Monday, March 30, 2015

The Power of the PFD - Get Informed

Stemming from a recent article by Bill Howard (which you can find here) and a recent event on the FLW tour, I feel like it is time to write a short blog about personal flotation devices (PFDs).  I've never made it a secret how I feel about wearing a PFD when kayak fishing.  You'll notice that I wear mine 100% of the time.  You simply never know.  I advise everyone to wear their PFD at all times and require it as a guide.  But I understand that everyone has their own opinion on this issue, and I respect that.  All I ask is that you inform yourself.

This short video is from my Wilderness Systems teammate Troy Meyerhoeffer.  It was taken at Kentucky Lake, which is one of the busiest bodies of water in the country.  In my opinion, it pretty much says it all.

Dress warm and wear your PFD!
Posted by Troy Meyerhoeffer on Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I'll also urge you to read about the accident that FLW angler John Cox had this past weekend.  While driving at a high rate of speed, his bass boat suddenly pulled a 360, ejecting both he and his cameraman.  Their auto-inflating life jackets did not deploy and they sunk in 10 feet of water.  Thankfully, help quickly arrived and got them to safety.  Both were later reported to have suffered concussions, and the cameraman also broke his collarbone.  Although Cox claims the fact that his life jacket did not properly deploy was a good thing (because the boat flipped virtually on the top of them), I find that comment to be entirely circumstantial.  First, I'm glad that neither was hurt worse.  I am also glad that as kayak anglers, we don't travel at terribly high rates of speed.  But we do deal with rapids, waves, currents, tides, strainers, and other hazards.  Plus, in many bodies of water, we still have bass and pleasure boats zooming all around us.  The point of this is to think about your PFD.

I have personally turned down multiple "auto-inflating" PFDs.  I just don't trust them.  If I flip in a class-II+ rapid, I want to be 100% sure my life jacket is going to work.  If you Google auto- or self-inflating PFDs, you will find many articles about how often they don't work.  Among the results are instances where entire shipments of hundreds to thousands of auto-inflators did not work.  Other studies have found that, even if properly stored and replaced as recommended, they only work about 50%-70% of the time.  Yikes.  They may be lighter and, arguably, more comfortable, but are they really worth it?

Whether you prefer NRS, Kokatat, or another brand, I strongly urge you to do your homework and always err on the side of caution.  I know the phrase is overused, but you can't put a price on life.  Tight lines!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

10 Questions with new Wildy Pro Wes Widrig

A year or two ago, I linked up with Wes Widrig via social networking on Facebook.  He was regularly posting pictures of big Virginia smallies and other species.  Eventually, I started to notice some sweet video footage as well.  It did not take long before folks started recognizing his hard work and enthusiasm.  Wes is quickly building an impressive fishing resume, and recently added the title of Wilderness Systems Pro Staffer.  Now, he is even more eager to share his passion for kayak fishing with anyone interested.

Take a look at what Wes had to say about a variety of fishing topics, and if you are interested, give him a shout, and I bet he would be willing to chase trophy smallmouth or muskies with you on his home river - the New River in central VA.

1. I think you would be the first to admit that you are a multi-species angler and love the challenge that various species present, but what is your favorite fish to target and why? 

 Anytime I get a chance to fish I'll target any species, but for me the smallmouth bass is my favorite. Their predictable, yet "unpredictable" behavior presents the challenge that I can never get enough of. Plus they are acrobatic all the way to the boat.

2. I recently learned that you are a bit of a road warrior when it comes to tournaments. Walk us through what your tournament season looks like – events, dates, locations, how far they are from home, etc.

This years tournament season is a busy one. I am fishing with 3 different organizations covering 3 different states. Carolina Kayak Anglers, Mountain State Kayak Anglers, and the newest trail here in Southwest Virginia and Southern West Virginia, The Gillbilly Tournament Trail Series. Each series will feature lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. The season started March 7th and runs late into October. Most of the tournaments are within 3 1/2 hours, including some that are less than a half hour away - The New River in my hometown of Pembroke, VA and Claytor Lake in Dublin, VA to be exact.

3. I know that, like me, you are a river rat at heart.  How did you first choose a river fishing kayak and what do you currently paddle?

 For me getting into kayaking was as simple as shopping at the local sporting goods store for a reasonably priced fishing kayak. I fished from a sit inside kayak for about 6 months before upgrading to a much more suitable fishing machine, the sit on top. It just so happened to be a Wilderness Systems Ride 115, and I have been paddling it to this day since February of 2012.

4. You are allowed to pick ONE go-to bait for each season (spring,summer, fall, winter). What are they and why? 

 It's got to be a jig! I like a swim jig with a beaver style trailer in the spring, summer, and fall. One that resembles a blue gill preferably. As far as winter goes a compact football jig is hard to beat when those cold water temps really set in.

5. What places are on your fishing wish list and why? Give me a top 3 in the US and 1 international. 

Lake Erie for giant smallmouth on a drop shot with light line is top of the list. Mainly because those smallies are huge and catching them on light line is such a difficult challenge.

 Catching big Amberjack in the Gulf has always been a favorite past time for me. My grandfather used to charter out of Panama City Beach Florida and we would catch Amberjack 100 feet down on artificial reefs. I would love to charter a kayak offshore and attempt this style of fishing.

Third would be another Northern fishery. The great Susquehanna River. Any hardcore smallie guy knows they grow big in PA.

 I've always wanted to catch a Tarpon. Florida would be the suitable destination, but if I had my choice either Trinidad or Puerto Rico.

6. What is your favorite fishing technique and why? 

 I've always been a soft plastics guy. Floating worms, senkos, tubes, and grubs. Whenever fishing currents, these baits can produce year round. Especially in clear water, where a finesse presentation is necessary. My favorite has to be a 3/16 oz finesse jig twin tail hula grub in green pumpkin.

7. I’ve seen a number of your videos pop-up in various places online over the past year or two. What do you think are the most important parts of a good kayak fishing video? Any do’s or don’ts? 

 Have fun with the videos. Everyone's technique is different and videoing skills are not easy. Find what works for you. I like over the shoulder action and underwater shots. For me it best tells my story on the water.

 Do's: Film as much as possible. Short increments can help in quicker editing. For better slow motion captures, record in 720.

 Don'ts: Most videos are shorter in length packed full of action and thrills. Keep the video's length reasonable. 20 minutes of sitting while fishing isn't that entertaining.

8. I recently found out that your girlfriend is also a kayak angler. Be honest, how often does she out-fish you? 

 That's funny, because it really only took her a couple times on the water to out fish me. It seems like every time we make a wager, especially the whole loser cooks dinner bet, I lose. She always wins those!

9. Out of all the gear you carry on your kayak, what is the one thing you wouldn’t leave home without (excluding kayak, paddle, rods, reels, and baits)? 

 I'm a trophy smallmouth hunter, so I always have my hawg trough for length measurements and a boga grip for measuring weight. I'm constantly looking for that next personal best fish.

10. Have you ever had or been around for a scary kayaking moment? If so, what happened, and if not, what types safety precautions do you take/use? 

 There's been a couple times where I had to perform a rescue while kayaking. Drew, you know in this sport it can go from good to bad in a matter of seconds. And while paddling flows like creeks and rivers, current can play a big factor in misguiding the boat or simply getting swept sideways into a rock. Learning to read water does help in avoiding these occurrences. I've seen boats pinned to rocks and overflowing with water on the river bottom. Another time a friend of mine didn't make a hard left thru a channel swing on Walkers Creek and wound up in some brush that had been pushed up against the bank from the faster water. Luckily both times turned out OK and no one was hurt. Staying calm in these situations, for both the victims and the rescuers, is mandatory. Sometimes its as easy as leaving the boat and gear and floating out. It is another reason why your PFD is a must.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Kayak Fishing Seminar at LL Bean & Learning from your own Speaking Engagements

I love sharing my passion for kayak fishing with anyone who wants to listen.  I guess that is a big part of blogging - sharing what you love.  I've talked to a number of different groups and organizations before, but when I got the opportunity to speak at the LL Bean Spring Fishing Expo, I was beyond excited...and a little nervous.  L.L. Bean is an outdoor powerhouse and their flagship store/campus, in Freeport, Maine, is very impressive.  The opportunity came via Wilderness Systems, one of the major kayak brands that L.L. Bean carries.  To top it off, I was also following in the footsteps of longtime Wildy pro Jeff Little, an uber talented angler who was the speaker last year, and talking before some of the best fly fishers in the country.  No pressure, right?

The flyer for the weekend

After much debate, I decided to go old school - no PowerPoint, no video, and no frills.  It was just me, some notes, and a fully rigged kayak.  This decision may have been influenced by my dislike of PowerPoint, which began in grad school, where the amazing software is abused to create hour long snoozefests, deemed "lectures".  My attendance record at those classes and talks may have been less than stellar.  The last thing I wanted was a bored audience.  In hindsight, this was a fantastic choice.

Some are probably asking, "really"?  Really.  I do think a video would have been cool, in fact I will probably make one this year, and maybe I should have included a picture or two. But in my opinion, seminars are not about self promotion, which I believe happens much too often. They are about promoting kayak fishing and should motivate folks to want to get involved in the sport.  Some guys, like Jeff, make you want to buy a kayak right then and there.  That was my goal.

I won't lie, when someone spends money putting your name on signs and in brochures, it adds a little pressure.

The talk was titled Kayak Fishing 101, with a focus on fly fishing, since the majority of L.L. Bean's customers are fly anglers.  Each morning, I talked at length about kayaking safety, getting started, different accessories, fly fishing techniques specific to kayakers, and a variety of other things - mixing in stories and humor to keep the mood light and show how much fun kayak fishing can be.  The first talk was standing room only.  The second wasn't as full, but was still a pretty big crowd.  Based on the reactions after each talk and throughout the weekend, I think it was a hit.  Wildy sales rep Courtney Moore, who was an amazing partner in crime, and I talked to a continuous flow of people throughout the weekend.  A lot of people were interested in leaving with a kayak, while others wanted to wait and a try a boat before they bought it, which we both recommended.  On that note, I believe that L.L. Bean is hosting a paddling demo and promo weekend in late April, so if you are in the market for a boat, keep an eye out.  In addition to boats, I was able to show off a variety of accessories from YakAttack and Harmony and my Bending Branches paddle.

My confidence was a lot higher on day 2 than it was on day 1.  I guess that is only natural.  It also helped to receive kind words from so many members of the audience, Courtney, and Mary May.  The biggest compliment of all came toward the end of the show, when the seminar coordinator/introducer thanked me, told me how much he enjoyed the talk, and said that he would be recommending that L.L. Bean invite me back to speak again later this year.  The goofy smile on my face said it all.  I also have to say how amazing the L.L. Bean staff was.  Every single person I met blew me away with their friendliness and helpfulness throughout the weekend.  It is easy to see why they are renowned for their customer service.

After wrapping up the weekend, we headed to a local restaurant to chow on some seafood, because what is a trip to the Maine cost without a lobster roll! 


I talk a lot on this blog about learning from your mistakes and using them to grow as a person.  Although I count the weekend as a major success, there were parts of my talk which I have already changed, and I learned a lot about effective approaches for selling boats and accessories.  In fact, it even gave me some ideas about how I could become a better blogger and representative of the sport. Hopefully, I can use what I learned and make my next seminar, sales weekend, or blog even better.

Now if this ice would melt so I could hit the water!  Until then, it is back to clearing our house lot and getting that project moving at full speed.  Is that you, spring?

Our new Husky 460

Until next time, tight lines!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

10 Questions with Georgia Giant Chaser Rok Ly

I first met Rocky Ly on the RiverBassin Trail back in 2011.  He was shy and somewhat reserved, but he was always right there fighting for a top spot.  Since then, he has become a fixture in the kayak fishing community.  He is still crushing it on multiple tournament trails, as well as chasing legit double digit fish every chance he gets.  And if you follow his Facebook page and his posts over at Jackson Kayak, you can tell just how much he loves to fish, as he is constantly smiling and laughing.

Rok grew up fishing the Great lakes of Michigan, the Detroit River and Lake St Clair. He started out young, fishing for anything that swims. He has been hooked ever since. He admits to being addicted to the outdoors from a young age - both hunting and fishing. Now, he resides in Georgia, and the bass aren't very happy about it.

His sponsors and affiliates include the Jackson Kayak Fishing Team, Boca Bearings, Smith Optics, Big Bass Dreams, and the Hmong Kayak Fishing Club 

If you don't already know him, meet Rok Ly.

1. We’ll start basic - How did you get into kayak fishing? 

I've tried it all, from boats to pontoon floats, but something about a kayak got me interested and I started doing more research on it. I came across Drew Gregory's videos on YouTube. From then on, kayaking just worked for me. 

2. One thing I really admire about you is all the tools your have in your fishing toolbox. You can do a lot of things really well, which makes you really adaptable and hard to beat come tourney time. If you could only pick one technique – what is your favorite? 

Finesse, I make sure I have some type of soft plastic worm tied on at all times.

3. What is your favorite tournament you ever entered and why? 

The River Bassin Trail has to be one of my favorite because of the wild waters we get to fish. The rivers we have here in the southeast are all beautiful and I enjoy being on the rivers away from all the boat traffic.

4. Give us the name of someone who no-one has heard about who can just flat out catch fish. What makes them stand out?

KC Vang, my brother in law from Michigan. His ability to adapt to new waters to catch fish is what makes him so good.

5. Every spring you go chasing “Big Mama” and it seems like you are successful more often than not. What is your favorite big fish bait and why?

My favorite big fish bait has got to be a glide swimbait. I'm throwing a Fatback Herring Glide bait. One key factor is to locate where these big ones are first, and a glide bait has the ability to draw them out. Once you know where they are and if they don't bite the glide bait, you can go back with a finesse approach.

6. Anyone who follows your Facebook knows that you are a fan of the selfie. What (other than holding a giant bass) makes a good selfie? 

I guess what makes a good selfie is to show the world you're having a good time doing what you love to do.

7. I know you are one of the organizers for the Hmong Kayak Fishing Club. I’ve got to meet a number of the other Hmong fishermen and was impressed by their knowledge and passion, as well as their friendliness. Can you tell us a little about how the club formed and maybe something unique to Hmong culture? 

The Hmong Kayak Fishing Club began September 13, 2011, with four friends (Rocky Ly, KB Xiong, Tony Yang & Will Yang) from around Atlanta, Georgia who found the sport of kayak fishing to be fun and rewarding. This club is open to anyone interested in kayak fishing and is not exclusive to Hmong persons, kayakers or fishermen. We wanted to promote the sport of kayak fishing to those who've never even heard of it through social media.

The Hmong origins stem from South East Asia, but they are neither Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai nor Laotian. They are a separate ethnic group in the Asian populous.

8. You and your father have formed a dynamic duo on the RiverBassin Tournament Trail for a long time. Is he your favorite fishing partner? What is the biggest piece of advice, fishing or otherwise, that he ever gave you? 

Yeah I love fishing with my father. I'm really a power fisherman at heart, but my father has taught me how to slow it down and make every cast count.

9. I know you are a big JDM gear guy. What is your favorite rod, 
reel, or combo and why? 

A Daiwa Steez spinning rod with a Daiwa Fuego spinning reel. This setup has done it all for me and especially when the bite gets tough. I make sure I don't leave home without it.

10. What is something interesting that few know about Rok Ly?

I used to have a passion for singing, but I left the mic for a rod a long time ago.

Monday, March 9, 2015

10 Questions with Wilderness Systems Pro and guide Juan Veruete

 Five or six years ago, as I was really getting into kayak fishing, I decided to do a Google search for folks kayak fishing near where I grew up, in Central Pennsylvania.  I had spent countless days chasing smallies throughout that region with family and friends.  We got to the fish any way we could - wading, canoes, jon boats, river boats, and even an air boat from time to time.  I couldn't help but think about how effective a fishing kayak could be on many of those flows.  I stumbled upon one website, in particular, called Kayak Fish PA.  It was run by guide and pro-staffer Juan Veruete.  I sent Juan a message saying hello and telling how much I had enjoyed his site.  I explained to him my back-story and that we share a number of favorite flows.  He immediately wrote me back and was extremely friendly, informative, and down to earth.  I lived vicariously through the reports that he and other pros, such as Jeff Little and Jed Plunkert, published, which took me right back to my roots.  Juan falls into the category as one of those guys who is hard to dislike, but don't let the baby face fool you - the man can flat out fish.  Now one of my teammates with Wilderness Systems, I am glad to be able to share some of his thoughts on all things kayak fishing.

In addition to being a Wildy Pro, he is an American Canoe Association certified kayak instructor and a PA licensed fishing guide. He conducts kayak fishing classes and guided kayak fishing trips on the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers through his business Kayak Fish PA, LLC.

He holds pro-staff positions with a variety of companies that are focused on the growing sport of kayak fishing, including Wilderness Systems Fishing Kayaks, Adventure Technology Paddles, YakAttack, Kokatat, All Pro Rods, Winco’s Custom Lures, H.C. Baits, and HOOK1 Kayak Fishing Gear.

Now, let's get this rolling...

1.  Although you’re a talented all-around angler, I would have to guess that smallies are number one in your heart.  When, where, and how did you get hooked on smallmouth bass?

I grew up a stones throw from a native trout stream and a short bike ride from a creek full of smallmouth bass. I truly had the best of both worlds. Through my grade school, high school, and college years I fished veraciously for anything that swam. Over time, the draw of the hard fighting smallmouth bass started to consume more of my fishing time. The smallmouth bass holds a special place in my fishing world. It's one tough fish that doesn't know how to quit. You've really got to respect that!

2.  What is the best day of fishing you have ever had…ever?

I've had many many "best days" on the water in my life. Some involved catching a lot of fish, some involved catching big fish and others where spent with good friends or family. My favorite days are those that I spend on the water with my son. He was born in March and his first fishing trip with me was in April. I think that alone speaks volumes for our shared love of fishing and the outdoors. He is now a young man in his mid 20's, but we still reminisce about all those incredible trips of the past and plan for more in the future.

3.  I know you own a fleet of boats, most of which get river use. What sort of river conditions dictate which boat you take on any particular day?

I'm really lucky because I have a great stable of Wilderness Systems fishing kayaks to match the varied conditions that I encounter throughout a calendar year. I'm a big fan of the Ride series of kayaks forriver fishing. They have a lot of volume so they draft very shallow allowing me to paddle when others are dragging. Rides also help get me into those tough to reach areas of the river. On smaller faster flows, I like the Ride 115 or 115X because these 11.5 feet kayaks are quick and maneuverable. In particular, if the water gets high on smaller flows the Ride 115's  are my "go to" kayaks. I can scoot in and out of small eddy pockets with ease in those boats. On bigger flows, like the mile-wide Susquehanna River, I like myRide 135. The increased speed and glide of the longer Ride makes it a nice fit for paddling big rivers. Like the Ride 115, It's also stable for standing and sight casting in shallow water making it an extremely versatile river fishing platform. In the dead of winter, I do a lot of single access trips sometimes paddling very long distances up river to reach concentrations of smallmouth bass in what we call "wintering pools". My new tool for this situation is a Thresher 140. At 28" wide it's got really nice speed and glide so attaining up river is a lot easier. I added an optional storage tray to the large rectangular center hatch to keep my winter fishing tackle within easy reach. This allows me to access my gear easily while on the water and not have to worry about reaching behind me for gear and possibly loosing my balance resulting in a cold water swim.
4.  Your guide business does unique, multi-day kayak fishing trips called “boot camps”.  Briefly walk us through a boot camp weekend.

The Kayak Fishing Boot Camp was born out of an idea that I wanted to provide an intensive multi-day training to educate kayak anglers and push their skill sets to the next level. The three day experience starts with a half day paddling session that covers water safety, paddling technique, kayak maneuvers in moving water and kayak angling positioning techniques The remainder of the first day focuses on fishing seminars covering a variety of core topics such as how to pattern smallmouth bass and various presentation strategies. On the last two days we hit the river to apply what we learned. The river trip gives me a chance to coach anglers and further hone their skills on a more individual basis. We also cover new concepts on the river but the focus is primarily on practicing and reinforcing proper skills. Some anglers have done the Kayak Fishing Boot Camp multiple times. It's a great learning experience!

5.  What is the ONE thing about guiding you recommend to anyone trying to become a kayak fishing guide?

Hone your teaching skills! Your clients aren't standing on the deck of a boat while you put them into perfect position to make a presentation. You'll need to be able to coach anglers as they put themselves into position to make the perfect presentation. Your success as a kayak fishing guide will be directly related to your ability to teach and coach. 

6.  I know you tie some bass flies – what is your favorite fly (both that you tie and that you purchase elsewhere)?

I truly believe fly tying as an art form. The men and women that do it well have my utmost respect. My brother got all the artistic genes in my family so that means I have to purchase  my flies. I buy some flies that are "off the shelf" at name brand fly shops. I'm a big fan of various types of poppers for smallmouth bass. They are easy to fish and the smallmouth love to harass them! Personally though, I really like picking up flies from skilled "independent" fly tiers. I have crazy ideas for flies sometimes. I recently had an idea that I wanted a baitfish fly that acted much like a suspending jerkbait. Joe Pegnetter of Predator Fly Outfitters tied me up the craziest articulated 6" baitfish imitation with a single hook and a treble. We dubbed it the "Slash Fly". Rightfully so, a lot of fly fisherman shudder at the thought of trebles on a fly but I'm going to give it a shot this April!

7.  Social media and blogging have become such valuable tools for the kayak fishing community.  It allows us to share our catches, tell our stories, and give credit where credit is due.  What are the most important ways that you utilize social media and do you have any recommendations for others – maybe based on social media “mistakes”?

I use social media and my blog to educate kayak anglers. I truly enjoy sharing my kayak fishing knowledge with others and helping the sport grow. I answer a lot of question on my Facebook page, via email and I even get calls from kayak anglers. I have a lot of fun with it.  Anglers who just want to soak up some information about kayak angling can go to my blog Those that want to take it a step further and take one of my Kayak Fishing Classes can go to my guiding page My personal mantra for social media is "be real" and "be professional". That approach has served me well.

8.  I know you also do a bit of whitewater paddling.  Where is your favorite place to paddle?  Do you ever tuck a rod in those short boats?

I don't consider myself an avid whitewater paddler but I try to keep my hand in it as much as possible. I do some paddling periodically behind my local kayak shop at Tussey Mountain Outfitters. They have a nice paddling park set up that I use to keep my skills sharp. This past spring I paddled the Lehigh Gorge in some crazy high water conditions on three consecutive days. That river was a lot of fun and it runs through some beautiful country! I saw some big rising trout on that trip so next time I'm packing the fly rod! I strongly believe my experience paddling white water and earning my ACA instructor certification has made me a much more effective river angler. The skills that I've gained in terms of paddling technique, maneuvers, and control over my kayak have enabled me to put myself in position to make great lure presentations in moving water. It's also given me a keen awareness of river hazards and water safety. I've incorporated a lot of paddling skills into my kayak fishing classes. In particular, the hazards and water safety aspects of paddling. Many kayak anglers get themselves into trouble because they simply don't understand the hazards that moving water presents. I'm working hard to educate kayak anglers so that we can more fully enjoy the sport that we love and at the end of the day return home to our families safe and sound.

9.  Many of the agriculture dominated basins in your area can go from clear to chocolate milk quickly, especially in the summer.  What conditions are your favorites for targeting big smallies?  How does your bait selection change based on conditions?

I'm lucky to guide and teach on two great rivers, the Susquehanna River and the Juniata River. They both are capable of consistently producing trophy size smallmouth bass. I like to target big smallmouth across a lot of different water conditions. That being said, a rising river is the absolute best scenario for numbers and size. When the river rises, it activates the entire river food chain from the bottom up. If the river is on the rise, I'll usually toss a spinnerbait as big as 1 oz. The tempo of my fishing is fast making as many casts as I can to as many good fish holding targets that I"m able to spot. It's like playing a fast paced video game. Low water is a time to finesse. Rising and high water is a time to power fish big baits for those bronze brutes!

10.  You get a chance to fish with anyone – living or dead – who do you pick?

That's easy. Jerry McKinnis. I was raised by my mother who, to my knowledge, never fished a day in her life. I started fishing with some of the older boys in my rural community at about 6 or 7 years old. I was obsessed with fishing from my first outing. My mother lovingly fed my obsession. I could count on new gear and subscriptions to fishing magazines on every birthday or major holiday. Since my mother knew nothing about fishing, I learn through my own experimentation and by watching TV fishing shows. Jerry's "Fishing Hole" was by far my favorite! There was just something about his laid back approach that appealed to me. I learned a lot from watching his show as a kid. It would be incredible to be able to fish with him!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

10 Questions with Kayak Fishing Guru Eric 'Slappy' Harrison

Over the course of the next week or two, I'll be posting a series of interviews with a variety of talented kayak anglers from around the industry.  Today, the man behind the answers is Eric 'Slappy' Harrison.  Before, during, and after my move north, Eric answered every question I had about New England kayak fishing. His knowledge is phenomenal and his kindness unwavering.  I was thrilled to be able to pick Eric's brain with 10 questions that mixed kayak fishing, hobbies, and a bit of personal info.

Eric Harrison has been fishing for over 40 years and kayak fishing for more than ten years. Beyond that, he is one of the good guys of the sport.  Renowned as a striper guru, whose Kayak Wars domination is impressive, he is a multi-faceted angler, who has caught more species than he can count. He fishes everywhere he goes and no fish is too small to target. "Even the "trash" fish are fun to me", he says.  A self-proclaimed fanatic of fishing plastics, he's been using them to fish the salt since the mid-70's and has not only seen, but been part of their revolution.  He is an ambassador for Hogy Lures and Kokatat, as well as a longtime member of the Hobie Fishing Team.  He is also part of their new 'Top Gun' program.

Get out a pen and paper, it is time to take notes.

1. Everyone knows you as the striper guru. I am going to assume that they are your favorite species to catch. But I see a lot of other species posted up on your Facebook page as well. What are your 2nd favorite freshwater and saltwater species to target?

Tough question!  I love the variety available, but with limited fishing time, I try to keep my fishing close by, so I'm going with the fish I target the most.
In salt that would be cod.  They are a fun fish inshore, they hit all kinds of lures, bite all day and are available from many spots along the coast.  Cod don't have a reputation as a sport fish, but most guys aren't targeting them from a kayak using the same tackle that you would for a largemouth. 
In freshwater it is a toss up between panfish and carp.  I don't do much bait fishing, but when I do, it is for carp.  I love stalking schools of them in the kayak and working them over with bread balls.  They can be aggressive or very shy, they are the most underrated of the freshwater fish around here.   Panfish, especially crappies and white perch, are always a freshwater target for me.  I like that they all hit lures and I usually target them with soft plastics.  I'm pretty fanatical about fishing soft plastics and there are many spots where the panfish fishing is very technical in terms of locating and patterning the fish.  Dial in with the right baits and the rewards are big--well maybe small, but lots of them!

2. This winter has been especially brutal. I know I am dreaming of open water. What do you do to beat cabin fever?

I go catching!  I can't go too long without fishing and when I do, I have to catch something.  During the winter I will grab a handful of jig rods and some spikes or mousies and find something to catch.  Ice fishing for me is about keeping active, I can't sit around watching a bunch of tip ups, so I fish with rods, drill 40 holes and jig them all until I locate fish.  I don't care what I catch through the ice as long as I'm kept busy.  Some of my best ice sessions are with sunfish, but this winter I have done well on decent size white perch, which can be a treat on the 2# jigging stick!

3. How did you get the nickname Slappy?

In California I fished with a great group of guys, we packed ourselves into a 20' boat and fished hard and mocked each other.  I fished more than anyone and always had the ideas--where we should go, what we should use.  I also caught most of the fish and took quite a bit of ribbing.  So the name "slappy the bait shop boy" was an insult. I embraced it when I chose it for my forum handle.

4. Catching stripers on the bay takes some serious skill. You have to know your tides and currents, be able to utilize electronics, have the right gear, and a multitude of other things. I also know that you put safety first. What is your #1 tip for beginners looking to catch those bay bass?

Boston Harbor is a crazy place. Most days the tides are a 10' difference between high and low and they peak at over 13', so the water moves!  As a kayaker you have to know your water and understand the conditions that you will face on each trip--your safety and fishing success depends on it.  I know exactly where I'm going on every trip and I know where all the danger zones are, so I'm able to focus my time on finding fish and not on finding water that is safe to fish.  Repeated trips to the same areas are the best way to learn.  There are many more fish out there than people realize and learning to read the water will keep you in the strike zone.  Focus your time on areas where current meets structure, those are the spots that will hold fish and turn into your consistent spots.

5. What is your personal best striper and the full fishing story behind it?
I don't actually know what my biggest bass is!  I've caught quite a few in the 48" to 49" length, some have been fat and some have been skinny--but there is one that stands out.  I've never kept any of my top 50 largest stripers. I value those big fish so much that I let every one go--next to catching them, releasing a large striper is the best!
I was fishing with a buddy and we were working a bar with current running, the bite was really good and we were picking off fish and some were pretty good sized.  Finally the current died and the bite really shut off as we approached the slack.  I told my fishing partner that this was the time to go find something big--big bass often are the only fish feeding on the slack.  I worked over the bar and had a good hit right near the boat.  At first it just dogged me, but then I noticed that I was starting to spin, the fish was circling around before taking off!  It zipped over the flat which was only about 5' and full of rocks and weeds.  I got hung up on some weeds as the bass tried to rub me off on the rocks, but I quickly pedaled after the fish in my Hobie Revolution.  Getting on top of the snags is the best way to get out and I pulled my line out of a couple weed crusted rocks and followed the fish as it towed me to deeper water.  Finally I got her to the side of the boat, she was 49" and a solid fish, a bit north of the 45# mark.  We took a couple pictures then I pedaled her around and watched her swim off.

6. If you were forced to choose a favorite bait, what would it be? Since I think I already know the answer, what are your top 3 favorite colors and top 3 ways/weights to rig it.
As I mentioned, I'm pretty fanatical about plastics, for stripers, I catch more than 90% of my bass on plastics.
For big fish, my hands down favorite is a 13" blamber Hogy fished on a Hogy Barbarian jighead.  I like the dark colors at night and the blamber has a nice natural look that has produced so many big fish for me. My other choices would be the 10" Hogy in black or bubblegum.  I love the bubblegum color when the squid are around, it is a very visible color fished under the lights.  Stripers get crazy when they are on squid and fast jerky retrieves really produce- so my retrieves when fishing around squid are very erratic.
As a general "I'm going to go out and catch a bunch of bass" lure, the 7" jigging Hogy is a go to lure.  I don't get as many big fish on it, but it catches a ton of fish.  The 7" size is big enough to attract bigger fish but small enough so that you catch plenty of smaller fish.
I almost always rig on a jighead because it allows me to work the whole water column.  I always choose a jighead that is going to give me a slower sink to the bottom because so many fish hit on the sink.  The half ounce to one ounce heads are all I need to work in 5' to 20' of water with current.
Weighted swimbait hooks are another good rigging tool.  They have a nice swim and you can use them in some very light weights.  I work plastics on weighted swimbait hooks as a sub surface lure and allow them to sink just off reef edges.  Using a 1/8 or 1/4 oz weight allows you to do a very fast retrieve and keep the jig just under the surface which often fires up fish and creates explosive strikes.
Unweighted hooks are fun for top water plastics.  I don't go unweighted very often, when I do I'm usually bouncing the plastic on the surface to create a commotion to draw the fish in and get an explosive strike. 

7. Hobie just started their “Top Gun” program. What is the story behind it and how exactly does it work?

Hobie works hard to promote kayak fishing and the Top Gun program is designed to put content out that would be of interest to all levels of angler.  They have chosen a dozen anglers across the country to talk about their favorite species of fish and share techniques and tactics used for the targeted species.  Hobie is working to create a powerful educational resource for anglers, especially those just getting into kayak fishing.

8. Can you tell us about your fleet of kayaks and why you use what you use?

I love having a bunch of kayaks and use mine for different fisheries.  When I'm on the water, I want to be fishing as much as possible, so all my kayaks are Hobies.  My fleet is:
1. Revolution 11--I use this for freshwater and inland water, the small kayak is very easy to maneuver in tight spaces and is great on the rivers I fish.  Plus the smaller size and lighter weight allow me to launch it anywhere, it is easy to carry if I have a launch that can't be reached without a cart.
2. Revolution 13--this has been my go to kayak for saltwater.  I enjoy the speed and its ability to handle rough seas.  I often fish strong current and the 13 cuts through it quickly and allows me to hang on rip lines with ease.  There are many nights when I spend the whole trip fishing 1 to 2 mph current and I'm casting the whole time.
3. Oasis--this is a tandem and is a big stable boat that I use to take my kids out.  We've had some great trips catching all sorts of fish, sometimes for fun and sometimes for dinner.  There is nothing a kid likes more than outfishing dad, so make sure that they catch more than you!  With a kayak, it is pretty easy to make sure the kids hook up while they are holding the rod because you can pedal the bait right into the strike zone.
4. For 2015 I will be adding a Revolution 16 to my fleet as well.  The extra speed on this kayak will give me more fishing time when I plan longer trips and it will be easier to work in the big currents.

9. You do a lot of (very) early morning and late night fishing. What are the major advantages of fishing during those hours?

Next time you catch a striper, look how big their eyes are. Fish pupils don't dilate, so they feed best in the dark or in low light conditions.  As the day goes on stripers will move deeper in the water column and feed less actively.  I also have 3 young kids, so fishing at night gives me a chance to spend time with the kids and fish when they go to bed!  It also doesn't hurt that bass, especially big ones, feed best at night. 

10. People love to hate your hometown Patriots. Who is your favorite all time player (if Tom Brady give a second favorite too)?
I grew up in LA rooting for the LA Rams and Oakland Raiders, but both teams eventually came and went so I had no loyalty to them.  I didn't really pay much attention to football until Parcells took over the Patriots and his teams got me watching them.  I'm old enough to remember the Patsies, so I appreciate having a winning team around!  I have to give the nod to the little guys, Welker and Edelman show that the little guys can get it done.  As someone shorter than average I have to root for the little guys!  I'm also a huge Lakers fan, but we'll save that for next time.