Chuck Wrenn is a champion angler and frequent volunteer for both the Central VA and Tidewater Chapters of Heroes On the Water. A man truly passionate about the organization, Chuck has been known to use personal vacation days as a means with which to attend the HOW events. A veteran of Desert Storm/Desert Shield, Chuck has within him a deep and personal connection to the importance of the organization. In his own words, ‘On the water, the events here in Virgina work with the local Veteran’s Administration office, as well as the Wounded Warrior programs. It is at these events where volunteers like myself are paired with a hero for a few hours on the water. Each time I have been on the water, the hero I am paired with constantly thanks me for giving him or her the opportunity. I simply smile and reply, “No…thank you. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here to share in this experience with you.”‘ When not lending his heart and hands to HOW, Chuck can be found spending some on-water time with his son, an eager representative of the next generation of kayak anglers, and a proud owner of dad’s tournament-won kayak.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
Honestly…a combination of factors. Most notably, the desire to fish again (but not from the bank) and a lack of disposable income. I wish it were more glorious or justified, but that is the honest truth. My wife and I were wanting a boat with which to take our son out on the water and spend some family time together, but all of the ones we were looking at were rather pricey. Understanding that boats were not a feasible option at the time, I started looking at Pond Prowlers and other small vessels suitable for a trolling motor. It was also the same time I watched that now infamous episode of Hank Parker Outdoors where he was bass fishing with his son using Hobie Outback kayaks. The seed was planted, and I began a year of research on various kayaks, ultimately purchasing a Wilderness Systems Ride 135 on, of all days, April Fools Day in April of 2010. This was based upon the limited budget I had at the time. I wanted a Hobie but couldn’t afford one at the time.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
Absolutely. I wish I could say it was a citation or some glorious fishing story, but it was actually quite simple when I look back on it. As I mentioned earlier, I had just bought my first kayak and the necessary items like a paddle, PFD, and a couple rod holders. I entered in the May 2010 TKAA Lonestar Lakes Shootout to benefit Heroes On the Water, and set out to try and catch some fish. The goal for the day was a slam – a largemouth, a sunfish, and a crappie. I hooked into the largemouth after about 45 minutes, and got him to the kayak, where he promptly spit the hook. I kept at it, and switched over to my ultralight and landed a chunky black crappie that measured in at 11 3/4″ – good enough to place second for the largest crappie, but not place for any prizes. I ended up catching a handful of crappie that day but no slam. It was a great way to scratch that itch.
Your efforts with HOW truly speak to the passion that you feel for the actions and beliefs of the organization. You have been known to use vacation days as a means to attend the events, and often bring with you your wife and son. What advice would you give to an angler looking to become involved with HOW?
As far as advice to anyone interested in learning more, I would say simply this…”Get involved!” Involvement can be in any number of ways. Some people don’t like being in the public eye, so a donation can go a long way to helping this program stay afloat. Other ways include donating time – time involves volunteering, perhaps on the day of an event, and just helping launch and recover the kayaks, or perhaps unloading, setting up, or cleaning up at the end of an event. The final way you can get involved requires a little research and communication with your local HOW chapter coordinator, and that is understanding what supplies the chapter needs. This could be something as simple as lures and tackle to food and drinks for each event.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
I tend to stop at a Wawa and grab small consumables like trail mix, granola bars, and pop tarts. I also grab a few waters in case I didn’t have any from the house. Other than that, I don’t really carry anything else. As far as mental fuel to get me pumped, I have a rather eclectic collection of CDs that all center around rock-n-roll, but the heavier the better. You can usually find AC/DC, Godsmack, Metallica, or Megadeth in my CD Player at any given time, but I also can do a 180 and drop in some Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffett, Chuck Berry, or CCR just as easy. My backup plan is The Boneyard on Sirius satellite radio. They play all manner of hard and heavy rock.
The current year has brought to you many new titles, including those of Kayak Bass Fishing AmBASSador and Hobie Pro Staff member. As such, your words, both spoken and those typed into forum threads, are given a certain air of authority or permanence. Newly minted kayak anglers and those unfamiliar with your large body of work could, perhaps, base rather important decisions on your advice and credentials. What does this responsibility mean to you?
The most important thing is to try and remain neutral in your tone and recommendations. While I represent KBF and Hobie, I always try and point out both sides of the equation so that the reader has a greater chance to make an informed decision. I also think that, while it is always fun to read other people’s adventures, it takes a certain skill and tact to convey a message that the audience will understand and can envision in their mind’s eye. I enjoy telling stories, public speaking, and teaching, so it comes kind of naturally for me. However, when you decide to communicate any message in a public forum, there is an inherent risk of offending someone, misrepresenting yourself if you are not accurate in your words, or even worse, embarrassing or discrediting someone. We have a responsibility to respect not only each other, but the sport of fishing and kayak angling as well.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
Professionally, I would say people like Chad Hoover, Luther Cifers, Drew Gregory, Jim Sammons, and Morgan Promnitz – they are pushing the boundaries of kayak design, how they can be used in a variety of environments, and accessories for the kayak. From an angling perspective, Kevin Whitley, Rob Choi, Jeff Little, Juan Veruete – these guys are out there almost daily chasing the dream and showing anyone that has an interest in kayak angling that it can be done. You just have to put in the time and effort. I also can’t forget the people that make a living as a guide. Folks like Dee Kaminski, Steve Gibson, Tommy Samuels and his crew of KayakFishSC, Cory Routh of Ruthless Outdoors, and Mark Lozier of 1st Landing Kayak Fishing Services – they are sharing their knowledge and location-based tactics to help fuel the passion, even for folks that maybe aren’t interested in spending the money on a kayak yet, but they usually end up adding one to their households after these folks put them on fish!!
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you?
What, if anything, can be done about them? First and foremost, kayak safety. I see too many people not taking the minimal safety precautions when in their kayaks. Whether it is an improper or lack of a PFD, to consuming alcohol during the summer while out on the water (increasing the risk of dehydration), to fishing at night without sufficient lighting per their local maritime laws and regulations, even to not paying attention to their kayak’s position relative to main channels or boat traffic. Education in the various kayak forums, encouraging safety at the launch, checking your equipment regularly, going out in pairs…there are plenty of ways to educate yourself. Self awareness is the key. If you can’t spot it yourself, don’t rely on someone else to do it for you. The other item is not necessarily an issue but more of a cause, and that is conservation. All too often I see pictures of people catching a limit and keeping a limit on consecutive outings just because the regulations say they can. Several species in the region I fish are very fragile, and harvesting too many over time will reduce the quantity and quality of the species. In the three years I have fished the Chesapeake Bay, I have kept a total of three fish – two stripers and one speckled trout. Everything else I have released to go back and get bigger. Who knows when that fish you release may one day turn into a citation that you could catch. I practice CPR – catch, photo, and release, and always ensure the fish has sufficient time to get its bearing and balance back before releasing it.
As a youth passionate about angling, you long yearned for the day in which you could leave the bounds of the bank and take to the water upon your own vessel. If informed of your vessel of choice, would the young Chuck simply shake his head in wonder, or would he approve?
I think he probably would shake his head and say loud and proud, “Took you long enough!” Then again, that is the same response I got from my own son when I presented him with the kayak I won last month.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
I have a couple actually – one I hate to admit is selfish and one involves a collection of people I respect and want to share more time on the water with. I’ll start with shared outing. This one is near and dear to me. I frequently volunteer to assist veterans and wounded warriors with the Heroes On the Water organization throughout the year, no less than twice a month. There is one veteran who asks for me each time he participates, and I have yet to get him hooked up on a decent fish. We have found the fish but no hook set yet, maybe at the next outing. My selfish one is actually for my son to catch a citation out of his new kayak. I’ll gladly sacrifice that long yearned-for citation of my own for him to get one first.
What’s in your milk crate?
Prior to owning a Hobie, I carried one tackle tray with a selection of presentations for that given day. I would also carry 2-3 bags of soft plastics and a small terminal tackle tray of jig heads, hooks ,etc., a flourocarbon spool for leader, and a small tube of sunblock. I typically carry 2-3 rods pre-rigged, and usually do not deviate from my plan. Now that I have a Hobie, I utilize the Gear Bucket located in the front of the seat to carry my lure selection for that particular day, and the crate holds a waterproof container for my keys, cell phone, and fishing license. Other than that, nothing else typically.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
My best day on the water is any day I can come home safely to my family. From a numbers perspective, my best day on the water was actually a little over a month ago. I headed out to chase some stripers at night, but all I found were bluefish, croakers, flounder, and grey trout. I ended up with 66 fish in 3.5 hours: 40 blues, 17 croaker, 7 grey trout, 1 hickory shad, and 1 flounder. I typically only get out 3-4 times a month due to work and baseball commitments with my son, but I do get out twice a month for HOW, and then twice a month on my Fridays off if Mother Nature cooperates. If I am lucky, I’ll get a pass to go out one evening soon for some nighttime salt water action and try for a repeat of a night like I had last month.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
For me, it is about escaping the toils and troubles of everyday life and not thinking about anything but being on the water. Catching fish is just the reward you can receive if you are fortunate enough to make the effort to get out and be one with nature. Ultimately, it is about harmony and balance. If you don’t have harmony and balance in your everyday life, you will limit your ability to be in harmony with nature when she is set before you and waiting…
Tell us a story, any story.
This one is frequently brought up by my son, but I cherish it nonetheless. Last year, I took him to a local pond I had fished as a kid, but had never had much luck from the bank. I knew there a variety of fish in there, but I didn’t know what the day had in store when we launched. Mind you, I am paddling with my son bow riding from spot to spot in this smallish pond, with his rod in hand ready to sling the small beetle spin I had rigged for him. I had a rod, as well – rigged with a white rooster tail for myself. Well, over the course of the next 3 hours, I proceeded to not make that many casts, because my son was catching a fish or getting a hit on almost every cast. After 21 fish, he tells me that I need to put on the same lure he has, since he is catching all the fish. He even offers to let me use his rod, since obviously my rod isn’t any good. After he fails to land any more fish over the course of a few minutes, he hands me his rod and tells me to use it so he can take a break from all of those fish hurting his hands. Oh to be humble …
In what may come as a surprise to those familiar with your kayak angling resume’, you have admitted to possessing a few areas of weakness, including those related to stealthy approaches, suspended presentations, and the reading of moving water. Tell us where an accomplished and sponsored angler turns when he or she needs to brush up on some skills or expand his/her repertoire.
The first place someone in my position looks is inward. I stop and try to assess my own approach and see if I can identify what I did wrong. This is where self-awareness comes in handy. When I still struggle on a certain tactic, I reach out trusted sources. For instance, if it’s a smallmouth issue, I’ll send a note to Jeff Little and Juan Verute, both well known and respected smallmouth anglers. If it is a saltwater tactic, I’ll reach out to folks like Kevin Whitley, Rob Choi, Mark Lozier, Bill Ragulsky, and Marty Mood – all of whom I have fished with or alongside. When it comes to largemouth, there is one source I go to first, Chad Hoover. At first glance to the new kayak angler, these individuals may appear to be far superior to them, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. Each of these people are down to earth, and will take time to try and help you down the path to figuring out the problem. Recently, I had the opportunity to do just this. I shared my perspectives on targeting speckled trout in the Chesapeake Bay fishery. It was a way for several people to glean some information that may help them in the future, and to do so while not feeling intimidated to ask questions. It also helped them put a face with the screen name.
What does the future hold for you?
Hopefully, new waters, new species, and a continued love of the sport. Being accepted as a member of the Hobie Fishing Team, as one of their Pro-Staffers, is a huge step in helping me get there. Having a wife that understands my obsession and passion is also important. One day I hope to be able to add a couple more Hobies to get us all out on the water together. My wife, Angela, has a knack for capturing cool nature shots, and she loved pedaling a Hobie I borrowed last year on the 4th of July.
To learn more about Chuck and his bass focused adventures, log onto his blog at: