solo/tandem for flyfishing

Looking for help choosing a first canoe to be used for flyfishing - consider myself a beginner to intermediate paddler, having canoed some boundary waters lakes 20 years ago with my wife (who was more experienced at canoing than I was, but I learned) and some recreational lake kayaking more recently. 65 year-old male, but active enough to regularly wade respectable rivers, including the Animas and Roaring Fork last year (and now looking for an occasional ride instead :-)) Would expect to go solo 85% of the time, but have a fishing buddy along on occasion. Current home waters in DC area to include small to medium sized lakes, ponds, both forks of the Shenandoah (although mostly North Fork and mild white water, if any at all), plus some Pennsylvania, NY, NC and West Virginia streams, and occasionally back to childhood lakes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Again, getting a canoe that can handle white water of any magnitude is NOT important to me. If fishing big water out west on vacation, would either wade as before or wisely hire a guide and float trip to save my sorry ancient tail from drowning. :slight_smile: Any and all recommendations welcome, chums!

Some suggestions
Esquif Cargo for a big boat, or any of the smaller brothers.

Old Town Guide

Mohawk Intrepid if you can find one used around.

Any number of boats are well suited.

Consider this - try mounting oars to your canoe. This makes it easy for a single person to maneuver and power a tandem canoe, especially when you’re just floating downstream and steering.

I live in your area and fish the upper Potomac and the Shenandoah. You’d be welcome to join me in my canoe for a tandem paddle to see if you like it.

Also, there are two good outfitters that rent canoes on the Shenandoah and run the shuttle for you. RiverRiders and River & Trail. Both are in the Harper’s Ferry area.

  • Big D

Fly fishing…

– Last Updated: Jul-07-09 11:58 AM EST –

Will you desire to stand? If so, I would suggest something with a little beam - 36 to 40". If you will be carrying or roof-topping it alone, you will probably want to keep the weight at or below 60lb.

A lot of canoes fit this niche, some faster than others and others more maneuverable. Most will be in the 14 to 16' range. Any shorter will be too small much of the time and certainly too small for two adults fishing. Any longer will likely be difficult to solo. If you don't want to stand, you could also consider a narrower boat for more glide and easier paddling.

I use an Old Town Penobscot for solo and tandem fishing on the local lake. It is 16' and weighs 62lbs (mine has the extra solo seat, so it weighs more than listed spec) and paddles well solo or tandem, but is better as a tandem. I also use a Wenonah Fisherman for smaller waters. It is 14' and weighs 57lb, and also can be solo paddled with little difficulty, although it does better as a tandem. Standing in the Penobscot is not difficult once you're used to it, but standing in the Fisherman is considerably easier - due to it's wider (39") beam. The Penobscot is faster, but the Fisherman is more maneuverable. There are a lot of boats on the market with hull specs similar to either of these boats - some of them in ultra-light layups in the ~40lb range - and many in between that can work for you also.

If you intend to sit while fishing, that opens up the possibility of using a dedicated solo canoe, which can be lighter, faster, and more maneuverable at the same time - but then you can't bring a friend unless he has his own boat, and the learning curve for controlling the boat may be a bit steeper.

A lot will depend on where you want to be on the water and your physical abilities and willingness to learn. Best thing you can do is find a paddle shop that will let you demo various boats - if you have that option. If you do, try to pick their brains while you're there - but don't let them "put you in a box" based on assumptions.

Thanks and F/U questions
Thank you both for your helpful responses. I’m finding a very limited supply of used canoes on Craig’s list and EBay and in some local shops - probably because it’s the height of the summer. I checked River/Trail for Intrepids - they will have some for sale in October, but not now. I’ve also emailed River Rides and am waiting to hear. I’ve looked at specs and reviews on the Penobscot and Fisherman and like both - a lot. However, my spouse/family CFO is telling me we can’t afford $1300-1500 for a new one right now - and I find no used ones. Suppose I’m relegated this year to, say, either an OT Guide or an OT Discovery 158. Which would you recommend - and which length Guide - again for mostly solo, but occasional tandem with a buddy or kid? Any other possibilities? Think I need to check James River outfitters in Richmond and Charlottesville too for used. Thanks again!


OT Discovery 158
As far as I’m concerned that is an absolutely pedigreed workhorse of a canoe. It doesn’t do anything particularly well, but it doesn’t do anything particularly poorly either. The Discovery 158’s and 169’s are, in my opinion, some of the most solid well designed all-around canoes you will come across.

That said, if you have particular preferences and purposes, there are canoes that do excel at certain things and would be better than the Discos for those purposes. For instance, I wanted a squareback canoe with a transom. So for me, the Esquif Cargo was a better canoe. However, if I ever see a good price on a Disco and I have a little extra cash, I’ll make that boat mine.

  • Big D

Guide, Disco
I haven’t paddled either of those canoes, but they are quite common and I see them on the water often. Of course, you know they are a bit heavy for their size - but they both seem to be good all-around mild water canoes, and they are miles ahead of the Coleman or Pelican line. I know of at least a couple locals that use one or the other in up to cl.2 rivers as well. If found for the right price, not a bad way to go.

The Penobscot is also quite common on the used market in some places (not here :frowning: ), particularly on the eastern side of the country from what I gather.

No need to make SWMBO nervous about the whole thing by spending money on a new canoe. If you can find a good Discovery or Guide at a price that can be recovered or nearly so when you decide to sell it, it wouldn’t hurt you to use that until you can find a deal on something more to your liking. OTOH, you may find yourself to be quite content with what you have in the first place - and there’s nothing wrong with that.

BTW - don’t forget there is a plethora of canoes that range between the performance of the Penobscot and the Fisherman (which, BTW, is where I’d put the Guide and Disco 158, in the scale of things). If you check the various makers’ websites for specs, you’ll get a feeling for what models you may find acceptable while shopping for used boats.

One more Q
Got an e-mail from one of the places Big D recommended at Harpers Ferry, WVA - River Riders. Sarah there tells me they have some used OT Campers in very used to almost new condition, with a price range of 300-600 bucks. Looks like the Camper is Royalex. I’m wondering if this may be the entry canoe I’m looking for. And, yeah, SWMBO (don’t you love Rider Haggard - and Rumpole’s twist on it) could live comfortably with those kinds of dollars. Hope I’m not wearing you guys out with dumb questions.


try to stick with the idea of …

– Last Updated: Jul-16-09 9:54 PM EST –

...... the Camper .

I say this because it weighs less being made of Royalex (59 lbs.). The Camper 15 (14'-10") is probably the better choice for you (as opposed to the 16') . I say this because you will be solo much of the time to begin with , and that's going to be plenty of boat for you .

The Camper is a slightly shallower sided canoe , but don't concern over that , better for you solo .

Having the occasional buddy with you at times won't be soooo bad in the 14'-10" Camper (minimal space inside , but OK) ... the load capacity in the 14'-10" Camper is never going to be a problem for the weight of two men and some gear (just a little restricted on space).

I own an Old Town 169 and love it for fishing , but we are "always" tandem in it and carry it around together also (it weighs 84 lbs.) .

Not to make fun or disrespect , but you said you are 65 yrs. ... I'm 55 and I know I'm not as strong as I used to be 10 yrs. ago (I've been a construction worker , carpenter builder my intire life , I'm used to heavy things) .

I'd like to see you in a lighter canoe than mine , and a length that will be nice for you to handle solo .

A scratched up used livery Royalex Camper (which will need some scratch repairs if you see the white through the color) , would be reasonable at 300.-350. , 400. tops if it's not to bad , if much newer and lighter used looking 500. if you like it enough !!

I bought a 16'-10" Royalex canoe last year (another Old Town model that was made in 1984) ... it has hardly a mark on it anywhere , and paid 400. for it from the original private owner gal , 15 mins from my home ... this was a very good deal I think , so something like that is a best case scenario IMHO (paddles and accessories came with it , really just stuff though) .

I fish the rivers you are planning to get into also .

Good advice
Thanks - you’re making very good sense. I also know that I am probably underestimating the learning curve to fly fish out of any canoe on a river. Probably immodestly, I’m a pretty seasoned fly fisherman and have the techniques and water reading skills down pat - I learned from Harry Murray. Lakes, assuming no white caps, will be manageable. But I would bet money I’m underestimating the challenge of canoeing even tame sections of the Shenandoah North Fork and its smaller waters while working the banks for bass with poppers or hair bugs. When I wade, I control how long I stay in an area. With the river moving, casting, accurate placement, managing the line and drag, all the time while steering the canoe - by myself - won’t take long to pull up all the good words I learned growing up on Chicago’s south side! (Any tips are welcome). When I fish rivers in Montana, Wyoming or Colorado, I either wade or get a float guide. He runs the boat - all I have to do is fish. Still, I’m really excited about the idea of getting back to canoeing after almost 20 years - even with all the re-training + adding in the fishing. Just getting out and taking in the scenery on a moving river really appeals to me. I also have a 15 year old who just returned from an eagle scout week up on the northern tier, paddling into Canada with a guide and putting on some miles across lakes and portages for 8 days. All that prep got my juices flowing again! I do get your point about the age. I’m not a geezer (and I think all of us are 34 inside), but I put on way too much weight over the winter and underused the treadmill. This will be good for me. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! :slight_smile: Thanks again - to you, Big D and Steve for helping me sort all this out.

I stand up and fish from my canoe …

– Last Updated: Jul-16-09 11:49 PM EST –

...... like all the time or at least half the time .

Not Flyfishing but a spin reel , and I lay out soooo many cast to cover every concivable spot that looks good to me , which is most every one !!

Just "drop anchore" if you want to hang in a zone for a few minutes longer to cover the area ... anchore my friend solves the going by the good looking zone too quickly .

You are really going to be in for a treat once you start working our rivers around here ... the Susqehanna , Potomac , and Shenandoah ... others if you can find enough time !!!

Once you get out on the water w/ rod in hand , everything is all perfect in the world again !!! (one of the rare truths I've found in life)

Camper’s a good boat
They rent those Campers. Go up and drop $30 or whatever they charge to rent it for the day and see if you like it. I like them and think they are well suited to fishing in moving or still water. Actually, I haven’t paddled any OT canoes I haven’t liked. The wettest I’ve ever been when fishing was in a Penobscot, but that was the old design. I think the new design of Penobscot is the old Camper mold, but don’t quote me on that because it’s just some scuttlebutt I’m passing along. I have no real proof of that statement.

If you tell them you are considering purchase before you rent, they may even permit you to put the rental fee towards the purchase price.

If you haven’t got them already, remember to include some money in your budget for a decent PFD and paddle. I have an NRS Osprey fishing PFD and like it very well. They run about $75.

  • Big D

Any recs on paddle design and composition - type of handle, type of blade, wood vs aluminum and plastic, etc? The wood paddles look terrific - do they function any better or worse? And for solo, should I be modifying the paddle length formula?

I’ll suggest what I think to be …

– Last Updated: Jul-17-09 10:40 PM EST –

..... an excellent paddle .

Tell ya why first .

It's made of Basswood (laminated) which means it's plenty "light enough weight" wise (they say 23 oz. in 60" length , but I'm positive my 54" is more like 18 oz. or lighter , my 57" maybe closer to 23 oz. because the blade is a tad beefier)

It has a "tip guard" built into it (really works great at keeping the tip from getting chewed up - which would then soak up water if un-protected) . Also that tip guard is great for using your paddle to push off of things , trees-stumps-rocks-the shore , etc. , which will be the case always !!

It has an 8" wide blade (good power per stroke) . I can paddle all day with this paddle and it still feels light at the end of the day ... it handles sooo comfortably and is a pleasure to me !!

The "blade edges are nice and thin" (but not like razor edges found on glassed blades such as a Whiskey Striaght which I have also) .

The "blade itself is not thick" , but really just perfect thickness !!

It's a Beavertail with traditional pear grip ... need I say more !!

You can buy it direct from Old Town , just call them from the contact # on the web. site .

And last but not least ... it will cost you under $60. shipped to your door , and fast !!

What is it ?? ... the Carlisle 8" Beavertail in 54" (I have two 54" and a 57" also) .

It's my opinion that everybody should have at least one ... and if fortune be with you , it will be your fist one !!

sold by Old Town also , is the Carlisle Golden Light , this is an aluminum shaft and plastic blade T handle paddle ... it is the green color blade and T grip one w/golden tone anodize on shaft (the shaft grip has a green padding also) ... this is a nice and light alum. paddle (not all alum. paddles are light , believe me) and has great power , and it can take a beating too ... try one as your back-up and beater paddle !!

OK , that's it for starters ... you can get high end paddles later , but I'll bet you always will love your Carlisle 8" Beavertail if you get one !!!

Nice looking paddle…
and the price is very reasonable. I’ll give it a go. Thanks

Bummer, Big D
So I drove almost 90 minutes to hit River Riders at Harper’s Ferry to pick out a used OT Camper for the promised price of $300-600. Get up there and I’m told by one of the managers that the girl who e-mailed me made a mistake and that the used Campers in good shape were going for $1200. Talked to a fellow I assume was an owner or higher level boss. Showed me a Camper 16 and a Blue Hole 16 that had the living snot beaten out of them on the river and said he’d sell them for $500 and $600, respectively. Said that while they would sell some of these canoes cheaper in October, they didn’t have to now. He apologized but wasn’t making any accommodations. I was steamed.

Looked at a Disco 158 at Dick’s on the way home - marked at $599. Will give Craig’s list and EBay another look and, if nothing better shows, will buy the Disco. Suppose I ought to be a grown-up, be patient and wait for a deal on something lighter, but I want to get out on the Shenandoah and hit some bass next week so bad I can taste it :slight_smile: Will keep you posted!

have you looked at the Guide series …

– Last Updated: Jul-20-09 2:43 PM EST –

...... not much lighter , the 147 is 74 lbs. , but it is shorter at 14'-7" and a tad wider .

The Guide is a shallower volume hull with a bit more arch in the bottom (more resistence to oil-canning ??), and has those harder edged chine lines ... I've seen Guides with and without a keel , but a keel has pluses and minuses I think . (I'm pretty sure the Guides I've see at Bass Pro don't have keels lately , but still look like a more distinctive arch in the bottom ??)

The two minuses I think of are , the keel resist turning just slighty (probably not a big factor in a Guide) , and the keel sticks down just a wee bit , making it often times the first point of contact with submerged item (rock, etc.) .

Now depending on how you look at it , those two factors could be considered pluses also . The slight resistence to turning also means the keel is helping you stay in a straighter tracking line through the water , and that often times first point of contact could be considered "a first line of defense" in under hull protection .

Regardless of keel or not (excepting aluminum, probably because of the alum. material nature I've noticed it to stick "extra good" , lol , to hard rocks) , the thing I think about most is snagging under hull around center/center , thus becoming a point bearing load with alot of weight on it (the perfect "pivot" point and the dangedist thing to get free from sometimes) . if the hull flexes upwards at that point bearing snag (due to concentrated weigth load per , it's like you are "pinned" to it !!

You have to shift the weight to an end somehow (little wheely) to lighten the "pin" point load and do some fancy stuff to wiggle free , lol ... in a current this can be a bit squirelly , the boat wants to rotate 90 degrees to the current on that pin pivot point , and then the upstream side tries to lift up and flip ya over to the downstream . The other scenario is the upstream gunnel goes low first and then under , in comes the water , lol . Either way this is funny but it can be a hassle ... you might take a swim , you might loose some gear , etc. .

It can happen in a no-keel canoe also , but I just believe a keeled canoe is more succeptable ... tends to stick more to that rock as opposed to sliding over it instead .

In a pond if you speed up onto an under water stump , it's a funny thing trying to get off ... in a river it's a bit more exciting due to the current factor , lol .

Just something to keep in mind , I always do anymore , lol ...

Bass Pro Shops sells them also , maybe check thier prices ... they also stock a few other Old Town canoes .

Let us know how it all ends up !!

Too bad about those Campers
…and that price is high for a beat up rental. I sold a Camper 16 early this year for $550, and it was nearly perfect with a few minor scratches on the bottom. Oh - and one seat re-webbed (not matching the other). I paid the same for it when I got it, and it didn’t have the scratches or the mismatched seat then.

I do agree though that the Camper could be a good boat for you if your water isn’t too rough. Easy to stand in on flat water even if it’s moving.

I just got back from a 5-day fishing trip that included some stream time with the fly rod. It takes some learning, but it’s possible to stand and fish while drifting if the current isn’t too swift or technical. And there are occasions when you can “park” the boat in an eddy or in the weeds along a pool. It helps if you learn to pole the canoe. I would occasionally correct my position with a one-hand poke with the pole while standing all the time (in my Wenonah Fisherman). I bet one could do as well standing with a long paddle - maybe better. Of course, you have to prioritize your attention between fishing and boating to be heavily weighted on the boating side.

Standing on top of the water has it’s advantages over wading or sitting. Better for seeing the fish, for one thing. The Camper, on suitable water, is a good boat for that - especially if you’re just getting used to it.

Buying one in the morning
I was about to buy myself a disco 158, but found something lighter and more solo friendly on Craig’s list - understanding it isn’t a whitewater boat. But that won’t be a problem on local lakes or the stretches of the Shenandoah or Potomac that I fish. It’s an OT Stillwater 14 in good condition that I’m buying from a fellow in Annapolis for less than $400 - I think OT has d/c’d them, but their last retail was 1,000. Beamy enough to stand, 55 pounds - the guy has even had decent luck soloing with a kayak paddle - and is including two + gunwale foam mounts and lines for the roof of my Chrysler. Still, think I’ll also buy myself a Carlisle 8" beavertail like pilotwingz recommended - just need to decide on 54 vs 57" And a PFD that will fit an overweight guy like me, while leaving me free motion to cast and work the line.

One more question comes to mind. Anybody have any recommendations about choosing an anchor? Steve, I was already thinking about the “taxi” value of the canoe on the river you mentioned - getting to a casting place I couldn’t wade to and parking it in the weeds or against a boulder. But there will be frequent times I’ll want to stop the boat in the middle of the Shenandoah and cast in to work the undercut banks.

…used to…
Empty a large can of coffee. Mix up some concrete, fill and while drying…sink a large eye-screw into center for easy tie with rope. Probably something thinner that’s heavy enough would be better if thick weeds will be an issue.

Shape the paddle’s grip to fit your hand for a comfortable j-stroke with sandpaper or combination with some form of shaver to shape neck & grip. Fwiw…most paddle grips are like skiboots, factory cut but pretty easily contoured for a comfortable grip(to be cradled actually).


How did it go when you finally got on the Shenandoah?

Bummer about what happened at RiverRiders. Did you at least take a rental trip and see whether you liked the hull?

I’ve never paddled a Stillwater, but pretty much any canoe is going to handle the vast majority of the Shenandoah. It’s a pretty mellow river, and one of the prettiest.

  • Big D