One of the newest additions to the Malibu Kayak Pro Staff, Jacksonville, Florida resident, Charlie Ganoe, is an accomplished tournament angler with numerous top ten finishes to his name. Charlie’s infectious passion for kayak angling as spread throughout his tree of relatives, and the family Ganoe has blossomed into a veritable tour de force within the sport. When not spreading the mission of Malibu Kayaks or tallying additional tournament victories, Charlie can often be found volunteering with Heroes On the Water.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
Being the son of a career Navy man, I have bounced from coast to coast during most of my adolescent years. While houses, schools, and friends always changed, one of the constants in my life was my love of fishing and saltwater access. Both of my parents loved to fish, and they shared that passion with both me and my brother.
I began as a shore fisherman as a teen, graduated to fishing from a boat with my brother in a broken down john boat we named “Patches,” which eventually sank. I had been fishing from my center console boat since 2001, when my cousin, Alfie, showed me some pictures of this guy fishing from a kayak. I read some articles and thought how much easier it would be with transportation, access to shallow areas, and the costs (rather than my boat). In 2005, I bought my first kayak. Now I fish primarily from my kayak, in fact, I only took my boat out 3 times last year.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
Yes, it was 14″ black drum with dead shrimp on my Walmart special Shakespeare rod. I had bought a 9′ Perception sit-in kayak at a sporting goods store the day before. I loaded it down with everything I thought I might possibly need, crammed it all into the cockpit around me feet, and off I went into an area I had not previously fished – all in preparation for my first kayak tournament one week away.
You have reported that your most notable catch was that of a seven foot long bull shark, a species feared and even reviled by many coastal denizens. Describe to us what it was like to handle such an infamous fish.
It was June 2006, my family had traveled to Pensacola for a visit, and my wife and I decided to go fishing along with one of my cousins. Initially, our plan was to go in the bay between Pensacola Beach and the mainland, but when we parked the truck and looked over to the beach, the Gulf was like glass. We quickly decided that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get in the gulf with the conditions that calm, so off we went.
I was the last to launch, with my wife and cousin already chasing a bait pod around looking for bonita, tarpon, and kings. Melita and Alfie had gone out pretty far when I called them and told them they should come back in some, since I had already broken one off. As Melita came closer, I saw a fin rise from the water. The fin had to be bigger than both my hands spread wide put together. It was headed straight for her. She let out a squeal, and about 5 feet from her yak, the shark went under. For some reason, she felt so much better not being able to see him. Ha ha ha! Within the next few minutes, I spot a tarpon and start tossing my top water toward him. Finally, I am hooked up and he’s big, but just as quickly, he was gone and with my lure.
Soon after, I was about to retie after breaking off two of the three rods I had with me, when I see another fin. I grabbed the only rod I had left, a rod with a DOA popping cork tied on. I hooked on a piece of cut mullet and threw it 4 feet in front of the shark. I saw him make his move and the fight was on. For about 30 minutes, that shark pulled me in big circles, around and around, farther and farther out. The three of us were amazed that the shark had not broken me off yet, considering we all had light tackle since we had not planned on shark fishing – no wire leaders, 1 aught hooks and 8mm/20 lb. braid. Melita and Alfie grabbed on to my yak trying to create some drag to try and slow the shark down but every time the shark got close enough to see the yak or daylight, he high tailed it again. Our adrenaline was pumping and we were joking how we were going to land him. Suggestions included dragging him by the tail or just lipping him like a bass. Finally, after 45 minutes, I was able to pull the shark up high enough that his head was out of the water right next to Melita’s 14′ yak, and he broke the line! WHEW! We estimated it to be a 7′ bull shark, and he had pulled us about 3 miles off shore. What a fight! In hindsight, and after catching hell from my mother-in-law for putting her baby in harm’s way, I’m not sure I would intentionally do it again, but it sure was exciting!
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
My workday starts at 4:30 a.m. so by 10:30 a.m., I’m ready for lunch. I usually bring along a bag of Combos or a Slim Jim, a Coke (my morning caffeine since I don’t drink coffee), and a couple of waters for the day. I’m not big on eating on the water since it leads to other problems on the water…I am NOT telling that story!
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
First, you should know that I’m an introvert, so I’m not the guy who knows everybody and their uncle. I’m the quiet guy in the corner. Secondly, I’m horrible with names. I’m constantly asking my wife, “What’s his name again?” I’d blame that one on age, but I’ve been doing that my whole life. So while I’m sure there are really great kayak anglers, kayak designers, and product manufacturers out there, I think each of us shape this sport into what we want it to be to meet our own needs.
More than any one person, I think the internet has played a significant role in kayak fishing. I admit that I am not tech savvy. I rarely post, but I do read forums regularly. Having a group sharing information and ideas has helped me grow as an angler. It’s the ability to research kayaks, gear, and destinations; read fishing reports; use Google Earth to scope out area; check the weather; and read about somebody else’s daring adventure that makes it so invaluable.
Kayakers are innovative. I have seen stake out poles made from broom handles and rod holders made from PVC pipe. What we don’t have, we will make. The smart manufacturing companies out there are listening to the consumers and building better products to meet our needs.
You have long dreamed of joining a Pro Staff team, and this goal was realized only quite recently. As a newly minted Pro Staff member, tell us a bit about how it felt to realize your goal, and give us, if you can, some detail on how the transition has treated you thus far.
When I first started tournament fishing, I would walk in and see all these guys with fancy embroidered fishing shirts. They all sat together, chatting, sharing stories, and suggestions on how to improve. I thought, why can’t I do that? After the first few tournaments, I noticed the same fancy embroidered shirts, the guys sitting together chatting, and I looked over to my own table and realized that I had my own group (all family), all sitting together, chatting, sharing stories, and laughing. All that was missing was the fancy embroidered fishing shirts. Thereafter, my wife surprised me with team shirts…and that’s how our family fishing team was born – Drag-On Fishing Team!
What started off as a family joke, quickly took off. We get asked what the fishing team is about and how people can join; we just laugh and say, it’s just a family team. Now, we use it as incentive to get other members of the family kayak fishing – you want a shirt, you have to participate.
When I was approached by Malibu Kayaks to join their Pro Staff, I was honored. I really enjoy my Stealth 14. Its stability, storage room, and the ability to stand while fishing are all characteristics that appeal to me.
Being on the team has been like joining another family. I don’t know how it is on other teams, but this team’s camaraderie, their willingness to share ideas, to help one another out – whether it is staying at someone’s house for a tournament, loaning extra yaks, or sharing their honey-holes – everyone is so generous.
The transition into the team was extremely smooth. Tony Hart, Malibu Kayaks Pro Staff Coordinator, is also a friend, so I felt like I could contact him at any time with any questions, big or small. In the matter of just a few months, the Pro Staff grew from 6 to over 20 members across the country.
I can’t imagine how it could be any better than this.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
To me, safety is an important issue for all water sports. It’s one thing to have your safety equipment on board, but another thing to actually wear your PFD and know where your whistle is located.
I have been in narrow creeks when a jet ski came flying around a corner and nearly ran over me. When I yelled for him to slow down, all I got was the finger. Unfortunately, I was with a group of wounded veterans, most of which were first timers in kayaks and some had their children with them. Common courtesy goes a long way. No one group of water enthusiasts own the waterways, so we all need to be respectful of one another and look out for each other’s safety.
Water access is another issue of interest to me. Jacksonville is fortunate to have such a great fishery; however, our access could be improved. In December 2011, Mayor Alvin Brown designated 12 park sites for kayakers, canoeists, paddle boarders and other water enthusiasts to access the St. Johns River and its tributaries. The sites are part of the mayor’s initiative to create more recreational opportunities along the St. Johns River. My hope is that this initiative continues to grow so that we all have more access to our natural resources.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
I would go back to Costa Rica and try for that Rooster fish and Cubera Snapper from my kayak, and bring all my family with me.
What’s in your milk crate?
The more experience I get out in my kayak the lighter my milkcrate becomes. Mainly my milkcrate comes along because my rod holders are attached to it. You see, I’m the radio antenna tower out on the water. I usually fish with 6 rods. I’m soaking bait and throwing artificial at the same time. I bring a few extra sinkers and hooks in case I break off on one of the oyster bars and a small assortment of DOA’s, Gulps, a top water, and an X-Rap. Of course, I always have a knife, pliers, safety equipment, bogo grips or a net with me, too.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
Every day on the water is a good day. I have tons of memories of fishing with my parents from the shores and piers in California, Virginia, and Florida. I also have great memories of taking my mother-in-law flounder fishing on Harrison’s Pier in Norfolk, Virginia every weekend during the summers when I was in high school. I hope I am giving, and have given, my own children some great memories as well.
One of those special days on the water entailed me taking my then 12 year old son, Daniel, and his best friend, Danny, out fishing. The boys wanted BIG fish, so I took them shark fishing in Nassau Sound. This was Danny’s first time fishing, so the excitement factor was high. I was so proud hearing my son give his best friend fishing advice and instruction. It means all those times we were out there, he was listening. He wasn’t just hearing dad say blah, blah, blah…he was really listening. Those two boys reeled in shark after shark that day. They tag teamed and took turns reeling in those strong sharks while the other of the two would hold the one reeling by the belt loops to make sure they didn’t fall into the water. By the end of the day, they were telling me that I could go ahead and have a turn. They were both beat!
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
For me, the kayaking lifestyle centers around my family. My wife, Melita, is my number one fishing partner and both my kids fish, too. I have cousins all over Florida and Louisiana that meet us for tournaments. Tournaments give us an opportunity for mini family reunions. For me and my family, it’s about creating those memories and enjoying the process. I have also made so many great friends through kayak fishing. I enjoy the solitude at times, and the camaraderie associated with fishing with a group, too.
Living in northeast Florida means we fish 12 months of the year. However late spring through late fall, the heat and humidity can be brutal. I have learned that for me, getting out there early and staying until noon is ideal for me. After that, the heat is just oppressive, and you have to deal with the afternoon thunderstorms. Coming in, rehydrating,and going back out in the evenings work well for me.
Tell us a story, any story.
I decided to enter a tournament in December, 2009, (this was before my wife began kayak fishing), so I called up a few of my cousins, and we all agreed to meet and make it a boys weekend. We are men; we don’t need fancy hotels and restaurants. We will commune with nature and prevail against the elements. Did I mention that it was one of the coldest Decembers in recent history, and that it was 30 degrees during the day?
My cousin, Alfie, drove up from Tampa, and I drove over from Jacksonville, and we met in Carrabelle. We set up our tent, blew up our air mattresses, and set out to scout the area. My other two cousins, Frank and Hymie, weren’t able to drive down from Pensacola until the early evening after working that day. Once they arrived, we attended the captains’ meeting, ate dinner, and planned our strategy into late in the night. Alfie and I decided to turn in, and gathered our stuff and headed for our tent. Frank and Hymie grabbed a bundle each and headed for our tent too. I assumed they had brought their own air mattresses and they could all fit in our one tent…no, what they brought were pink and orange pool floats. It seems that they had run out of time and could not locate their air mattresses so they grabbed what they could and hit the road. Pool floats!
We hunker down (some on our pool floats) and go to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, it started to rain, not a light sprinkle, but a full on down pour. When we awoke to the sound of the down pour, the pool floats were flat, and Frank and Hymie wanted on the air mattresses with me and Alfie. The problem was that the rain had made the walls of the tent damp and we would have to move more the middle of the tent (and the air mattresses) to keep off the walls of the tent to keep from getting wet. Spooning with my cousins in a tent isn’t my idea of fun, so I relinquish my air mattress and go to sleep in my truck. After dozing off and on, I feel my truck moving. I figure it was the boys having some fun. When the rocking didn’t stop, I get up and see a raccoon the size of a small bear in my kayak in the bed of my truck looking for food. After the stare down that ensued (which I won), the raccoon retreated into the woods. It was finally safe to exit the truck and go to the restroom. The next morning, my cousins found me asleep on the bench in the shower house.
The Ganoe family is one that fishes together, and often with great success. Your combined kayak angling talents even won you a week-long vacation to Costa Rica. What advice would you give to anglers looking to bring the sport into their existing means of family bonding?
Family fishing has always been a part of my life, so it seemed like a natural progression that my children would fish with me. The same has been passed down with my extended family. Keeping it exciting for the whole family is the key. I’m extremely fortunate that my wife loves to fish too.
My wife often gets asked by other guys how to get their wives interested in kayak fishing, and her advice is usually this: you want your wife to have a really good time those first few times out, so you need to remember on those trips that it’s not about you, and it’s not about getting that huge fish on those days. It’s about the experience. It’s about spending time with her and sharing something you love and something that you want her to love, too. So, you start by making it a short trip on a good weather day. When you stop to fish, attach her kayak to yours so when she pulls in that fish you can help her learn what to do instead of yelling instructions to her from your spot. As you probably remember, pulling a fish onto a dock or a boat is a lot different than pulling that fish in a kayak and laying it in your lap. Lastly, if she wants to paddle in to use the restroom, you go with her. You don’t say, OK honey, I’ll be here when you get back. This is about you being together. Once she’s as addicted as you are, you can change the rules…as much as you dare.
As far as our success, we have been very lucky. My son began tournament fishing at 12 years old and won Junior Angler and 4th place in the Slam Division at the Jacksonville Kayak Classic in 2008. In 2010, he placed 2nd in the Junior Angler Division of the same tournament. That year, my wife also won Lady Angler at The Classic. It was especially exciting for me to see my wife and my son on the podium during the same tournament on Mother’s Day weekend.
What does the future hold for you?
More fishing with my family. My kids are 24 and 16 now, and that allows me a little more freedom with my schedule. My family loves to camp and make adventures, so I’m hoping to add new fishing destinations and crossing some of those fish on my bucket list. Also, spending more time with my friends and making new friends, all who enjoy this sport as much as I do.