Tricking out a solo canoe for fishing

Tricking out a solo canoe for fishing

old town 119

Article by: Dale Oakey (JustFishin)

Over the years I’ve probably canoed and waded a few thousand miles on rivers and streams east of the Mississippi.  As I’ve gotten older the two-man canoes I use seemed to have gotten much heavier. To compensate for age and to extend my river fishing life I purchased an Old Town Discovery 119 which has become my go-to boat. Why a canoe over other options? Primarily because of the amount of gear I carry and the fact that I can easily modify the seating to suit my comfort level requirements. What follows are a few of the modifications I’ve made to my solo that allow me to better utilize the smaller footprint of this canoe and to concentrate on fishing rather than constantly looking for misplaced gear.

Rod Access

My aim here is to provide easy access to the four rods that I normally carry. In addition I needed a way to eliminate tangled lures. The solution was to build a front rod rack. Using a 1×4 piece of scrap hardwood trim I made two one inch deep angled cut outs that allowed the rack to slide down onto the gunwales on either side of the canoe with the bottom of the rack even with the bottom of the gunwales. The angle cut fits to the shape of the canoe so the rack cannot move forward or backward. When “closed” the slide pins attached to the bottom of the rack fit under the gunwales and secure it in place. When the slide pins are “open” the rack is easily removed from the canoe when not needed. The rack as well as all other wood additions received 3 coats of “Varthane Liquid Plastic” varnish.013 (3)012 (2)

Front Thwart

The front thwart serves a number of purposes – measuring device, rod butt rest, and accessory attachment point. The measuring device is simply an aluminum yard stick that was cut to fit. It is attached to the thwart with stainless screws. The rod butts sit on top of the thwart and are secured in place with a 20″ bungee cord hooked to two small eye bolts located on the front edge of the thwart. The multi-use tool is attached to a retractable fishing accessory clip and in turn is attached to the thwart using a small eye bolt located on the rear of edge of the thwart.014010 (2)

Drag Chain System

The drag chain system is just a heavy duty retractable dog leash attached to the canoe gunwale with stainless bolts. The drag chain line runs through a couple of stainless eye bolts (one attached to the seat support and one attached to the underside of the gunwale) then on to the rear of the canoe. When the drag chain is out I use a small clam cleat attached next to the seat to secure the rope. The dog leash cord is attached to a length of heavier poly cord using small zip ties to secure the connection. The cord extension provides some added abrasion resistance to the terminal end of the system.

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Drag Chain Exit

The drag chain rope exits the canoe through an opening on the rear of the canoe. I used a threaded brass coupling that is screwed into a hole that was drilled through the rear of the canoe to fit the coupling. Marine epoxy was applied to the fitting threads as well as the inside of the hole. Before attaching a carabiner to the rope I slid a tennis ball (with the bottom portion removed) onto the line (I have also used 1/2 of a rubber toy football at times). The ball allows the drag chain to slide over rocks and ledges somewhat easier. A bike inner tube is fitted over the chain and is secured with zip ties. This keeps the chain from turning and wedging in rocks.

Boat Seat

The cane seat that came with the canoe was lowered to 7 inches below the top of the gunwale to provide needed stability to compensate for the somewhat higher seating position. Using 4 sections of copper tubing and 3/8 inch threaded rods I positioned the seat at the desired height. Stainless washers are in place on each end of the copper tubing. Below the two “wings” of the original seat I have a 2″ wide aluminum plate cut to length that the threaded rods pass through to give the seat added strength. after bolting the original seat in place I then cut off the excess threaded rod that protruded out the top of the gunwale and filed everything smooth. The aluminum 1/8 inch plate that the actual seat base is attached to was cut to size at a local fabricating shop. The seat itself in an “all weather high back” made by Tempress. The Tempress “quick disconnect” seat mount provides for a low attachment point and a very easy seat removal. As I’ve aged back fatigue comes into play in my choice of seats. I have used dozens of different seats through the years and without a doubt this seat is the best solution for me. My normal fishing day is dawn to dark and since I’ve been using this seat no back fatigue ever.

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Tackle Storage

Two pieces of non-slip tool cabinet liner were affixed to the bottom of the canoe under the seat to keep the quick access tackle boxes from sliding around in the canoe. I used waterproof SUMA tape made by Loctite to hold the liners in place


Miscellaneous Gear Storage

A five gallon bucket is used to carry miscellaneous items (spare drag chain, extra rope, rain gear, etc). The u-bolts on either side of the bucket provide a method of securing the bucket in the canoe in case of a spill. The rope is looped from one of the eyebolts through the u-bolt around the front canoe handle and back through the opposite u-bolts to the second eye-bolt.

Helpful Accessories

The spare paddle and the duck decoy retriever round out the accessories that I carry on a typical fishing trip. Both are secured to the rear thwart using Velcro strips. I use the retriever mainly to secure the canoe to tree limbs located near the shore or out in the river when I wish to fish an area more carefully. I place the hook over a limb and secure the butt end to the front thwart with a carabiner. Since the retriever fits into the center rod rack slot the canoe stays straight in the current. I mainly do this if the water is deep and I’m paddling upstream on a two-way float trip. Makes for a very easy engage and disengage.

6 Responses to “Tricking out a solo canoe for fishing”

  1. dimecovers3 says:

    Awesome build. Are you hiring?

  2. figgins123 says:

    Great setup! Does the seat take away any of the stability? Would you do anything differently looking back? Again, Awesome!

    • BasserDrew says:

      May want to try heading over to the forum to ask that question figgins because I think you’ll get a response over there and opinions from the entire river bassin community.

  3. lopsta says:


  4. scooptech says:

    i love all your work. i’m currently converting my 11 foot old town canoe and i saw in magazine that they lined the inside with high density foam, and also the brim, to help prevent it from tipping over. they also had additional metal braces throughout the interior for extra support. I have already converted my canoe over, minus the metal supports,not sure if i want them. Have you ever seen or heard of this anywhere. also thinking of adding a small trolling motor on the back side any thoughts? last you said that you lowered your seat 7 inchs, have ever considered moving the seat towards the front/back of canoe to add stability? please reply, looking forward to your feedback. thanks!


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