By Joe Cook
Rome’s Jim Ware fishes because it make him feel like a kid again but this fall, the avid kayak angler will compete for some adult-sized money in two of the nation’s biggest kayak fishing tournaments.
“I’m 52-years-old and every time I get in that boat, it takes me back to when I was 13,” he said. “Anything that can make an old man feel like that…that’s a good thing.”
During the past year, Ware–a Pepperell High School graduate, Air Force veteran, and 20-year employee at International Paper—has placed in enough professional tournaments to qualify him for what’s considered rarified air in the world of competition kayak fishing.
In October, he’ll compete for a purse pushing $100,000 amongst a field of hundreds of qualifying anglers in the Kayak Bass Fishing Trail Series Championship in Shreveport, La., and then in November, he’ll fish for a $75,000 purse among 50 select anglers in the Hobie Bass Open Series Tournament of Champions on Lake Eufaula.
Less than two decades ago, kayak fishing was a little known fringe sport. Today, it is among the fastest growing sectors in the outdoor recreation industry. In the last decade, the number of anglers who say they fish from kayaks has nearly tripled. In surveys conducted by the Outdoor Foundation and Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation in 2019, 6 percent of respondents said they fished from a kayak.
While that percentage pales in comparison to motorboat anglers (49 percent of respondents in the Outdoor Foundation survey), that 6 percent translates into nearly 3.3 million kayak anglers.
And Northwest Georgia, with its numerous rivers and reservoirs, is a hotbed of kayak fishing. The Rome-based Reel Krazy Kayak Fishing, headed by Daniel Parris, regularly hosts competition tournaments in the area. During the summer months, Fishers of Men Kayak Fishing organized by Clint Henderson hosts a weekly Monday night tournament at the Rocky Mountain Project for adults and youth.
Kayak fishing has arrived. It’s popularity is due in part to the ease of entering the sport relative to traditional boats. While a typical bass boat costs more than $20,000, moderately-priced fishing kayaks can be had for under $1,000 with top of the line models running as much $5,000. Said Ware: “I couldn’t walk on water and I couldn’t afford a motorboat so I bought a kayak.”
For Ware, his Hobie kayak, which is propelled by pedaling underwater fins rather than traditional paddling, is the perfect outlet for man who has been obsessed with fish his entire life. He remembers his English teacher at Pepperell passing by his desk as he doodled a fishing boat. “Jim, you’re drifting,” she would say.
Today he is still drifting…over water holding big fish. For big time tournament kayak fishing, the equipment is similar to traditional motorized fishing tournaments. In addition to their knowledge of the venue, tournament anglers rely heavily on electronic fish finders, and though the vessels are smaller, they still carry an array of rods and reels. Ware typically hauls nine on his 14-foot boat.
“It’s just like golf,” he said. “Each rod has it own little job and it’s sitting on ready.”
He said to be successful in the world of kayak tournament fishing, studying reservoir maps to find locations that hold diverse habitat is essential. Unlike motorized competitors that have the luxury of speeding to multiple fishing locations, kayak anglers tend to find one location that will hold fish at multiple water levels and in varied habitat.
Earlier this year, Ware cashed in a $3,450 second place prize at theHobie Bass Open Series tournament in Jasper, Texas, fishing an area “the size of a basketball court.” That success landed him in the Tournament of Champions on Lake Eufaula Nov. 12-14 where he’ll represent the Marietta-based Dug Out Bait And Tackle Shop Hobie Kayak Fishing Team.
And, while the thrill of competition and the possibility of a five-digit pay day drives him, he said sitting in a kayak on open water casting for fish is his form of therapy. “I’m a recovering alcoholic for 13 years,” he said. “I don’t drink anymore because of this. This keeps me mentally well.”
Interested in Kayak Fishing? Ware offers these tips for wanna-be kayak anglers:
- Sit in a lot of boats before you buy. “Find one that’s comfortable and stable for you.”
- Find someone who knows the sport to help you. “Local shops like the Canoe House in Rome and Dug Out Bait and Tackle in Marietta can help get you started.”
- Seek a local kayak fishing club. Reel Krazy and Fishers of Men Kayak Fishing are two local groups that hold regular tournaments in the area.
- Watch YouTube. There’s a host of how-to and advice videos available.