How old is too old to start kayak fishing? If you are 50, 60 or 70, are you too old to jump in a little plastic boat and head out under your own power? Great news: Baton Rouge angler, Mike LaFleur started kayak fishing at age 60 and 20 years later he’s still going strong. We caught up with LaFleur to find out what makes him tick and get his tips for aspiring kayak anglers of any age.
Older Anglers Jump On Board
I recently had the pleasure of joining LaFleur for an afternoon chasing redfish with a fly rod. I’m not the only one who has fished with the octogenarian angler, LaFleur has dedicated himself to showing anglers the ropes, regardless of their age. While we were casting to tailing reds, LaFleur told me his story.
LaFleur grew up on the California coast and spent his youth playing in the ocean. After years of surfing and sailing, LaFleur first picked up a fishing rod at 42 years old.
For the next 35 years, LaFleur turned his attention to fly fishing. When he retired to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he spent his golden days wading the marshes and surf. One day, while fishing a roadside hole, LaFleur met his first kayak anglers. “One of the girls gave me a ride to a spot out of reach by foot,” he remembers. Pardon the pun, but LaFleur was hooked.
For his 60th birthday, LaFleur’s kids gave him a fishing kayak. “It all came together naturally,” he says. Before long, he rigged his kayak and joined other anglers to explore the southern Louisiana marshes.
Magnanimous and loquacious, LaFleur easily shares his knowledge with anyone who will listen. “People hear my stories and want to join me,” he says. Through his membership in the Red Stick Fly Fishers and Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club, he has introduced dozens of anglers to the joys of his favorite pursuit. “I don’t tell people where to go, but I teach them skills,” he says.
LaFleur is not alone.
Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Fishing
According to a 2021 report by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF), the number of new anglers over 60 grew by five percent. Stephanie Vatalro, senior vice president of marketing at RBFF, explained the increase is due to the number of baby boomers, born in the decade after World War II, reaching retirement age. “They are looking for something to do with the grandkids,” she points out.
Vatalro says once a new angler takes the bait, the challenge is keeping him or her on the line. “If you don’t have a good time, you won’t come back,” she says. For many first-time anglers, especially seniors, safety is a big concern. RBFF’s education arm, Takemefishing.org, stresses safety as a big part of introducing new anglers to the sport.
The growing legion of older anglers are hitting the paddle shop. At Austin Canoe and Kayak, general manager Carlos Andreu has seen an increase in older customers looking to get into a kayak. “They want to stay healthy and get outside without worrying about the cost and maintenance of owning a motorboat,” he says. Like LaFleur, many older anglers appreciate the independence and simplicity of kayak fishing. Andreu continues, “A lot of retirees want to join a fishing or paddling club, they’re in it for the social aspect.”
Bringing new anglers into the fold offers a perfect time for safety, skills and community group education. Which is why Mike LaFleur and his friends are so important to the future of the sport.
You, Too, Can Learn a Few New Tricks
Fishing with LaFleur taught me two lessons: I’m never too old to kayak fish and never too old to start. Experienced anglers are the key to bringing new older anglers into the sport. LaFleur is 80 years old and he’s still going strong. He says, “Up until last year I was fishing on my own.”
This article was first published in Kayak Anger Issue 45. Subscribe to Kayak Anger and get the magazine delivered to your front door. Download the Kayak Angler Magazine+ app to seamlessly glide between the digital archives, the latest articles and videos.
Elder statesmen, like Mike LaFleur, are key to growing the sport. | Feature photo: Chris Holmes