Ric Burnley
A kayak angler holding a fish in the ocean.

When the sun lights my bedroom window, I fight off consciousness. I’m on a seven-day fishless bender. Do I really want to suffer through day eight? Then I think, “Rob Choi would go.”

Rob Choi is an Ocean Kayak pro, Kayak Angler contributor and a fishing buddy. He lives two hours from the ocean. I live only 15 minutes from the water. The sun is shining, the weather is sweet and I know Rob would go. So, I go.

When I get to the beach, the ocean is calm and clear. The surf is peeling with force but I take Jim Sammon’s advice to heart: Rig to flip. The forecast says 15 knots and three-foot swell by the afternoon. What if I get caught miles offshore when the wind kicks up? Can I paddle three miles into a head-on sea? My brother from another mother, Kevin Whitley, paddled 1,800 miles from Pensacola, Florida, to his backyard in Norfolk, Virginia. He paddled across the Chesapeake Bay in worse conditions. If he made it, I’ll make it. I launch through the shorebreak and paddle into the rising sun.

The people I fish with inspire me to fish hard and fish smart. I hear their voices in my head. Words of wisdom, acts of bravery and bouts of extreme fortune keep me rolling in the right direction. Friends, family members, heroes and role models whom I admire show me how to live.

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About noon, I’m still no-fish. I remember a lesson from Captain Rom Whitaker, one of the best fishermen on Hatteras Island. “If I haven’t done anything by noon,” he once told me, “I head offshore to explore.” So, I head offshore to explore.

Another fishing friend, Ken Neill, is one of the most awarded anglers in Virginia. He’s famous for breaking records and helping science make sense of fish. What most people don’t realize is the number of hours this weekend warrior spends on the water. He’s a great angler and he goes to the right places, but it’s the hours and hours with a bait in the water that wins the awards. I keep paddling, looking for a school of cobia or a pod of red drum on the surface.

Whether I’m fishing a quickie for reds and specks or going hard for ocean trophies, my encounters with better anglers teach me to improve my game.

I’ve been lucky to fish with some of the finest. Through the pages of Kayak Angler, I’ve met even more great anglers. Gary Elliott teaches me about interchangeable accessories. And Dustin Doskocil re- minds me that fishing is fun and funny.

Each one of these people inspire me to do better. When I see a 50-pound cobia cruising a few feet off the boat, I don’t freak out. The fish dives, but I’m not worried. I drop my bucktail like cobia master Captain Aaron Kelly showed me, and jig it once. The line comes tight and I remember the immortal words of Yogi Berra; “The game ain’t over ’til it’s over.”


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