Boat Ramp Etiquette

Not all kayakers use boat ramps to launch but if you do there are unspoken rules you should know about. Unfortunately many who have never fished out of power boats may not have ever been introduced to boat ramp etiquette. Today, I’ll try to remedy that.

Public boat ramps can give you access where it is otherwise sparse. When this is the case, chances are you will eventually see other people. Help everyone avoid ramp rage and follow these simple rules.

Prepare Before You Back

Put as much of your gear in your kayak as possible before you get to the ramp. Lots of areas have staging zones well before the ramp. Even if they don’t, you can get ready in the back of the parking lot. Nobody likes waiting 15 minutes while you setup a flag, look for the whistle you need and worst of all tie all your lures on while on the ramp. Don’t do that! Most of us can’t do everything before the offload but the less time you take the better.

Don’t Be a Ramp Hog

Lots of ramps have two lanes or more. This isn’t parking at Home Depot. Do not straddle those lanes. Learn how to back by practicing in your driveway so you are ready to ace the back in when the time comes. Once you get down there, move quickly. This is not the time for a leisurely morning stroll. Showing that you’re making an effort to hurry makes a huge difference to those waiting.

Lights Off

When you do finish backing, turn your headlights off. If possible, do it on the way down. My general rule is if you are in reverse, kill the headlights.

Move to the Side

If you are flying solo and need to go park the truck, you need to find a good place to stash the kayak while doing so. Off to the side is good. Still on the ramp is not. Use an anchor, brush clip or rope to secure your kayak off the ramp and go park.

Quick Strap When You Load Up

Remember that staging area away from the ramp? It hasn’t moved. When you come in for the day, get your yak secured just enough to get you to the top of the hill and to the staging area. At that point you can batten down the hatches for the ride home. Don’t spend tons of time on the ramp securing Fort Knox.

Help a Brother Out

If you happen to be at the ramp at the same time as another kayaker, make sure and ask if they’d like help loading or unloading. It can speed things up for both of you in lots of cases. You’ll be a good ambassador for the sport and might make a new fishing buddy.

If You’re Going to Chat…

If you are a chatty Cathy at the boat ramp, at least chat while loading/unloading. If you stop to have a conversation on the ramp, someone else may have a conversation with you too and those convos are usually not pleasant. At least make progress while exercising that gift of gab.

I know these aren’t all the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) rules but these are definitely some you should know. Have additional suggestions? Let us know! 

Four Tips for First Time Kayak Buyers

It's that time of year. New kayaks are hitting the showroom floors. This is also the season when people start thinking of getting one or two new kayaks. Many times those people thinking about it will be first time owners.

 Kayak fishing forums are lighting up with requests about which boats to look at, which one is for me and myriad other questions.

So which boat should you get? It's not that simple.

You may as well ask which one main dish your town would like to eat every day for the next year. It just isn't that simple.

People have different expectations for everything. We are all unique individuals with very specific things we are looking for. Kayak fishing is no different.

So what do you do? No one will give you the answer.

So what now? Here are a few steps to help make the right-for-you decision.

#1 Make a List

You need to make a list of all the things you are going to do in the kayak and how it will be used.
Are you fishing in big lakes, the ocean, rivers, bays or all of the above?
Are you wanting to troll, drift, sit, stand, paddle, pedal or use an electric motor of some sort?
Are you fishing for bass, crappie, cats, specks, reds, flounder, anything you can catch or all of the above?
Who will be using the kayak? Will it be just you or will others be sharing it?
How will you transport it? Do you have a truck, trailer, car, van? Do you have a roof rack? Do you have cross bars on the roof rack?
How much storage do you want the kayak to have?
Do you fish in the cold much?
Do you fish in the wind much?
Where will this kayak be stored? How much room is in that place (size limits)?
Do you have any health issues that will play into your decision (bad back, bad heart, arthritis, etc)?
How much weight can you lift above your head? How much weight can you raise to your waist?
How much does the heaviest person weigh that will be using the kayak?
How tall is the tallest person that will use the kayak?
What weight capacity, gear and people, will the kayak need to have?

This is by no means the full exhaustive list but it will get you in the right frame of mind to discover what you need. Take down your answers and take them in to a dealer or with you to a demo day.

#2 Budget

This one is tough. Most people decide they want to get into kayak fishing with a max cap of $500. Some have a smaller budget than that. The problem with that number is that will usually only get you a kayak. Let's say you go to Academy and by the Perception Sport Pescador 12 ft kayak (the old Tarpon 120 body). It'll cost you $500. After tax you are already over budget. Now you need a paddle, lifejacket (PFD), and whistle just to be legal and able to go to the lake. This adds another $60 if you get the absolute cheapest stuff that's made. Throw in tax and your $500 budget is now at $670. This is when most people start to look at used boats and settle on a boat in their price range. Usually the kayak doesn't fit that list of things you wanted and more often than not, your $450 you spent on a used kayak turns into a loss because now you are selling the used kayak and stuff for $350 on Craigslist because kayak fishing just isn't for you.

Don't blame the kayak. If you take a date out to McDonald's and tell her to order off of the Dollar Menu only do you think you'll get a second date? Rarely. When you buy a used boat on the cheap that you've done little research on and doesn't meet your needs, your time in kayak fishing is usually, not always, but usually short lived.

Make a realistic budget for what you can do and stick to that but make sure it meets your list. If it doesn't meet your list, save up more money to expand your budget or keep waiting. Trust me here. A boat that meets all of your needs rather than just the desire to get on the water will make you much happier in the long run.

#3 Demo, Demo, Demo

Before you make a purchase, demo lots of kayaks. Technically speaking, there are demo days almost every day of the year. Lots of dealers will meet you at the lake with a few boats you want to try. Meet up with folks who have the kayak already and give it a try. Please don't buy a boat without trying it first. It usually ends in heartbreak. Take your list and check off how many of your desires each boat has. If it is out of your budget, look for a used one or save some more money and get the one you really want.

#4 Research

Talk to people who have the kayak you have narrowed it down to. Do some web research. Look at the manufacturers website. What would they change? How did they rig their kayak for fishing? Would they buy that kayak again? Make an informed decision.

Even if you follow all of these steps, it doesn't guarantee a perfect kayak for you. Chances are, you'll change boats a few times in your life and that is good too. As your preferences change, it's possible so will the type of kayak you need. But, the chances of you buying the right kayak the first time without any of the above steps is not a very likely scenario. 

A Better Blog in Eight Steps

When I tell people I have a fishing blog, it invokes lots of facial expressions from surprise to admiration to confusion. Telling them that it’s more specifically a kayak fishing blog usually puzzles them. “How many people would actually read a kayak fishing blog?” is what their faces say. The fact is, every segment of hobby, craft, sport and trend has a following. A niche.

Millions of people like to read blogs. Those same people often have thoughts and opinions they would like to share too so in turn millions of people have blogs. Or at least they start one… or three. The concept seems simple enough: I’ll write whatever I want and lots of people will come and read it.


Your mom might read it. And some of your Facebook friends if they get around to it. You might get a few dozen visits the first week. You’ll be happy. You’ll write some more. People may or may not show up. The post you thought would intrigue the world got 24 views yesterday. You expected 2400. It’s discouraging so maybe you’ll take a short break from writing your new blog, really gather up some good stories, do an interview or maybe a review. Three weeks later you realize you haven’t written anything new and your next post gets five views. Five. “Maybe it’s not for me,” or even “I don’t have time to do this like I want to,” will play through your mind. Two months after it started, your blog is dead.

I know all of this because I have lived it. I’ve bought dozens of domains, started countless blogs and only a couple have stuck around more than three months. This one and my original, Payne's Paddle Fish

Do you know why? I finally learned the secret. Actually several of them but it all starts with one.
Here it is: You CANNOT be a good blogger, have a following, be read and published if you treat it as a casual relationship. You must be married to your blog. Your blog is your brand. To do it right, it must be a job. And you have to perform your job well. People may only know you through what you present on your blog so make it a good impression.

A few simple steps will help guide you on your way. Follow these and you will at least have the formula down. The execution is up to you.

Step 1: You need a catchy name. Debbie’s Mom Blog or Pete’s Fishing Blog are too generic and not easy to remember. Trying something like Rob Choi did: . Angling Addict . Catchy right?

Step 2: Branding. You need a good logo. It has to say what you are about without having to list it. If you are writing about kites, have a kite of some sort in your logo. It makes an impression that is then associated with your blog.

Step 3: Design. The typical free design template default from Blogger or Wordpress is not going to get it done. Plenty of fresh templates exist for free or a small price that can help set you apart. And when you are selecting fonts, Comic Sans is only acceptable…never. It’s not cute. It tells everyone you don’t take this seriously. Try a Garamond or a Century font.

Step 4: Content. Have a vision of what you want to do. Write it down. Write down all the blog entry ideas you can think of. Talk to friends and see what they would be interested in. You also have to know your audience. My kayak fishing blog readers typically are not as interested in String Theory Applications in Physics as they are about a new adventure in a just released kayak from Manufacturer X. Write for you but also write for them.

Step 5: Write on a Schedule. You need to be predictable in your writing schedule. And you need to stick pretty darn close to it. More frequent is ok if it is good content but writing less frequently is the nail in the coffin. Pick a number like once a week or twice a week that you know you can keep up with and stick to it. Your audience doesn’t know and really doesn’t care about sick days or long vacations. The more predictable and consistent your writing and publishing, the more people will visit. (If your content is good).

Step 6: Power Through. You will hit a wall. You will not feel like writing. You will think about taking a break. DON’T! This is where the work part comes in. This is a job. People are anxiously awaiting your newest post on Tuesday at Lunch. Give it to them!

Step 7: Cross Promote. If you don’t like social media, blogging probably isn’t for you. To grow your audience you need to be where they are. Blog readers are on social media! Sign up for a Facebook account, create a page, get a Twitter account and do the same. If you really want to get your social media presence going get on Pinterest, Linked In, Tumblr, Vimeo, You Tube and tons of others. It is also good to visit forums with like-minded people to let them know you have some content that is free to check out and you would appreciate feedback. Don't over do this. Pick two or three pages to post to on Facebook. If you share your own article to 47 different Facebook groups, your own mother may send you hate mail.

Step 8: Be Thick Skinned.  When someone flames your blog, hates what you are doing, leaves nasty comments and says you’re dumb, just stay calm. Keep in mind this is not actually a personal attack. It is an attack on a thought you put out there. People disagree all the time. We’re humans after all. Free thinkers. The most controversial stuff you post will often generate the most traffic. Keeping your head about you during controversy furthers your brand image. Keep cool.

More steps exist but these eight are a good start. If you can do all this, you might have a shot at carving out your own little corner of the internet. If not, that’s fine too. At least now you’ll know going in what you are embarking upon.

The Court Jester and Lee Van Cleef

When I was very young, I remember both of my grandfathers taking me fishing. Sometimes it was on their boats, sometimes it was on the bank and sometimes in a float tube. I learned to catch perch, crappie, catfish, bass and carp. I learned different techniques, about different lures, how to cast different reels and how to watch a line.

Probably the most important lesson I learned was to appreciate nature for its great intricacies. All of the serious conversations I had with these formative men revolved around fishing stories and metaphors. I learned how to speak with adults half a century my senior when sitting at the Whataburger either before or after a trip. Nickel Mug coffee and Breakfast on a Bun still represent fishing and breakfast to me even though I can have neither.

These men were completely opposite in their personalities yet so much alike.

Papa Jim was very stoic and appeared to be the long lost brother of Lee Van Cleef. He taught me to work hard to enjoy the rewards of time off. His last words to me, as he lay in a hospital bed, were " Chris, you look bad. You're working too hard. You need to go fishing." I went that next day with my family and I caught the largest smallmouth bass I have ever caught, with my son right there helping me. He understood the seed he had helped plant had intertwined with my soul. It was something he could offer a remedy to. Though we spoke less and less as I grew older, moved away, and started a family, a glimpse of me could tell him what I needed. I miss that man every time I get on the water.

The other was a joker. PaPa, in any situation, was the court jester. My six year old has all of his spunk and fire so I am constantly reminded of him especially since his passing about a year ago. The first question we always asked each other was about the fishing report. This was a man who had pulled my leg hair with needle nose pliers, told girls I brought to the fishing hole I said they were ugly, and could find a sore spot to tease a rhino. I always had fun when I was around him. He made fishing fun. He always liked to compete too. When I was in high school and even into college I would spend spring break with him fishing at area lakes and keeping score the whole time. I can't count how many times we went fishing but it's a lot and not enough at the same time. When Papa Jim passed it was Papa that I hugged the longest. I sobbed so much I must have soaked through the shoulder of his suit. Unfortunately I had no grandfather left to comfort me when Papa passed last January. The torch had been passed to my Dad.

I see my Dad doing the same things with my son as my grandfathers did with me. I hope they come to feel this strongly for him. I am almost sure of it. Fishing, camping or even just spending time in nature with the grandfathers in your life should be a cherished time. It eventually ends and the torch may some day be passed on to you.

Fishful Thinking

With the weather acting schizophrenically, I've used the cold days to do a lot of reorganizing, rigging and prep for the upcoming tournament season. I'll only fish a handful of events but I want to at least make it worth the time and effort. Trying to figure out, by reading maps, old notes and revisiting way points has me trying to "guess" where the fish will be.

It actually reminds me of a book I enjoy reading every couple of years, Think Like a Fish: The Lure and Lore of America's Legendary Bass Fisherman by Tom Mann and Tom Carter. In it Mann talks about war, sports and fishing. This is at least two of the three if not all three, symbolically of course.

“In war, men are taught to think like their enemy. In sport, contestants should think like their opponents. Fishing is the only sport where the opponent, or prey, is usually invisible. If you can't think like him, you won't outsmart him. If you catch him without thinking, you're not skilled, you're simply lucky. Luck isn't as much fun, or as fulfilling, as strategy-born thinking.”

I’ll have my work cut out for me but it is all a part of it. I am trying to think like a fish.

If conditions are X, where would I be, what would I be looking for? Am I lethargic or am I feeding up? Am I looking for a bed or am I just storing up after the winter?

The voices of fish that have no voice or inner thought are filling my dreams both day and night. It is setting up to be a maddening couple of weeks. I have reorganized my tackle twice, respooled all of my reels, selected the six rods I’ll take, the baits they will fling and even what accessories I’ll be taking along.

Tournament fishing to me is like a fine scotch. Taken in small doses it is able to be enjoyed and my presence to others is, I would like to think, equally enjoyable. Largely consumed, no one wants to be near me or my warped verbal ramblings.

I will do my best to remain refined over the season. If you see me talking to my self and flailing wildly in the air however, best to just leave me be. It’ll go away sometime.

Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

Life teaches some hard lessons. The sooner we can learn and apply these lessons, the better our lives will be. At least that is what I am teaching my kids.

This weekend my son learned a very hard lesson. Not everyone gets a trophy.

He is 10 and has poured the last six months of his life into competing in a robotics league. He and his other four teammates, all the same age, competed against kids 9-15 years old. In the first regional competition a few months ago they swept the competition, beating out middle schoolers and teams that had been together multiple years in his team’s first year of eligibility. The win gave them great pride, lots of awards and a berth to the State Championship.

At the state competition, things didn’t come so easily. Many of these kids came from science academies, private schools or were just more experienced. His team performed admirably and finished seventh out of 56.

During the awards ceremony, some judge’s choice awards were given out to several teams for doing this or that. His team didn’t receive such an award. No trophy, no certificate. They received the exact same thing as the last place team.

It has been a hard pill for him to swallow. He is struggling with the why, the subjectivity in judging, and the lack of respect. He feels slighted.

I’ve tried to guide his thought process as best I can. I’ve lived his disappointment many times in my life. The most important question I asked him was one I often ask myself.

“If you knew for certain that all of your hard work would result in no awards, no recognition, no scholarships and no trophy, would you still do it?”

Therein lies how I define passion. What do you do for the joy of doing, not the joy of reward?

As a kayak angler, do you fish in tournaments for the hope of gainful returns or for the true joy of competing? Are all of your attempts to educate newcomers to the sport laced with product advertisements so you can check the boxes on an agreement or can you recommend the right thing for a person rather than just your thing? Do we offer to help rig out a new guy’s kayak since we’ve done it before and he has boat hole anxiety? And if we do, are we expecting payment?

Passion is knowing not everyone gets a trophy and doing it anyway. Passion is putting forth your best effort and letting the chips fall where they may. Passion is not regretting time spent growing something for the greater good.

Kayak fishing has a lot of passionate anglers. I hope that fire burns long and hot into the future. May the new guys see the passion over commercialism, understand that hard work from the community makes us better and sometimes, you will come up short of your goals.

A job well done is a pretty good trophy. 

LED Lights: 5050 vs 3528

Thinking about some LED lights for that kayak? Maybe even the deck, the power boat or the dock? It is important you know that not all LED lights are the same

Most of the LED lights that are sold to fishermen and even kayak fishermen are either a type 3528 or 5050. These numbers derive from the size of the chip used to run the lights. 3528 lights have a chip that is 3.5mm X 2.8mm. A 5050 is 5.0mm X 5.0mm. See where the name came from? 

As you have probably guessed by now, a 5050 is brighter in almost all scenarios when compared to a 3528. A big part of this is because the 5050 has three LED chips in one housing as compared to the one chip per housing of the 3528. 

5050 chip
3528 chip
Because of the size of the chip in a 5050, the number of LEDs per foot could be less than a 3528 but rarely is. Most companies sell 20" strips that have 30 LEDs regardless of the chip. 

Another thing to consider is the wire that is attached to the LED strips and the extra wire that may come with it. Is it marine grade? Are the connections heat shrink sealed? Is it tiny little 28 gauge wire? 22? 16? Remember the lower the number the thicker and usually more durable it is. A marine grade 20 gauge wire will outperform a non-marine grade 20 gauge wire in water applications. It may outlast a non-marine 18 or 16 too. 

LED lights typically go one of two places: inside the boat or outside the boat.

Marine grade wire on the left
The outside lights are the ones you should think about when you ponder wear and tear. How is the casing built? What adhesive is used? Is it filled with silicone, resin, nothing or is it open air? How are the ends capped? The better made case will be the one you want. 

I ordered a couple of different strips from two different companies to do a comparison. I took the best pictures I could so you could see what I am seeing during testing. Both are blue lights. One is a 5050 and the other is a 3528. Both are offered to kayak fishermen as solutions. Others exist, these were just two I had heard of and wanted to do a side by side. Some companies don't tell you which chip size you are ordering so make sure you ask!

I have used a set of 3528s on a Cobra Navigator I used to own. I bought what I thought I could afford which was about $50. Only 5 of the 6 worked out of the box. Within two months I had busted the casing on two more. They were not the greatest but they worked. I just wished they had worked longer. But for $50, what can you expect?

I recently was fishing with a friend who had installed some 5050 lights. He flipped the switch to turn them on and it was blinding. They definitely outshined the lights I had bought. In my comparisons, it wasn't hard to tell which was brighter. 

Some final thoughts. 

Do the 5050 light cost more? Yes, they do. Are they better lights? Yes and then say it one more time for emphasis.YES! 

When you start looking for LEDs, stop looking at price first and look at components first. After you are comparing apples to apples, then look at price. 

Can I recommend a place to buy 5050 lights? I sure can. The ones I saw and then tested are actually made and sold by a guy here in Texas. He is a fellow kayaker and sponsors several kayak events every year. 

For my recommendation on getting the best lights with the best components and the ones that I tested here, visit with Dez Davis of Austin, TX. To check out his full lineup of LEDs for all applications both on water and off, go to

In addition to using all of the components listed above, SuperNova LEDs use a fully enclosed plastic jacket that's injected with resin and an adhesive lined heatshrink as well.

Dez knows his stuff and can help you with whatever you need including custom lights. 

The kit I am using now is the Extreme Kayak Kit

  • 2- 28LED Light Strips, 20"
  • 2- 13LED Light Strips, 10"
  • 4- 4LED Light Strips, 4"
  • 3M Adhesion Promoter
  • 2 Switches and Waterproofing Boots
  • 8 Pieces Heat Shrink
  • 6 Wire Management Pads
  • 10 Tie Wraps
  • 5amp Fuse
  • 6' Extra 22AWG Wire
  • 1 In-line Fuse Holder

The SuperNova Kayak Kit includes 8 strips of lights for the front, rear and cabin of your kayak, which ensures ample visability of all structures at casting distance and the cabin lights give adequate worklight, and can be switched off and on as needed.
See what's out there and most important, be seen by others on the water." from SuperNova.
Hopefully these insights will help you make the right choice for you. Informed buying is smart buying, wherever you decide to buy. 

Time to get on that night bite!

Choosing a Camera for CPR Tourneys

If you fish in kayak tournaments, Catch, Photo and Release (CPR) is not a new concept. It’s also not such an easy task. The taking of the picture can often be the hardest part of the day. Choosing the right camera can help ease that burden.

Some tournaments allow cell phone pictures but you have to provide a cable, have to have battery left over after eight hours on the water (who gets that?) and it has to be high enough quality. When $1,000 or more is on the line, I don’t want to risk it.

The things I like in a camera are simple but often not thought about. Look them over and see what you might be missing.

Night Portrait Mode

Probably the most often overlooked, night portrait mode is made for shooting close shots when it’s dark. Have you ever caught a fish before first light or during a night tournament only to have the picture be whited out or too dark to qualify? Night Portrait mode will fix that. Giving just enough light to show the fish and the board, it controls the light emitted from the flash and gets the picture you need.

LCD Screen

I like a two inch or bigger screen on the back of the camera. This allows me to see the pictures well and quickly without a ton of zooming so I can verify if the shot is good or I need a retake. It also serves as a big viewfinder for lining up the shot.

Wide Lens

A wider lens means an easier time getting the whole fish in the frame and less having to raise the camera way above your head and get a shot. Look for something in the 20-22mm lens rather than the traditional 28mm.

Burst Mode

Fish move. You need a good picture. A fast shutter and capturing 6 pictures per second will help get a clear shot of a moving target.

SD Card

Most computers are equipped to take an SD card. Find a camera that is too. Worst case scenario you can get a MicroSD card and an adapter. The last thing you want to do is carry a bunch of cables and disks around with you so you can weigh in. Ease your mind and get a camera that uses SD.

Battery Type

This one is often overlooked and can work either way but needs to be planned for. Cameras that take AA or AAA batteries will burn through them fairly quickly, especially if you are using the LCD screen. Carry spare batteries with you at all times.
The other option is a camera that uses Lithium Ion batteries. These will run a lot longer than AA but often spares are very expensive. If you make a pre-tourney checklist and charge your camera the night before, you’ll be good. Just make sure you charge it. You will almost always catch that kicker fish right after the battery runs out.

Waterproof, Resistant or Dry Pack

You can buy cameras that can get a little wet or even some that you can submerge but you will pay more. A more price friendly option is to put your camera in a clear dry pack. If you do this option, make sure to take a few test photos to check quality before tourney day.

Pro Tip: Add Flotation
Add some form of flotation to the camera. Fish flop, cameras drop. Don’t lose your win because of it.

I don’t sell cameras but have owned quite a few. These are some cameras that have performed well for me or someone I know spread across some different price ranges. Also, don’t forget to check clearance aisles, EBAY, and pawn shops for even better pricing.

Under $100

Sony - DSC-W800

Manufacturer's Statement: This incredibly easy-to-use camera slips right in your pocket, ready to capture a memory at a moment's notice. Get close to faraway subjects with 5x optical zoom, then snap gorgeous 20.1MP photos or record beautifully detailed HD video. Your pictures will come out crisp and clear thanks to the professional-grade Sony lens with Optical SteadyShot™ image stabilization. For even more fun, enhance your stills and video with built-in creative effects like Toy Camera and Pop Color. Or try Beauty Effects to adjust skin tones, remove blemishes and even whiten teeth-it's perfect for portraits.

Under $150

Canon PowerShot ELPH150 IS
Manufacturer's Statement: Some events are just too important to trust to the image quality of a smartphone camera. For those times, slip the ultra-slim, brilliantly stylish PowerShot ELPH 150 IS camera in your pocket. With the 10x Optical Zoom, you can reach right into the action to frame a shot just the way you want it, without blur or loss of resolution. The camera's 20.0 Megapixel sensor captures even the smallest details with superb clarity, naturally vivid color and beautiful luminosity. When you enlarge and print frame-worthy moments from weddings, important celebrations, vacations and more, the result is truly impressive: images that not only preserve your memories, but render them with all the lifelike, emotive nuance of great photography. For all its sophisticated imaging capabilities, the PowerShot ELPH 150 IS camera is extremely easy to use. Smart AUTO ensures you'll always get the best shot by automatically selecting the perfect camera settings for 32 shooting situations, so you can focus on capturing the moment. And Intelligent IS keeps photos and videos clear and steady, controlling camera shake even at the long end of the zoom.

Under $200

Olympus Stylus Tough TG-850 16.0 MP Digital camera - Silver

Manufacturer's Statement: Outdoor adventures spice up the lives, and the TG-850 is the perfect camera for preserving the memories. A super-wide lens takes in more of the beauty. A sophisticated sensor/image processor combo ensures vivid image quality. And features like a 180 degree flip LCD, time interval shooting and pro-quality video make the TG-850 as refined as it is rugged. Whether you're heading to the ends of the earth or just the end of the hiking trail, the TG-850 is up for the journey. Water doesn't affect it. Falling out of your pocket won't faze it. Cold? No problem. You know how sometimes you can't decide whether to bring your camera? With the TG-850, you don't have to think twice.

Under $300

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5

Manufacturer's Statement: The rugged, waterproof and WiFi-enabled LUMIX TS5 compact adventure camera delivers go-anywhere flexibility with state-of-the-art imaging performance. Unwire your creativity with WiFi technology that allows you to share your pictures instantly from your smartphone. The LUMIX TS5 is the ultimate tough camera, so no matter where you find yourself... diving with sea life, hanging from a mountain, or exploring the winding alleys of a foreign market... you will take the best shot possible without worrying about your camera. Waterproof to 43 feet, shockproof from 6.5 feet, freezeproof from 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and pressure resistant to 220 lbs, the LUMIX TS5 really is the tough-man of the compact camera market.

Peer Pressure Kayak Purchases

Please stop.
Take a deep breath.
Count down from 10.

I'm going to save you some possible headache if you'll take 5 minutes and read this. I hope you take this advice to heart because I sure didn't. I've bone headed this scenario twice and finally learned my lesson. I'll try to save you the same trouble.

Here is how it starts:

Talking heads (yes me included), start telling you about all these cool new kayaks that are coming out. We show you fancy pictures. Then maybe you find a walk through video. "Man, that's a cool yak." You see some pretty cool features you like. "I might buy one of these!," you think while you try to figure out when the next lump sum of cash is coming in. Tax return? Christmas cash? Returning all the crappy gifts you got for your birthday and the three extra blenders from your wedding gifts.

Then you go look at the fishing forums. I wonder what the kayak guys think of this boat? So maybe you ask the question but you ask it too vaguely. Typing in "What do you think about a Great Fork Spearyak 13?" is too vague. What do you want to do in the kayak? What limitations do you have? I could go through a big long checklist here but I have already created it. Check it out:

Think about these questions and think about the answers specifically to the kayak you think is so cool. Does it fulfill my wants list? If so, it could be great. If not, better keep looking.

At this point you may be too deep in the hype and advertising to even listen. I know I was. I had decided that even though it wasn't everything I wanted and it might not deliver, I was going to buy Boat X. So I did. I bought into all the pomp and circumstance surrounding it. While it is a very good kayak for some people, for me it was awful. I hated it. It didn't do what I wanted it to do, I felt some of the things talked about were oversold, and the hype sucked me in. I was more attracted to a brand name than the function. 

What could have avoided all of this headache? A demo. 

I should have paddled the kayak first. That would have told me everything I needed to know but I didn't. I was anxious, in a hurry and didn't want the deal to get away. Whoops.

People who own a certain brand will inherently recommend the kayak they paddle (or pedal). It says they really enjoy the kayak they have and it fits what they want to do. A little quieter are the people who don't really like what they are in but made a HUGE ordeal when they bought Boat X so now they are a bit bashful. Somewhere in that mix are people who are looking for something else but don't want to say anything because they so highly recommended a different boat. 

The plain truth is, sometimes when you think you know what you want, and then you go paddle it, you change your mind. The time to change your mind is BEFORE money changes hands. Getting recommendations will be easy but it will be diverse. If you are going to ask questions on a public forum, make them as specific as possible. 

"How does the Spearyak 13 handle in wind on large open water?"

That is a direct and specific question. 

Additionally, make sure the person giving you the advice/opinion has actually paddled the kayak you are talking about. I've had a couple of dozen people ask me about the Predator from Old Town. I have looked one over and only paddled it once. I make sure they know that.

If at all possible, please demo a kayak before you buy. If you need to find someone who might can help with that, message me on Facebook. I'll try to do my best to find you a shop or person within an hour or so that has that kayak. If nothing else, I can find you someone to talk to about it. 

Be smarter than I was and be happier in your kayak. Don't peer pressure kayak purchase. 

Pro Staff Casualties in an Imaginary War

This is a story based in fact but for these purposes is fictionalized. I’ll have some advice after story time.

Battle lines have been drawn. A command has been handed down. I have to comply or be banished. It’s not military combat though. It’s not just a bad dream either. This is the life of a pro staffer caught in a bad enlistment in an imaginary war. How the hell did I get here?

Flashback Six Months

A new company has seen my hard work. I've been blogging, making videos, fishing in tournaments and several of the companies I buy products from have reached out to ask me if I‘d be interested in being on their fishing team. I grew up watching my fishing heroes have strong affiliations. This is kind of like that. Right? Sure. Close enough. I accept. Now this new company is asking too. I tell Misty Kayaks that I am also working with Brand 12, Company 14 and JumpUp Lures. I ask if that’s a problem and they say no. Some of them sent me a document that lists some expectations. Some didn't. Whatever. I just want to fish.

Three months into it things are going well. I've shown lots of people my gear I bought at Company 14. I’ve also helped quite a few people discover JumpUp Lures and Brand 12.  Lots of people are buying Misty Kayaks that I’ve recommended.  I’m getting phone calls, emails, messages, comments and tons of inquiries about the blogs and videos I’ve been working on. Life is good.

Back to Present Day

Misty Kayaks has a problem. No one is really sure where it came from (or at least fessing up to it) but it has lead to a demand. Anyone associated with Misty Kayaks must terminate any existing relationships with Company 14. Company 14 sells kayaks but not Misty Kayaks. They don’t make kayaks like Misty but this is somehow a problem. You have friends at both places but this decision has to be made. And quickly.

Regardless of my ability to discern what company can best serve the customer, regardless of my tireless work to help both companies, one of them is demanding a decision be made. One of them is happy for me to be me and promote the sport so many love.

I’m beginning to understand why so many people have given up on company affiliations. These imaginary wars that one company wages while the other is content with being inclusive rather than exclusive is mind numbing and universally cyclical. I can hear the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” blaring even though the stereo isn’t even on. Maybe I’ll just quit it all.

How Can You Avoid This?

Stay Unaffiliated

That works for some people but others like the affiliations, love to promote products they are passionate about and don’t miss an opportunity to tell folks about a product or company doing a good job.

Have Very Clear Conversations and Get it In Writing

Your agreement is only good in court if it’s in writing. With signatures. Gentlemen’s agreements are only good as long as both parties keep the original agreement. And both remain gentlemen. Sometimes that doesn’t work out. When conditions change, you might be put in a bad situation. Be prepared.

Analyze the ROI

Return On Investment is something lots of pro staffers fail to calculate. Think about the time you are investing in blogs, videos, boat shows, speaking and tournaments. Think about the money you spend traveling, eating out and preparing for activities that you are not reimbursed for. Add all that up. Now look at your discount that has been realized. (If you bought $100 worth of stuff for $75, your realized discount is $25).If your expenses are greater than your realized discount, your ROI is negative. That means you are losing money to do all this work. For some folks that’s ok because they are that passionate. The only other way to offset negative ROI is by adding additional income from the company. Even then, it will rarely offset the expenses. Still worth it?

More Than Money Benefits

Some companies can offer something other than money or discounts. They can offer you exposure, a platform and mentoring. To really make a name for yourself you have to treat your name as a brand. You have to grow it the right way, you have to be your biggest critic and biggest advocate at the same time. Having a mentor and a developed, proven platform to work from to build you is important. Ask any company you deal with if they offer any such opportunities.

Interview Potential Suitors

You have a lot to offer. Don’t give it away for free. Get what you feel is a fair return for your work. Ask them lots of questions and ask suitors to be specific and then expect it in writing. Ask what the availability to work on projects you are passionate about is. Ask about any conflict of interest companies. Ask what the possibility of advancement is.

Have an Exit Strategy

If everything goes south, make sure you can walk away. Don’t dump hours investing in a company’s success without developing YOUR brand. Everyone has a brand, most just call it character and reputation. When you look back, is your name yours or are you so entrenched people don’t know the real you. If a company asks you to change who you are yet offers nothing for the change, walk away. Scratch that. Run.

Business is Business.

Real friends understand choices have to be made and no one situation fits everyone. Real friends also care more about you than your affiliations. Several of my good fishing friends rep for different companies. It doesn’t matter. It’s about the sport and we each make our own path. Business is business. Real friends understand the choices.

Final Thoughts

Companies that put tight restrictions on their team are not interested in you growing as much as they are in growing themselves. Find a company that is interested in you the person, the whole package and not just your promotional abilities. Sometimes circumstances change, a company starts a one sided, imaginary war that most people are unaware is even happening and there is fall out. It’s unfortunate but it happens. In those times, you need to have a clear picture of what you want, what your plans are and the best path to get there. Blaze your trail. Some companies will walk with you but none will do it for you. Find a partner, not a boss.

My Love-Hate-Love Relationship with Braid

A little over six years ago I was introduced to using braid on spinning reels by Gary Yamamoto. He explained it to me, talked about tying a flouro leader and proceeded to catch a lot of fish with it. I picked his brain a while and decided I needed to make the switch from mono to braid on my spinning rigs.

I loaded up my reels with some 50 pound braid that was on sale and went to the lake. It was a pretty good trip and I gained some confidence that fish weren't as afraid of braid as I thought. After years of being told I needed invisible line I was learning there was more to it than that. I could have both with a leader. I also quickly learned that a leader really only made a difference in clear water.

The first few trips went well and then it got windy. My first experience with wind knots was a bad one. I managed to foul up that cheap braid on two reels. I cursed the whole way home and got out my knife as soon as I took the reels out of the truck. I cut that braid off with a vengeance and swore to never go back.

Fast forward to Spring of 2014.

I had the opportunity to fish a 35 acre lake in Central Texas. I was told most of the fish were small but they would be plentiful. Looking to knock off some winter rust, I took my spinning reels, loaded with mono, as they had been for years to enjoy some quantity fishing. As always happens when I underestimate, I found a wolfpack of fat, hungry female bass and watched four in a row go airborne, bury deep in some grass and break me off. I was toast. Pissed off, disappointed and tired I loaded back up and drove home.

That night I talked with some friends and they recommended braid. The water I fish is mainly clear so I needed to cast for distance and use a leader. That combination meant spinning reels loaded with braid. That evil devil had crept back into my life. I shared my story with them and they laughed. Apparently the brand of discount braid I had used was awful for knots, casting and the like. I buckled down, bought some Power Pro Super 8 Slick and took another bit of advice. I downsized to 10 pound braid, I thought they were crazy but hey, I've already gone back to braid so why not downsize and see if it works? I still had a knife if I needed it.

A couple of weeks later I got my revenge on those fish at the 35 acre lake. Six years later, the wisdom I was given still holds up, as long as I don't go cheap and make sure my gear meets up with the quality of fish and quantity of fish I'm chasing.