Hailing from the Northern California coast, Eric Stockwell is best known as the man behind the annual Gimme Shelter Kayak Fishing Tournament. With his positivity, self-reflection, and altruistic attitude, Eric could also be coined as kayak angling’s philosopher king. Eric’s angling prowess is not to be overlooked, as he has many impressive catches to his name, including a 35 lb halibut and 38 lb king. Always one to share the stoke, Eric has over 155 YouTube videos to his name, and currently leads the NCKA pack in terms of fishing reports. When not on the water or running his contracting business, Eric can be found spending time with his wife and children.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
It was July 22nd, 1999. I bought a Hobie Pursuit SOT paddle kayak a few weeks after a demo day, where I tried out one or two yaks of both basic types. It had a little round hatch, a tank well, and came with the seat for around $650. The capacity was only 240 pounds or something, and I was pushing that with my diving gear and a couple of abs – I probably should’ve looked more closely at that prior to buying. I was in the midst of a transition from lots of ab diving from shore in the early to later 90’s, to lots more shore rockfishing in the late 90’s, so picking up the kayak presented a new way to fish, and I just naturally progressed into it once I caught fish much more easily than I had been from shore.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
Sadly, I do not! I have been keeping notes of my activities on my calendars every day since 1991. I have daily records of hours worked, miles ran, pushups or situps completed, fishing, ab diving, dinner with the in-laws…and so on. Eight days after I bought the Pursuit – which itself was a day I remember clearly, as I put my yak on the water for the first time and felt the freedom of moving across water I’d only ever walked the dog along the edge of, or maybe rowed around in an aluminum pram pulling crab rings from. Anyway, 8 days later on July 30th, 1999, I have this note: “Kayaked from King Salmon to S. Jetty – 4 hours in kayak – 2 red snapper (2r), 1 black (r)” – the “r” represents a released fish, so apparently I caught two vermillion and a black rockfish and released all 3. I can only imagine they were small, as that would fit the South Jetty of Humboldt Bay, and I cannot imagine why I can’t remember it, but I do know that I had fun, and it was fuel for what was to become an intense passion in my life.
As the developer of the Gimme Shelter Kayak Fishing Tournament Series, you have set out to celebrate and promote some of the common traits, including integrity and strength of character, of the sport’s practitioners. Explain to us the motivations behind this undertaking.
So much of life is regimented into a work week, and milestones are placed on a timeline. Like it or not, most of us are part of the rat race. Getting away from that to a place where we can celebrate a common passion, while at the same time marveling at how the kayakfishing community is full of generous and positive souls – this is what motivates me. The fact that kayakfishermen tend to be such great people is what led me to develop the tournament. I’ve organized soccer tournaments because I love to play soccer, and I enjoyed many of the guys on my team and throughout the leagues for the camaraderie and mutual respect, but kayakfishing has proven to bare a much higher percentage of high quality people than most activities that have drawn my interest over the years. When we’re combining our energies at Gimme Shelter, we’ve escaped the rat race – we’re experiencing life at its best, real-time, with top quality companionship.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
I’m a pretty boring radio type of guy – I enjoy music, but I haven’t played something specific for years. 80’s rock probably gets me going better than most, but I love something new like Adele, too – I’m easy and just not that wrapped up in any given genre of music. Put some Pink Floyd or the Eagles on and I’m happy. As for food, I am a two banana per day guy – religiously – and I enjoy other simple foods and plenty of water during the day and splurge on big dinners and beer at night. So pre-yak energy would consist of a good breakfast, water, maybe some type of bar like “Perfect Foods” or “Clif,” my bananas…
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
Every one of us. This sport is still so new that anyone who comes on the scene has a legitimate chance of affecting the scene in a significant way. Places like NCKA make that a reality, as the constant activity and focus of the community create a marketplace of opportunities to become involved in – not just within the sport, but the culture that has developed around it. Since so much of kayakfishing (it’s one word to me) consists of sharing experiences; I see all who develop that skill as being the front line of the sport. We’re natural storytellers with our solitary perspectives, and there is much about the sport that appeals to a common human desire to connect with nature in a wild yet average ability kind of way. Just through having the balls to paddle your yak a mile offshore, you have achieved what much of the population never will, and being just a bit more dedicated by having the safety gear and knowledge and some level of physical training elevates you to the level of what is really a rare person. When you look at it like that, it’s almost like adrenalin seeking, and that is actually a big part of the sport in itself. The future for the sport, to me, is in how we can continue to differentiate ourselves from average fishermen. We are wired differently, it’s somehow reflected in our mode of transportation, and I love that the sport seems to have identified a rare breed of person who knows how to kick ass as an individual, yet is happy to give his buddy the shirt off his back.
Kayak angling, like many of life’s pursuits, can often be reduced to a quantitative descriptor; the specifics of our sport often have us rating a day by the number of fish caught, or the tournament points tallied. You are known as a promoter of the notion that the journey is equally, if not more, important than the destination. What advice would you give to someone finding their on-water time reduced to raw data?
Time to hand the rod to your next closest competitor. Give it all away if you get to a point where getting something is more important than being there. Share your best spot, give away a trophy, sacrifice your opportunity in order to save your partner’s or a stranger’s ass or even their lunch. Give it all away – by this I mean that I see the most value in being an ideal friend versus being the person who can achieve the best catch or highest point total. I don’t claim to be immune from the pursuit, and going after it solo is one of my favorite things in life, but sharing your strengths by showing that you value the success of others, and giving of yourself in the spirit of love and cooperation will take you to the point of greatest achievement and personal pride.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
I feel that the perspective of each angler or any other type of sportsman should be shaped by a knowledge of, and appreciation for, the species they pursue – this is an ideal that seems fundamental to me, but may be of secondary importance to some. In my view, kayak anglers as a group are more conscientious and well informed than most fishing groups in general, and we need to celebrate that and carry it forward as part of our mantra – conserve, appreciate and protect the resources that we love through attitudes of conscience and practical use. Efforts in that regard will ultimately affect the entire user base if it catches a cultural foothold, and why wouldn’t it?
I realize this may be vague, so I offer this as a statement in support of what I’ve tried to express above: take only what you need.
I also feel strongly about pollution and carelessness with the environment, and how a few selfish people can ruin things for everyone. Our kayakfishing culture is so invested in the beauty and appreciation of nature as well as each other, that I think we can have a powerful effect on the way many different groups see and treat the world around us. Through our cooperative hard work and the example we set, waterways and adjacent lands can benefit so much if we focus on doing what’s right – and we do.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
I’m such a home-body and have pretty simple desires. I’d love to do an Alaska trip, but my dreams don’t include leaving my wife and kids behind any time soon, so Shelter Cove, sunshine, flat water, a strong salmon bite, and a full suite at The Tides Inn is pretty ideal right now and into the foreseeable future.
What’s in your milk crate?
I’ve never run with a crate in my yak, so I’ll go figurative. My crate is full of love for the sport and for the friends I’ve made. I’ve been fortunate to catch some nice fish, capture peoples’ attention with fun reports and videos, and discover the warm feelings of being appreciated and admired for sharing and for embracing nature as well as always trying to appeal to an ideal emotional self by striving for humility and openly seeking growth – my crate runneth over! I try to shape it like it’s not about ego, but ultimately it is. I like the stroke that comes from displaying how hard work and passion can achieve goals that surpass catching a fish. And catching fish keeps ‘em buying tickets to the show. (smiley face right here, if it was my fishing report) 8>}
Tell us about your best day on the water.
I’ve had so many days out there solo where, whether I caught a nice fish or not, I felt so energized and alive after the trip. I don’t get that feeling as much any more, and I’ve come to realize that the basic relief of surviving a solo ocean mission had previously provided elation upon reaching shore again! I want to always derive pleasure from that triumph, but the real deal, the pure emotion that doesn’t fade, is when I’m out there either on my own or with a friend, and I break through to a higher level of understanding and clarity about how the energies in my life can bring me to a state of bliss regarding positive outlook, appreciation, and sharing with others. To paddle in with a smile that represents the best kind of soul nourishment is my best day on the water.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
I call it My Kayak Life. It’s about water, obviously, but let’s go deeper. Water will kill you. It will take you from one place to another, zap your core temperature, soften your skin, prevent breathing, harbor wild animals that elude your perception, and yet it retains the qualities of more inanimate natural features – a river or lake or the ocean are there just like a mountain is there. It’s the challenge that water always presents to us, the mystery, the ability to transport us and to take our breath away, that keeps us coming back to it. The kayakfishing lifestyle, My Kayak Life, is about being on water where I can challenge myself and continue to discover how I am part of the wild, and how knowing that connection can help me to live well in all areas of life.
Tell us a story, any story.
My Dad, Glenn Stockwell, was a waterman. He grew up near Half Moon Bay, had a great place right above the ocean near Fort Bragg in the late 70’s, commercial fished salmon, surfed, was an expert fly fisherman. He showed me everything about loving the outdoors and having pride in the way you conduct yourself. It’s about doing the right thing. He was stricken by cancer 4.5 years ago. I was lucky to get to spend his last 4 months with him, caring for him each evening and communicating with him until he could no longer do it. I learned that there are things that I can control and things that I cannot, and that I am best served by focusing on those things that I can control. I also learned that finding the half-full part is vital to maintaining positive energy.
All of this I apply when I’m kayakfishing, and my Dad is always with me as my guide.
Perhaps due in part to your background in Anthropology, you have a deep and profound passion for the culture and lifestyle surrounding the sport of kayak angling. Given the small but rapidly increasing populace contained within our ranks, it could be assumed that, like many aquatic sports, growth will beget change. Do you have any thoughts or concerns related to the dichotomy of expansion and preservation of culture?
I’ve touched quite a lot in this interview on my philosophy that kayakfishermen are unique among sportsmen for their strong independence coupled with generous and engaging spirit. I don’t see that changing, and, as a matter of fact, I feel that our sport is actually transforming its participants into better people! Kayakfishing can save the world! That was tongue in cheek, but this I believe: kayakfishing is improving the world!
What does the future hold for you?
My passion is so engaged by kayaking, being on the water, fishing, and sharing my experiences. I think more and more about how I can transition from a working guy who loves to kayak to a kayak guy who makes a living doing what he loves. I’ll be 43 in two months. I’m feeling a need to channel my energy into what feels best to me. We’ll see what I can come up with.