In August, 2017, Hurricane Harvey sat on Texas for days, dumping four feet of water into Tom Stubblefield’s home. The longtime owner of Texaskayakfisherman.com (TKF) lost everything, including computers filled with 18 years of records, photos and archives. It wasn’t the first time a storm knocked down Stubblefield. Or the last time he would get back up.
The TKF community would not be defeated. Stubblefield rebuilt his home and relaunched one of the first and largest kayak fishing websites and message boards. He says, “We’re trying to get back to where we were, building it back up.”
In the age of social media, establishing a message board isn’t easy. Stubblefield has seen vibrant communities wither and die as their users moved to Facebook. He insists TKF will not share this fate.
TKF was founded in 2000 when a group of Texans who used Dennis Spike’s Kayakfishing.com message board forged their own Internet home. A short time later, Stubblefield bought the site for $500.
“It was rudimentary, but we knew where we wanted to go,” Stubblefield says. The forefathers wanted to go to kayak fishing tournaments. Big time. Team TKF, comprised of Jeff Herman, Robert Harvey, Fil Spencer, Dean Thomas, Scott Null and Stubblefield, competed in Rick Roberts’ Florida-based Extreme Edge Kayak Fishing Tournaments, the first large-scale, catch-photo-release kayak fishing events.
Jeff Herman, recalls, “The rivalry between Texas and Florida guys spawned the first sponsored kayak anglers.” He credits Stubblefield and TKF for fueling the fire.
Stubblefield crows, “The Texas boys would go down there and kick butt.” The early tournament trails set the path for serious competition, providing a playing field for anglers to push the edge and promote the sport.
Team TKF was the first to develop tournament technology. Stubblefield remembers, “We used cameras without a memory card,” he laughs. “At the end of the tournament, you handed over the whole camera.” The group pioneered live updates from the water, via portable modems and long-distance calls. “There wasn’t YouTube. Technology was crude and expensive,” Stubblefield points out.
“New users still go on the site for solid information.”
When Extreme Edge ceased operations, TKF launched its own tournament series, Kayak Masters, with big plans. “We were riding Rick’s coattails,” Stubblefield says. Kayak Masters took up the torch as technology improved. He laments, “I wish we had the technology available now.” Modern tournament apps make it easier to compile tournament results and discourage cheating.
Around the time TKF was hitting the scene, Aranass Pass angler Dean Thomas opened Slowride Guide Service. “I’ve been a member since the first year,” Thomas says. As social media developed since the early days, Thomas marvels TKF has stayed the same. “New users still go on the site for solid information.”
Stubblefield says TKF and Thomas were inseparable, one helping the other. The site promoted Thomas and Thomas gave it a leader. Stubblefield admits, “It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. He’s the lynchpin,”
Before long, TKF had 13 regional chapters around Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Local clubs used the website to promote tournaments and events. TKF became a de facto hub of the sport. “They were close-knit groups. Everyone who visited became part of the brotherhood, grew the sport, grew the interest and grew the fellowship,” Stubblefield says.
Hurricane Rita struck southeast Texas in September 2005, just a month after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans. TKF went dark for a time. In its place, new websites cropped up. Stubblefield calls the experience a wake-up call. “No one knew we existed. I realized TKF wasn’t so special.”
Texas Kayak Fisherman bounced back and thrived but competing with new forms of social media was difficult. Stubblefield attributes his resilience to TKF’s members. “Social media doesn’t have a homey atmosphere,” he laughs. But admits the site’s no-nonsense focus on how-to and where-to information sets apart TKF from Facebook, Instagram and the rest. “You’re not going to find skills-building on social media.”
At 74 years old, Stubblefield thinks about retirement. “I have a bad shoulder, it’s harder to paddle.” He’s looking for new blood to take TKF to the next level. Even after he hands over the reins, Stubblefield expects to have more time for fishing. “There’s magic on the water,” he says.
Texas Kayak Fisherman founder, Tom Stubblefield, may be looking to hand over the reins. | Photo: Jeff Herman