Wednesday, April 1, 2015

10 Questions with Kayak Fishing Do-it-All Aaron Stiger

I'm not sure if Aaron Stiger can be any busier. I first linked up with Aaron via social networking a year or two ago. Since, I've seen his name pop-up with a multitude of projects and organizations. As advisor to the Duke University Fishing Club, I am very excited about one Aaron's biggest projects, College Kayak Fishing, where he serves as Tournament Director. I am also proud to call him a teammate with Bending Branches. In addition, he is a Jackson Kayak Fishing Team Manager and Team Member, River Bassin Tournament Trail Assistant Tournament Director, Kayak Fishing Ohio Assistant Tournament Director, Manley Rods Pro Staffer, Astral Pro Staffer, 412 Bait Co.Team Member, HOOK1 Crew Member, Kayak Kaddy Pro Staffer, KJ’s Custom Lures Pro Staffer, Yak Addicts Pro Staffer, S.W.O.R.D. Performance Drink Pro Staffer, and contributor to multiple kayak fishing publications.

Thankfully, Aaron took some time out of his crazy schedule to answer some questions. And as usual, he did not disappoint!

1)  Dave Attel is a comedian who formerly had a show on Comedy Central called "Insomniac" where he toured the U.S. and visited various cities and states late at night.  When he left Ohio his comment was, "the best thing about Ohio is packing up and getting out."  However, I know you are a proud representative of OH and the fishing community there.  Can you tell us why Dave is wrong and why you kayak scene there is so strong?

There’s nothing to argue from my end about the weather in the “Buckeye State.”  However, as much as I enjoyed Dave, he was obviously not a kayak fisherman.  Ohio, like many states, has its own unique set of gems that are largely untouched by the kayak community.  Looking North, Lake Erie is appropriately named “Walleye Capitol of the World.”  I have enjoyed catching 30+” walleye out of the big pond during the spring.  Pulling in 10lb walleye from a kayak is something you can only do in a small handful of states, Ohio being one of them.  

Now- speaking of Lake Erie, it is quickly becoming a smallmouth Mecca.  I know a lot of southern boys in the Heart of Dixie and the surrounding areas love their pigskin, but my kind of football is hammering the Lake Erie bronzebacks.  The smallmouth population up there is thriving on the ever growing goby population.  Laughably disproportionate and aggressive, these chunky fish are a blast and right in Ohio’s backyard.  Some of my favorite moments are fishing the gin clear waters of Erie, sight casting Carolina and drop-shot rigs at 20+ inch smallmouth, as they rest in 10 feet of water on their rocky homes below.

But Lake Erie is only one part of the state.  Ohio stocks multiple species of fish in our reservoirs and rivers.  From bass to crappie and over to saugeye, catfish and white bass, an angler can find multiple species of fish in a single outing on a local impoundment.  The pressure on Ohio waters is tremendous, however and it takes lots of skill, and a little bit of luck to have a truly successful outing.  I frequent my little river right behind my sleepy rural Ohio town to get away from it all, especially in the summer.  Ripping the lips of hundreds of smallies out of skinny water is one of my favorite past times.

On the southern boundary of the state, the mile-wide Ohio River flows steadily and powerfully.  It holds some of the meanest, strongest fish in the state.  Chasing trophy hybrid striped bass and dinosaur-like gar is one of my favorite addictions during the spring and summer.  There’s nothing like the freight-train of a 15 pound gar on the other end of your line or the aggression of the paddle-blade-sized shimmer of a hybrid as you reel it in.

The other factor that gives Ohio the nod is the community of anglers who reside here.  In my opinion, this kayak fishing community is growing and thriving as fast as any other throughout the nation.  I help run Kayak Fishing Ohio with anglers across the state.  We are continually growing as people continue to get hooked on the sport.  It makes me very proud to be a part of it all as this industry I have so much passion for expands out of its shoes.
All in all, people who dismiss Ohio are missing out on a great opportunity.  It is truly lacking few resources and provides an ideal habitat for fish to flourish, and anglers to be entertained.
Is that enough about why I like Ohio? ;)

2)  This year you've become the headman for College Kayak Fishing, which has great potential.  As an advisor to the Duke Fishing Club, I know how hard it can be for a lot of students to not only find out about fishing opportunities, but also afford gear.  What are some things that CKF is doing to branch out and get as many schools as possible involved? Is there anything experienced kayak anglers can do to help?

I am fortunate and blessed to have been afforded the opportunity to be the Tournament Director of College Kayak Fishing (CKF). As a high school educator, I have a big passion for the growth and development of youth in various arenas of their lives. One of the most prominent functions of College Kayak Fishing is to provide anglers with the information and tools necessary to organically build self-sustaining kayak fishing clubs at their universities. CKF facilitates positive working relationships with collegiate anglers to seek sponsorship through their universities and outside businesses that actively contribute to the industry. By doing this CKF helps the up-and-coming anglers participate more readily in events across the nation.
In these ways, we facilitate affordability and accessibility to anglers.  Another major task we do with CKF is to work with local shops and liveries to provide kayaks for free or drastically reduced rates to collegiate anglers.  This is never an easy process, and it creates several moving parts.  However, the dealers are the lifeblood of this organization and why it is able to thrive.  Without their generosity, CKF wouldn’t exist, as anglers could not fish from a kayak. It would just be called CF!
Some local clubs really step up and help out where they can.  Whether it is through kayaks, gear, or mentorship on the water the day of the event, the kayak fishing community is often seen in full force helping these youngsters out, and growing the sport the right way.  We have some very progressive ideas about how to continue to grow CKF in the future, and I can’t wait to see what unfolds!

3)  You recently received an Ohio Master Angler Award.  How does the award work and what catches earned you that recognition (including species, length/weight, and what you caught them on)?
Ohio has a recognition program called “Fish Ohio!”  Under this program, there are several species that qualify for the award.   You can get individual “Fish Ohio!” recognition.  However, I you catch four species, you are awarded “Master Angler” status.  I kind of chuckle, because I don’t consider myself a “Master Angler”- I just enjoy the challenge of fishing!
All of the species I mentioned above qualify except for gar. However, the program runs for one calendar year, and each species you catch over the required length is considered a “Fish Ohio!” Getting one or two of these fish per year for an angler is a very solid accomplishment, as true “Fish Ohio!” sized fish are difficult to come by.  However, last year, I made it a point to really go on the hunt for true trophies, and fished waters that held these trophies multiple times in pursuit.  When it was all said and done, I had several “Fish Ohio!” sized fish in 5 various species.  Walleye qualifying length is 28”.  I did not participate in “Kayak Wars” but I would have the record by over 2 inches if I did in the walleye category. I had a couple of ‘eyes over 30” and pushing 10lbs last year trolling Husky Jerk Deep Divers over the reefs.  Lake Erie is just that good of a fishery!  

The largemouth bass qualifying length is 21”. I had several over 20” but one did measure over 22” and was one heck of a pre-spawn toad.  She crushed a topwater buzzbait of all things.  When I got her in she had a nice keeper crappie in her gullet flapping its tail.  She went around 6.5 lbs.  The hybrid striped bass qualifying length is 21”.  That qualifying length is not difficult if taking a trip to the Ohio River in prime conditions.  I was using a 412 Bait Co Yoda in Salt and Pepper, and hybrids approaching 28” and 10 lbs were hammering my baits.  The funny thing about hybrids is they sit in the strongest current you could imagine.  I actually flipped my kayak the current was so strong and lost all of my gear on one trip.  Very scary moment there.  Freshwater Drum is another category for “Fish Ohio!” Making a few trips up to Lake Erie and you can have a handful of these, and my biggest last year was again, right at 10lbs.  The sow-bellied drum was only about 24” long beating the required length by 2”, but looked like it had a bowling ball in there.  The fifth species of “Fish Ohio!” Length I was fortunate to catch was saugeye, which I will talk about a bit later, but are a challenging, but rewarding fish to catch when you can!  At 23” it was a treat, and 2” over the “Fish Ohio!” length.  I also had three species, which were each within ¼” of the award, and they were smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and crappie.

4)  You can pick one kayak fishing destination/trip anywhere in the world...what is it?

As crazy as it sounds, an Ohio boy has never made it salt fishing.  I’ve been to the ocean plenty of times, just never in my kayak.  I want to experience salt water fishing from the kayak.  Whether it is red fish, flounder, specks, snook, or even sharks, I just want the experience!  Heck, I think right now, I just want some warmer weather.

5)  Most kayak anglers are up before the sun and on the road to chase fish.  What is playing in your truck to wake you up and get you pumped?

“Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line. Great song!

6)  Walleye and sauger tend to be less popular species for kayak anglers.  So, if readers wanted to chase them, what are 2-3 techniques or baits that work well throughout the year?

One of the big reasons these fish are not targeted more is because they do not live in the ponds, lakes and rivers abundantly like bass do.  Walleye are not common around Ohio, only living in Lake Erie and a couple of impoundments.  So targeting them from a kayak takes knowledge and commitment.  But to target them on Erie, find about 22 feet of water along a mud line.  Fish the warmer water, which is right on that mudline in the spring when it gets about 40 degrees. Pull Husky Jerk Deep divers and Reef Runners, use your electronics to locate pods of fish and hold on!  

For saugeye (sterile hybrid) and sauger, you can catch them in rivers throughout the year, especially in the spring and late fall.  The big girls will often come out to play at night, and you can catch 10 or zero depending on the evening and locations.  Along with a suspending jerk bait, small twister tails on a jig head work great for these “gators.”

7)  On an average week, how many hours do you think go into something kayak fishing related?  How do you offset that time with work, family, friends, etc.?

Oh boy, I’m almost embarrassed to answer this question.  I’ll start off by saying I have the most loving and empathetic wife a man could ask for.  She puts up with my hobby turned obsession, turned career.  Between being the Director of CKF, Fishing Team Manager for Jackson Kayak, and Assistant Director of River Bassin, I put in about 35-40 hours a week for these roles on top of my job as a high school teacher.  It is a lot of very hard work behind the scenes.  However, I am so lucky, fortunate and blessed to be in the position I am currently in, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

8)  What is your favorite kayak fishing memory?
My favorite memory is up on my family’s lake house in Ontario, Canada.  We have a cottage that sits on a medium-sized lake and this place is full of smallmouth, largemouth, pike, walleye, perch- you name it.  Last year I took my younger cousin, who was in 8th grade, out fishing on one of the spring-fed streams that feeds the lake.  Many times you can catch all kinds of fish out of these rivers.  I was bass fishing- I had a Texas-rigged plastic on, and he had a brand new KVD 1.5 crank bait I had given him.  These rivers are not deep, maybe 2 or 3 feet, and I told him that crank was likely going to just drag the bottom, and may not be the right choice.  Soon enough, he showed me otherwise, as he pulled a 32” northern pike out of a section of the river no wider than the office room I’m typing this story in.  He didn’t bring a net, and landed the fish with his bare hand, by putting his hand up in the gill of this fighting fish.  I was so proud of him!  His awkward 13-year old, crooked smile and laughter told the story best. That is what gives me the most joy in this sport- spreading my passion and knowledge of kayak fishing to others!  A trip like that got him hooked and he fished other local tournaments in Ohio with me after that in 2014.  He will be a kayak angler for life!

9)  You're being forced to fish out of a tandem kayak - who do you want in the front for a fun day on the water?  How about on tourney day?

Hmm, well if they are in front, I definitely want someone who is conscientious about their back cast so I don’t end up with a treble hook in my arm! Ha!  But, joking aside, I think it would be a blast to fish with one of my buddies, Larry Schuster.  He has an awesome sense of humor, and has been known to crack a joke or two to my demise. However, Larry is someone I consider a great friend and a guy I have a ton of respect for.
If it was a tourney day, I would sit and watch my friend Donald Corbett.  In my opinion, Don makes the some of the best soft plastics out there in 412 Baits, and he flat out knows how to fish them.  I believe he had 6 top-3 tournament finishes last season alone.  He has given me a few lectures about colors, presentation, cadence, weather patterns, and more.  The preparation and foresight he puts into his typical tournament day is impressive.  I fish against Don a few times every year, and it would be awesome to just sit and watch for a day.

10)  Give us one piece of advice for beginner kayak anglers?  How about for mid-level and top-tier folks?

For novice kayak anglers, my piece of advice is to get plugged into your local kayak-fishing scene.  Sometimes it is a tournament trail, other times it is informal meet-ups with guys and girls you meet on a forum.  Either way, this community is more of a brother and sisterhood.  So much knowledge that I have now was passed down to me by some of my closest friends within this network of local Ohio anglers.  For that, I am grateful and excited because I know that it continues to happen on a daily basis for others as well.

For mid and top-level anglers, I would give the advice to really evaluate what you want out of the industry.  Is it tournament wins? Is it publicity? Is it building a platform through writing?  Is it to run a tournament trail? Is it to pro staff for companies and represent their brands?  Is it to start a guide service? Or, is it to just go out and have fun to de-stress? The funny thing about kayak fishing is that it is such a niche market, where seemingly everyone knows everyone to an extent.  However, it is expansive enough to really market yourself and grow in whatever way, as much or as little, as you wish.  I think it is very important to determine your ultimate motives, goals, and values as your involvement grows in the industry.  Then, once you figure those things out, know that only by putting in hard work and applying your skill set, will you reach your fullest potential.

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