Personal floatation devices (pdf) are essential for safety, but they can also be a helpful tool. I use a NRS life jacket, and the two things I like most about are 1) It has a waistband that snaps, so I can unzip it when it gets warm and still feel like it will be with me if I capsize my canoe. 2) It has two generous pockets. I keep a compass, whistle, and spare reading glasses in one pocket, and I keep a small waterproof Fuji camera in the other pocket (more about my camera later). I also keep a serrated-edge Gerber knife attached to a lash tab and an Orvis Fly Fisher's Snip pinned to a pocket strap.
If you suffer from low back pain as I do, a good seat back is worth its weight in gold. I have two different seat backs: the wooden one (in the photo above) is made by Old Town Canoe, and it fits nicely on their web seats. I also own one from LL Bean called a SitBacker that has a built in padded seat cushion. They both work fine and support my back.
For fishing tackle, I've discovered Flambeau's Kwikdraw soft tackle bag. I like it because it has three plastic boxes for lures, swivels, etc. It also has a large zippered pocket for an extra reel, line, pliers, stringer, etc. It has a sturdy shoulder strap to which I've added a carabiner, so it is easily attaches to a canoe thwart.
I also carry a small dry bag. A mountain man might have called it a "possibles bag," but I call it my "extras bag." It contains things I probably won't need, but will be mighty happy I have with me if an occasion arises when I need them. The small rubberized dry bag by Seattle Sports is about 7" in diameter and 16" deep. I carry a paddle jacket, rain pants, polyester gloves, first aid kit, headlamp, air horn, sunblock, insect repellent, and a fire starter in mine.
To capture photographs of wildlife, trip memories, and trophy fish I carry a Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP camera. This is a 10 megapixal digital camera with 3x optical zoom and a 2.7-inch LCD screen. It has 50 MB built-in memory, and It's waterproof to 10 feet deep. For less than $250.00 it the best camera around for a canoeist. I just wish they had these a few years back when I was carrying a cardboard box with a lens in the end that we called a disposable camera. Those old photos were so poor I threw most of them out long ago.
In the photo above you'll see both of my canoes as they were outfitted for a recent fishing trip on the Snake River in Wyoming. The Scotty rod holders sure made paddling easier. Years ago I would troll with my fishing rod trapped under one knee and braced against the other knee. Somehow I managed to paddle and fish at the same time, but a good clamp-on rod holder sure has not only improved my fishing but also made my paddling more efficient.
My canoe fishing essentials checklist
After nearly a half century of fishing from a canoe I've finally created a checklist of things that make my fishing trips safe, comfortable, and more efficient:
• wooden paddle on leash
• double paddle tied to thwart with bungee
• topographic map in waterproof case
• bear spray on belt (in bear country)
• painter(s) (two on river trips)
• seat back and seat pad
• baler and sponge
• rescue rope and two carabiners [on river trips]
• Scotty clamp-on fishing rod holder
• rod and reel (rigged with lure) on leash
• wood fishing net on bungee leash
• personal flotation device (pfd) with knife, whistle, compass, and glasses
• Fuji waterproof camera and Orvis fly fisher's snip
• wide brim hat and floating, polarized sunglasses on lanyard
• wool whipcord pants
• nylon underwear, layered polyester shirts and fleece or wool jacket
• water shoes
Hydro Venture dry bag:
• paddle jacket and rain pants
• polyester gloves
• toilet paper in ziplock bag and trowel
• small dry bag (wallet and keys)
• mini roll of duct tape
Seal Line waist pack (inside dry bag):
• headlamp with fresh batteries
• insect repellent
• sun block
• air horn
• first aid kit
• extra folding knife
• survival fishing kit
• plastic tackle boxes with lures
• fishing license
• extra spinning reel
• leader and extra line
Lunch cooler bag:
• lunch and water bottle