Do you remember what you were doing about this time three years ago? Me either, but with some research it all came back to me. Back then, I had been in touch with the fine folks at paddling.com, and they wanted me to write an article about kayak fishing - one article. The sport was in its modern day infancy, and paddling.com thought that this crazy segment of paddle sports just might have a following. So, let's try one article, see how it floats. So, I dug deep to try to explain to the non-paddle angler why this sport is so much fun. The result was "Why Fish From A Kayak?". As I pondered this month's article, I read that one again. Guess what? The reasons are STILL the same, after all these years.
NO, IT'S NOT A FAD AFTER ALL: After listing and elaborating on a number of reasons why I personally chose to fish from a kayak, I closed that historic article with the line "Whatever your reason may be, rest assured you are not part of a fad - kayak fishing is here to stay." And, that line couldn't hold more truth today. Here in Florida, pretty much any place you can park and walk to the water is a potential launch spot. As I cruise past those spots now, I see a lot more trucks with kayak racks and a lot more cars with makeshift canoe pads on their roof. Any given weekend will find hundreds of paddle people on the water, and they still don't make as much noise as one lone flats boat.
THEY WORK HARD FOR THE MONEY:
One sure fire way to know if something is a fad or not is to witness how much in advertising dollars are spent in order to promote it. Three years ago, you'd see advertisements in paddle sports industry magazines, and a little on the internet. Most of these would discuss a particular brand, and maybe have a little blurb stating, "… and by the way, we make a boat designed for fishing". Right … one boat, maybe two. At that time, the sport was way too green to invest mega-bucks in R&D, molds, fine tuning, manufacturing, and finally advertising boats specifically for fishing. Here in Florida, the magazines that anglers keep in their bathrooms are "Florida Sportsman" and "Shallow Water Angler".
I remember three years ago that I simply didn't see any advertising by kayak/canoe companies, and rarely did the magazines have features about paddle fishing. I also remember writing a spirited e-mail to the editor of Shallow Water Angler. How could a magazine with this sort of title fail to recognize the up and coming king of the shallow water domain? I didn't receive a response, but I'd wager that SWA's advertisers played a good part in that. Understandable - gotta dance with the one that brought ya. However, that has changed. The cover of SWA for Feb/Mar shows a kayaker at sunset - rod at the ready. The "New Boats" section is split between two flats boats and two kayaks. Further investigation reveals an article about the notion of fishing from a plastic boat - looks a lot like my first article … hmmm. I see kayak fishing charters advertised. I see kayak manufacturers advertising. And, in the regional roundup section, there are lots of pics of fish taken from paddle craft. There's even an ad for a TV channel that features a kayaker with a very nice snook.
OK, for this magazine and this audience, this makes sense, and it's about time. But, the big shocker was when I cracked the pages on "Florida Sportsman" and found paddle fishing represented. Now, this magazine directs most of it's info toward the powerboat crowd. And that's where the advertising is also pointed. Countless ads for boats, motors, electronics, you name it. But, stuffed in between all of this, I found an article about kayak fishing, along with 3 full page ads by kayak companies. That's big bucks! And, if the return on the advertising dollar wasn't a likely result, a smart businessman wouldn't do it.
BUILD THEM, AND THEY WILL FISH FROM THEM: The manufacturers have really stepped up as well. When I was affiliated with one of the big boys, we had one boat designed for fishing, and *could* put rod holders on several others. Now, there is a full line of angling specific boats, featuring both sit on top and sit inside models. Fat ones, fast ones, long ones, short ones, you name it. There is a fishing craft for everyone now. And, the manufacturers see that their work is never done. The other guy is always raising the bar concerning features, weight, and performance. It's a win/win scenario for us consumers.
TOURNAMENTS: I know 3 years ago, there were several local paddle fishing tournaments that I could participate in, but it was pretty much a bunch of forum buddies getting together for a day of collecting bragging rights. Now, I receive notifications for tournaments pretty much every week. The entry fees have risen, so have the quality of prizes. Granted, many of these tournaments are still various forum members getting together, but it's a lot of forum members, and a lot of different forums. It's happening in every state, and overseas too. And guess what else I'm seeing? I'm seeing corporate sponsorship for teams. Most major kayak manufacturers sponsor teams to compete in events all across the country. Does a particular kayak make you a better angler? For many years, I'd say "no". Boats are merely vehicles, but anglers are very different in their styles and prowess. Now, I'd have to say the characteristics of a particular model of boat do make a difference. The difference comes in comfort (how long can you stay in the boat, or how far can you paddle), accessibility to gear (which means you can change a lure quickly), silent hulls (increasing the stealth factor), and the ability for the paddler to customize their boats to their particular needs. What a better way to sell that notion than to have a sponsored team go out there and catch a lot of quality fish. The kayak is a tool, but the better the tool the better the result.
THE ECONOMICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ADVANTAGE: One of the local fishing rags I read had an advertisement in it about the cost of owning a boat. The ad proudly noted the monthly payment (for 15 years) for an 18' boat, motor, trailer. It was around $380. Add to that insurance, taxes, and maintenance. Last, but not least, we don't even need to talk about the cost of fuel. OK, let's talk about fuel. One of my buddies who is a boater, uses his trolling motor a lot whenever he goes out. He powers up to go from point A to point B, but uses battery power to cruise the flats - brilliant. He also rags me about the fact that plastic kayaks are made from petroleum distillates. Well, some manufacturers are now making kayaks out of manufacturing scraps. The color is actually pretty cool. I know when I was doing the kayak fishing rep thing, we once used floor sweepings to test a new mold. The resulting boat looked great. Go figure. But, the more fuel prices rise, the better it looks and feels to be captain of a self-powered vessel.
STILL CRAZY: I could go on and on, but this article would start sounding a lot like that first article. No need to reinvent the wheel (thanks to hyperlinks), but we can surely celebrate the fact that this wheel is still rolling, straight and true. This article is the 36th monthly installment I've done here… three years and counting (see the Jerry White Archive).
So, thanks for being a contributor to the growth of this sport. So, what will happen in the next 3 years? Ask me then, I'm sure I'll write another article about it.
See you out on the water!
"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after"
~ Henry David Thoreau