“When I started kayak fishing in 1998, anglers had two choices,” starts Paul Lebowitz’s Roots column. My how things have changed. Today, kayak anglers have dozens of kayaks designed for fishing.

You can flip through the Kayak Angler Buyer’s Guide and find boats costing a couple hundred bucks to a couple thousand. You’ll also see boats designed specifically for river, lake, pond or ocean fishing. There is a kayak for every angler and every type of water.

Is kayak fishing growing too fast?

Is bigger better? With the addition of so many variables separating us, do we risk being subject to class warfare?

We’re already falling into categories. “Pedal fishing is a different sport,” Ocean Kayak pro Kevin Whitley always reminds me. He admits pedal fishing has unique skills and challenges, but he’s comfortable putting pedal catches in a different category from paddle-powered accomplishments.

After working at Appomattox River Company for four years, Whitley reports new anglers come into the shop with a preconceived notion that paddles are for beginners and pedals are for serious anglers. I just shake my head and sigh deeply.

Now there are motor-powered kayak anglers in the mix. I was surprised Chad Hoover allowed motorized kayaks in Kayak Bass Fishing tournaments. Then he explained the move was actually designed to promote unity. He says, “You can’t nit-pick who can and can’t use a motorized kayak.” Hoover calls the decision fair. “If anyone can use a motor, then no one can poo-poo the winner.”

Division among price point

When I pull up to the launch with the latest, greatest kayak to test for this magazine, other anglers gather like moths to a flame. When I pull up to the launch with my faded, old beater boat, no one even notices. With price points ranging from box-store bargains to pimped-out super boats, there is a lot of envy at the launch ramp.

Then there’s the “pro” prefix. Rising stars on social media and the tournament scene have formed themselves an elite class. Now we have world-famous kayak anglers.

Thank goodness we’ve passed the sponsorship feeding frenzy when it seemed anyone who caught anything in a kayak was going around with his hand out. The sport has matured to a point where legit badasses are supported to push the sport forward.

We must remember what kayak fisherman have in common

You’ll find stories of five exceptional anglers in the Pro Files feature. Their leaderboard success is checked by a grassroots, down-to-earth attitude giving me hope for unity and peace.

The six-page feature covers top competitors from bass trails to billfish blowouts, but each angler said the same thing: they fish tournaments for the comradery more than the competition. And they mean it.

Sure, they have the competitive push to travel hundreds of miles, fish for days, in any conditions, invest time and money in pursuit of a bigger fish, but they really come for the party. Susie Roloff, the highest-scoring woman in KBF National Championship history, sticks with it, “because I don’t feel like people are judging me.”

Anglers will always argue the advantage of motors, pedals and paddles, but in the end we have more in common than how we propel our pursuits. Jeff Jackson’s Chaos Theory column points to one thing the disparate branches of the sport share: “First and foremost, we fish.”

Even if one guy pushes a $300 box-store boat and another whips his $4,000 micro-skiff, each is drawn by the ease of ownership, independence, simplicity, silence and sense of accomplishment only available in a little plastic boat.

First and foremost, we fish. Feature Photo: Scott Beutjer

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Ric Burnley
“Thank God my dad wasn’t a podiatrist,” jokes Ric about following in the footsteps of a famous outdoor writer. After graduating from Radford University and serving two years in Russia with the Peace Corps, Ric returned to Virginia Beach and started writing for The Fisherman magazine, where his dad was editor. When the kayak fishing scene exploded, Ric was among the first to get onboard. His 2007 book, The Complete Kayak Fisherman is one of the first tomes to introduce anglers to paddle fishing and hundreds of articles and seminars have brought countless anglers into the fold. When he’s not chasing every fish that swims, Ric teaches English at a school for at-risk teens.

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