Hailing from Oregon by way of Durban, South Africa, Gary Gregg is known for his truly minimalist take on the sport. Often seen fishing from a surfboard in the waters near Pacific City, Gary manages impressive catches without the advantages of ubiquitous modern kayak angling conveniences. Gary is also a member and a board director with Pacific City Dorymen’s Association.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
In spring of 2009, I was checking the surf when a kayaker came gliding in; attached to his deck was a couple fishing rods and in the well he had a wet bag full of big seabass. I love to fish, but without a boat at my disposal, I mostly fished when friends asked if I wanted to join them on dories. His example made me think of using a SUP that I owned, but never used, as a fishing platform – instead of as a slow fat surfboard.
So I went home and grabbed a plastic crate and strapped it to the board; for gear I threw in a knife and a piece of wood for a bonk stick, a few spoons, and leadheads for catching. That first day out, I had a friend along who used his sit on top kayak, and we caught about a half dozen fish in an hour. It was a bit windy and a grey day next to the rock out in front of PC, really exhilarating though, as it was so quiet except for the sounds of birds and waves. We got scoped by sealions but nothing toothier than the fish we caught showed up…
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
I have attached a picture of the first fish caught; in retrospect I should have laid them rail to rail as they were really good size after a winter of growth. The board is 28″across. A lovely mixed bag of ling, bass, and cabezon.
In the era of fishing-specific kayaks armed with fish finders, downriggers, and live wells, you choose to go about the sport atop a milkcrate-toting surfboard. To what do you owe this minimalist approach?
I love fishing off a board because it feels like a natural extension of what surfers did every day in an era I’ve long admired, the 1930′s thru the 1950′s in California. A bit of the golden age from many a surfer’s perspective. All you need is a wetsuit and a board, sitting under the rock with birds, seals and whales circling the kelp and feet hanging over the rails, it feels pretty naked. Fishing this way you feel like you’re definitely a part of the food chain, probably the way Alaska fisherman do when bears are around. It’s easy to spend a few hours out there, constantly adjusting to the currents and paddling back into the safety of the kelp. Being so small it’s a lot easier to get in really close and fish some hole that boats don’t always have access to, especially if there is a little swell running.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
Coffee and 80′s punk/alternative for music anytime.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
I haven’t really considered the future of this activity, but I think that as people learn more about this, it will grow. It’s got a wide range of uses and it’s quiet; for me the use of a paddle or arms instead of an engine is something I really like – no fumes, no cost. I like the look of the Hobie squarebacks, not sure of their actual product name. But a design like that for standup fishing looks very usable. A couple rod holders and the right current while being on anchor…boom…I can feel that salmon slamming the kwikfish right now!
In a nod to the fishing-specific kayak industry, manufacturers are beginning to churn out boards, though largely of the stand up paddle variety, aimed at anglers. This could, perhaps, go against many of the motivations associated with one’s decision to fish from a surfboard. Explain to us your thoughts regarding this matter.
I love the idea of SUPs being marketed as fishing platforms; it might thin the lineups a little bit. A few more people up here doing this would a good thing, but it’s not going to change the fact that with the Northwest’s large swells and big winds, there are long stretches of time where some areas will continue to be unfishable for weeks at a time.
“Today I keep the south end of the rock just visible around the basket as I prone paddle toward it. The waves are crossed up and refraction from the cape adds to a bouncing journey, once past the sand point it will get smoother as I stroke over deeper water. The west wind skips around to the south and then back to the west, out at the handle it will race around from any and all directions, gusting when it wants even though there is no call for it. Whitecaps and waves wrap and meet then dissipate into deeper waters past the kelp bulbs being played marionette style by forces unseen.
It feels like being where the paper tears apart, between the deep and the birds above swirling, calling. The rock is full of birds and they land and change places in a protesting cacophony, if for a moment they fell silent it would be time to pay attention.
Yesterday a gray whale swam through the kelp forests, tailing and spouting within the afternoon shadows. I want to see him today, but I don’t want him to see me. It’s a long way back. Houses along the sand are small, a windshield winks sun as it passes behind buildings on it’s way up the hill. Sounds out here come from the birds or waves washing the rock or lapping against the board. I concentrate on baiting the hooks, the world is small and right here, when I look up it’s big again and I am small and alone on the surface.”
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
Safety, safety, safety. Use your head, don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation if you don’t have to. Listen to your inner voice.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
Hmmm…a dream trip would probably take place off Cape Lookout in late summer when the water has warmed up to a toasty 60F, do a quick dive off the board and pick rock scallops off The Wall until I bagged a limit, then fish the late coho run. I’d want to be trolling some herring and get picked up by a 15#er. That is a magical spot really unused on most days, and those cliffs are majestic.
What’s in your milk crate?
Because most of my fishing takes place in the kelp beds, and just off the bottom when targeting lings, and that I have to paddle through surf to get to the rock, I like to keep my gear simple. Catch, kill and box…So it’s a few lures, maybe some scent, a bonk stick and a knife. Less is more.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
Best day of fishing happened when I fished for about an hour and came in with about 20lbs of fish in the basket, then paddled right into a 3′ left that peeled into the ramp where the boys were hooting on the beach. It was fun to standup and step off right on the beach.
Tell us a story, any story.
I’ve also had a yard sale or two when returning from fishing the rock, the worst was when I got too close to Kiwi’s Lefts, and got rolled by the third wave in a set, lost all my fish and a few jigs. The force of the wave tore off the crate, and it was all I could do to grab it so I didn’t lose all my gear. I swam on my back to the beach while holding the crate to my chest, cursing my lack of attention all the way.
Kayak angling, in its modern incarnation, is a young sport, and one that often sparks amazement-filled conversations between practitioners and those first encountering them. You often fish in an area popular with dory boats and other more traditional ocean going vessels. Have you any interesting stories to share regarding your reception on the water?
I’ve always had pretty good relationships with dorymen, and when they first saw me on the board paddling for the rock or the buoy, they seemed pretty stoked; one gave me some lures to try (with good results btw). I really make sure they can see me though, as the last thing I want to be is involved in a collision with one. Once, one of the dories did insist on fishing where I was over the reef, but he left when a wave almost swamped him and he ended up about 5′ off the rock. Spooked him a touch.
What does the future hold for you?
I’d like to continue to fish this way for another 20 years. I’d be 75 by then.