Hailing from Apollo Beach, Florida, Bill “Heywood” Howard is a talented writer and photographer known for producing striking imagery and thoughtful prose. A member of the Malibu Kayaks Pro Staff, Bill is an active representative of the sport, and can often be found fishing in tournaments, organizing demo days, and hosting seminars devoted to safety and flats fishing. Bill also serves as Vice President of the Tampa Bay chapter of Heroes on the Water.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
Honestly, it was shortly after my father died. We had bought a boat together and I was forced to sell it. I just didn’t feel much like being on the water, much less fish. I met a couple of guys at my local park (who later became good friends) and they had kayaks. I thought it looked very challenging, so I went out and bought a cheap kayak from one of the sporting goods stores. I was hooked. I believe that was back in 2004.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
I sure do, a slot sized redfish that I sight casted cruising a mangrove shoreline.
You once paddled an impressive 129 mile circumnavigation of Tampa Bay. The trip took you 17 days, and was a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. Tell us a bit about this journey, and how it was that you came to be involved in the project.
I had just finished watching a documentary about Ewan McGregor (British actor, Obie Wan of the newer Star Wars movies fame) and his best friend taking a motorcycle trip from London to New York, west to east across Europe, Russia and Mongolia. It captivated me. I thought what could I do? Then it hit me. Kayak around Tampa Bay. I told a couple of my friends that I was just going to do it, the idea to raise some money came up and I decided on the American Heart Association. I contacted the folks at Wilderness and they donated a fully rigged Tarpon 160, which I raffled off and the end of the trip. At times I looked out on that body of water and thought “What the heck did I get myself in too?” I took a lot longer than I wanted, although it was 17 days, it took several months to complete. Weather, problems with my eyes that side lined me for several weeks, and just life in general delayed it. Although it was hard, I was kind of let down at the end. I realized it was over; there were no more challenges. It also didn’t seem hard enough. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but I wanted it to be harder. Maybe the next one will be.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
Anything by the Black Crowes or Led Zeppelin, a glass of sweet tea and a granola bar.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
That’s a hard one. I don’t really keep up with the “Politics of Paddling.” I do admire what Jim Dolan, with Heroes on the Water, has done for the sport. He has shown what the healing powers of kayak fishing can do. I know firsthand. I was in a bad place mentally and emotionally when I started. I can honestly say it probably saved my life. That’s why I am so committed to making our chapter of HOW here in Tampa Bay work.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them.
Here in Tampa Bay we deal with issues of sea grass preservation. We have too many folks in a confined area. We also have a lack of action in dealing with it. In meetings to develop plans to protect our resources, it turns into shouting matches between those that cry that we are restricting them from making a living, to those that want to close down vast areas to everyone. Seems common sense is left at the door. It’s very frustrating.
You are known as an avid and talented photographer, and have had your work featured in a variety of angling-related publications. What advice would you give to anglers wanting to better their fish-focused photographic technique and approach?
Shoot lots of pictures. And I mean A LOT of pictures. The only way to get better is to shoot a lot and fish less. You can’t do both. You have to commit to one or the other. Have an idea of what you want to shoot and how you want to do it. Also, don’t rely on editing software to doctor your pictures. I like for others to see my pictures the way I saw them, not the way they could look.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
I would like to take a road trip with my close friends across the country. Or take a trip to Christmas Island. We talked with one of the guys that has started guided trips out of Hawaii to the island. Having been to Wake Island over a dozen times in the 80’s, I think it would be an awesome place to fish.
What’s in your milk crate?
I don’t carry much. A small tackle tray, a couple of bags of soft plastics, and my camera.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
My best day on the water? I’ve had so many, but one that stands out was just the other day. I took a vet out who had lost the use of his legs in a helicopter crash. I made a comment about the lack of fish and he reminded me that “Every day is a good day.” We then proceeded to catch trout after trout. The look on his face was priceless. I tend to take a day on the water or a little trout for granted. Never again.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
Living, breathing kayak fishing. It’s on my mind 24/7.
Tell us a story, any story.
My wife suffered a massive heart attack nearly two years ago. I was home when it happened, and I ended up giving her CPR for nearly ten minutes. She was in a drug induced coma for three days and made a full recovery. I went to thank the paramedics and they told me “It wasn’t us, you saved her life.” I always felt I was supposed to do something great with my life, but I never thought it would be saving a life. I like to think it changed me. I was always known as a bit of a cynical person. Others called me a grouch. I had no problem telling you what was on my mind. That all changed that night in October. At least I like to think it has.
Blade, the Australian kayak angling journal, is widely regarded as one of the finest media outlets to be associated with our sport. You were selected to write for the journal, and have had your work published therein. Tell us about the experience, and what it was like to hear of your selection.
The experience has been awesome. I never dreamed that anyone would have any interest in what I have to say, much less published in an international publication. I thought it would be “one and done,” but they asked me to be a full time contributor. I was stoked. I really get a kick how the editor will take my pictures and manipulate them in the article. It’s like seeing my photos through someone else eyes.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m not sure. I would like to think I could continue my involvement with HOW, Malibu, and my other sponsors. At some point I think I will walk away from it and just fish with no pressures of deadlines, needing to get pictures for a report or product review. It seems there is so much competition here in the bay area to outdo one another; I miss the days were I could just go fishing with no worries.