal may drive me into kayaking.

For sitting and maintaining control of a canoe, much more could be done beyond a footbar or footblocks. Thigh control and hip control are also worth pursuing. Everything can be done by analogy with control in ww kayaks. The last time I saw the setup in a marathon canoe was back in the 70s, so I don’t know how things have progressed since then. But the poor control we observe in novices sitting as they paddle is not wholly due to their inexperience.

I’ve never paddled one, but a lot of Canadian and upper mid-western tripping paddlers on other forums really like the PAL for solo tripping and tandem use.

Here is a Bill Mason instructional video in which he is using his traditional Chestnut PAL. As you can see, it is quite maneuverable even though it doesn’t have the rocker of a Prospector.


I think the Prospector best fits the needs of a large volume river and whitewater tripping canoe.

The Bob’s Special at 15’ is a foot shorter than the PAL but an inch wider at 35". That’s sort of a confounding tradeoff, and I’m not sure which one would be more stable for fishing.

I’m just making some comments on these Novacrafts since you say they are locally available and you are not a big fan of Wenonah.

Finally, I would get the lightest composite canoe I could afford for lake and smoothwater paddling. It won’t oilcan, it will last a lifetime with care, and you will appreciate the light weight every time you lift it, especially as you age.

Please read the above!
Whenever I’m in a canoe, I’m fishing. And I’m fishing in a canoe for 50 plus full day trips per year, almost all of it on rivers of various sizes (and I’ve fished the Mississippi in your area, as well as the St. Croix and Rum). I wouldn’t dream of trying to make any tandem canoe my solo fishing craft. The solo canoes are FAR better overall.

Yes, there are a few trade-offs, such as greater INITIAL stability. A tandem that’s 34-36 inches wide will feel more stable than a 30 inch wide solo. But it doesn’t take you long to get used to the slight wobbling of the solo craft, and the advantages are many:

  1. Weight–there are a number of good Royalex solos that weigh less than 50 pounds, while no short tandem weighs less than 58-60 pounds in Royalex, and most weigh closer to 70 pounds.

  2. Paddling “station”–most people solo in tandem boats by turning the boat around and sitting backwards on the bow seat to get themselves a bit closer to the middle and trim the canoe a little better. That’s better than sitting in the back by yourself, but not a whole lot. I own a Penobscot 16 that I’ve soloed a few times when circumstances precluded having one of my solo canoes with me, but I always figure out a way to sit near the center of the canoe, usually by sitting on a cooler. It’s so much better to handle solo, especially when you want to keep going straight.

  3. Ease of paddling upstream–no comparison, the solo craft will be far easier. Get yourself a break-apart double bladed paddle for going upstream, and take along your favorite single blade for everything else. That’s what I do when I want to go upstream. The double blade is much more effficient when battling the current, but the single blade is much more efficient when going downstream and wanting to make all the minor positioning and course correction strokes while fishing, so just take the double blade apart and stow it when you get as far upstream as you want to go.

  4. Just plain fun–a decent solo canoe is simply fun to paddle, while paddling any tandem by yourself is work, only a means to an end instead of enjoyment in itself.

    Also…rocker is overrated for your purposes. On the Mississippi, you need a canoe that will be fast and efficient to paddle straight or go straight upstream, and that same type of canoe will also be easier to slow or stop in current in order to fish as long as you keep it parallel to the current. A boat with rocker will be a little nicer on the smaller streams you mentioned, but I’ve always found that it’s easier to learn to maneuver a boat that wants to go straight than it is to make a boat go straight and fast, especially upriver, when it wants to turn all the time.

    If you’re still dead set on a tandem…spend the bucks and get a Penobscot. If you’re open to a solo, think about the Wenonah Wilderness. By the way, I paddle a Wenonah Vagabond, but I’m not usually on rivers the size of the Mississippi in your area. I wouldn’t hesitate to use the Vagabond on your waters, though.

    And get over that love of “classic” lines, meaning high upswept ends. The lower ends of the boats I mentioned will catch less wind and they don’t get in the way of a sidearm cast!

Agreement with all of this
I own a Wenonah Argosy and a Wilderness and I would sugggest the Wilderness over the Argosy for your purposes. It has better initial stability and paddles in a straight line more easily. Consider the tuff weave finish. For fishing, royalex is probably quieter than any of the composite finishes.

Larger Solos

– Last Updated: Jun-18-13 2:58 PM EST –

OK, we're likely to sit most of the time, need extra stability for that record Musky but need enough efficiency to paddle upstream.

In Rubber, you might look at Mohawk's Solo 14, Bell's RockStar and Wenonah's Wilderness. The MRC Freedom's V bottom may not be optimal for fishing. These are all pretty heavy, in the 45-50 lb range, but rubber boats are cheap.

In composite, Bell's RockStar, Bluewater's Mist/Sawyer Autumn Mist, Sawyer's Solo 13/Classic, Swift's Shearwater and Osprey and Wenonah's Encounter and Wilderness have the widest waterlines. Only RockStar, Osprey and Shearwater have rocker. Lighter laminates are more expensive and worth it! Swift's CKT rails seem an unfair advantage in the low-weight derby.

Smaller Combi boats, Hemlock's Eaglet/Curtis' Companion will all track pretty well, solo pretty well and improve stability with 33" width. Bells StarFire is a little wide with too much rocker for the OP's use. Bob's Special and Pals are wider or longer yet so will need be heeled to solo, usually a kneeling stance.

Whatever you do, for sitting you'll need adjustable footpegs to transfer your paddle stroke to the hull. Footpegs also aid stability.

Bon Chance!

Footnote on Mason’s PAL

– Last Updated: Jun-18-13 12:57 PM EST –

Looking at the video, it seems to me that Mason's PAL looks wider than the 34" of the Novacraft.

Sure enough, in checking Chestnut history, the PAL was made 16x34x12 prior to 1967 and 16x36x12.75 after 1967. Mason's looks like the post-67 36" version.

Novacraft's specs of 16x34x13 suggest that they have slightly modified both the original Chestnut designs.

In general, a dedicated solo will be easier to control and maneuver, lighter and tippier; a tandem will be more stable and can carry more. I don't really know what traits a fisherman would value. Test paddling is your best bet if you are so close to Rutabaga and Wenonah.

I have a Royalex Pal that I paddle solo sometimes-a sweet big boat. For a tandem,it does well solo. The composite one would probibly be even better,but I havn’t paddled one.I installed an extra canted seat behind the front seat facing backwards for solo use.I have paddled the Old town Pnobscott tandem mentioned,and while I like it better in some ways,the Pal has more initial stability-probibly better for fishing.


"I don’t really know what traits a fisherman would value"

Neither will most fishermen, until they give it a try for a while. And it depends on the fish, the water, the paddler, etc.

I don’t know how it relates to the waters the OP will be in, but everyone has left poling out of the picture in this thread. Fishing from a tandem works well if poling can be the main propulsion. Otherwise, I side with those suggesting a solo. Which solo, will be up to the paddler’s comfort zone - or possibly possibly determined by what is available (and “adjust” comfort zone accordingly).

Mr Gunn…
Just to give yo a little nudge…

I got seriously back into paddling in my middle-age initially for the same reason as you. I wanted to use the canoe mainly as a platform for fishing.

I started with a small tandem and moved up to ~16’ tandems. Learned to paddle them solo well enough and learned to pole (standing). Poling has been the most useful for reaching fishing holes on the local river without a shuttle. For that - any of the tandems you listed will work, some better than others, depending on whatever variables you have.

I have found that when my activity is weighted heavily towards poling with some solo paddling mixed in, the average recreational tandem works just fine. Any canoe that can you can stand in to pole, you will also be able to stand while fishing - and vice-versa.

I eventually progressed to a solo canoe for times when I am strictly paddling alone. My solo is 14.5’ by about 28" with a fairly round bottom, and I don’t have any trouble casting or setting a hook from a kneeling position. Setting a hook from seated takes a bit more attention, but is still not a problem - but understand that I am to the point that I am comfortable in a “lively” canoe.

All that should be viewed with the understanding that none of the fish I am after are really big (trout, sm bass, lm bass, etc). But I think that given time and experience, even larger fish will not drag me out of the solo canoe.

BTW - fishing really has taken a back seat to just canoeing for the pleasure of it. I’m sure you will enjoy whatever you get.

In an article on fly fishing in C&K,
the author was casting standing up in a 17’ Mad River Horizon, a fast and not particularly stable craft. Had to admire the guy.

A kneeling paddler should be able to use reasonably fast canoes, as well as big, wide tubs, for fishing.

Bell Canoe may still have some boats.
They still did last summer and were selling them way below retail.

Give Rose at Bell a call and find out what they’ve got left.

The composite Yellowstone Solo is a very nice canoe.

Thanks for all the replies
Picked up a Wenonah Wilderness yesterday. I had called a dealer in Winona and he checked his access to Wenonah’s warehouse stock, there was one blem Wilderness avalible in the Tuff-weave so I grabbed it. The blem is very minor and the price for it was about the same as a un-blemed royalex. I’m happy with the choice and feel it will be a good lower cost canoe for fishing and to get started canoeing again. Yikes!! I haven’t even got it wet yet and I’m already thinking what would be a good choice for a second canoe! Again thanks all for the help. JC.