Kayak Fishing Hand Paddles from Backwater Paddle Company

Ed Halm of Backwater Paddle Company offered Gear-Report.com a set of kayak fishing hand paddles to review. Testing revealed that fishing isn't their only use.

As the summer of 2010 was winding down Ed Halm of the Backwater Paddle Company offered Gear-Report.com a set of their new kayak fishing hand paddles for review. I replied that… “Frankly, a hand paddle is a concept I had not really thought about, but can see immediate utility.”… and that we are always eager to put new gear through the wringer. So, we accepted the offer and kept an eye on the mail waiting for the Predator and Piranha hand paddles to arrive.

Look for individual reviews soon of the Piranha and Predator paddles, highlighting their unique features and differences.

Sure, I knew these were “hand paddles”, but I was still surprised when they arrived in a legal sized padded envelope.

Kayak fishing hand paddles backwater paddle company

Kayak fishing hand paddles backwater paddle company

Kayak fishing hand paddles backwater paddle company

Kayak fishing hand paddles backwater paddle company

Here is what was in the envelope:
one Predator hand paddle
one Piranha hand paddle
one Backwater Paddle company sticker
one promotional flier describing their product and company

First impressions:

  • Both paddles were smaller than I expected.
  • They looked like ping-pong (table tennis) paddles, without the rubber faces
  • The woodworking is well done, with no rough edges, nail holes filled in, etc.
  • The paddle blades are made of thin plywood and don’t give the appearance of being all that durable
  • The Backwater Paddle Company logo is pretty cool, but I’m not sure I like the paper wrap on the Predator.
  • The orange and yellow wrist strap sure is bright. Shouldn’t have to worry about misplacing these!
  • Being made of wood, they will float. Thats always a good thing when kayaking.

First impressions are one thing, how the product performs on the water is what I’m more concerned with. Do the Backwater Paddle Company Piranha and Predator kayak fishing hand paddles live up to the hype?

For this test I loaded the trusty blue Tarpon 160 on the family truckster and hauled the family to the local lake/reservoir for a quick paddle. To be quite honest, the whole time I was wondering what in the world I would use Fishing Hand Paddle for. You see, although I think that the usefulness of a hand paddle for fishing is obvious, I neglected to mention one thing to Ed when he offered the paddles…

I Don’t Fish!!

While I can visualize how a fisherman would use a hand paddle to maneuver with one hand, while holding his fishing rod with the other, I don’t expect to be in that situation. So, the real question became: what good are these paddles to me, the non-fishing kayaker?

It didn’t take long to uncover a few ways to use these hand paddles, sans fishing pole:

  • Taking pictures: The Piranha and Predator are both great for maneuvering a kayak with one hand, while taking a picture with the other hand. Seriously, this is a BIG problem that I’ve struggled with in the past. I inherited the photo taking gene from my Father, and find myself snapping pictures everywhere… even while paddling a kayak. Few things are as frustrating as seeing a perfect opportunity for a shot, dropping my paddle in my lap, quickly snatching the camera out of the dry box, turning the camera on, … hey wait a second… in the 20 seconds it took me to get the camera out and ready I’ve already drifted out of position. Picking up my paddle to get back where I want to be means risking clumsily dropping my camera in the water, or splashing/dripping water on the camera. With the Backwater Paddle Company hand paddles, I can reposition my boat on the water with one hand while securely working the camera with the other. This alone is worth the price of a hand paddle, to me, at least.
  • Close quarters maneuvering: I also found that a single hand paddle is easy to use to move a kayak around in tight spaces. If I fished, I could see great utility in this. Instead of fishing, I tend to be a shoreline scanner. Looking for goodies that have washed up. My son fishes and has a never-ending supply of bobbers that I’ve snatched from the back of coves at the lake. 230cm kayak paddles can get snagged on stuff when in close, so the hand paddles work nicely here, within reason. Don’t expect a hand paddle to turn a 16 foot kayak in a hurry. It is effective, just not speedy. The hooks cut into the blade and grooves on the end of the Piranha are also nice for snagging the dock, tree branches, ropes, etc. and pushing off on the shallow bottom.
  • Sliding a kayak sideways: While I can do a sculling stroke with a full kayak paddle to slide the boat sideways, it feels more natural with a single hand paddle.
  • Backup paddle: The small size and low weight of the hand paddles makes them an ideal spare backup paddle in case my full paddle is lost or broken. I wouldn’t want to travel long distances with just a hand paddle, but it would do the job in a pinch.
  • River paddles?: I put the question mark on this one, as I haven’t tried this yet. However, I’ve heard of folks using gloves with webbed fingers on rivers instead of using a kayak paddle. I could see having a hand paddle in each hand and being quite effective in slow to moderate speed water.

My advice to the Backwater Paddle Company is to consider lessening the emphasis on Fishing in the branding and marketing of these paddles. With their heavy emphasis on fishing, I would not have considered trying these paddles if Ed had not contacted Gear-Report.com. I would have missed out on a useful piece of kit. At about $25 each, I expect that lots of non-fishing kayakers will want to grab a hand paddle or two. I also wonder if these would be effective in a canoe. The product packaging specifies it as a kayak paddle, but for folks like me with long arms, I expect these hand paddles would be equally useful in a canoe. I’ll drag a canoe to the lake in the Spring and report back on the results.

Kayak fishing hand paddles backwater paddle company

Kayak fishing hand paddles backwater paddle company

My friend Will at GetOutdoors.us asked me what I thought of these paddles, as he is considering carrying them in the store.  Well, Will… I think that different types of kayakers will find utility in these paddles. If it were a product that would only be used by fishermen, I would probably still suggest picking up a few. The utility for fishing is just so obvious. I do have concerns about the long term durability of these paddles. The look and feel of the plywood blades with make me wonder if they will absorb water, swell, crack, and/or delaminate once the protective finish is scratched. However the price is low enough that they don’t have to last for years to justify purchase. I’d be very interested in seeing a plastic version of this concept.

I’m looking forward to updating this post in the spring and summer to report on how the paddles have held up under frequent use and abuse. For now, my boats are stored for the winter.  🙁

Jeff’s rating:

Gear Score
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A good first generation implementation of the hand paddle concept. I would rate higher if made of materials that appear to be more durable. Useful for fishing and non-fishing paddlers.

Please leave a comment to let me know if this review was helpful to you.

About Jeff

Jeff is the Editor in Chief of Gear Report and a National Shooting Sports Foundation Media member. He reports on the outdoor industry, reviews gear for camping, hiking, shooting, hunting, paddling, backpacking and other active pursuits. A USAF veteran, Jeff earned a MBA in Marketing and Health Services. He specializes in consultative selling and internet marketing. As the VP of BD & Marketing, Jeff provides sales and marketing leadership to MGECOM, Inc. and helps http://MGECOM.com acquire new clients in need of solutions for online merchants in need of Affiliate Marketing program management. Jeff founded and manages Cress Sales & Marketing LLC, offering online sales and marketing consulting and services to online merchants and service providers.