Allen Bushnell is a man of many titles – guide, writer, tournament organizer, editor – but he is best described by the moniker of ambassador. A passionate promoter of the sport, Allen can often be found leading kayak angling workshops and seminars at retail locations and sportsman’s expos. As a member of 2007′s expedition to Prince William Sound, Allen is widely known as one of the anglers landing 450 pound salmon sharks from a kayak. When not leading clients on far flung kayak angling adventures or editing Kayak Fishing Magazine, Allen can be found studying jazz guitar, engaging in the painting of seascapes, or trolling for dinner in the local waters of Santa Cruz.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
I guess it was ’98 or ’99. I surfed my whole life, and loved ocean fishing, as well. Waiting between sets, I remember thinking I could probably catch dinner on the other side of those kelp beds. Fishing off the surfboard was too uncomfortable, though.
I looked at the kayaks stacked at my daughter’s swim lesson pool, and figured they would be perfect.
Then, my wife got a job at the Kayak Connection here in Santa Cruz, and I jumped on the employee deal to buy a Scupper Pro TW. I thought I had invented kayak fishing, but found out later a bunch of guys were onto the idea down south already.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
No, but I remember the first halibut. Just outside the mile buoy. I called my buddy, Blade, with my zip-locked cell phone, said “Listen.”
He says “where are you? That sounds like a whistle buoy.”
“Yeah and I have a flatty on my lap!”
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
I don’t eat before go-outs. The only CD in my pickup truck is “The Lively Ones,” vintage surf music…
As the author of the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s weekly fishing report, you employ a writing style that is both conversational and deeply investigative. Featuring interviews, highlights, and old fashioned data, you both entertain and inform. Walk us through the creative processes that go into the crafting of your articles.
Hey thanks! Haha. I just pay attention all week and talk to people, collect reports. On Thursdays, I’ll make my final calls and start typing up the report. The weekly report is mostly local stuff, but occasionally I cover more far-flung fishing. I started writing the Sentinel Fish Report in 2003. I had just started working with Mike Baxter on The Let’s Go Fishing Radio Show. Salmon season just opened, and no fish report in the paper. I talked to the sports editor and he let me submit a report.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
There are so many, across the country and around the world. One of the quirks about kayak fishing is how it attracts or perhaps creates an extreme passion within the angler. Think about the people you know in your area who are just getting into it, and then think of those who’ve been involved for 4-5-10 years. The old-timers are just as stoked as the newbies, if not more so. It’s like surfing that way – stoking. Kayak fishing has a tendency to make you want more and more. Unlike surfing or power-boat fishing, the kayak fishing community, as a whole, is welcoming and more likely to share their info, experience, and fun.
What I hope to see happening in the future is an increase in destination kayak fishing tours. I love fishing locally, but extended trips at exotic locations are my idea of real adventure. My compadres Howard McKim, Allen Sansano, Chris Mautino and Boogie-D (David Elgas) come to mind as inspirational adventurers and companions.
As part of a 2007 expedition to Prince William Sound, you were one of four individuals to land a salmon shark from a kayak. Describe to us the feelings associated with having a 450 or so pound animal attached to your line.
Exhilarating, frightening,stupendous, surreal. Before the trip I (incidentally) had major a medical check up. If it wasn’t for that doctor’s report I would have been convinced I was having a heart attack, and this was before I even hooked up! Once I got the fish on, I settled down, but it was the longest, hardest fight of my career. There were a few times during the fight that I was not sure if I’d prevail or not. I just rested then had at it, and eventually the fish was done. It’s the only fish I’ve ever felt that had the potential of flipping the kayak on me. Good times!
Valdez is pretty far north, and the weird grey twilight, gray clouds, huge black cliffs, grey sheeny water with sharks jumping everywhere, combined with the sleep deprivation from a grueling long trip made for the surreal aspects. Like an out of body experience, or being a Hobbit in Mordor or something.
The best part was when we were done. Just looking at the giant shark, it was unbelievable I had actually caught it. And, as we were motoring back towards Valdez, I quipped “From now on when someone asks you what’s the biggest fish you ever caught on your kayak, you can look at them and say ‘A 450-pound salmon shark.’”
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
Well, first off, protecting the fisheries. Both against the looters, pillagers, poachers, and polluters as well as from the small-minded political bureaucrats addicted to power and control. The whole MLPA process in California has been a nightmare of cronyism and big-money eco-celebs imposing their misguided will upon recreational and commercial fishermen. As a community I think we’ve learned a lot about how to be more effective politically over the past five years. I think most of us have some commitment towards holding a stance against this “extra-governmental” power and control grab.
Luckily, due to the community based nature of kayak fishing, we’re often able to muster solidarity and immediate response as situations crop up. I’d like to see more of us become directly involved in the fight, because it’s not over yet. Probably will never be over. We have to imprint the idea that no one cares more about fish than fishermen. I always say “I’d like my kids to be able to fish, but I’d like my kids to be ABLE to fish.” This means keep the rules reasonable, AND do whatever we can that is scientifically justified, to protect and enhance the native fisheries.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
I would like to fish New Zealand for about three months. Salmon in the South, Trout in the rivers, Yellowtails and Tuna to the North. With a couple cool locals, and a few key best fishing buddies. Oh, also a mothership, and a couple 4WD’s. That would be heaven.
What’s in your milk crate?
My milkcrate is a Sparklette’s water crate. Skinny to fit in my original Scupper Pro. It had PVC tubes for rodholders, and I’d bungie it down in the tankwell. I don’t use it much anymore, but it’s ready when I need it.
One thing I learned from Howard McKim is the benefits of minimizing gear and tackle. The first time I fished in Ketchikan, he sent me out alone with a little Plano box that had three banana weights and three leaders. I caught nine rockfish, a silver salmon, and a Pacific halibut in about two hours, using salted herring on just one of those mooching rigs. As a guide, I need to carry back-up rods, and extra tackle, but I’ve learned to focus in on one or two types of rigs or lures for that day’s fishing. That cuts down the confusion and helps keep the decks clean.
I always wear my PFD, and carry my radio. I use the GPS and carry at least one compass as well.
I always carry my respect for the ocean, its majesty, power, and potential dangers.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
This is a hard question. Every day on the water is a good one. I guess I’d have to say the last day of my first LaPaz trip. Yo-yoing for Yellowtail off Isla Balena in the Sea of Cortez. I hadn’t ever caught a Yellowtail before, and Allen Sansano called from the mothership “Ten more minutes we gotta go!” That’s when I got bit. My first Yellowtail on the last drop of a seven-day trip.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
For me, I guess it’s about “being ready to go.” No launch fees, no gas tanks, no dependence on anyone or anything else. I can carry all I need in the back of the truck, and be fishing for big fish within a 1/2 hour of my front door.
It’s also way more of an intimate relation with the water than fishing from the beach or fishing from a boat. You are not just on the water, you’re in the water. The physical part of it is major as well. Good exercise, endorphins, feeling good, and staying strong. The kayak angler gets a crash course in fishing nuance. Currents, wind, waves, swell all are so much more critical for the kayak angler. We have to work with the water, something that many power boat anglers never get.
Tell us a story, any story.
I met Nikki fishing out in front of the Santa Cruz Harbor a couple years ago. I had been looking for a flatty all morning. I caught a bunch of rockfish and one ling cod before I got my halibut and started heading in. She was out with her husband on their brand-new Hobies. They are both Harbor Police Officers, and just got off the night shift. Both boats had rods, but only Nikki was fishing. Hubby was snoozing over by the kelp. Because I had an 18-pound halibut we decided to prank the husband, and we loaded all my other fish into Nikki’s tankwell. I paddled away and she went over and woke her husband up. Look what I caught while you were sleeping!”
Though you have guided clients in exotic locales, took first place in derbies, and appeared in various forms of fishing-related media, some of your greatest joy comes from introducing new anglers to the sport. Tell us why your role of ambassador is important to you.
How much do YOU like kayak fishing? I just figure each newbie is going to love it like you do, or like I do. I have the honor of getting them to the spot, and helping with their first fish. then getting them back in safely. Hopefully transferring enough knowledge they can go out and do it again tomorrow on their own. How cool is that?
What does the future hold for you?
I’ll continue to guide and destination fish whenever I can. I have a couple journalistic duties and a weekly fishing radio show, so I’ll keep growing in that area as well. Being a good husband and father tops the list, and learning to be a better fisherman is up near the top, too.