One Path among many, but only One Boat: On Joining the Jackson Fishing Team

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Beginnings contain more than an intention. When we start on something new, we bring to it our history, or memory, and culture. We add to it our desire and we imagine what might be. We peer at the horizon and dream to see what might be there, but we can never truly know. Beginnings are that too – they are possibilities, only some of which become real.  In his wonderful book Invisible Cities, the writer Italo Calvino imagines Marco Polo entertaining Kublai Khan with stories while the two men play chess. One story begins; “The man who is traveling and does not yet know the city awaiting him along his route wonders what the palace will be like, the barracks, the mill, the theater, the bazaar.” When he arrives, he finds a different city.

Like me, Marco Polo was an Italian of Venetian descent, a wandered on water and land, a person who, when he saw the griffin carrying the tablet the Lord delivered to Saint Mark, paused. I am partial to his Travels not only for their beauty and imagination but because they were written as if each word were a stage of the journey. At times, you never quite know where they will lead. Sometimes we move in straight lines or at angles. At others we move on tracks adjacent to the ones we had planned, a step removed from some other possible reality. Sometimes the paths intersect, at others they diverge. We might even come full circle.

I felt that same wonder the day I first fished from a kayak. To say it changed my life would be an understatement – it may have freed it in some elemental way that escapes language. To float and paddle, to sense the world moving under and around and through you, to bond with the air and water in that way lifted some planetary weight that was on me. Few moments can compare to it. Only love, or the birth of a child, or the euphoria of ritual and revelation, or some chemical magic might exceed it, but not by much. Sitting and standing in that kayak was like nothing I had ever known or felt.

HenryV Core Creek 2012

The kayak is pictured in the photo above. I was a younger man then, on the edge of a great trip. The swamp behind me is down east – it is known as Core Creek, an antediluvian maze of moss-covered cypress, owl nests and gar. The kayak is a Jackson Coosa, fresh from the factory. It was a Drew Gregory signature edition, with custom colors along the blue end of the spectrum. It was a beautiful boat to look at it. For years, I had resisted peer pressure from friends who were fishing in the Carolina Yakfish tournaments, but I had cracked the previous year.

It was a warm spring day and the White Bass were running in the Haw River. My friend Joe Angelcyk won that Coosa when he won the AOY title, and since he had two, he suggested I give his new rig a try. So I did, and we went out and clobbered some fish. The Coosa is a river boat, and still the best one on the market. I didn’t know any of that at the time. I only knew that I was free.

Jump ahead nearly one decade. I speak at length with Richard Penny and Chad Hoover, I talk to ex-Jackson Fishing Team manager Aaron Stiger, I review options with friends and fellow anglers. The topic of discussion is a simple one: making Henry a member of the Jackson Fishing team. I took my time, as I always do. A traveler must choose his paths well. Every step we take precludes others, but with each step, I felt closer to that first day when I fished from that Coosa.

2016 KBF National Champion Matt Ball got me on the phone around this past Christmas. He was working a night shift, and he walked me through what it meant to join the Jackson team. Everyone in the world of kayak fishing knows Matt not only as a great angler but also as a man of profound faith and humility. He leads us in prayer at tournaments and prays for us. We call him “The Preacher.” Listening to Matt, I am often reminded of the Book of Genesis, which is the most lyrical and fantastic of the Bible’s books, depicting a world filled with extinct angels and lost cities. It is also the most water-filled book, from its unforgettable first paragraph through the great story of Noah; later still, its genealogies feel like they sprung from the Great Flood, tribes of peoples who were given a second world and a new start. Matt’s voice carries their current cadence, in my mind.

After months of discussion, I decided to officially commit and become a member of the Jackson Kayak Fishing Team. It is not an honor I could take lightly or in haste; I don’t rush in among fools.

I fished for three seasons in that Jackson Coosa. I earned my stripes as a tournament angler in a Jackson boat. I trusted that boat to carry my life and my dreams. That is no precious cargo, but it’s all I have.

My path to this moment feels like another of Calvino’s stories from that book. In it, Marco Polo describes his visit to another imaginary place: “In Esmeralda, city of water, a network of canals and a network of streets span and intersect each other. To go from one place to another you always have the choice between land and boat…”

Our paths in life are many and I chose a boat that day many years ago – a Jackson. Like Marco’s, my paths “span and intersect each other,” as all our lives do. They begin, they cross, they return, they start over, they end. My journey has taken me back to a Jackson Kayak, where I am happy  and grateful to join the team and begin a new chapter in this journey, one that feels familiar, like seeing a new map of an old place where I used to live, knowing I’ve come full circle by moving in a straight line.

Henry Veggian

©2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Note of Thanks to the Ketch Pro Team

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The history of modern sports is a history of athletic feats and great stories, but it is also a history of product innovation. From Thomas Alva Edison and Samuel Colt to Stephanie Kwolek and Steve Jobs, American engineers and scientists have mustered tremendous creativity to lead American business in the modern world. Their products are artful and useful. Tournament anglers use them and depend on them in order to succeed; for example, Stephanie Kwolek’s innovations in polymers for the DuPont Corporation were fundamental to the plastics we use in fishing lines and kayak design. Over time, we trust the materials and designs. And I trust my Ketch measuring board like no other product I own.

I’ve been tournament fishing from a kayak for 8 years. During that time, I have watched many friends obtain some lucrative sponsor deals, pro staff arrangements and other agreements. In exchange, they often give their time by promoting products on-line, working trade shows and spreading the gospel of kayak fishing at paddling demos, seminars, etc. It’s easy to make fun of kayak anglers and their sponsor deals. What isn’t easy is to put in the work: build a resume’ in competition, write articles, produce videos, work the industry shows, etc. Fishing is an art and also a business; it can kill your love of the sport but it can also help you achieve your dreams. In the best-case scenario it can grow your love for kayak fishing and expand the positive economic impact of our sport. Joining the Ketch Pro Team is a best-case scenario.

My sponsor deals and pro-staff arrangements changed this year – I had built a strong competition record in 2019 and my face, voice and name got around plenty. Why the change? One of the benefits of getting old is that you slow down. You think through your decisions. You consult, calculate, or trust your gut. I decided that when opportunity came I would work with the best companies, with people I care about, and endorse products that work well and inspire me.

Enter Ketch Products Co. When Duke Weskamp and I spoke about the Ketch Pro Team, I knew it was the right fit. But I didn’t rush in, nor did he. I have been using the Ketch measuring boards for years. They are durable, American made and also pleasing to the eye. I’ve talked to Duke at events, sent him customers and fished with him at tournaments. We share passions for music and fishing and we share a mutual friend in Denny Romero, who is a veteran CKA angler and a product innovator in his own right.

As I noted above, the history of modern sports is a history of athletic feats and great stories, but it is also a history of product innovation. When I hold a Ketch measuring board in my hands, or place a fish on it during competition, I can feel that history in its weight. I admire its design and durability, and the product pleases my eye and my mind. I trust it, I know it and I use it.

And so it is with great humility that I join the Ketch Pro Fishing Team and its roster of tournament champions and kayak fishing innovators. To Duke Weskamp – thank you for this opportunity – and to David Brooke, thank you for the hard work you do for the team.

Please check out the Ketch product line at https://ketchproducts.com/ and patronize this great American brand.

Sincerely,

Hank

© Henry Veggian 2020

The 2010’s: A Kayak Fishing Decade in Review

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When you are young, the world is your private pond. It’s stocked with fat fish and they bite every lure you throw.  You can sit on the bank and eat chips, sleep and dream of adventures you had and will never have. You can wake up and dive in the pond or chase your friends around the banks until the wind gets winded. Youth is a fork and the world is your mussel.

Before you know it, you are tired, stressed and it’s all gone. If you are lucky, you have a job and your health. If you are really fortunate you still sneak out to fish sometimes and forget your troubles. The mussels aren’t quite as abundant and they cost more, but they still taste really good.

We are closing a historic decade in the artful sport of fishing. It will forever be known as the decade during which kayak tournament fishing went from a local hobby to national and international stature. The sport’s business side has blossomed, the media have portrayed us in a good light and there are more tournament options than one can count. There are kayaks on every lake, many with rods sticking out of them and looking like antennae farms floating on some extra-terrestrial settlement. In only a few short years, it appears a viable model for the sport has emerged: the technology has improved, state wildlife agencies have noticed us, competition formats have settled into some degree of normalcy and people are out there fishing and having fun, whether in tournaments or otherwise. Hell, even the venerated B.A.S.S. organization has adopted us. Who saw that coming?

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Following the Arrowhead: Fishing the 2019 FLW-KBF Cup on Lake Ouachita

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I will speak more directly for a change. No quotes from great poets or philosophers. The Professor will step aside, and the angler will be alone. I’m going to discuss teamwork, I’m going to discuss the current state of the sport of kayak bass fishing and I am going to talk, most importantly, how I changed my approach tournament fishing this season. I’m going to discuss it because I have placed in the money in 10 of the last 14 events I fished. In one of the other 4 I won 1st place in a charity tournament, and in the other 3 I was in 4th, 3rd and 13th place respectively.* It is the best winning streak of my 8 year career in kayak tournament fishing, so I obviously did something right, and I want to share it because some of it runs against logic of what we are “supposed” to do.

But first, Rick Clunn. When Rick Clunn talks, I listen. I don’t listen to imitate but to interpret what he says. Why? Because experience contains wisdom and that guy has experience spilling out of his pockets. But his experience does not apply to me directly. He fishes boats, I fish from kayaks. I will never win what he has won, or fish how or when or where he has fished. So when I listen, I ask, “How does this translate to me, if at all?”

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Human Patterns: The Kitchen Mystery of Lake Chickamauga

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If you can find the pantry, you will find the hungry bass. Think about the first hour of your day. At some point, you went into the kitchen and ate some food. And you followed the same hallway to reach the kitchen, and ate at your favorite chair, drinking coffee from your favorite mug, etc. Now, if you were a bass on a big lake like Lake Chickamauga, you would know that, at this time of year, that bay has frogs and bugs in it, and that point has a ball of shad on it, or that lay down is a good ambush point to wait for a meal to swim by it. Wind, thermocline, pressure and light are other factors, not to mention moon phase, water temperature,  and water levels. They are the basic ingredients of fishing.

Most anglers know this as “pattern fishing.” Roland Martin famously defined a “pattern” as follows:

“[a pattern is] the exact set of water conditions such as depth, cover, structure, temperature, clarity, currents, etc. which attracts fish to that specific spot and other similar spots all over the same body of water.”

A pattern in this sense is a web of changing phenomena. Understand the pattern, and you will find hungry fish. Why? Because fish are creatures of habit. But we are too. And one thing Mr. Martin left out of his puzzle is the human element of the pattern, and the things we learn from other anglers. Here is the story of the puzzle I figured out on Lake Chickamauga prior to the KBF Trail and Pro Series tournaments held there last week. Continue reading

“Seasonal Heat”: Temperature, Strategy and Tactics at the 2019 KBF National Championship

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A big storm is rolling in as I write this. There is thunder in the distance, so the yard work I neglected for fishing is out of the question. The sky is darker than a crow feather, the air is yellow with pollen and only a fool would venture outside. It’s the sort of dramatic weather that makes us paddle hard and fast to reach safe harbor.

Experienced anglers know that weather plays a large role in influencing how fish feed. To some, it is equal to or even more important than moon phase, or the animal’s biological clock, or even bait selection. But where can we draw the line? How subtle can it be? Does the sky have to look like a Hollywood special effect to make us think how weather impacts a bite? No – Sometimes the smallest margins make the biggest difference. Continue reading

The Big Picture: Behind the Scenes at a Fishing Photo Shoot

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One day last summer, at the height of the best topwater and deepwater bites of the year, I received the call asking me to attend a photo shoot and to be a representative kayak angler for an article in Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. My first thought was “I’m gonna stick a state record at the shoot.” It was a selfish impulse, but an honest one. Who wouldn’t have it? I could lie and tell you I smashed ’em, or that I lost a big one, or that as soon as it was over I went to another spot and landed a biggun. All anglers are liars, anyway, but there are witnesses in this case. Here’s what really happened at the big photo shoot: I caught a skunk. Zero bites. Not even a wayward Bluegill.

Maybe I’ve been fishing for too long and the sun’s worn through my skull, but I just don’t care if I don’t catch fish. I’m just grateful to be alive and that’s usually enough to make my day. But the article attached to the cover shot in this post represents our sport so well that it made me grateful for something far more important, something much bigger than the little thrill of seeing my grizzled mug on a magazine cover or the disappointment one might assume when looking at a cover that is, in some way, a reminder of a bad day of fishing. I’ll come back to that point…

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Recent Product Reviews

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I struggle writing in  this genre, but I enjoy it, too. Here is a sample of recent product reviews I wrote. Let me know what you think!

  1. The Wilderness Systems Kayak Krate

https://shopgetoutdoors.com/blogs/get-outdoors-blog/review-of-the-wilderness-systems-kayak-krate

2. The Yak Attack Leverage Net

https://shopgetoutdoors.com/blogs/get-outdoors-blog/from-kentucky-lake-to-toledo-bend-fishing-overtime-with-yak-attack-s-leverage-net

 

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Memory, Fishing and Stalled Fronts: The May 2018 KBF Armed Forces Challenge

I’m writing this while sitting on a bench in downtown Raleigh waiting to meet up with a friend after a concert. It’s 11 pm and I am barely awake, having fished from sunrise nearly to sunset today, as well as the previous 2 days. This is a post about fishing and exhaustion and memory. There’s a little video evidence of what I discuss in the last paragraphs:

I should write this down before I forget. And when I say forget, I mean I am “wipe the memory slate clean, MIB gadget” tired. I fished for something like 30 hours this weekend and I feel like a tray of lasagna that’s been heated up one too many times. But there is something about exhaustion that can sharpen your focus, narrow down the world. That’s how I managed to jump back into 1st place late on Sunday. It didn’t hold, but that isn’t the important part.

First, congratulations to “Florida” Jerry Burdine and Matt Kasparek for besting me in the KBF Armed Forces Challenge this weekend. I also want to thank Jonathan Lessman and Richard McMichael, as we exchanged leads in a great dog fight over all 3 event days. I saw Jerry’s name high on the leader board every day, too, so he had to grind it out like I did. It was a battle, and he made the “leap” as I call it, with a great final day that put him ahead of the leaders.

This three-day event was not on my schedule because I had other plans. So I buckled down to improvise, adapt to a constantly shifting bite and fish through some bad weather. In the end, I landed fish on three different patterns, using a variety of lures. Day 1 was dominated by swimbaits and crankbaits, a chatterbait produced my best fish on Day 2, and day 3, well, you’ll see…

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