Jim Sammons is famous for many things (first billfish in a kayak, first to fish Hannibal Bank, Panama, 10-year host of Kayak Fishing Show) but being afraid isn’t one of them. Unless you know Jim Sammons.
Fear is an emotion all kayak anglers share. Whether you brave the wild surf in search of sea monsters or jump at the sound of a turtle plopping off a log, terror is one of the draws of kayak fishing. Who would know more about fear than the man who doesn’t seem to ever be afraid?
Scared at Sea
“I don’t have a lot of fear on the water,” Sammons says. Growing up playing in the southern California surf puts most on-the-water scenarios in perspective. When your toys are two-story walls of water, what’s left to fear?
Sammons admits his scariest moment came on the Ottawa River in Canada. “In the ocean, there are breaks in the waves. There are no breaks in the river,” he laughs. Sammons recalls his first river-fishing trip. “I was held underwater in a recirculating wave and I couldn’t escape,” he shudders, admitting he underestimated the power of the river and he was wearing a borrowed life jacket. Sammons shakes his head, “I’ll never make that mistake again.” Like most experienced anglers, Sammons fears more for his less-experienced clients.
“Every time I hook a billfish, I’m scared,” he says. After catching 48 marlin, the thrill and terror of harnessing a man-sized animal wielding a pointy stick still puts Sammon’s heart in his stomach.
The only solution is preparation mixed with experience. Sammons often gets this question from fans: “Aren’t you afraid of sharks?” He has a quick answer, “I’m not afraid of the sharks in the water. I’m afraid of the sharks in my head.”
Sammons feels safe on the water, his terrors lurk on land. “I’m afraid my back and shoulders will give out,” he admits. Sammons has wrestled with injuries most of his life, At 57 years old, he’s testing the limits of his shelf life. Still, he laughs, “I’m afraid I might have to quit paddling and start pedaling!” Getting serious, he shares his greatest fear is losing his relevancy and his television show. “We’re always playing the sponsor dance,” he explains. In 2013, Sammons lost Ocean Kayak as his sponsor, but was quickly picked up by Jackson Kayak. “They saved the day,” he says. How many second chances does a show get?
Sammons laments kayak fishing hasn’t reached the mass media appeal of other outdoor sports. “We’re not as cool as surfers,” he laughs. As the sport’s culture changes, from coastal to inland, Sammons finds it harder to stay relevant. “When someone caught a marlin it would make the news,” he remembers.
Today, professional guides and big-money tournaments draw hundreds of anglers to chase billfish. “It’s not a big deal, anymore.” In a marketplace crowded with YouTubers and social media stars, Sammons relies on the quality of his work to keep him ahead of the competition. “I’ve always been proud of the content we deliver,” he says. Hard work and a high bar quells Sammon’s fear of the competition. “Do what you do and the rest will follow.”
“Only Afraid of the sharks in my head.” | Photo: Will Richardson