One of the things I love most about doing this blog is that I meet so many cool people. Mike Sutton is no exception. Mike is a firefighter and has a love of surfing. His handle @surfingfireman made me intrigued by this guy who posts so many great fishing pics from Ontario on his Instagram page. Then when I looked closer, I noticed he fishes from a standup paddleboard. I was very excited when he agreed to do the interview as I just knew I would learn a lot. His interview does not disappoint in getting an introduction into paddleboard fishing. We also sneak in some discussion of Ontario’s fishing travel destination, Lake Wabatong.
I have to start with something that may not have to do with fishing. Where did the Instagram handle @surfingfireman come from?
Surfingfireman was a nickname I came up with somewhere around 15 years ago. Although “fireman” is no longer the appropriate term for my profession, I have been a full time firefighter for over 17 years. And, even though I don’t get to do it very often, I really love surfing. So I just combined the two. It was a unique moniker…Mike2734 isn’t all that interesting…I used when joining online communities like fishing message boards, movie discussion groups and photography groups.
You appear to be using a paddleboard for fishing opposed to a kayak. Why are you fishing this way?
I first go into standup paddleboarding, or SUP for short, 3 years ago. As I mentioned earlier, I love surfing but didn’t get to do it very often. I saw SUP as a way to ease some of my withdrawal symptoms as I am confined to inland lakes 500 hundred miles from the Atlantic and 2000 miles from the Pacific.
I registered for a Paddlefit certification course before I had even been on a SUP board. Paddlefit is a SUP and outdoor fitness coaching and training system which demonstrates proper technique, on water etiquette, safety, and an unbelievable form of fitness.
From the very first moment I stood on a SUP, I realized how practical it would be for fishing. You can gain access to areas you can’t get to in a boat, you can cover a lot more water than wading, you are much higher off the water compared to a kayak so you can see better and it is easier to cast, especially when fly fishing.
What advice do you have for someone who would consider a paddle board?
There are endless options for brands and styles of SUP boards. Make sure you are getting the style of board that matches the activity you want to do on the water. There are boards designed specifically for surfing, racing, touring/all-around, yoga, and even fishing specific. You will also want to match your body size to the board, heavier bodies will require boards with more volume. The more experienced you are, the smaller and less stable the board can be as well. Best bet would be to speak with a surf shop or a rep from a board company.
What brand of paddle board are you using?
I can’t say enough about Jimmy Lewis SUP boards. I use the Jimmy Lewis Searcher for my fishing ventures. It is a high volume, wide, super stable board that paddles like a dream. I have never fallen in while fishing from my Searcher. Brent Ackland from Northern SUP in Barrie, Ontario gave me my Paddlefit training and is the rep for Jimmy Lewis Boards.
Weather has to play a big influence on use of the board for fishing. Can you only fish from on it on perfectly still days? Or how do you deal with weather when using the SUP?
I wouldn’t say it has to be a perfectly still day in order to fish from a SUP, but it sure makes it A LOT easier. I try to avoid fishing from the SUP when I know it is going to be really windy, especially if I am going to be very exposed on the lake with no protection by islands, bays, or leeward shorelines. Even on calm days, I bring an anchor I make by filling a nylon bag with sand and attaching a rope to it. If the wind is moving me of a spot or a fish is towing me around, I just drop the anchor over board to hold me in place.
What is the biggest fish that you have caught off the paddle board?
The largest fish I have ever caught from my SUP, is a 30+ pound carp I caught on Lake Simcoe using my fly rod. I had often seen carp in this area while walking on shore and I had even tried wade fishing for them a few times with no luck. Once I had a SUP, I knew it would be perfect for stalking these “northern bones” or “golden bones”.
Flyfishing for carp is quite similar to stalking my all time favourite fish…bonefish. I had paddled about 500 hundred yards along the shoreline of where I had previously seen carp, with no signs of fish. Then, about 100 ft in front of me, I saw the tell tale sign of numerous fishing loitering around a fallen tree in the water. The fish were pushing small bow waves in the 1-2 ft shallow water. I made numerous casts with a black wooly bugger, dropping the nymph a few feet in front of moving fish, allowing them to swim onto it. The carp barely took a notice to the fly.
I switched my fly to a large dragonfly nymph. I saw the largest of any of the carp just sitting still only a couple feet from shore and the fallen tree. I made a perfect cast which dropped the nymph about a foot in front of the fish’s face. It seemed to take an hour for the fish to move those 12 inches towards the fly, when it was actually about 10 seconds.
The only indication that something happened was that I could see the carp’s mouth open. I set the hook… then held on for the ride of my life! The beast dragged me on my board about 200 yards straight towards the middle of Lake Simcoe, before changing it’s mind and firing like a missile back towards where it came from, back under that fallen tree. It wasn’t until it had gotten back under the tree, which caused the tip of my fly rod to break in a tree branch, that I remembered about my sand bag anchor. I worked the fish out from under and away from tree, set the anchor and played it to my board. I could barely lift it out of the water and had to drag it onto my board. My board is 33.5 inches wide and the carp’s head and tail flopped over the edges by a couple inches on each side.
I managed a couple pictures with my GoPro before unhooking and releasing the beast. It wasn’t until then that I realized the fish had dragged me to an area under a cormorant rookery which smelled absolutely awful. Putting up with that stench was well worth the experience of catching that fish.
Lastly I see you fished Lake Wabatong. Where did you stay and how were the accmmodations?
I have been to Wabatong twice, staying at Loch Island Lodge both times, which was fantastic. Although the lodge offers full service plans with all meals included, we opted to cook our own meals using the full kitchens in each cabin. Andy and the staff at the lodge go above and beyond to fulfill all your needs with bait, boats, firewood and tips on where and how to fish.
How would you describe the fishing during your trip?
Well, all I can say is that I have never caught as many fish in a 3 day period as I have at Wabatong. About 100 fish over the 3 days… EACH! Mind you lots of the fish, mainly walleye with a few pike and whitefish mixed in, were quite small, numerous fish over 8 pounds were landed. There is a slot size for fish you wish to keep, which will hopefully maintain the amazing fishing.
What advice do you have for anyone considering a trip to Wabatong?
#1 piece of advice by far is bring proper clothing. Our trips have always been right after walleye season opens in May, so the weather can still be very cold in northern Ontario. We were buried in snow while fishing in a blizzard one day.
I have so many follow up questions that will just have to wait for a second interview with Mike. He offers such a unique perspective on fishing in so many ways. I am looking forward to following him on Instagram. You can follow him as well on Instagram.
Thanks Mike for such a great interview!