The 'New Guy' at the Fishing Tourney

The 'New Guy' at the Fishing Tourney

At 63-years old, I could not imagine being the new guy at anything. Well, here I am…63-years old being the ‘New Guy’ in the community of kayak fishing. In the Summer of 2015, I stumbled across an article that sparked my interest and curiosity in kayak fishing. Although I have fished all my life, most of it was restricted to the shore. My father had a little 16.5-foot bass boat that I’d go on, but that was my extent of on-the-water fishing, not counting a few fishing charters. When out on the boat with my Dad, I would let him decide fishing spots, so we never seemed to hit all the places I wanted to try out or stay in one spot and fish long enough that I was ready to move on. That was OK, though, because being out with Dad is all about him doing what he wants…you know what I mean? Not many are blessed enough to fish with their father when he is in his 80’s, so I’ll happily take it!

Back to that kayak article... Before we go any further, you also should know that I had never been in a canoe or a kayak in my life! So when I came across that kayak fishing article in 2015, the thoughts of me fishing in a kayak made me laugh! I didn’t think it would be a possibility for me and seemed more like a recipe for disaster…considering I had both my knees and one of my hips replaced, so my mobility wasn’t as fluent as it used to be. Of course, as I envisioned myself kayak fishing, I started thinking of squeezing into one of those kayaks that looked like a little cigar-shaped boat (queue the self-laughter)… but the thought of having the ability to paddle off by myself to explore places few shiny boats could reach, plus stay as long as I like, fueled my curiosity. As I researched more into kayak fishing, I quickly discovered what fishing kayaks were actually like (contrary to my cigar-shaped twig I envisioned having to squeeze into earlier), and I became a bit obsessed. I found myself always searching for all I could on the subject and browsing manufacturer's sites to find the perfect kayak to meet my needs.

By the Spring of 2016, I decided to get serious about trying kayak fishing and decided to pull the plug on purchasing my first kayak. In general, I was still nervous about the thought of getting into a kayak, no matter how stable all the manufacturers said their kayaks were. When trying to narrow down to a specific kayak that would suit me, I kept searching for kayaks that were labeled ‘most stable.’ My searches kept bringing me back to the Jackson Big Rig, so I figured this was a sign. Now, on to find one locally that I could try out…

Through my Jackson Kayak searches, I came across The Rivers Edge Canoe and Kayak as the closest dealer near me that would have a Big Rig. My daughter happened to be living in Lower Burrell at the time, so I figured next time we made the trip to visit, I would make a side trip to check out a Big Rig. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do once I saw it. Taking this road trip was just my first step towards getting involved with kayak fishing, and I didn’t know what to expect. I had never heard the two words ‘kayak’ and ‘demo’ put together before, so I was in for a real treat when I got to the River’s Edge.

As I stood next to ‘the beast,’ I recall Neill, owner of The River’s Edge, asking me if I wanted to try it out. To say I panicked a bit is an understatement. Now before we go any further, you must remember I had never been in a canoe or kayak before. I had to explain this to Neill embarrassingly, and he assured me I would do fine. So off we went to the river with Big Rig in tow. So, there I was, like a kid with his first new bike! Putting all my nerves aside, I got on the water and started to paddle, …and the more I paddled, the longer I wanted to stay out! When all was said and done, I was handing over a deposit check for the Big Rig and making plans to come back and pick it up.

That Summer, I spent much of my time in my new Jackson Big Rig just paddling and getting comfortable out on the water. I did some fishing from it towards the end of Summer, and it quickly became my preferred method of fishing! With some on-the-water fishing knowledge under my belt, I now started to check out additional accessories that I could add to my kayak. While the storefront was not yet open, Fishing Online became my go-to online store for kayak accessories. I soon acquired all the kayak fishing essentials, from a new paddle and a PFD to rod holders to a fish finder!

With the arrival of 2017, I learned about the Kayak-Anglers Fishing Club and decided to join, although I was still intimidated and a bit gun-shy of the idea of fishing tournaments. You see, I fished some small bass tournaments with my Dad, and they were way too cutthroat for my liking! It seemed like it was a life or death deal to a lot of the guys, which took the fun out of it for me because I just wanted to enjoy fishing! Although I was a member of the Kayak-Anglers Club that year, I didn’t get too involved with the club, and I spent most of my time fishing by myself, and I still had a blast! Every time I got out on the water with my Big Rig, I always thought about how thankful and happy I was that I dared to try out kayak fishing. I continued to add accessories and other items that would enhance my kayaking experience. (queue my wife’s irritated glare).

As 2017 came and went in a blur, 2018 arrived, and I decided to renew my membership with the Kayak-Anglers Fishing Club. In the meantime, the Fishing Online storefront opened, and considering it’s only five from my house, it was awesome! During their first month of opening the storefront doors, it’s genuinely a tossup to think if I spent most of my time there, at work or home... (queue my wife’s irritated glare, again). I met a ton of new people at Fishing Online and was able to talk to them about the sport of kayak fishing, and with their encouragement, I decided it was time to try my hand at a fishing tournament.

I decided to start with a tourney that was hosted at Moraine State Park since I was very familiar and comfortable with that lake. With hindsight being 20/20, I was thankful I finally gave it a try. Not only did I enjoy myself, but I was genuinely amazed at how helpful and friendly everyone was!...unlike the bass boat tournaments that I was a part of with my Dad. I had such a great experience during that tourney and with the KA organization, that there was nothing else for me to do but try another. But this brought a new set of challenges and fears. The next KA club event that fit into my schedule was on the Kiski River, which is moving water, not a lake! I’ve never fished running water before, let alone in my kayak! To say that I was a little intimidated is an understatement. However, the more people I talked to, the more I was assured that I’d be fine, so I decided to give it a try. Again, I’m glad I did! The water conditions that day were perfect for a first-time moving water guy like myself, and I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more. That was it for tournaments that year. I did a lot of Fall fishing and even started to consider a second kayak, something a little smaller, maybe a bit more maneuverable on moving water.

Well, 2019 arrived and man, I had big plans! I started the year by purchasing a Bonafide SS107 from Fishing Online! Not only do I now have a second kayak to choose from, but I now have one to share with family and friends. I marked my calendar with about 10-12 KA club tournaments that I was going to fish. I was a little anxious about the first tourney I planned to fish, because I never fished Presque Isle Bay before, let alone on a kayak! Again, I was surprised by my experience. I’m not sure how someone could not instantly be addicted to that place after landing a Presque Isle 18-inch smallie for the first time! All I can say is WOW. I did the Shriners Team Challenge a couple of weeks later and then on to Pymatuning State Park for that tournament in early June. But that is where my 2019 tournament fishing ended. Unfortunately, I was laid up for the rest of the season with shoulder replacement surgery and wasn’t given a doctor’s clearance to paddle until that October. It was a long Summer!

But a New Year is here, and I am looking forward to the 2020 season! I even have a new toy (Que the wife’s glare, again). At the end of 2019, I invested in a Power-Pole Micro Anchor System, and I’m excited to try it out. With that being said, my long, drawn-out point is this: while I was the ‘New Guy’ these past couple of years in the kayak fishing world, I never really felt that way! The kayak fishing community is pretty much a fraternity of amazing men and women. Not only the fellow anglers, but businesses like Fishing Online and The Rivers Edge Canoe and Kayak are a fantastic source of support and information! Everyone is always so willing to help and extend a hand whenever and wherever it’s needed. So, if you are reading this with intentions of wanting to try this kayaking thing out, but you’re a bit anxious and nervous (just like I was), don’t be! The kayak fishing world is full of welcoming anglers that will surround you with support and point you towards the right resources! Honestly, there are dozens of folks out there that would even meet up with you and let you try their kayak out! Don’t let the fear of the unknown, or your age, hold you back! Give it a shot. At the very least, stop into Fishing Online or Rivers Edge and look around and ask some questions. You may be surprised how much you’re going to enjoy this!

-Gary Henzler

Gary Henzler - Fishing Online Fishing Team

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