Howard McKim

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A talented angler who moved from sunny San Diego to the wilds of Alaska, Howard McKim is living what many paddlers consider to be the quintessential dream. The forty-ninth state’s first kayak angling guide, Howard has lead many clients through once-in-a-lifetime adventures, and continues to do so with his eco-tourism business. Howard has to his name many impressive catches, including megafauna weighing in at triple digit numbers. When not pursuing various cold water species or setting trends within a rich and traditional seafaring community, Howard can be found spending time at a cabin largely constructed with material ferried by kayak.

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

I’ve never been a motor guy, and got tired of getting pounded by the surf trying to surf fish is San Diego, while kayaks were surfing by me with huge yellowtail and white sea bass, all while I’m trying to unhook stingrays standing chest deep. Around 1998 or so, when La Jolla was just starting to go off with kayak fishing.

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

I remember going out with a buddy in a rental tandem kayak. We put a scupper plug in and kept splashing water in that part of the kayak to keep a couple of baits alive. Catching bait was half the fun by the way. We both hooked into yellowtail, and then we were hooked ourselves. I bought a tandem with a middle seat so I could go solo or with someone.

As the first licensed kayak fishing guide in Alaska, you entered into a sea faring culture that is rich in tradition with regard to philosophy and execution. How were you and your plastic-boat-based venture received?

I got laughed at and told “This ain’t California.” Then I landed a hundred pound halibut and got on the front page of the newspaper. Then I was a local celebrity and, as one old-timer put it, “part of Ketchikan folklore now.” Alaska is all about big boats, motors, and heavy tackle. I’m still the oddball, which is fine by me. They’ll catch on eventually.

 

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

Drive? Actually I do still drive for most of my kayaking, though from my remote place I can launch right there.

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

I’d have to say the freshwater anglers are shaping the future. I was hoping to see more advances in offshore kayaks but the trend is definitely toward the inshore and freshwater market. Sit on top designs are definitely being geared for non-kayakers in shallow and/or fresh water.

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

I think we need to stop the “us vs. power boaters” mentality. I know the issues with sharing water, but we’re stronger together than apart. It’s obvious that as resources decline, recreational anglers of any sort are an easy target for restrictions. We need to band together against the commercial fleet, and pollutants, and greed, are where the real problems lie.

 

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

I know this sound arrogant, but I don’t mean it that way. I live my dream kayak angling trip. Not every day, but in general I get to wake up in a beautiful place, with deep clear water right at my feet, and can take off into the wilderness without any travel, logistics, expense, or any other people. Can you tell I’m a loner home-body type?

If the sit on top kayak is viewed as the venerable workhorse of the paddle-powered genre, you will likely be the man cited as human testimony to the notion. You built a remote island cabin, and in doing so, replaced the usual flatbed trucks and transport infrastructure with the humble SOT. Tell us a bit about this project and why it was that you chose to employ a kayak within the building paradigm.

Well I don’t have any choice but to use a sit on top for the project, and also just for staying out there. The tide zone is about two hundred yards long (20+ ft. tide swings) and full of barnacle covered rocks. Harsh place to land a boat, especially in any weather. So I boat over with supplies as I can, anchor up, and kayak almost everything to shore. Once in awhile I have to land the boat, but for the most part I have kayaked a whole house to shore. There are no roads or docks, so I don’t know how else to do it.

 

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What’s in your milk crate?

Well I’m usually under-prepared on the fishing gear! You’d think being in the business I’d have everything in order and have a perfect setup for myself, but the reality is the weekend kind of guy probably plans better and is more organized. I used to try to have one sweet setup just for myself, but the reality is when you’re running trips, everything gets used for everything and nothing is just mine. I see the water is glassy, and I just take off wherever I am and with whatever I have at hand.

Tell us about your best day on the water.

No such thing as a single best day, but my kayak fishing moment of zen was when I first moved to AK, didn’t know what I was doing, and was out halibut fishing alone with just three herring for bait. Weather got rough, and I hooked into about a 50 pounder. Wrestled the thing on board somehow and paddled to a small island to fillet it and get out of the weather. So I’m kneeling on the beach filleting it in pouring rain, rough water all around, with eagles swooping down to grab everything I threw aside. I looked up and just thought “I’ve made it.” All the unknowns and trade-offs moving to a strange remote place came into focus and I knew I was in the right place. I paddled back across the two mile wide channel in rough seas, with fillets getting washed back to sea since I had nowhere to put them except exposed in the tank well, and landed right at my door, exhilarated. Nobody else cares about this story, but it is my personal favorite.

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

Simplicity and self-sufficiency. It is the reason trips are so difficult to sell to kayak anglers. We all have a mentality that “I can do that myself.” That is the core beauty of the sport.

 

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The sport of kayak angling is currently boasting a record number of participants, and the associated industries have been growing at an exponential rate. You, however, have chosen to step away from the commercial side of the sport, and have been focusing on more traditional tour operations. Tell us a bit about why it was that you chose to cease the offering of guided kayak angling forays.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man here… I just got burned out on all of it. Talking fishing, listening to fishing stories, keeping loads of gear ready to go every single day. There are no days off for 5 months each year. I once heard that golf is a nice walk in the park ruined by a little white ball. It got to the point where I would be like ‘why did we just ruin a perfectly good tour by dropping a line?” So, then I knew it was time to get out. Plus the pressure is always on being a fishing guide. You also have to understand that it involved teaching people the absolute basics of fishing such as “you turn this handle to bring in line,” while trying to fish 200’ deep, from a kayak, while everyone is drifting different directions, with backlashes, snags, etc. It was an awesome tour and a great part of my life, with so many great memories, but there comes a time when you know it is time to change. I’m more interested in outdoor education and giving eco-tours instead of fishing any more. But I do still set up people for self-guided kayak fishing trips, both local and remote.

What does the future hold for you?

If I had an answer to that I guess it wouldn’t be so exciting. I hope to live remote and off the grid for an extended period, relying on the kayak even more than I do today. Beyond that, I have no idea. I have several past lives totally unrelated to what I do today, so it’s anybody’s guess what is next.

One Response to “Howard McKim”

  1. With a kayak you can fish for pretty-well anything. Some of the guys paddle way offshore in really rough conditions and fish for cod, pollack, and other deep water species but I haven’t braved that sort of fishing yet. For me the kayak gives me amazing opportunities to go for my favourite species – bass – and that’s what they are called, just ‘bass’. Everyone now seems intent on calling them sea-bass, the French call them bar, not bar de mer. It sticks in my throat to say it but for the first time since 1066 – the French are right.

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