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Canoe Fishing Rod Holders

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Canoe Fishing Rod Holder - Harry Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park

I've been asked about these rod holders a few times, so I figured it was about time to post some more detailed pictures of them. This is a pattern that I copied from my friend Rick after my first spring fishing trip in Algonquin. That year we had an odd number of people on the trip, so some days we'd head out with 3 peopleCanoe Fishing Rod Holder - French River Delta in the one canoe. That left a set of Rick's rod holders available for me to try out. I was quickly converted to the idea of mounted rod holders when fishing from a canoe.

On the one hand you don't really need a rod holder to fish from a canoe, but on the other hand it sure made the full day of paddling a lot more comfortable. The most common alternative seems to be simply tucking the handle of the rod under your leg or knee. While it isn't too bad when you are sitting up on the seat, it still limits you to paddling on one side the whole time. With the mounted rod holders you can switch paddling sides without having to fiddle around with the rod. I also found that keeping your legs in one spot to hold onto the rod became uncomfortable after a while.

Over the next winter, I kept trying to figure out a simpler pattern to make the rod holders. After all, one of the priorities when picking your equipment for a canoe trip is to keep the weight down on the portages. In the end, although I could come up with ideas that might have made for a lighter mounting bracket, I couldn't figure out one that used fewer parts. I also think that having the rod holder itself mounted in the middle of the crosspiece is a good idea. That way the rod is pulling on the canoe from closer to the center of gravity rather than having extra leverage from hanging out on a gunwale

I thought about using a clamp on rod holder, but at the time I couldn't find any decent ones. There were some red metal ones that we had around at the cottage, but they weren't even strong enough to clamp on without bending. Other drawbacks for them were that they would probably have scratched up the side of the canoe, it put all the pull from the rod on the side of the canoe, and they still would have been on one side only (unless you mounted 2).

So in the end, I made up my own set of these cross pieces.

Stern Fishing Rod HolderBow Fishing Rod HolderParts of the canoe fishing rod holder

The parts for the stern rod holder bracket are:

  • 1 cross piece
  • 2 clamp pieces, one for each side
  • 1 spacer block
  • 2 carriage bolts with washers and wing nuts - either 3/8" or 1/4"
  • 1 boat mount rod holder

The cross pieces are 3 1/2" by either 3/4" or 1/2" hardwood straight from Home Depot. The clamp pieces are 3 1/2" by 1/2". I've used poplar for all of my brackets because it is cheaper than maple or the other available hardwoods. With a couple of coats of spar varnish they are weathering just fine. By using the dressed hardwood, I didn't need to worry about finding a thickness planer to trim the wood down as I would have if I had started with a spruce 2X4.

For the stern bracket I use 2 clamp pieces to save on weight, you could use a single bottom cross piece, but you don't need to carry the extra wood on the portage. As you can see in the pictures above, for the bow rod holder bracket I use a single bottom cross piece and only carriage bolt. I've used both 1/4" and 3/8" carriage bolts without any problem. The 1/4" bolts are plenty strong enough, but since I'm counting on the carriage bolts and wing nuts to save me from carrying a wrench, I tend to use the 3/8" bolts so that they have bigger head on the bolt and are less likely strip the hole in the wood.

Spacer block to give a better anchor point for the rod holder mount.The spacer block is the piece under the rod holder mount and it is there so that you have more wood to hold the larger screws from the rod holder mount. I'm sure that it doesn't make a big difference, but on the stern bracket I place the spacer block on the bottom to keep the whole contraption lower in the canoe - again thinking about the center of gravity.

The plastic rod holders that I use are the Berkley ones from Canadian Tire. I'm sure the Scotty rod holders would work just as Spacer block to help clamp the rod holder bracket around wooden gunwaleswell.

The brackets shown above were built for a canoe with aluminum gunwales. If you're canoe has wooden gunwales then you will also want to add spacer blocks to the clamp pieces.

Another thing that is less obvious in this picture is that I have used either 3/4" or 1/2" thick wood for the crosspieces. The 1/2" is plenty strong enough to hold the fishing rod, but I'm not sure how well it will hold up if I keep bouncing packs off of it when loading or unloading the canoe.

When making up a new set of brackets I sit in the canoe and take the uncut piece of wood for the cross piece and lay it across the gunwales at what feels like a comfortable distance ahead Angled ends on the rod holder cross piece to follow the curve of the gunwaleof me. I mark the spot and then measure from the bow or stern on each side to square it up as much as possible. I use the gunwale for a guide and mark both ends of the cross piece. This gives me the curve of the gunwale, and even though I then make a straight cut, it still keeps the end of the cross piece from hanging out and catching the paddle on you.

For the bottom cross piece of the bow rod holder bracket, I cut a piece that is about an inch shorter overall and then test fit it. If necessary you can trim from there. For the stern clamp pieces I use parts that are 6 3/4" long. No there isn't anything special about that length, the first one I made happened to be that size and then I copied it for all the other ones. Fitting these is easier than for the bow because you can set the cross piece in place and then just us a C clamp to temporarily hold the bottom clamp pieces in place while you drill the holes for the carriage bolts.

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