This $1,700 stand-up paddle board and fishing skiff hybrid is my new dream boat for stealthy fly fishing - here's why it's worth the cost
- Fishing from a stand-up paddle board can be a wobbly, if not disastrous affair, but Bōte's Rackham AeroBōte stand-up paddle board ($1,699) is stable as can be.
- It's also inflatable, so transporting it in your car is a cinch, as is checking it onto a flight
- I tested one out on the grass flats and channels of the Florida Keys while fly fishing, free diving, and lazing, and it's my new favorite fishing SUP (stand-up paddle board).
Fishing from a stand-up paddle board (or "SUP") can be highly productive: You're stealthier, you don't draw nearly as much water as you would in a skiff (or even most kayaks), which means you're able to work your way into skinnier water, and you're kept high and dry, as opposed to wading.
But then, it can also be something of a challenge: Wind and swell are often keeping your balance in check, anchoring (or sitting still) is a chore that either requires a lot of paddling or an actual anchor and something to fix it to, and then there's all your gear, which, at any moment, could end up in the drink.
I've always been cautious when heading out fishing on a SUP. I only bring one fishing rod, a small box of flies, a knife that I keep strapped to me, and maybe I'll bring a water bottle, but only if there's mesh or bungee netting to hold it in place. Otherwise, Keeping tabs on both a water bottle and a fly rod (or balancing them) while trying to paddle gets beyond cumbersome.
There are DIY/jury-rigging solutions to all of this. A pair of bungee cords linked together can make a strap or two, but you have to wrap them around the underside of the board, which creates drag and costs you speed. It's also not the sturdiest thing in the world. You could drill holes into your board, too, but that takes a degree of expertise (and a time commitment) that many of us don't have. It can also get messy, and ugly.
So, there I am, down in the Florida Keys, enduring my normal struggles with outfitting a regular SUP for fishing, when a couple showed up in the rental property next door and inflated their Bōte Rackham inflatable paddleboard. "What's that?" I asked, cunningly (I knew full well what it was).
They explained, excitedly, and invited me to try it out. I politely declined, but when they brought out a pitcher of margaritas well before what most of us would deem happy hour (no judgments), I figured I was safe to steal the thing for a while.
I took it for a quick paddle to see how it handled, and how comfortable I was with bringing two fly rods, snorkeling gear, and a camera out with me, and my apprehensions were quickly assuaged. I found that I could confidently stand right on the rails (edges), rock back and forth, perch on the nose, strap all my gear down securely, and, if a bit of swell or boat wake challenged me, there was the grab rail, ever-ready and shockingly sturdy, considering that it's only resting in two ports on the deck of an inflatable paddleboard.
I loaded the board with everything I needed (and more) quickly, and surprisingly tidily. (Editor's note: Owen is not, by nature, tidy.)
Off I went, over the bounding main, as it were.
First of all, at a lengthy 12 feet, 4 inches, this SUP really is bordering on a boat, and nearly as stable as one (much more so than a kayak or canoe). The only way I fell off was by trying to navigate around the lean post, which was a stupid thing to do, frankly. But trial by fire, right?
Accessorizing the Rackham ends only with your imagination. There are D-rings, bungees, and Velcro galore. Conveniently placed handles make portages (and dragging it up the beach) a breeze, while an airplane-ready storage bag cinches the whole thing down so you can take it just about anywhere.
The non-slip deck is a no-brainer, but I must add that it feels notably pleasant under bare feet, and the optional lean post makes for a surprisingly comfortable full day on the water. The Rackham is also cooler- or bucket-ready, so you can take a seat, too. I opted to leave mine on the beach for no good reason at all, other than that I thought I'd want the open deck space. In the end, there was plenty, and it would have not only been nice to have a seat but a place to stash and keep a few drinks and snacks chilled.
The lean post is also a nice addition to have underway. It stores fishing rods, and, again, helps you take a little load off while you're paddling or poling along.
The Rackham comes with an adjustable three-piece paddle, which is lightweight and quickly stores in a paddle sheath near the bow for getting your hands free quickly, which I loved when spotting a fish. I don't know how many times I've bent down or turned around to drop my paddle only to spook the fish I was stalking with the loud clank of it hitting the rails of a kayak or the deck of a SUP. This feature should not go overlooked.
Nor should the push pole, which boaters in shallow water use to push along in lieu of a paddle. The brand calls it a "Sandspear" (though keep in mind that it's not included). I'd never thought that a push pole would make all that much sense with a paddleboard, but cruising the sand and grass flats made it pretty clear that I could cover twice as much water with far more stealth than with a paddle. You can also add on a little sheath for the push pole
So much of the above rings up a cringe-worthy price tag, I know. But keep in mind that boats are far more expensive, and if you want a functional, portable, and comfortable fishing SUP, it's going to cost you one way or another, especially if you're not building it yourself. The advantage here is that it's still the fraction of a flats boat, and you can kit it out as you go along, when and where your budget allows. Stripped down, it's still a fun and fishable board, and you'll enjoy the little improvements you make along the way all that much more.
On the water
Getting off of the beach, my first appreciation of the way the Rackham AeroBōte is outfitted is the fact that it accommodates both a push pole (pictured above, sold separately) like any good flats skiff would, and a paddle (included). Often when we're in shallow water, it's much easier and quicker to get where we're going by poling along, rather than paddling. It's also the tool you use to stop the board when you want to hold your position, and there are several points on the board so that you can position yourself based on the wind, tide, and/or fish you're eying.
The Rackham AeroBōte is also highly customizable. There are plenty of velcro tabs and D-rings around the boat to secure most anything that needs securing. The brand also sells a matching bucket cooler that works well as a seat, or you could fit in your own little hard cooler or bucket just the same.
The deck pad is made with a grippy, multi-textured foam which the brand calls BVA, which felt very similar to EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam. At any rate, I never slipped once, even when I got a bit of water onboard.
And yes, I'm comfortably seated here; with a cushion, or better yet with your life jacket on (as it always out to be), the lean post also makes for a great backrest when it comes time to take a load off and give your arm a break from casting. Still, a bucket or cooler might've been nicer. Then again, it was nice having my legs and feet stretched out.
Later on in the day, I started spotting lobsters in the grass. Poling along in search of bonefish, whenever I spotted a pair of antennas, I could jab the pole into the sand and slide my mask on with a couple of quick motions, slip into the water, and approach my prey. And, thanks to the silence of the board and a pole to hold me in place instead of a clanging metal anchor, the poor little buggers were none the wiser.
Sight-fishing for bonefish quickly turned into something of an aqueous easter egg hunt, and before long, I had dinner for myself and the family. By this point, I was really starting to like the Rackham, for many obvious reasons. And then some pesky little voice began to pounder into one of my ears: "Would those drunken (if kind) souls who lent it to me ever notice if it went missing?"
No, no, I brought it back after all.
The bottom line
Sure, a full-sized skiff can accommodate more than one person, and the Rackham AeroBōte isn't cheap, but if you like to fish, and you live anywhere near a good, calm fishing hole, fresh or salt, there's nothing better for your skinny (or backwater) adventuring. And, if you want to step it up a bit further, Bōte also offers the Rover Aero Classic, a stouter, micro-skiff-stand-up-paddle-board hybrid that's outboard-engine-ready.
If I ever end up with my beach- or marsh-front dream house, the Rackham, if not the Rover Aero Classic will be my very first purchase. And, if I manage to scrape up some extra dough beforehand, it might just save me a small fortune on charter and rental boat fees every time I fly somewhere to fish.
Pros: Stable, maneuverable, and the most customizable, comfortable fishing SUP I've ever tried; comes in camo for hunting
Cons: Expensive; paddle, push pole, lean post, and all other accessories sold separately; not fit for surfing
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