Cory Routh

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As the founder of Tidewater Kayak Angler’s Association, Cory Routh helped to bring to life one of the nation’s largest kayak fishing clubs. A well respected and talented writer, Cory is the author of Kayak Fishing – The Complete Guide, a widely read tome now available in a revised edition. Despite the fact that he is on the water for two thirds of the year’s days, Cory is widely known as an angler most approachable, and one that can be counted on to lend a helpful ear or hand. When not adding to his impressive array of catches or educating fellow anglers, Cory can be found working to improve the health and accessibility of our sacred fishing grounds.

What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?

I remember the exact moment, back in 1998, I was on an internship for the USFWS at Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. My job was to supervise two members of the Youth Conservation Corps, in various duties around the Refuge, from tagging ducks to weed-eating. Put that on top of assisting the Biologist and it was a pretty demanding job. I made a $100 stipend every week. It didn’t take long to find out that $100 did not buy very much food, or beer (Hey… Im a ECU grad and until I found kayak fishing the only thing to do during down time was drink). There was a stand with about 10 Ocean Kayak SOT’s and Wilderness Systems SINKS that were just sitting there. So I asked the Refuge manager about them. They ended up belonging to an outfit called Ocracoke Adventures; I called the owners and got permission to use them. After a week I managed to become an agent for them and ran ecotours on the afternoons and weekends. I did a lot of exploring and eventually started taking my fly rod. My favorite kayak at the time was the Wildy Pamlico 2 Excell – it was a tandem Sit In, but was stable enough to stand and had room for my gear and most importantly, my cooler. On one exploration I took the Pamlico to an area that had no public access, and came upon a massive bed of Largemouth Bass. These fish ignored the kayak and my fly. I noticed one fish in the shadows of an overhang that was much bigger and longer than the bedding bass. So I cast my bumble bee popper right on top of it, it got a notice and the fish swam right up to it and gave it a sniff. I twitched it and the fish came right up and lazily sipped in the fly. This took me, for I had always heard that Bowfin were aggressive fish. It took a second for me to realize that the fish had my fly, and I immediately made the set. It was at that point that we both realized that a connection was made and it was on. In about 10 seconds the calm clear waters were turned to a muddy mess with bass and bream darting everywhere trying to get out of the way of these two contestants. After landing the fish three times (it was in and out of the kayak), I finally wore him out. I got him in the kayak and removed the remains of a $6 popper from its toothy maul. Instinctively I looked up for an audience and there was no one there to appreciate it, unless you count the Black Bear that was sitting on the bank. He got a sip of muddy water gave me a grunt, and bounded off. I released what I estimated to be about a 30-pound bowfin, and watched it return to the exact spot I caught it from. The area was pretty much blown out, so I left and never returned. But I assure you it’s on my agenda for this year. That, my friends, was just the beginning.

Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?

My first fish from a kayak was a bluegill from a canal at Mattamuskeet. It’s funny – in the beginning I only intended to use the kayak because the banks were too overgrown to cast a fly rod. It didn’t take long to realize the potential there. So from that very first fish it became a method in need of refinement, as well an addiction. I never get tired of paddling out for panfish with just my fly rod and poppers, it’s still my absolute favorite way to fish.

 

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Tidewater Kayak Angler’s Association, the popular club that you founded, has grown to become the largest group, within the mid-Atlantic region, of its kind. Tell us what this meteoric rise in membership and interest means to you.

I will not take all the credit; the members made TKAA what it is today. I only planted a seed that was cultivated by many folks.

It is truly a gauge as to the growth of the sport in our area and beyond. I never imagined it, and the Kayak Fish for Charity Tournament, would ever be where they are right now.

 

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What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?

As far as food, if it’s edible, and portable, it might show up in my cooler. My nickname was “Snacks” before it was Ruthless. Of course an RC Cola and a Moon Pie will not be turned down, either.

As for music I am very eclectic. I like DeadMaus, Skrillex, Flux Pavilion and Glitch Mob. Throw in some AWOLNATION, Imagine Dragons, and some Dan Suminski to sum it up. Of course any Hip-hop music will get a head bob or two from ole Ruthless, as well. As I have said “Anything but Country.” But even that rule gets broken now and then.

Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?

It’s hard to be specific, there are so many folks doing so much. It’s almost too hard to keep up with them all. It’s a combination of these folks, and the Industry folks who are willing to work with them. In a broad term I’ll say we the kayak anglers are shaping it’s future. It’s no doubt that kayak fishing was the breath of fresh air that the Paddlesports industry needed.

There are a lot of folks that I can mention, but one specifically stands out. His name is Tyler Rich. Just about every big event I do, Ty, and his father, Don, is there. We used to call them the Ruthless groupies. Tyler is one of the most enthusiastic and avid kayak anglers I have ever seen. You see, Ty has Cerebral Palsy, but it has never stopped him. He is an active volunteer with HOW, Project Healing Waters, and has even helped designed mobility devices for Segways. His father says, “Through you and Mark, he learned about volunteering for HOW and PHW, and he has gotten so much out of that, and has made some great friends among some of our returning wounded heroes. I think many of them are inspired by Ty because of what he able to do, in spite of his Cerebral Palsy. But he’s never known anything else, he never had the increased mobility that many of them lost, so it’s been his ‘normal’ from day one.”

I believe between his custom Jeep, his Segway, and his kayak, Ty is an adventure seeking machine. Tyler is truly one individual who has taken life by the handlebars and is a major inspiration to me and so many others.

 

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With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?

Of course conservation is big, but that comes from 20 combined years of education and field work. It’s kind of my job. Get involved with local clubs and organizations that take a stand on conservation; numbers work better than individuals. Volunteer with organizations that do fisheries and habitat restoration. It’s hard work, but at least you get something done and maybe learn a thing or two about the areas you fish.

Safety is my biggest concern…too many folks take for granted how dangerous kayak fishing can get, even in the safest waters. Owning the proper gear and having the proper training can make a difference. Taking the ACA Self Rescues class is big in my book! CPR and First Aid are nice as well. Try to go with a buddy and at least always wear your PFD!

Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?

Christmas Island. My buddy, David Elgas, of Coastal Kayak Tours on Oahu, has exclusive kayak fishing rights on Christmas Island. I love the cultures and biology of the Southern Pacific. Christmas Island looks like a very cool adventure, and through David, is now possible. The place is a sanctuary and gets limited pressure. You can fish the lagoon for bonefish and giant trevally, or go outside for pelagics. This is a kayak fly anglers dream. I hope to be able to make this trip come true in the next few years.

 

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As a scholar of the oceanic environment, you possess a keen interest and passion for the waters in which you fish. You also have to your name a degree in marine biology, and have served time with some of the country’s most prestigious and forward thinking regulatory agencies. Has your academic training had any effect on the ways in which you pursue fish?

My job with VADEQ is my life; this kayak fishing stuff is just a hobby. Between two I spent about 250 days on the water. Even though I’m not allowed to fish on state time, I do see a lot of water and do scout out new places off the kayak fishing grid.

Absolutely, my conservation ethic and my environmental stewardship have been both good and bad. I’m very vocal in the community when it comes to fisheries management and water quality. Some folks come to me for answers, and others get them whether they want them or not. I’ve even been called “King Neptune” – not sure that good or bad.

It does affect my fishing practices. I read lots of books and research papers but most fish don’t read them. Theoretically I know the fish and their behavior, but true understanding comes from actually fishing for them. I like that learning process much better.

What’s in your milk crate?

The best answer will be “too much.” I prescribe to the condom rule – “I would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” I try to adapt my crate to the type of fishing I do , but we have such a variety of fisheries in one spot that you need to be able to change tackle to the conditions. The exception is fly fishing, I can really cut back and keep things very simple. So much that I don’t even need a crate.

 

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Tell us about your best day on the water.

They all are good, I honestly cannot single one out. But one of the most memorable was during a Heroes On the Water coordinators outing in Texas. The conditions were horrendous, but we still got a few vets out on the water. It was pretty much just me and Capt. Dean Thomas and about six Warriors. All were having a blast and a few even caught fish. One particular kid would not come out of his shell; he truly had the 100 yard stare… until he caught a fish and almost immediately, he cracked a smile. For just one moment, his life was “normal” again. I have been told by many of the HOW and PHW participant’s that these outings do more in just a few hours than the doctors can do in months. That was one of many emotional outings with HOW. They are all gracious after the outings, but it’s the looks on their faces during and after fighting a fish from a kayak, that truly says “thanks” to me. And those, my friends, are my best days on the water.

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

It’s taking a kayak, a paddle , PFD, and a fishing rod and chasing down a fish. The lifestyle is truly loving it. Early man was “kayak fishing” albeit it was for sustenance, but I’ll bet they found some fun in it all. I’m not sure why, at some point we got away from it, but I am glad to be a part of the lifestyle that’s bringing it back.

Tell us a story, any story.

I can remember during one of my presentations at the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival I was approached by someone who asked if I would mind giving an abbreviated version of my presentation over again…I said sure. The guy then said there is one stipulation, I need to do it slower to allow it to be interpreted into sign language. I said sure thing and this impromptu seminar became a two hour lesson, that ended up drawing the biggest crowd I ever had. After then presentation, I had the interpreter and his group come and thank me for the presentation. Out of all the folks there (and there are some big names at this event) I was told my presentation was their favorite. I learned a lot that day the most important was to be interactive with the crowd, and to be dynamic. I never script my presentations, so they tend to change with the interaction of the crowd. Most kayak anglers will brag about big fish, I brag about big groups.

 

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Considered by many to be among the definitive and founding works of our sport, your 2008 tome, Kayak Fishing – The Complete Guide, has garnered thousands of reads and is now available in a revised addition. Tell us a bit about the etiology of this book and your motivations for turning it into a reality.

I have been writing Kayak fishing articles for the Sport Fishing Report and The Chesapeake Angler from 2003 to 2006. These were all How To articles and well received, but after a month disappeared. I kept three years’ worth of photography and articles, hoping to one day to put them together in one place. In 2007 my good friend Beau Beasley published his Fly Fishing Virginia book with No-nonsense Guides. Beau coordinates the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival and invited his publisher to the Festival. During a VIP banquet I was speaking to the publisher and jokingly pitched the idea of a Kayak Fishing book. He said OK, but I need to do some research first. About a week later I got a contract and work began. It was the quickest response he ever got back. In exactly one year I debuted my book Kayak Fishing; The Complete Guide at the 2008 fly fishing festival. In just over a year it was sold out and later revised. To this day it’s still Amazon’s top kayak fishing book. Still seems a blur, and I still get reminders of how well it was put together. It’s funny – I was once criticized on how “basic” the book was; I told them that was the idea. I often get asked if I’ll do another, hmm it’s a thought.

What does the future hold for you?

Good Question.

Because it’s where it all started, my goal in 2013 is to return to my fly fishing roots. I’m hoping to get to hone my teaching skills and eventually file in line after Wanda Taylor, Lefty Kreh, Ed Jawaoroski, and Bob Clouser and the rest of my TFO pros as a teacher. I’m also back into tying flies and have some killer recipes in the mix. My spinning and casting rods are gonna get dusty in 2013. Kayaks and fly rods are meant to be together.

I’ve partnered up with Wild River Outfitters in Virginia Beach. I am setting up their kayak fishing and fly fishing dept. So I guess I’m now a retail guy as well as kayak fishing guide. I’ve stepped down from kayak sponsorships and decided to embrace the sport as a whole. I have fishing kayaks from 6 different companies at my disposal, so why not use them? I’m probably the first guide to offer a variety of fishing kayaks to my clients, and the store might get a sale or two out it as well. Ruthless Outdoor Adventures will continue to provide trips and I’ll start up my new project “Kayak Fishing Tech.” You will just have to keep up with me to see what happens.

 

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