August 13, 2012
You may have never heard the story of how I first got into kayak fishing. For years I was exclusively a shoreline or wade fisherman, but sometimes went along on someone’s powerboat. One fine Fall day, I stood hip deep and stared at a pod of snook smashing mullet about 60 yards away, contemplated the odds on surviving crossing across an area of deep water and current with my rod held up high to keep my reel dry. Realizing that there was risk (and that by the time I got over there, that action could be over) I was startled by a person who came up on me, ever so quietly in a kayak and stopped to talk. A touring kayaker, I asked if he ever took a fishing rod with him. The response was something that caught my attention: “No, but I really should. I can get up to within a few feet of the fish before I spook ‘em”. Oh Realllly? From that point forward, fishing trips were almost entirely from kayaks. Over fifteen years later I am very pleased with what I see in the sport, the people, the kayaks and the companies I deal with.
A mode of transportation, I never have completely given up on my wade fishing but if the kayak is deployed, the option of covering distances faster and without hazards is available. I always have the option to get out and wade a flat if want to. Adding a kayak marked a big shift in my fishing opportunities and opened up areas I could never access on foot. For areas I could wade to it cut down travel time by 1000% or more. As a local angler, this made me that much more excited about going and it led to a lot more success and knowledge of local waters. Methodically, I began to fish nearly every area of Tampa Bay.
My first seven years of kayak fishing was interrupted six months of the year by a pesky pro baseball umpire career which required me to travel for five and a half straight months every year. However, I was able to put in a year’s worth of fishing in six months. Friends I had during those years were annoyed that I would get back to Florida but they didn’t see me for the first five weeks. During the baseball season, particularly later in the year, pre-game conversations with team managers were sometimes mysterious as I looked at a rising moon and would be heard to say “Nine hundred and forty miles south of here, snook are feeding on the beginning of a fast rising tide.” Some of that was lost on some people.
Economically, it fit. The salary of a minor league baseball umpire was literally (and still is) a poverty level income. The investment in kayak and other necessary equipment was not only affordable; it was a one-time purchase with zero upkeep costs. For a lot of people, this is still a large appeal.
Fishing was part of the reason I came to Florida but mostly it was baseball. Umpire school was here and I made the decision that the Tampa Bay area would be ideal for my profession and fantastic for my “off months” and fishing. A girlfriend called the north Sunshine Skyway area “Neil’s Playground” which was probably a good designation. She told a group of baseball umpires during spring training “If he wasn’t at work or in his bed, you would find his car parked out there.” It was also about this same time when I got into kayak fishing that someone said to me “There’s more to life than fishing” and I replied “I’ve heard that a few times, but usually in a female voice and she’s yelling that at me.”
For a short period of time I was in the ranks of “powerboat owner” and I used it (a little). I still had that plastic boat and as time went on I realized that I was more inclined to use the paddle and not “take the risk” of having the entire morning plan affected when something malfunctioned with electronics or an engine. The original owner of that boat wanted it back and I agreed without hesitation. As I have told so many people making the decision on kayak versus boat: I never regretted it. I know dozens of people who have boats if I ever want to do it that way and I can. The immediate result was that I eliminated a lot of maintenance and storage fees. Also, quite honestly, I do not miss some of the idiocy I encountered at boat ramps.
As a mode of transportation the kayak has advantages with stealth and being very low to the water, being less visible. The sacrifice over a boat with an engine is “speed.” Compared to many other anglers in boats, I believe that the kayak angler may hone their skills better because of their speed limitations. A kayak angler will learn how to prospect an area better. Without the ability to move miles in minutes, they will learn how to prospect a much smaller area to spend “more time fishing, less time paddling.” The bottom line, and probably the most compelling reason I have for a permanent shift to kayak fishing? Ultimately, I have never had a fishing trip ruined because of the kayak.
Trips on powerboats, though readily available, I simply rarely do. It is an individual decision and “to each his/her own.” I’ve found that I’m more comfortable in my Native Ultimate and I enjoy the smooth ride over “feeling every inch of my spine” bouncing on waves while traveling in a boat. For some people, they may prefer it that way but for many they do not realize what they are missing. Myths about kayaks are shrinking but still exist. One of the common remarks I will still hear in conversation “It’s too much work.” Another “I wouldn’t want to get that wet.” Yet another “I wouldn’t like flipping in it.” And finally, and probably the most common remark “My back wouldn’t be able to handle it.” Granted, kayak fishing isn’t for everyone but a majority of the people with trepidation realize pretty quickly that they had an inaccurate image in their minds. Paddling a kayak is more about technique than it is exertion. They are designed now with a great balance of elevation for staying dry and width for stability. But the real improvements in the past six years: Much more comfortable seats and leg room. I can honestly say that I usually feel as good or better at the end of a fishing trip than I did at the beginning.
The success of kayak anglers in open format fishing tournaments speaks volumes to their effectiveness. At the time I first got started, the powerboat people made many derogatory remarks about kayaks as if their way was superior. In one ear and out the other, I enjoyed personal-power for the way I was fishing. My own results with growing experience were as good as or better than theirs. My own skills got better and better and the transition to fishing guide was an easy one. I enjoyed working with young umpires during that career. After I built up my own fishing skills I actually became more excited about giving the experiences to someone else over my own fishing.
At this point, I have been a kayak fishing guide for seven years with over five years “full-time”. I’ve enjoyed the charters, the interaction with clients and following their success as they make it their own hobby. “Kayak Fishing Skool” at the 8th Avenue Pub is a monthly seminar I host with attendance between 40 to 50 people every session. Other stage seminars like the Tampa Bay Times “Gulf Fishing School” are also very well attended as I talk in detail about aspects of kayak fishing for. To me, kayak guiding has much more to the instruction than just the “catching” people do. From the seminars to the time on the water, instruction is strong on efficiency and technique. Using lures nearly 100% of the time, clients take away valuable skills that make their personal trips more successful. For the beginners it is a clean slate, learn things correctly from the start. For the experienced kayak anglers it is a chance for me to evaluate their equipment, technique and knowledge of the species. Everyone will develop better skills and a more cerebral game plan for their future kayak fishing.
The follow-up stories are great. There are people who are making it their retirement hobby, there are people who wanted to hone skills to compete in competitive tournaments, there are people who wanted to have a relaxing work diversion and there are people who wanted to be able to take their kids fishing. With the goals clearly expressed and the lessons delivered, I get to enjoy the great stories that come back from the people who took trips with me. It has been the old, the young, ladies, men and children.
The kayak fishing community has grown by leaps and bounds during this time period. In the earlier days I was in a kayak, it was fairly rare to see another fishing kayak. But there were kayak shops, mostly catering to the touring kayaks but some of these were acceptable platforms to do a little fishing. From there? There is very little question: Word got out. Have you noticed how many you see on cartops the past few years? With the Internet’s information-sharing fishing forums like www.capmel.com and word-of-mouth testimonial people began to identify The Kayak Advantage. What followed was amazing as kayak fishing became the most rapidly growing segment in the fishing industry, a trend that never really slowed. With a large number of people jumping into kayak fishing, kayak fishing clubs were born. In collaboration with Sam Ledford, a part-time employee at Bill Jackson’s, and other founding members, I was involved with the formation of the Bay Area Canoe-Kayak club which has sustained as a great local fishing asset to the kayak angler. Sam and I were voted honorary “lifetime members” of the club earlier this year, Sam for years of dedicated service as the club president.
The founder of www.capmel.com, Mel Berman, took notice of my baseball career and kayak fishing stories that I shared on his online messageboard. After initial contact and some building of rapport, we began collaborating on some projects. Mel’s radio program was on the air for 25 years, he wrote for countless magazines and newspapers and he was a very popular public speaker. Over the course of a couple of years Mel eventually had me as a regular radio show guest and eventually he asked me to be his co-host of every major boat show seminar he would do. I took Mel out in the kayaks twice and he really enjoyed it and talked about how it was much more comfortable than he would have ever imagined. After his passing in early 2010, I eventually was asked by his family to administrate his web site, a site that now averages about 8 million monthly “hits”. As of January 2012, I am the owner of the web site. It has been a great gathering place for Florida anglers, sharing stories and information and even fishing together. In March of every year, I host the “Captain Mel Classic”, a trout and redfish tournament. The “No Motor” division has become the biggest segment of the event.
Without the great sponsors that support my business, this would not be as great as it is for me. Native Watercraft, 12 Fathom lures, St Croix rods, Smith Optics sunglasses, Daiwa reels, Tuf-Line braided lines, Sixwave jigheads, Stick It anchor pins, Finatic Designs, Joe Hebert’s “Edje” jigheads/Silly Willy, MirrOLure, the Fish Grip, Kayracks.com and the aforementioned Bill Jackson Shop For Adventure have all been great to me and I look forward to continued involvement with these companies. But I owe a lot of thanks to the people that want to go fishing! To all my former and current clients: Thank you!
Kayak fishing will continue to grow, with better paddle craft and people realizing that it is such a successful way to enjoy the sport. If it is any indication, a lot of people that also own powerboats have gotten kayaks as well. For me, I will still be sitting in my Native watercraft and taking people on the instructional kayak fishing trips. I’ll enjoy seeing what the next 15 years hold in the kayak fishing world!
Neil Taylor is the owner and guide at www.strikethreekayakfishing.com, specializing in insructional kayak fishing. He hosts “Kayak Fishing Skool”on the fourth Thursday of every month at the 8th Avenue Pub Safety Harbor. Owner of www.capmel.com, Neil wants to continue to promote the great ethics of the late Captain Mel Berman
You can reach Neil by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 727-692-6345