Petaluma, California resident, Craig Davis, has been angling from kayaks and diving boards since the dawn of the modern movement. With a combination of time-honed stoke and an uncanny ability to express his passion, Craig is widely known as a true mentor within the sport. Besides serving as an organizer of the west coast’s largest kayak angling tournament, The Albion Open, Craig is a sponsored team member with Ocean Kayak, Kokatat, Clavey Paddlesports, and Big Hammer Lures.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
Myself and my dive partner at the time, Mike Sheridan, bought 2 Malotte Scout 2′s in 1975. We were taken by the local rep in Marin county up to the Sonoma Coast for a trial run, and we were sold. 350.00 dollars. With a paddle and a anchor line. 2 years later, I’m thinking,”why am I not fishing on this thing?” I was 24 years old.
Do you remember the first fish you caught from a kayak?
Yes I do! It was a vermillion rockfish that weighed probably around 6-7 lbs. At Stillwater Cove, Sonoma County, where believe it or not, myself, Allen Sansano, Allen Bushnell, John Keane and Dennis Andersen recently competed in a kayak fishing tournament. The weather was real tough and the bite was non-existent but man, 35 years later? I’m getting old, I think.
This past year had you organizing the Albion Open, which this year was the largest kayak fishing tournament on the west coast. What drove you to take on such a task?
The fact that Sean White, who started the tournament as the Elk tournament, was not going to do it anymore. His last year of doing the tournament was 2009. I went to that tourney and placed 2nd. When the following year rolled around, the topic was brought up on our website www.norcalkayakanglers.com as to who was going to run, and did anyone want to. I volunteered then, backed out, overwhelmed. Then Jack Whiting said he would do it. Then we both decided that we would do it together. Over the spring of 2010, I was trying to get sponsors and figure out how this all would work out. Clavey Paddlesports in Petaluma was paramount in helping get sponsorship from Ocean Kayak, Kokatat, and Wheeleez. Then we went to work on other things such as securing prizes, getting a waiver put together, registration forms, clothing. Myself and my wife, Linelle, have run numerous events, and we knew what we liked at an event and how it was put together. What we didn’t know was the time it really takes to do this. If you’ve ever been to an event and see all the smiling people, that’s the pay back, man. For 3 days we come together to have fun and fish and party and eat great food. This year we had 120 registered anglers. The event has benefitted two of our own who have been struggling with cancer. This is who we are at NorCal. We love each other despite our differences, and we help each other out in times of need. This is community. This is my pay.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put in?
Actually, I like complete silence when driving alone to fish. The world is so damn noisy these days that the peace and quiet I get I can use for reflection, and getting my head cleared so I can enjoy what’s ahead. Coffee and a Danish for the A.M. is tops. I like to make a big lunch for on the water, and you know a Monster is just right after about 6 hours on the kayak.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
I really don’t keep up with who is doing the new rave thing in our sport. There are guys like Jim Sammons, though, who I admire for him getting out there and doing stuff I only dream about. I know nothing of the future. I live in a small town in Northern California. What I do see on facebook is some cool people like Vincent Rinando, who really put their money where their mouth is. I like quality people who are using the sport to benefit the person in need. Whether its a tournament or a raffle for cancer cures or things like that. These are the heroes to me in this sport. Anglers who are working with HOW to put vets on the water, too. Its a great way to support causes. I think we all know someone in our kayak community that does this. Take a moment to tell them you appreciate all they do. Then get invloved. That’s the future, man.
Your original vessel of choice was a dive board. Tell us a little about what it was like to fish from such a craft.
It was fun. The Scout was a flat fiberglass board with 2 hatches. The under seat area was filled with foam and bulkheaded at each end. Giving strength and flotation (in case you get blown off of it, hehe). The hull was flat with a small keel at the end. Very, very stable ride. Slappy as hell though. No fishfinders. No PFD’s. No radios. No cameras. That’s one thing I wish I had back then. One rod. One reel. Two 1lb lead balls and a handfull of shrimp flies. Easy, man. Real simple. I look at all the crap I have now, and though I love it all, I long for the simpler times. I was a simple fisherman back then, and I still am.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, is anything, can be done about them?
The most important thing is to be able to fish. I know that here in California we have been given new directives on where we can fish and what for. When I get lumped into the same category as commercial fishing, it really sets me off. We have, for the last few years, listened to anti-fishing groups tell lie after lie. Protecting what rights we have is paramount. We are at the end of this Marine Life Protection Act in California. For the time being, anyway. A lot of folks have fought hard to keep what grounds that are available to kayak fisherpeople still around. What can be done now? Be good stewards of our resources. Donate time and money, if you can, to organizations that fight to keep our fishing rights alive. Another issue that has come up lately for us is safety on the water. Repeatedly we hear about an angler, or simply a kayaker, dying when there’s no need for it. Be safe on the water. Have a buddy with you. Have all the equipment you need to make it to shore. Whether its a swim or a call to an emergency crew like the Coast Guard. Dont drink alcohol to excess while on the water. Ever.
Tell us a story, any story.
When myself and Mike first got those Malotte Scouts, we were in heaven. We would leave so early to dive and fish that we would have to wait an hour or more for it to get light. Mike is gone now . Brain cancer 10 years ago. God, I loved that man. I hope no one’s offended by that. We would tell our wives and girlfriends that we would be back. Never just when. We would spend all day on the ocean. There are so many stories I could tell about our times togther. We were best friends. In the 70′s there weren’t many of us out there on fiberglass sit on tops. There was the Royak crew. The Vitog crew. Usually it was just us. One time we had partied too much the night before, and we were feeling it the next day – bigtime. We had Tomato soup for breakfast (not good). After a couple of hours on the water, we both just looked at each other and started puking. Our boards were about 10 ft apart. Then a bull seal comes up right between us and roars out loud. We damn near crapped ourselves, too. One more. We launched at Stillwater Cove quite a bit in those days. If needed, we would time the sets and paddle through an opening we called “the slot,” which was to the south of the cove. Mike went first this day and I waited. Timing again, I made my move and just when I was about halfway though, a sleeper comes up. Eight feet of tall white water. I just turn the nose to it and blam. Whiteout, dudes. It picked the board up and flung it about 30 feet from me. I know Mike’s coming to help, right? Mike’s laughing his collective ass off out of the danger zone. Hehe. I loved that man.
Barring money or logistics, what is you dream kayak angling trip?
I’ve been thinking about this actually, and may never have the time or money to do it. I have met through the internet a bunch of people across the United States that are also Ocean Kayak Pro Staff. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a year, or hell, even 2 years to travel in order to meet these people and fish with them. I love to meet new folks. Spending time on the water and fishing with quality people, and getting to know them, are more important to me than a big fish. We have a great country here, and I need to see more of it.
Whats in your milkcrate?
Besides the usual tackle and food and radios and sonar and GPS and rods and reels and paddles, is hope. I see it on the faces of others all the time. That look, just as you sit down in the saddle getting ready to push off. The look of, man, here we go. Nothing but the hope of a great day and some real fun. If I take this with me in the milkcrate, I will be open to surprises and gratitude for all I have.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
November 7th, 2011 to be exact. I had never caught a white sea bass before, let alone on the kayak. I had been down to Monterey the prior weekend and hooked up, but as the fish was running, the braid caught at the edge of the spool and stopped going out. NOOOOOOOO! POP! Man, that was a long drive home. Two weekends later, I find myself back down in Monterey. We launched at Lovers Point at sunrise, and paddled out to the 200ft mark. I had some intel from Al Edwards of Monterey that the white sea bass were deep the day before. I was vertically hanging squid, one set at 80ft and one set 120 ft. We drifted around all morning for nothing. I rebaited and moved back out to the 200 mark. One rod at 80ft and the other still at 120 ft. While looking at the sonar screen, all of a sudden it looked like submarines coming into my zone. The rod at 120 goes tap, tap. Like a soft halibut bite. I reel up a bit, and the rod loads up, but just barely. The line goes slack and my heart sinks. I reel up, and while I’m doing this, I glance at the sonar. Holy Cow! The fish is rising right under the kayak. I reel up to load the rod, and as I watch the screen, the fish finally knows something is not right. I watch in awe as the fish sounds all the way down to 200 ft. I’m watching my fish (not mine yet hehe) as I battle it up and down. After the fourth battle, it went back up to 80 ft and down to 200. It comes up alongside the kayak. 53 inches @ 45 lbs. Not the biggest by far, but I am stoked.
You have been angling from kayaks for the better part of 4 decades. With regard to the culture and lifestyle of the sport, what changes have you seen?
Answer? Everything. The only thing that’s the same is, water is still wet.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
Haha! I have no idea. What I see are a bunch of different folks who have a bunch of different views on things, that have one thing in common. Sometimes. Kayak fishing. I guess for me now its an obsession. If I look hard at my day, each day, I can tell you I probably think more about kayak fishing than any one certain item. Is that the kayak fishing lifestyle? To be so consumed sometimes that all else falls by the wayside? Hell yes!
What does the future hold for you?
I will be 58 on the 18th of November, 2011. I really don’t like that stat. What do I have left? 10 good years where I can still huck my kayak on the truck by myself? I don’t see myself going down easy. I will never be away from the ocean. I thought that I would always, for the rest of my life, be able to fish and dive for abalone in my favorite spot on the earth. The MLPA took that away. I’m just living one day at a time now. I want my ashes spread at the place called Horseshoe Cove. If the bastards will still allow it.