The Modern Fathers of our Sport


And from the west coast...

I bring you Dennis Spike. Unlike our own Kayak Willie, Dennis is a great promoter; thank Neptune for that for he became an early, necessary and effective catalyst for our sport.

Working closely with the media and designers such as Tim Niemeyer, Spike brought kayakfishing to the public. Although his website (Coastal Kayak Fishing) was not quite the first yakfishing site, Dennis was the first to actively guide, write and promote the sport as a business.

Accordingly kayakfishers owe Dennis the recognition and appreciation he deserves. He's got mine.

Dennis is a true sportsman and a classic Californian who loves and appreciates the sea, our environment and kayaking to the max. I'm very proud to bring you this, his interview:

Dennis Spike

West Coast Big Daddy


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Dennis, it's really great to talk with you once again, it's been quite a year. Let's begin with how you got started in yakking...

We (cousin and he) bought our kayaks on a hunch; we just saw the ease and access and, uh, on a hunch we bought the kayaks. I got the original Scupper and he got a boat that was made in Canada called the Solo, which really wasn't a great boat for fishing but he's used it for almost 15 years now.

So we started fishing, and like I was telling you before the first year, I looked back, and I'd fished over 150 days - now some of those were pretty short sessions - but most people in the more popular kayak fisheries have some kind of party boat or head boat operation, have all the coastal and shore fishing access and that's pretty much how we came up.

But the kayaks lent a whole new attitude toward the fishery that really turned fishing from a hobby that we grew up with and practiced actively into a lifestyle which you worked into the part of many days of your life. I think that just by the sheer amount of time that people get into the water on a kayak they become very good anglers.

I remember, you've made that point before, about kayaking making it easier and accessible...

You know I've talked to a lot of people that have had the catch of their life, but it seems to be one. And most of the kayak anglers, just because of the sheer amount of time they spend on the water, they often get that experience once, twice, three times a year.

What were some of the early problems you faced, you'd never done it before, how did you solve these issues?

You know, that's one of the best questions I've ever been asked. The initial problems involved gear loss and ruin, which literally was in the thousands of dollars, from reels to multiple - six, seven, eight - I can't tell you how many lures we lost, breaking off on rocks, the plants, the kelp. Ratsnesting a reel and casting it into oblivion right down to the sunglasses. Our losses in sunglasses exceeded a thousand dollars.

You must wear pretty good sunglasses (laughs)...

We used to, now we just don't wear real expensive ones.

When did this all start - what year did you actually set your butt in a kayak?

Oh man, I may have intentionally forgetten what year it really was, but I would have to say 85 or 86.

Were there many kayak fishermen when you started?

There weren't many. Not at all. I didn't start kayakfishing. The roots of kayakfishing are so humble for a new sport and that would be the Aleut and the Inuit people who actually hunted and fished off of sit-on-top kayaks - they were called washdeck qajaks - they made these skin and wood boats, I believe these were Aleutian Island people. They had a few different styles; they had shorter boats they used for hunting primarily, and they had very long boats that could be paddled by up to three people, and they were all washdeck - that was open deck - with a skid plate on the back that went down into the water so they could catch a following swell.

Oh my goodness.

And they used the long boats for transporting seasonal villages - portaging seasonal villages - winter and summer. And the smaller boats for hunting and some fishing. Now back in the late 50's or early 60's some dive companies made some kayaks that were intended for scuba diving, for coastal scuba diving. And I think that was the first kayak that was probably ever out there and fished.

But the truth is - guys have been fishing from long boards (surf boards) since guys have been surfing on long boards. There have been a lot of long board fisherman over the years.

Boy, that has got to be an amazing experience.

In Florida and California, I think what the kayaks did, the inexpensive plastic sit-on-top kayaks were developed in the early 70's.

Who was that? Was it Ocean Kayak?

It was Tim Niemeyer. The Scupper was the original boat.

You mean the Classic?

I gotta tell ya, it's funny, I just fished in a 30 year old fiberglass Ocean Kayak the other day which was one of the prototypes. He actually had two - he had the Scupper and the Scrambler and he pretty much put em together at the same time and was doing two styles of boats.

They're very different.

Well Niemeyer originally made the boats for diving - they were originally designed for diving. I've got a picture of Tim Niemeyer on one of the original Scuppers riding the 15 foot face of a wave.

Holy shit! Now I own a Scupper, my second, and I got another boat you recommended - that I said "Why is he recommending that?". It was the Necky Spike. I said, this is an unstable yak, why would anybody want to fish out of that? Then I got it and learned what it was all about, what a fantastic yak!

What's your height and weight?

Five-nine, bout a hundred and sixty.

Well that's why that (the Necky) was on my short list for you. It's a good boat.

Now did the original Scupper look like the current Scupper Pro?

No the original boat was called the Scupper and it was a two hatch, fourteen foot touring boat, and the Scupper Pro evolved from the Scupper Classic. The Scupper Classic was discontinued for a couple years, but to coincide with my promoting the sport, Ocean Kayak came back with the Scupper Classic for a couple years, but has again since discontinued it. And now they just sell the Scupper Pro, in fact they only sell the Scupper Pro TW (tankwell).

There's still a lot of buzz about the Scupper, Scupper Classic, Scupper Pro and the Scupper TW. By the way Jim, at your height and weight, if you find a Scupper Classic grab it up.

I will. Now oddly enough we've got a couple people who fish off the Cabo, as a single.

They're big people. The truth is, I deal with, I speak to anglers everywhere they fish kayaks and the Cabo, while popular with handful of people, it's literally just that. You've got one person fishing a Cabo for every 500 in a Scupper, or all the other popular boats.

What's on your short list these days for average sized people? What are the best designs and why?

You won't find me answering the question of what's the best. I endorse to some degree all of the best kayaks and here's my list of what I consider my list of what you look at when you choose a kayak for fishing. From OK its the Scupper and Scrambler, the Malibu II. From Wilderness Systems its the Tarpon, all the Tarpons actually. From Cobra the Fish 'n Dive is the best big man boat on the market; their Navigator is a good boat and their Explorer has been fished by many, many people. From Necky I like the Dolphin and the Spike, they're stable boats. From Old Towne, the Loon, what is it 140, 130.

I think it's 140, I'm not sure.

The Loon has proven to be an excellent boat. You know a lot of the boats I liked are not out there anymore, like the Dagger Cayman, and the Cayman II is a good tandem. There's something else that should be added to my list of referrals. Except in extraordinary circumstances I don't recommend boats that are new, regardless of the level of hype that's attributed to them until they've had about a year's worth of experience on the water with anglers in different fisheries.

And the reason is the people should be in the best boat they're in, (this is) the reason my company's avoided kayak sales. We want to give as pure a recommendation as we can. And there are a lot of boats out there, there's enough boats out there that maybe we should be letting the other guys do the R&D on these things. Cause the truth is that most people buy a kayak and it's the boat they're gonna have for the next ten years.

Without argument when someone buys a kayak it doesn't matter if he buy's a Fish 'n Dive and he weighs 135 lbs., that Fish 'n Dive in his opinion will become the best boat ever made for kayakfishing. But the truth is that there are only a handful of boats that really excel.

The things that I look for in a boat is fishability, seaworthiness, ease of transport. You don't have to go too much further than that.

This is the reason the Scupper Pro is great because it's been all of those things. When it comes to seaworthiness, my god...

This is the quality you get. I wouldn't put the Scupper Pro except in the fact that the Scupper Pro, don't get me wrong, it's one of the best boats ever made, as are there are a few boats that are absent from my endorsement and it's just because they're not that popular.

Now I think from having known you for over a year, from your site, I know you are a very good yakfisherman. What accounts for that, why have you caught the kind of good fish that you have?

Time on the water, absolutely, and watching everything that people who catch fish are doing, so I can apply those at the right place at the right time.

Now one of the things that I believe has made you famous is that you were largely responsible for spreading the notion of kayakfishing over the internet. How did that come to be?

It was actually a couple of years before the website. I got the opportunity to write for a magazine in the Pacific Southwest called "Pacific Fisherman". It was a sportfishing magazine. I'll tell you how this happened. Back in 1994 I saw an article on float tubing in an area that I fished regularly and it was an excellent article, an excellent idea, but I had already been fishing there in my kayak and in the two or three months leading up to that article the surf in that area had been truly, truly dangerous. I saw scores of people running down to the beach in their float tubes.

I was really just worried about the safety aspect of it, so I called up the magazine, and instead of bashing the article, I said "is there any interest in kayakfishing"? Their publisher got back to me and we had a conversation and he invited me to write an article for his magazine. I gave him the article and a stack of pictures and two weeks before the big West Coast Fishing Show - the Fred Hall Show - in Long Beach, California, this magazine came out with my cousin on the cover, kneeling down on the beach in front of his kayak, the waves breaking behind his head, holding a nice halibut. You know what a halibut is, it's a flounder from hell.

Two weeks later - now I'd never been to a fishing show before - the magazine called from the show and said "you gotta come down here, people are asking for you. And I went to a show that had literally 50,000 people walking throught it. I had palpitations. I had no idea that fishing existed in this kind of thing, and people took interest. People were walking around that show, they didn't know who I was, and I'm hangin out in the booth, and they're walking around the show with that magazine, with Howie's picture on the cover under their arms, and glassy eyes - that could been the beer from the show - and going to the magazine booth and saying "we want more of this!"

I was there to watch that. Now I had just recently gotten my degree in acupuncture and herbology and was setting up a practice, was subletting from a chiropracter and fishing four to five days a week in my kayak. And things just grew from there. The magazine just gave me an opportunity to write about kayakfishing.

In between the time I started writing and the time we got the website I got my guide license and started taking people out on these entry level schools which was basicly how to take your (fishing) skills and apply them to the kayak and how not to ruin and lose your gear. One day a fellow came out; his wife had bought him the school (training) - it's amazing how people come - most people just see it in a magazine. The community of sportfishing really embraced me and kayakfishing - from radio shows to magazines to newpaper editors, to captains on boats - everybody wanted to see this kayakfishing thing. It really got a good charge, and I did as much writing as I could, I started the guiding - entry level guiding - and it was just amazing where people came from.

One fellow (above) had come out, his wife had bought him the school for their anniversary - which I thought was a pretty cool anniversary gift. About two hours into the school we'd been on the water for awhile when he says "I notice you don't have a website". Well that was a big red flag in itself cause the 40 people who'd mentioned it before him all tried to sell me a website and tell me how it was gonna turn my career around. About an hour after he made that observation he landed the first legal halibut of his life, which was about 15 pounds...

Nice fish.

Yeah it was a nice fish, and he had a good day, and I had a good day. About a week later he called me and asked me "If you had your own website, what would be involved?" And that was how Coastal Kayak Fishing was born.

So he helped you get it started, that's great. So was yours the first kayakfishing site?

I wasn't the first, but I was the first to start promoting the sport, to start guiding, start writing.

Well I frankly think that your site was so well attended to, covers every area of the country, like the Florida section - that's how I got into it and I'm from Florida!

You've got to realize something, that you and I are exceptional. And actually you are exceptional; I'm not exceptional at all. I'm the first guy who started it as a business, but beyond the whole kayakfishing venue - I was one of the first guides to actually take websites and try to make business of them beyond the website dotcom era that totally went broke. And because of that I butted heads with people who were trying to do the same thing. I was just lucky and I was the first to get out there.

But you're unique in that it's (the FLYC) is a special interest website and they're aren't too many of those. The fact is most kayakfishing websites are out there to promote a guide, or to promote a paddleshop.

It's funny Dennis because I know you have to be a bit neutral about say yaks, but one of the things I am not is neutral. On my reviews I say what I think, and it's nice to be able to do that, but I get alot of heat. I've actually had people call me or threaten me just over a piece of plastic!

Oh, I remember the guys who might claim to be the first. They threatened to sue Ocean Kayak for a position I took on their marketing. Basicly they were taking what was the Aquaterra and then later the Perception Prism. They were outfitting it with flotation and a few rodholders and calling the boat their design and doing a very big misrepresentation, saying the boat was made for them by the manufacturer. They weren't calling it the Prism, they were calling it their Ultimate Fishing Kayak. And it was misleading.

Then they went online and tried selling it online, and I kinda stepped in and they got in my face. Now I had nothing to do with Ocean Kayak, now why they would threaten to sue Ocean Kayak is a mystery to me. I think they looked at my website and said "Oh, this guy is backed by Ocean Kayak", and they were absolutely wrong. Those were just the boats I used.

I too use a Pro and love it, reviewed it well, so I get accused of being paid by Ocean Kayak. Truth is the Pro is not the only yak I like.

Now you've probably noticed that certain companies are absent from my recommendation. There's a reason for that.

I want to get back to your video. Of course you know another pioneer is Ken Daubert who wrote "Kayakfishing: The Revolution", whose book you sell and who is a wonderful man, don't know if you've met him.

Well, yeah, I've fished with him.

And you'd agree that everyone who goes yakfishin needs to read that book before they ask a lot of questions. Now you have done something equally impressive which is your video and did you come to do that, and how are they doing?

The video came about - how to explain this - we don't do a lot in our home market except for guiding. Now we reach kayakers all over the world, but one of the things we do very successfully is the Coastal Kayak Fishing School, and what I wanted to do is to be able to is to put that school on tape so that we could teach it to a guy in Connecticut or Michigan or Hawaii. And that they could do essentially what we do in school - to learn how not to ruin and lose their gear, what the different kayaks out there are all about and how to make the best selection for themselves and for their fishery. How to outfit it, and how to get comfortable and effective fishing off the kayak.

What we did was - my fishing partner in real life is a director of television commercials and he came to me one day and he said "Denny, I've got some time off, so if you're ever gonna do a video, let's do it now". We figured it would take about four months, and eighteen months later we finished it. It was a long time.

You put a lot of work into that!

A lot of people have commented that it's like no video they've ever seen. It's definitely a high quality production. Given his job he just couldn't do anything less than that. I think we really got the point across. By the way we've got distributors in Australia, and Denmark so it's selling well in Europe and Down Under. And now we're making the second one, the Kayakfishing Video Two.

How will number two be different?

Well, we're going to come to Florida, Long Island Sound and we're gonna get some footage out on the Gulf as well as the Pacific Coast, and down in Baja, California, the Sea of Cortez. So were going to bring the second video home to the various fisheries.

Well let me know when you're here, we'll hook up with ya.

You know I will. And we're just going to expand on some of the things. It'll be more species specific, we want to be able to fish for stripers and bluefish, redfish, sea trout, snook and then come over to the West Coast and the Sea of Cortez and fish dolphin and dorado, tuna, yellowtail. We want a big fishing video out of that one. It (the first video) really turned out to be a great thing - truth is we could never have guided that many people as we can sell the video.

We know where you're at now. Where do you think yakfishing is at now? What do you see and hope for in yakfishing and yakfishin yaks?

I think kayakfishing is in it's infancy. I think that it'll never be so big that we'll be bumping into each other on the water, because this is really a sport that becomes a lifestyle for the people who get involved in it. I think it's going to grow significantly for a long time, but I think it's going to be a specialty sport. I think the future of kayakfishing - what I see is kayakfishing being born on the coasts of N. America, whether it's Long Island Sound, Florida, the Gulf, up and all the way around the Pacific. That's where most of the people are seeing the genesis of kayaking.

But I really think the future is every lake and slow moving river, big ponds - anywhere that holds fish that somebody just wants a little more access to. And I think that kayakfishing is in everybody who gets disgusted with the high cost of their powerboat, everybody who gets frustrated not being able to get to those birds just a cast beyond where they can reach them from the beach.

Do you think that manufacturers are payin attention, it seems that most of the SOT manufacturers are not huge companies, except for maybe Bic...

I beg to differ with you. I've got a pretty good scope of this market and I think that kayak companies, with the exception of Hobie, which is again a smaller company, are targeting the angler with existing product. And I think there's a lot of existing product that won't get any better with the new models being offered to the market.

I'm not sure what you mean by that...

First of all kayak manufacturing has gone conglomerate, with the exception of Cobra and Hobie. By the way when I recommend kayaks to someone, to a fisherman, it's important to me that when I run into this kayakfisherman ten years later, they still have the boat. That the quality of manufacture, the history and the longevity of that product - that accounts for some of my exclusions.

Anyway companies like Ocean Kayak, Perception, Wilderness Systems - these are no longer family owned, Mom and Pop businesses. You can add Old Towne, Necky, Dagger - really the majority of kayak manufacturers are now owned by conglomerates. What we've experienced is a loss of personal attention so most companies are targeting the angle with their existing models. It's pretty clear that they're adding a few fishing rod holders and a few riggings and calling them fishing models.

Thank you very much, my feelings exactly.

It's obvious, Jim, it's obvious.

I know, I know, I just wanted to hear you say it.

Now there's a big exception to this but it's a revolutionary product that won't appeal to everyone, and that's the Hobie Outback. But the Hobie Outback is the highest end, one of the highest quality fishing kayaks that's out there. It's a specialty boat that appeals to specialty anglers - it is both pedal-able and paddle-able, and in trolling fisheries it is a fishing machine. It's the only boat that's ever been made just for fisherman, are you aware of that?

I didn't know that.

It's the only kayak made just for fisherman, and is still on the market.

It's a very interesting kayak. I've been in one, I've pedaled one. It amazed me how fast it was for a little kayak. Now Kayak Willie used to get out there in his 17 foot yak and would troll for sailfish and got quite famous here for entering big time sailfish tourneys, and placed pretty well in them, made the news for a number of years. He would have loved to have the Hobie because he loved to troll - he'd troll for 20 miles. You can attend to your rods while you are trolling.

Now how about environmental and species concerns. We see significant changes down here in Florida, how are things out there.

That's interesting. Kayakfisherman appreciate fisheries that are not commercially viable but are seeing significant recovery from overfishing and pollution in the decades that preceeded the popularity of the sport. It's important, it's critical for every angler to be a conservationist. The term "environmentalist" used to be a proud moniker for every angler but the way the policies of conservation have gone environmentalism has earned (an) unflattering connotation.

Like the term "liberal". It's like you're a treehugger if you're concerned the fish are gone, there's pollution in the water, half the coral reefs are gone, the breeding areas are ruined, but yet you're labeled because you fear for our children and don't want them to live on an oil slimed planet. We have some active groups here like the Paradise Paddler's who are active in cleaning up the water; some of our people are active in promoting what's called a Blueway, and to make sure that kayak access is improved and considered.

Our efforts have always been focused, whether it's guiding, writing, doing seminars and talking to anglers on conservation, being aware of the rules, being aware of the fishery and being aware of a level of conscientiousness beyond what is legal. The Thresher Shark in California is a very popular fishery, and we've promoted what we consider ethical takes of the species, both in size and numbers.

We're mindful of populations that are pressured. We promote techniques that encourage the safe release of fish, the use of nets, circle hooks, slow cranking fish that are caught deep. We think that kayakfisherman in our estimation seem to be the most conscientous group of anglers that we've ever come across. And we think our unique relationship with the water and with the fishery accounts for that. But we also think that additional time that kayakfisherman spend on the water means they think a lot longer and harder about what's right and what's wrong.

And you see it up close and personal. Dennis I've asked you everything I could think of. Is there anything else you'd like to say?

I think it's important that - we're in a special position being kayak anglers, and while we're not big in numbers we're very loud in voice. And I think we owe it to the fishery and to the next generation of fisherman to give something back by participating with the fishing lobby groups, by supporting lobbying for fisheries. I think it's important to maintain fishing as a family value.

Our sport is not as safe and comfortable as we think it is because of social, environmental and business pressures that affect the fisheries. And I think it's important that we do what's necessary to protect them.

Dennis thanks again. You are the man. We appreciate all you've done.

Same Jimbo, you take care...

  To Hall of Famer Kayak Willie


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