Gary Sinkus


A pioneer in the truest sense, Gary Sinkus was one of the first individuals to place kayak angling into the public conscience.  In 1993, Gary published an article on kayak fishing, titled “Different Strokes”, in Outdoor Life Magazine.  This was after many years of kayak fishing in the 80′s.  That article planted the seed in many a modern day kayak angler.  With his wife Lisa, Gary has spent decades paddling in pursuit of adventure, fish, and comaraderie.  Besides inspiring the first modern wave of kayak anglers, Gary is a custom bicycle builder and engineer of medical devices.

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

My wife and I were white water paddlers in the 1970’s. I trained at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in NC ,and was certified as a kayak instructor. In ’83 I moved to Ft. Lauderdale to take an engineering job. When I moved into my apartment, the guy next door had a white water kayak. He used it to surf in NJ. To stay in shape, he and I started paddling along the beach after work when it was calm, and surfed when rough.  As time went on, we ventured further out and further along the beach and when Lisa, my wife, joined me in 1984, we paddled the ocean together.  It seemed like a natural progression to drag a Rapala lure on a Cuban YoYo (hand line spool) with 150# mono behind my Jeti, (fiberglass white water or ‘spud’ boat).  Fishing from kayaks fit our budget and the boats provided a more than suitable set up. The spool fit snuggly into the spray skirt grab loop and the line draped right along the spray skirt cowling out of the way of the paddle.

You have often been referred to as being a pioneer of the sport.  What does this title mean to you?

Well my ego says, “don’t that sound good!”

If anyone is a pioneer, it’s my wife, Lisa. She didn’t even like fishing when we started.  She liked being on the water, was a great athlete, very strong and incredibly “lucky” to boot. She caught a 20# king on her first outing in a tippy little Perception Dancer. She caught our first sailfish (I’ve not seen photos of another woman doing this), our first and only yellow fin tuna (>60lbs), and our first dolphin. Two of her kayak fishing quotes are “You only married me to have a fishing partner” and every time I talked about getting a motorboat, “Gary, anyone can fish out of a real boat”.

She has kayak fished all around Florida, Provo in the Turks and Caicos BWI, and in Pacific Costa Rica.

If we did something a little different than the norm at the time and that makes us  “pioneers”, I can deal with it. I know we put a lot of time and thought into it, in a lot of different places because we loved it and loved teaching others.

I know we weren’t even close to being first. Kayak Willie was the only person we heard about at the time, tournament fishing out of WPB in an open double ended duck hunting looking kayak. In the St. Aug area near Marine Land, it’s said that, in the ‘50s, the shark hunters paid kayakers to haul their bloody baits thru the surf and out to deep water. Think about the Inuits, Aleut and Eskimos in skin covered kayaks harpooning narwhales, seal, and walruses. These are the pioneers.

Take us back 20 or 30 years to a memorable gathering of kayak anglers. Was there an established lifestyle or culture permeating the scene? 

We knew of no scene in Florida. We had at one time, 6 Chinooks set up and when we arrived we were the scene.

After moving to Gainesville in 1986 we would gather groups of kayak fishers and wanna be’s to various places in Florida to fish. Once we went to WPB, driving thru the night to fish great water for who knows what. The six of us found a school of 30-50 lb lemon sharks circling round and round in about a 100ft of blue water. Each of us took turns and dropped livies down the middle of them and went off to the races.

The water PoPo (police) cited me that day for having out of date flares. It was everything I could do not to shoot one off.

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


One calm summer evening, I was paddling my 10’ Jeti dragging the rapala. The kayak jolted to an abrupt stop; the spool and spray skirt ripped off the cowling and hit me in the chest. I grabbed the yoyo, pulled it out of the loop, and immediately had my right arm wrenched to my right side. The boat spun fast, sideways and frantically lurched to my outstretched arm. I felt like a kid trying to grab a rag doll from a pit bull’s mouth. I kicked my right knee up to open up the leading surface of the boat and started jetting along sideways, struggling to get the spray skirt back on and a leather glove on my working hand. In the gold of the setting sun, a tarpon came out of the water and did a head shake that made me holler. You know how big fish look when they are up in the air and crazy. (I think of Tom Waits’ song Big Joe and Phantom 309:  “he musta weighted 210”).  He jumped twice more, pulled me around for about 10 minutes, swam under the boat and sulked. I watched him flail his mouth and gills and then up slowly rose my lure. Even though I hadn’t “landed him”, I WAS HOOKED.  BAD!

Tell us about 1984′s encounter with a bull shark.

We (Lisa, Magill Adams and myself) flew three Chinooks stuffed with gear to Provoin the BWI. Our intent was to catch a marlin in the deep fertile water north of the island. On a day Magill decided to circumnavigate the island, Lisa and I set off thru a gap in the reef to fish in manageable water (it had blown for three days and was still blowing about 15). We fished with livies. I hooked up solid on a truck of a fish. With the Penn 50 rig I had borrowed from a guy in WPB, I was pretty well matched. As I brought a big bull shark to the side of the boat, Lisa, who was shooting with a Nikonos 5, was yelling for me, as I held the wire, to bring his head up so she could get a better photo. I was thinking all the time about this tired, most probably angry, shark reenergizing himself as the wind pushed my boat sideways thru the water and what he would do if I managed to pull his head into the air. All I could see in my mind was his open jaws taking a big part of my abdomen and chest on his first lunge. Needless to say, I did not raise his head!

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

In Ft. Lauderdale, in the early mornings, a disk jockey named Clint O’Neil would play Rasta reggae as we drove our Datsun B210 (210# of Bondo) to the put-in.

His signature was “I love you madly, need you badly”.

For food, I eat my legendary (Lisa’s words) ‘kayak’ sandwiches – toasted hard millet bread sandwiches made with hot mustard, Monterey Jack cheese, and crunchy peanut butter. They hold up in the heat or cold and when they float around in the bilge in zip locks, they stay relatively edible.

Homer King, of Silver Creek Paddles, on a ride back from a white water day on the Ocoee River, put it this way: “Is someone eating silage back there?”

They have personality.

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

It has to be you.

Compare your current boat and setup to the ones used during yourearliest  days as a kayak angler.

We started in our short, 10ft, light fiberglass, no keel, white water boats. We learned to paddle a straight line over a good distance. I made a close fitting wooden box with 2 PVC rod holders and velcro’ed it to the stern deck so I wouldn’t compromise the boat’s structural integrity. Lisa’s boat had 2 flush mounted rod holders. We learned a lot in these boats:  rod to the front while fighting a fish; steer with your feet when being pulled along; have a sheathed knife on the deck or spray skirt top; don’t reach out for dropped items; make the rod holder short enough to be able to get a rod out with one hand during a strike. Bait was caught and immediately fished. We also leaned to lanyard everything to the boat, we called it “Lanyard Hell”.

We looked around for a more seaworthy boat and found the Chinooks exclusively and still own and use 2, which alternate homes between me and Doug Register, my dear best friend and long time kayak fishing accomplice (this man has lost more glasses in the surf than most will ever own).

Regarding the Chinooks:  years ago in San Fran, we paddled about 10 -15 different boats in a day, thinking we might find a better boat. Our Chinooks back home won out.  I paddled various sit on tops and still feel the same.

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

A). Access to the water was sometimes a problem. I’ve been ‘talked’ upon, by law types, for trying to put in or take out along various ‘improper’ beach sections.

B.) R-e-s-p-e-c-t

In Ft. Lauderdale, we were challenged by a few boats and disdained by charter boats until we weighed a 39 lb kingfish on the Bahia Mar dock scales.  As we paddled out the next day, we were celebs to those guys and after that catch, when they brought their charters close to our kayaks, we could hear them, over their engine noise, saying things like: “Now those are real fishermen.”

C.)  Ft. Lauderdale had “Small Brain Warnings” – especially on nice weekend days.  After noon, the drunk/stoned powerboat speeder types were a real danger. We fished early.

The Coast Guard was a little strange and on a couple of occasions gave us a hard time. I guess they just didn’t know what to think of us and didn’t know what we were doing out there in the ocean.  My final reply to these guys always ended up being “OK, board me”.

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

Lisa and I preferred the blue water. Our dream has always been to tangle with a marlin. A dream kayaking fishing trip would be to find the two within 4 miles of shore and spend a month or two or four to learn and pursue the marlin. Add the whelps and their sweethearts and you’ve got a deal.

What’s in your milk crate? 

Soapbox may be a better call of what I have.

A vast majority of the kayak fishing photos I’ve seen show open, sit on top, short, wide, boats. I see no advantage to these boats in open water and on long paddles over a longer closed boat. Our 16’ X 24” beam Chinooks are off shore horses with great primary and secondary stability, and maneuver very well in big water with sizeable fish circling. With our deck kayaks, we carry 2 flush mounted rod holders in the stern, up to 4 rods holders up front, and can chill in the stern (in an insulated gullet-shaped sock), with frozen water bottles, a fish as long as 5’. Also, with an aerator and 5 gal bucket mounted in the stern hatch we can keep 3-5 liveies pretty well in cool weather. The Chinooks aren’t racers, but can be pulled all day. Big surf launches and beachings are doable with a little skill. All tackle can be stowed in board to forward to keep the sand out of the reels in rough water beaching.

I see people fighting or landing fish in open water with their feet hanging in the water. I guess a dying fish out west doesn’t attract sharks?  Once when untangling a mess of line near the water, a small jack hit my left palm. As I sat tall with hands up, I thought “there’s not one thing here that wouldn’t eat me if I stayed still long enough”. Fishermen in open, sit upon boats could be hanging their feet in the water to either add drag or stabilize the boat, but I’ve seen too many sharks cruise by and take good looks at us to give me anything but a feeling of trouble when I see this. Our boats are very stable (feet inboard) and a 2nd boater can hold onto the grab loop of the fighting boat to add drag – which we did a lot. Plus in both hot and cold weather you have protection from the elements.

What about cold water, sea sock for survival in a bail out.

Tell us about your best day on the water.

So many:

  1. Lisa caught our first sailfish.
  2. The first time I took our twins off shore as 3 year olds. Wow was Lisa – who was standing on the beach with our newborn son – mad.
  3. Lisa caught our first yellow fin.
  4. Fighting and losing a cerbura snapper in CR with Black Hole Kayak Fishing Team.   Lisa’s bait being taken at boat side by a big crebura, and Lisa yelling at me to “stop him, stop him” as 10lb test from her bait rod slipped thru my fingers.
  5. Lisa caught our first dolphin (mahi mahi).
  6. Teaching Lisa to fish over the first reef in Ft.L. (grunt rodeo).
  7. Tarpon rodeo in the keys with my cousins Nick and John. Live bait, 10lb test, no leader on micro spinning rigs.
  8. Provo, in the Caicos.  Bull Shark.
  9. Six boats in a gauntlet, each trolling 2 live baits, passing thru a school of good sized kingfish = 6 kingfish.
  10. Lisa and I paddling along rolling tarpon in rough green Ft. L. winter water.
  11. Dual hookups on big jack in a large breaking surf line at Matanzas inlet.
  12. Navy sub surfacing behind us real close.
  13.  Sitting over pods of poggies in gin clear water 50 yds off Daytona, with my daughter Lydia selecting either big jack, kingfish, or ‘cuda by just dropping the bait on top of them.  She selected a 20# kingfish which we landed. Eli, her twin, made a bad choice and hooked a big jack nearly tipping our boat over – I had to paddle him to shore because he wouldn’t stop crying.
  14.  5 year old Wiley sitting in rear hatch of my Aquaterra putting our mackerel catch on a stringer trailing behind him and wondering if the sharks would be swimming up for a snack thinking “what a way to go”.

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

Lisa loved KF because it is quiet, peaceful and at the same time oh so adventurous. Nothing like reading books while drift fishing and jumping into action at the sound of the drag going wild. We started fishing in kayaks because we could afford it, the blue water was readily accessible and every day was different, even when we fished 5-6 days a week.

The kayak fishing lifestyle: going anywhere there is water; getting good exercise (kayaking is a symmetrical sport like bicycling); enjoying a “green” sport although no one talked “green” way back when; eating fresh fish; satisfying the itch to push the envelope. You gotta be a little crazy to push off a deserted beach, out into water you don’t know, in a world that’s not yours and test yourself with a 6-10 hr paddle in pursuit of large aggressive fish.

Tell us a story, any story.

My first outing after building a fishing box (milk crate) for the Jeti –

I was paddling to the north, off Port Everglades, about 2 miles out in nice sea in about 100ft of water. My dad’s old white sided Penn ~3/0 went off to my right.  That ancient hag screamed.  The line was cutting through the water like in fishing movies I’d watched growing up.  I reached around to grab the rod and realized I could only pull it out so far.  The rod holders were too long. I figured now or never; the fish was still taking line. So I let go of the teetering rod and made a lower grab.  As I pulled the rod to the front and the line straightened out I was flying.  My brain was screaming 2 things: “keep it straight” and “marlin, marlin!!!!!” It was scary!  I was holding on, trying to keep that no-keel boat in a straight line, while the boat seemed to be going faster and faster.  My knees were literally shaking and banging against the sides of the boat. Suddenly I realized I was hooked to the boat way off in front of me.  I started yelling for all I was worth and waving my hand frantically when ever I could let go.  Eventually the boat slowed, then swung around to see if anything was wrong. I was so hoarse, all I could do when it came along side was grunt a “no, I’m OK”.  That’s when I decided to carry a knife on the deck of my boat for a quick line cut. When I caught my breath I went back to fishing and caught a nice bonito and ‘cuda.  The funny thing was – later that day, while putting my boat on the car, some dude in the parking lot freewheeled his bike behind me.  I spun around, reaching back to grab the rod that wasn’t there.  What a day.

What does the future hold for you?

Grand children and teaching them the ropes.

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