At first glance, a river runner might look at the Wingman Cooler Outrigger and wonder how on earth this contraption could be navigated down a waterway, especially one with major rapids. A 72-inch long, 24-inch wide frame rests astride the gunnel of a canoe. On both sides of the frame exist slots where coolers, gear boxes, dry boxes or some other container can be dropped. The end result is a boat that looks very little like the craft used to ply rivers.
Yet, amazingly, the concept not only works, but it also may even be said to revolutionize and enhance canoe and kayak fishing – especially if anglers relish going on multiple day floats for bass and other species. Austin Bousman, co-founder of the company, explains the genesis of the product.
“My good friend Bernie Lipke, a professional handyman in Montana, came up with the original concept,” he says. “He needed a place to position his coolers for a weeklong trip down the Missouri River. So he put some 2x4s across the gunnel, bolted two coolers on the ends of the boards that were hanging out over the water and took off.”
Lipke decided to experiment with the concept, exchanging a steel frame for the wooden 2x4s. Fascinatingly, Lipke, Bousman, and co-founder Drew Arney learned that the concept not only worked but also provided other benefits as well.
“The coolers gave stability to the canoe by placing the weight outside of the boat. Like a tight rope walker carrying a long pole, the product provides initial stability through weight distribution. Secondary stability occurs when the boat leans to and the cooler hits the water allowing buoyancy to take over. Because of the added stability, we were able to carry more gear safely and comfortably.
“As the product evolved we added a platform for sitting on, fishing from, or a place for pets and kids to enjoy. In addition to these features, we designed a bracket that allows the Wingman Outrigger to turn into a camping table when removed from a boat. I have well over 2000 miles of river testing from Montana to Virginia and am convinced that the product is an excellent concept.”
Bousman, who lives in Roanoke, Virginia, says that gear hounds will especially like the Wingman Outrigger as it essentially turns a boat into an outrigger and frees up space inside the craft for fishermen to bring along more tackle, camping gear, or even to turn an outing into a cast and blast affair. Bousman especially likes to go on canoe-in hunting trips into the backcountry and as employed the invention as a means to haul a big buck down a waterway – something he has accomplished while paddling into wilderness areas.
A Wingman Outfitter set-up also can be a cost saver.
“Many river fishermen feel that they need a raft if they want to go on days long float trips,” he says. “And a good raft could easily cost more than $5000. With this outrigger, you can turn a $200 used canoe into a craft that may be just as useful as a raft and that can essentially do everything that a raft can do for thousands of dollars less.”
The question remains, though, how would a Wingman Outrigger equipped canoe be maneuvered through narrow slots in a river’s boulder field?
“If the slot between two boulders is only a couple of feet wide, the product is not going to make it through that small of an opening nor will any raft,” says Bousman. “No watercraft can make it through an opening that is narrower than it is. If the Wingman Outrigger is going through a tight area with, for example, a boulder on the left, the fishermen should lean to the right, which causes the part of the outrigger hanging over the left side to rise up and pass over the rock.
Bousman adds that the casting platform is one of his favorite aspects of the product. As a fisherman himself, Bousman prefers to stand up when fishing as he feels that improved vision, casting accuracy, and a better hookset occurs. With the Wingman Outrigger the Virginian can stand on the products platform and reap that advantage.
I field tested the Wingman Outrigger on a trip down Virginia’s James River last September with Bousman and his friend Jeff Tester, a Moneta, Virginia contractorand Wingman Outfitter customer who had not yet tested his Cooler Outrigger on the water. Bousman and I were in a 16-foot canoe while Tester was in a 12-foot kayak. When river fishing in my canoe, I remain upright the entire time (except when passing under trees or coursing through rapids) by standing straddled while positioning my feet where the bottom of the boat begins to curve upward. With the Wingman Outrigger, this was even easier to accomplish, even if someone is not used to being upright in a canoe.
I also was really interested in using the outrigger as a casting platform. Bousman explained that standing in the middle of the platform with my rear foot positioned at a right angle to the front one was likely the stance that would give me the most stability – and he was right. The foot or two increase in elevation was even better than when I stand in the bow concerning the ability to help me select underwater cover and structure to cast to.
While Bousman and I took turns fishing from the platform, he explained that the more weight/gear inside the coolers, the more stabile a fisherman would feel while on the platform. Tester likewise relished the steadiness that the platform provides.
“The only time I’ve ever felt safe standing up in my kayak is when I’ve been fishing on a lake,” he said. “But with the Wingman Outrigger, I feel super stable standing up. Two of the major drawbacks when sitting in a kayak is not being high enough to see all the best places to fish and not having the leverage to get a good hook set. The product eliminates those problems.”
The James float I selected flaunts one of the worst rapids on the upper river, the Squeeze which is truly the narrowest part of the entire waterway as a hillside and rocky shoreline combine to force the river through a slot less than 20 yards wide. Water rushes through this tiny passageway at a furious pace but both Bousman and Tester deftly navigated their respective craft through the Squeeze, and I witnessed the secondary stability that the former earlier had alluded to. The secondary stability ability was also in evidence one time when Bousman leaned to his right – and thus caused the left side of the outrigger to rise upward – when we needed to glide over some rocks.
There are multiple real problems this product helps to solve maintains Drew Arney.
“To test this products functionality and durability we have shot shotguns, brought big game out of the woods, done multi-day camp trips in the snow, hit Class III rapids over and over, fly fished from the platform, had 100-plus-pound dogs jump into the water from it,” he says. “And we’ve hit golf balls off the platform, and done back flips off it, too, and the list goes on.
“What we have not done is slap a couple coolers to the side of a canoe and called it a novel idea people may waste their money on. We have stumbled onto and ambitiously pursued an idea that will eventually create a whole new market for the canoeist or kayaker who wants to do more on the water than paddle a boat downstream.”
Bruce Ingram – Bassmaster Magazine
I’ll admit, I was skeptical. When I first saw pictures, I wrote it off as something you might use on the pond out back, maybe fishing for crappie and having plenty of cold beverages close to hand. Then I watched some video featuring challenging rivers, stand-up fly fishing, big, mobile dogs aboard, and the ingenious transformation from canoe deck to roomy camp table.
The concept is pretty simple. Strap the aluminum frame and carpeted deck roughly midships on a tandem canoe using beefy cam-lock straps. It’s easy to shift the frame position to correct for weight distribution, and with a little work, you can use the Wingman [Cooler Outrigger] on a solo canoe. Outboard, on both sides, drop coolers into aluminum extensions and snap the cooler handles securely to the frame. Fill the coolers, pack the boat, load the dog and head downriver.
When you get to camp, the deck and aluminum extension bars turn into a large table for cooking and food prep. The Wingman [Cooler Outrigger] turns a canoe into a really stable mother ship, capable of carrying fresh food and cold drinks, and accommodating large dogs or standing anglers. Who really wants the raft and all the fussiness it calls for anyway?
The outrigger coolers act to stabilize the boat in turbulence, and can be extended another notch to steady the boat in bigger water or while standing on the platform and fishing. Surprisingly, having bulky, 48-quart coolers outside the hull doesn’t hamper maneuverability much, or slow the boat down. I just paddled several days on the Yellowstone River in Montana, through some pretty bouncy water, and kept pace with other canoes no problem. As a side benefit, the Wingman is a serious conversation starter with other floaters, and in camp the large table is a magnet for the cooking and meal prep crew.
The Wingman [Cooler Outrigger] does call for an awareness of the boat’s added width. I found myself tilting my weight to raise a cooler above a boulder here and there, and you don’t want to get swept against the bank or into logs where you might get hung up. I would avoid really tight streams or long boulder-garden rapids, at least until I was used to maneuvering with an outrigger. Also, the extension bars can be a little sticky fitting into the frame. Lube with beeswax or light grease to take care of it.
“I took the Wingman Cooler Outrigger out for a test run today on a stretch of the New River. It’s awesome! Ran some class 2’s and stood up and floated some ripples. Also, I ferried across some rapids and went in and out of eddies without any problem. The picture shows the coolers sit perfectly with the boat and there is no drag. Great product! I could not be happier with it! Even had dogs up and down on it for about 10 miles! It was incredible!”
Greg Coots – Verified Purchaser
“The Wingman Cooler Outrigger was an AWESOME addition to our trip. The extra cooler space was extremely useful as we camped with 8 people Friday-Sunday and the platform was perfect for fishing. It was easy to assemble and fit perfectly under the roof rack for simple transport. Chris was really excited to try it out and even got a compliment from another boater as we pulled off the river in Bluff City. I really appreciate you guys and what you’re doing.”
“In a paddle sports industry trending with hybrid boats, I had a blast pushing the limits of hybrid acceptability. These guys in Virginia used a little of their Montana ingenuity to turn my Old Town Next into a raft – a canoe-raft hybrid in a canoe-kayak hybrid world. The guys behind the Wingman Outfitter product have something really special.”
Mark Vlaskcamp – Canoe Vibes
“After seeing the Wingman canoe outrigger in person a few times, last summer I finally got the chance to get on the water with one and see what it was all about. Since then, I have floated with the product multiple times, in different seasons and conditions, with different objectives on each trip. I have been thoroughly impressed with its versatility, durability and simplicity.
I have professionally guided in a variety of fields for the last 9 years, with all summer seasons being spent on the water in some form or another. From drift boats to oar-framed rafts to kayaks and canoes, I have logged a lot of hours and miles on various rivers, from Wyoming and Idaho to Virginia. I am not one for unnecessary, gimmicky equipment nor would I endorse something I didn’t think was a great, useful product.
The Wingman outrigger is such a practical accessory for your canoe for a variety of reasons. For starters, the additional cooler space is awesome, especially for those who like to spend multiple nights on the river without sacrificing proper gear and good food and drink. And it is not just the coolers, but the platform as well that can support a ton of gear on top, or better yet, the rewards of a successful hunt as you come out of camp. And even if you do not need it for storage, it is such a nice platform to have integrated into your canoe. From a place to rig your fishing rod and keep your tackle, to a seat for your dog or child, it takes your canoe setup to a new level. It also makes for a helluva casting platform! Lastly, the version I used transformed into a great camp table for a camp kitchen. From a stability standpoint, it made my canoe nearly impossible to flip, which was a huge plus on cold weather floats or if I were floating with young kids. The durability is amazing as well, as I’ve been thoroughly impressed every time I hear the cooler or frame smack a rock and look back to see no damage. With the dedicated outdoorsman in mind, Drew and Austin have put this thing to the test and have done a great job of improving the product since the first prototype. They truly have this thing dialed in and really have a passion for what they are doing. If you’re looking to spend more time on the water and take your canoe setup to another level, look no further than a Wingman outrigger.”
James Revercomb – Roanoke Mountain Adventures
“When I was asked to come out on the river to see what the Wingman was all about, I was pumped up about it. When I was told to bring my dog, I quickly became a skeptic. Not because I didn’t believe it could handle a dog, but because I didn’t believe it could handle my dog. My dog, Ruger, is a 120 lb. golden retriever that would choose water over dry land any day of the year.
It didn’t take but a second for my mind to be blown. The moment Ruger hopped onto the platform and we pushed off the bank, all my worries were gone. I had imagined seeing the dog in fear, legs shaking, whimpering, etc., but instead it turned out to be a very relaxing and calm experience. Stability, freedom, and versatility are, in my mind, the greatest things about the Wingman outrigger and they all go hand in hand with one another. With the coolers providing significant stabilty, it gives you the freedom to do so many things in the canoe.
I have the same budget canoe at the lake, used for fishing coves for largemouth, except it has a wider base than the canoe we took to the river. Even with the wider base, there is a zero percent chance that two people could stand on that canoe without someone getting wet. With the Wingman we were able to try our luck on some smallmouth with both of us easily able to stand and move around without the fear of knocking each other off balance and into the water. The platform was great because it gives you a better perspective of the water and allows you to spot fish easier. This all just goes to show that you don’t need to go spend your life savings on an overpriced ritzy canoe.
Although our trip was only a half day, I think we packed as if we were doing a weekend trip. I feel that the product would be a huge asset on an overnight trip. Having the coolers on the outside of the boat gives you so much more room for packing gear. Whether you are hunting, fishing, or camping, it’s always better to over pack than to under pack if possible. Also, the platform of the Wingman could be used as a table or bench if need be. I believe that this product will give me the opportunity to get on the water more often. It makes heading off to the river less of a burden because now you can feel more comfortable about taking your family with you.
I cannot say that I really have much negative feedback to give, especially knowing that I was only using a prototype version in my little excursion. However, I do think there are a couple things that could be improved. The outrigger extends to provide more stability, but when it is extended, a gap is created between the platform and the coolers. I believe that this gap could potentially be dangerous if you or your pet were to slip and get caught. I also believe that the product could be improved by ditching the ratchet straps and creating a mounting system that locks the wingman into place from the top of the canoe. Ratchet straps are great, but when they are underwater and bumping rocks all day, they might eventually wear.
Overall, I am truly amazed by the Wingman outrigger, but there are only so many words I can use to describe what it’s like. The best products come from those whose passion is their creation, and it seems obvious to me that, with the right marketing and exposure, Wingman Outfitter has a promising future ahead.”
Ruger and Ted Lyle – May 2016
“A lot of people have needed a Wingman outrigger for a long time, they just didn’t know it.”
Lesley, Michael and Winston – May 2016