Stand-up paddleboard a booming platform for fishing and more

Peter Hinck fishes from his stand-up paddleboard at North Hutchinson Island near Fort Pierce.
Peter Hinck fishes from his stand-up paddleboard at North Hutchinson Island near Fort Pierce. Miami Herald Staff

For years, Peter Hinck has been recognized as the kayak fishing guru of the Treasure Coast. The 57-year-old Sebastian resident has written articles, appeared in how-to videos, and conducted seminars around southeast Florida on the best ways to catch everything from snapper to amberjack, inshore to offshore, from a kayak.

But one day during a kayak fishing tournament, Hinck had an epiphany.

“A guy on a paddleboard was trolling in a bad chop and I was having trouble catching him,” Hinck said. “That opened my eyes. They did a lot better in bad weather than I expected.”

Hinck still fishes from a kayak from time to time, but he has become such an enthusiastic ambassador for stand-up paddleboards that Dragonfly Boatworks in Vero Beach hired him as customer liaison — escorting would-be buyers on test-paddles and advising them on accessories they might need to enhance their fishing success.

“I like that I am able to stand and sight fish,” he said. “I’m spotting fish I wouldn’t have spotted on the kayak. I used to carry so much gear. Now with a paddleboard, it’s about carrying less. It makes you think about what you are doing.”

Hinck is riding a cresting wave in the outdoors industry. Little known outside Hawaii and California five years ago, stand-up paddleboarding has the most first-time participants — about 56 percent — among other types of recreation, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. In 2013, nearly 2million people took to the new craft — which looks like a longer, wider surfboard — for exercise, sightseeing, fishing, diving and racing.

Hinck says one reason he believes SUPs are gaining popularity is that kayaks are getting heavier. At the recent ICAST recreational fishing expo in Orlando, some new tricked-out fishing kayak models weighed in excess of 100 pounds and required small trailers to transport. Most boards weigh about 35 to 45 pounds and can be loaded into the back of a pickup truck.

Formerly made by only a handful of manufacturers, stand-up paddleboards now come in a wide range of sizes, materials and prices — from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Dragonfly paddleboards — from 10 to 131/2 feet long and about 30 inches wide; base price: $1,900 — are custom-built of fiberglass and offer some “out there” options such as underwater LED lighting (for attracting bait at night), thru-hull anchoring system, cooler, fly rod holders, ultra-light carbon-fiber paddle and others. The company even introduced a duck hunting model at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show last October.

Hinck and I took an SUP on a fishing/test drive recently in the mangrove-lined shallows of North Hutchinson Island. It was my first time on a paddleboard since 2010 when I took one for a brief spin off Matheson Hammock. I had never fished from an SUP before, and brought along my 9-weight fly rod to try the sport.

Heading out from the boat ramp against a stiff easterly breeze and incoming tide was challenging. My board had a fin underneath the stern and a vee-shaped bow for straight tracking, but I felt so shaky trying to stand up and paddle that I gave up and sat down on the cooler/storage locker. Hinck, however, had no trouble standing up to the elements.

Arriving at the confluence of two creeks where some sort of mystery fish — snook, jack? — was harassing a school of mullet, I deployed a makeshift anchor (a buoy attached to a line with dive weights and secured to the bow) and stuck the paddle in a side holder on the cooler so it wouldn’t get kicked off the deck.

With the mangroves as a wind break, I slowly stood, unfastened my fly rod from the stern holder and began to cast.

At first, I felt like I was going to tumble overboard each time I moved my feet, but got over it fairly quickly as I concentrated on casting and saw that the water was only about four feet deep. So what if I fell off and got wet? Big whoop.

When I got no hits and spotted no more marauding mystery fish, I figured it would be a good time to find new territory. (Hinck wasn’t having any luck either with his spinning rod and topwater plug.) So I retrieved the “anchor” and surprised myself by standing and paddling up-current. I didn’t feel shaky this time at all.

Hinck beamed.

“See, you’re doing fine!” he encouraged.

We made our way east for about a half-mile against the steady wind and tide, then stopped, drifted and began casting.

We still didn’t catch any fish, but it was fun to look for them and, for me, to practice fly casting. We coasted back to the boat ramp about an hour later.

Not that I was in the market for a stand-up paddleboard, but I asked Hinck for some tips for a prospective buyer.

“Water-test it,” he advised. “Some are designed for racing, surfing, fishing. If the dealer won’t do it, be leery. Go out on it the first time without any gear. Get on it, play on it, see what the board will do.”

I remarked that $2,000 seemed like a steep price for a paddleboard.

“Well, once you’ve bought the board, you’re done,” Hinck said. “No gas, no maintenance. It’s freedom to go out on the lake for an hour and fish for bass. It’s a good core exercise, a light workout.”

And … you might just be able to forgo the home gym and health club membership.