Jim Sammons

Arguably the man most synonymous with the sport of kayak angling, California based Jim Sammons is a guide, television host, and filmmaker known for his globe-spanning adventures in search of the perfect catch. Possessing an innate, almost magnetic attraction to the ancestral sea, Jim has long been drawn to the notions of human powered angling. He has crafted his passion into a successful business, a number of well received DVDs, and a widely viewed television series detailing his piscatorial escapades. When not entertaining the masses or fishing with friends, Jim can be found spending time with his wife and children.

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

I have fished my entire life but have never had much money, so from the beginning I was fishing out of self-propelled craft. When I was real young, my parents got me an army surplus rubber raft and I would spend hours out on San Diego bay or on a nearby lake fishing from it. When I got a bit older, my friends and I started taking our longboards out to the local kelp beds. With rods on our back, we would head out whenever the surf was too small to ride and we would target Calico Bass, Bonita and the occasional Yellowtail. When I wasn’t surfing, I was fishing or diving, always preferring to spend my days on the water rather than on land. When I met my future wife, 27 years ago, and her father introduced me to paddling touring kayaks, I knew that would be my new fishing vessel. As soon as I saw the first sit on Ocean Kayak, I had to have one, and have been riding an OK ever since.

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

Hard to say what the first fish was, it was so long ago, but I am sure it was a Calico bass; I spent a lot of time in the boilers fishing for them at the beginning, and still do.

 

 

For the uninitiated or simply curious, you are often the first point of contact with the sport of kayak angling. Be it through a web search or channel surfing, the name Jim Sammons instantly becomes synonymous with the pursuit. In our age of quick attention spans and resonating first impressions, there sits upon you a great responsibility for proper ambassadorship. What does this mean to you?

I feel a great responsibility to represent this sport well and encourage others to join us in the safest way possible, even when pushing the limits of what we do. Sometimes being an ambassador for the sport means biting my tongue. Even before the show I was pretty high profile as a kayak angler and was well known for speaking my mind, always with a touch of sarcasm. I have learned to just sit back and listen and keep my mouth shut and I try not to get into emotional arguments. This works most of the time. I will be honest with you – I see a lot of things going on out there with product claims, or sponsored anglers’ endorsements that are just ridiculous; I so want to say something but I just bite my tongue and let it go. We are all just trying to promote the sport we love and it is better to keep everything positive and work together on the goal of making our sport, and the products that goes along with it, better.

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

For the most part coffee is my fuel in the mornings, rarely eating until I am off the water later in the day. My wife is an awesome cook and we always seem to have some great leftovers to gorge on when I get home. If it is a late evening you will likely find Mexican food on my plate, as we have the best Mexican food in the country here in San Diego. My music changes by my mood in the morning but you will often find Barenaked Ladies, Jimmy Buffet, and the Gypsy Kings in the rotation on my iPod.

 

 

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

Well not to sound conceited, but to an extent I have to say the cast and crew working on The Kayak Fishing Show; it may not be the PC answer, but I hope it is true. I only mean it, though, to the extent that the show is now syndicated around the world and is spreading the word about this sport with people that may have never heard of it. I hope the show is also inspiring people to get out and visit and fish at some of the awesome and sometimes remote destinations we feature in the shows. Other than that, there are just so many guys doing great things to help spread the word and pushing the envelope of what we can do from these plastic boats. Specifically guys like Kevin Whitley, Rob Choi, and Drew Gregory, who are such great ambassadors for the sport, the guys in Hawaii who are really getting on some incredible fish, the guys in Florida who have recently discovered their ability to get on the pelagic fish just off shore in their yaks. The great organization Heroes On the Water is doing so much for the military community and spreading the word on how therapeutic a day on the water can be for not only the injured serviceman but for anyone.

With so many people posting videos on YouTube there is a never ending supply of information about kayak fishing, and all of them are helping shape our sport and inspire others to join us. The more of us out there the more influence we have on the kayak and fishing tackle manufacturers to make better products for us.

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

There are a few issues that are near and dear to my heart when it comes to kayak fishing, paddling, and fishing resources. Safety is as big an issue for me as anything; in the past month I have read of three kayak anglers dying, drowning while out for a day of fishing. In every case the person was not wearing a PFD. People need to get a PFD they are comfortable in and wear it every time they go out. I admit when I was younger I was much more brazen and felt bullet proof, so often I was out without a PFD. Many years ago I promised my wife I would wear one and have stuck by the promise. As a guide and instructor I also feel a responsibility to set an example to anyone that may see me on the water. I see too many “pro” kayak anglers not taking that responsibility seriously. Like it or not, if you set yourself up as a higher profile angler, and that includes any guides, people are going to follow your lead.

Another big issue is that basic kayaking skills are ignored. I have had to rescue guys that have fallen off their kayaks that had no idea how to get back on. It is just unacceptable that you would go out on the water in a kayak with no knowledge of how to get back in if you fall off. Spend a few bucks and take a basic kayak safety class and learn these skills. If a paddler, take a paddling class; it will make a world of difference in your ability to paddle all day long and your comfort on the kayak.

 

 

You have had upon your line, at one time or another, many of the world’s largest game fishes. The poundage and effort seem to be ever-increasing, and your dossier of catches reads like the biography of a man truly enthralled with the power and speed of aquatic megafauna. One often wonders where this will take you. In short, what is your white whale?

I really love to catch anything, large or small, from my kayak. I can have just as much fun pulling on small jacks as pulling on a tarpon. The reality though is that there is nothing like the adrenalin rush you get from having a real big fish jumping near you or taking you on a ride out to sea. It is that rush that keeps me chasing bigger fish. The list of fish I still would like to catch is long, and some may be impossible, but that is what drives me. I would love to land a blue or black Marlin from my kayak but because I want to release it alive that may be tough, unless I get one that is a size I can handle. I honestly feel it is easier to kill one, and is very doable if that is what I choose, than it is to catch and release one alive and kicking. There is a balance of keeping yourself safe and the fish healthy. Another goal of mine is to start targeting some IGFA line class records, I believe that with the dynamics of the kayak that this is something that is really in reach on some pretty big fish. I am a pretty competitive person; though not really into tournaments, I want to be the first to land certain species or have the largest of a species from my kayak, and I respect anyone with the same ambition.

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

Well, this is a tough one, as it seems I am on a dream trip several times a year. It might be easier to share some of the trips I have done and would do again if I had the chance. For an affordable, easy to do trip, where you have the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime, it is hard to beat a trip to Baja’s East Cape. In the East Cape you have a shot at Roosterfish, tuna, dorado and billfish a short paddle from shore. If you are a fresh water guy and want absolutely insane Pike fishing, for numbers and size, I highly recommend Minor Bay Lodge on Wollaston Lake, Canada. On our trip there we had days where each of us caught over a hundred huge Pike. If you want to catch the biggest Yellowtail in the world, head to New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. If you want Calico Bass fishing at its finest, plus Yellowtail, White Seabass, and Halibut, Cedros is your spot. Cedros Island off the coast of northern Baja is a remote yet accessible kayak fishing paradise. If you want a chance to land so many big tarpon it will blow you away visit Silver King lodge on the east coast of Costa Rica. We caught so many big tarpon there we actually lost count. If I could only return to one place it would have to be the waters surrounding Coiba Island and Hannibal bank in Panama with Pesca Panama. I have been able to do this trip on two occasions and if given the chance I would go back every year (twice if I could).

At this time adding to my kayak caught species list, which now stands at 106, has become my goal, so new destinations are in our sites. Next year we will be heading to Africa for Nile Perch, Italy for Bluefin tuna, and hopefully Argentina for Golden Dorado; I am dying to catch one of those hard fighting fish.

 

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What’s in your milk crate?

Well since I don’t carry a milk crate I will go with the figurative answer here. I think the most important thing I have with me is the support of my wonderful wife, Allene, and my great kids, Kirstin and Randy. Without them behind me there is no way I could do what I do for a living. I am so happy to have accumulated so many new friends from around the world that share my passion for kayak fishing. Without the support and vision of my producer, Ken Whiting, this project would have never gotten off the ground, and without the talents of Will Richardson my, videographer/editor/director/narrator… I am sure our show would not be doing so well. Of course, I always carry the gear and support from all of our great sponsors many of whom have been with me since before all the video stuff started.

Tell us about your best day on the water.

My best days on the water are always when I get a new guided client on their first fish or first species off a kayak. If it is a kid, even better. I have helped a lot of people accomplish the goal of getting a billfish from a kayak, and the look on their face once we have landed that fish, a look of exhaustion and elation, is like nothing else. From a personal fishing perspective, I don’t know about best day on the water but certainly most memorable is when I caught my first marlin from my kayak here in La Jolla. It was a total fluke, I was not fishing for them, mainly because we don’t normally get them here. Though it was many years ago I can close my eyes and picture everything about that day, from the paddle out, to the bait being picked up, that first jump and my eight mile sleigh ride straight out to sea.

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

I think it is really different for everyone, I know plenty of guys who think it is about going out and killing fish. For me it is just about being out on the water with friends enjoying each other’s company and the nature that is surrounding us. Some of the best days of kayak fishing involve no fish at all – just a day of sharing stories and catching up with friends while a pod of dolphin or whales surround us. We just laugh because people are spending hundreds of dollars for a family trip to SeaWorld while we are seeing these great creatures, less than a mile off the beach, in the environment they were meant to be in.

 

 

Tell us a story, any story.

Well I don’t know many stories that don’t have to do with fishing so here is one from a few years ago on one of my Baja trips. In 2005, I had a young guy named Scott join us on one of my multi-day trips to Punta Colorada in Baja’s East Cape. He was a late addition to the trip; he had just come up with some time off work and wanted a little adventure. He had never been kayak fishing before but thought the trip looked like fun. Now generally my clients on these trips are veteran kayak anglers so we don’t need to go over all the very basics of the sport, focusing more on the species specific instructions. Before the trip I had several long conversations with him and was confident he could handle it and in the very least had the positive attitude about learning by fire.

Day one on the water of the trip comes along and he is the first person in his kayak and on the water ready to go, this is always a good sign. Our target species this day would be Yellowfin tuna and Dorado, strong fish to be certain but nothing this young guy couldn’t handle. He was the first person ready to go, so we baited him up with a live mackerel and proceeded to get bait on everyone else’s line. While baiting up one of the other guys I hear the shout of HOOK UP!!! I looked over just in time to see Scott falling off his kayak, one hand on the kayak, one hand on the rod as a Striped Marlin is dancing away from him. I rushed over to assist him, got him back in the kayak and sent him off to the races chasing down the marlin. Two and a half hours later we had the fish across his lap for a photo. His very first fish off a kayak is a marlin; he is so elated he says he will be joining us on these trips every year. I have never heard from him again. I think he was ruined; he caught the apex species we target from our kayaks as his very first fish, where do you go from there?

Given your fame, recognizable persona, and filming schedule, one could deduce that kayak angling has, in many ways beyond the literal, become a business for you. Does Jim Sammons ever mount the metaphorical longboard of his youth and escape for an unassisted and private foray into the local kelp beds?

Kayak Fishing is certainly my business and what drives my professional life but I never get tired of it. There is not much I enjoy more than a day out on the water with my family or my good friend, Matt, and just having fun pulling on small spotted bay bass. We have a blast, joking all day, and of course it is always a competition between us. Sometimes the contest is just to see who can get the dumbest song stuck in the other guys head. If no one is available to go out with me I still relish a cool winter morning paddling out to La Jolla with no others out and watching the sunrise. If I tire of that you should check my pulse because I am likely dead.

 

 

What does the future hold for you?

I plan on staying on this ride for as long as possible. I love sharing this sport with others and hopefully people like the show well enough to let it go on for a very long time. There are still so many great destinations I want to visit, and with kayak fishing growing around the world the list just keeps getting longer. If or when the show runs its course, I plan on keeping going with guiding and sharing the sport with as many people as possible. I am addicted to travel now so I am sure there will still be some great trips in my future.

 

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