Jon Schwartz

As the man behind some of angling’s most iconic images, Jon Schwartz is a respected photographer known for his innovative technique and eye for detail.  Jon’s images have graced the covers of many media outlets, and often feature close and intimate portraits of the world’s largest game fish.  Also a published author, Jon has penned articles for numerous magazines, including Sport Fishing and Marlin Magazine.  When not circling the globe in search of adventure and stories, Jon can be found pursuing his passion of introducing children to the marine environment.

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

I was surf fishing in Socal, and my friend told me to try surfboard fishing. I tired that, but wanted a  more stable platform where I could carry more stuff. Then he told me to try kayak angling. That was in about 2001.


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

I started out potholing for bass with plastics, and did that for awhile with spinning gear and light tackle, and it was great fun, so it was probably a calico or sand bass.


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

Coffee and whatever else I can get at the am/pm store on the way to the beach at 3:00 am.



You took up photography as a means to illustrate your published articles, and, given the quality of your photographic work and the success that it has brought, it can be said that you unearthed a true natural talent.  Tell us about how you learned, and subsequently became quite proficient at, the art of taking pictures.

Same as it is  with fishing - be at the right time, at the right place, use good enough gear, and learn how to use it inside and out. Another thing is planning. I do a lot of research about where and when to go for a fish or a shot. I don’t go somewhere because I like the location; I go because I have found out that at a certain time of the year, at a certain spot, when certain conditions exist, that if you are doing x, y, and z, then you can get a good chance at getting the shot or the fish.



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

Josh Pruitt. I have ridden along and interviewed some of the world’s top rated sportfishing captains, and even among all of them, his instincts, skills, drive, and eyesight are among the best. He’s just crazy skilled and talented. Everyone who knows him knows that he is just amazing.



Part of your multifaceted career has you teaching kids, both in the classroom and on the water.  How can we, as kayak anglers, get more youth involved with the sport?

Hook up with local kids organizations and schools, and ask them if they’d like to have a presentation about fish and fishing. Tell them how they can do it. Get kids started on tiny fish and hooked up to many. Take them out in protected areas and make it really safe and easy, and then take pics of them so they can show everyone. Make a big deal out of them, and then the rest of the kids will want to do it.


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

I am not involved much in the political issues because I travel a lot. What I care most about is that people are friendly and non-clique-ish.



A popular draw for online forums is that they provide a ground onto which kayak anglers can submit trip reports and photographs of their adventures.  Cameras and technique are often discussed, and users are constantly looking for ways to improve the visual record of their time on the water.  What do you believe to be the greatest piece of advice that you could offer the average kayak angler, perhaps armed only with a waterproof point and shoot, with regard to improving image quality?

I’d say experiment with different camera angles, get really close to your subjects, and take many shots of the same thing. When I take a picture, I take a whole sequence of them with slightly different angles and pick the best ones. I see a lot of people using digital cameras as if they have only 20-30 shots left on their film roll; when digital is unlimited, and when they catch a great fish, they take one picture. Take 30 and pick the best one, make the subject move in different ways, have the fish in different positions. Look at cool photos online, and try to figure out where the camera had to be to take that shot. Get in the water and take pictures looking up.



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

I have already done most of the ones I wanted to do on kayak; that’s kind of why I got into photography and put down the rods, because I scratched the itch to try out every last weird trip and fantasy that I could dream up. Hawaii has the world’s biggest fish and I have fished a lot there.  What I would enjoy is doing some popping in shallow water for GT and wrasse and stuff in the remote areas of Australia.



Tell us about your best day on the water.

Too many to mention! It depends on what the criteria are. The day that I caught my first ulua from a kayak in Hawaii was awesome, but so was my first day on a kayak ever, and I only caught a bass. First time I ever caught an 55# ulua ( weighed on official scale), I was in Kona. Not many fished yaks at the time in Hawaii, unlike now. I brought over a cooler full of sushi quality mackerelo and had it on ice in my tub at the motel near the beach, all rental gear, bed strewn with tackle. Go to the store to get more ice for macks, and there’s a front page article regarding tiger sharks in the harbor.  Considered calling off fishing but couldn’t resist. Paddled out to a spot at the end of the harbor where it drops off into a gazillion feet. Threw a knife jig at some structure and got a weird fish I never saw before, about 7 inches long. I thought of putting it in my cooler but then decided I’d rig up a wire leader ( I had this cool knottable wire leader) and a big circle hook and drop it down live. I later found out this is the best bait you can use - they are called goatfish.

Minutes later it gets slammed. I was using a trolling rod for marlin with rollers and a TLD 20 with braid, and my rod was completely bent into the water, I was barely holding on. Thought I might be on the monster tiger talked about in the article, thought about cutting it loose because I didn’t want to raise something that would turn on me.

Then I look out on the horizon, there’s a flotilla of boats coming straight for me - I was at the harbor mouth and they were all returning for the 4:00 marlin tournament deadline, at the same time, like 30 plus boats, full steam. Like I said, few yakked there then, so they didn’t have the consciousness that they needed to stop. They just barreled by me and almost swamped me, and I was still major bendo. The chase boat had on it one of the island’s only yakkers, a guy who had actually warned me about tiger sharks when I got there, and he was on that boat with a video camera, and when they saw me he stopped and started shooting me!

Finally that fish popped up. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I have a video I took on a point and shoot of me fighting the fish and also of me shouting for joy when I had it on my lap paddling back. When I got back to the docks where all the boats were and paddled in, no one could believe it. Lotsa boats got skunked after all day trolling, and here is this dude with a big fish from a yak!

Then I took the fish to the hotel and gave it to the local ladies that worked there. It was the start of a long friendship with the people there.



Your writing style is conversational, but at the same time, invokes a sense of place in the way that only a true documentarian can achieve.  The resulting balance is quite inviting, and really draws the reader into the story.  Walk us through the process involved in the creation of a Jon Schwartz article.

Now usually I do my writing for magazines, and I submit ideas for articles, which may or may not get approved. Basically what I do is, I travel to a location. I take pics from before the sun rises till after it sets. I take pics off all the people I am fishing with, the captains, mates, gear, scenic and travel shots, resorts, and then I take action fishing pics and get in the water often with the fish and swim with them. Hopefully by the time a trip is over, there will be something cool that happened, and then I pitch that to different mags. If I get a lot of killer images, I usually get at least one article from a trip. The trick is to just do a crazy amount of fishing, all day, and see all that I can when I am there, and document it all, above and below the water.



Tell us a story, any story.

Took a day off from school. Launched at 5:00 and made bait. I hooked up to a white seabass as the sun rose. By 6:55 I am on the beach with a 28 pounder. I call school to tell them of my luck, they tell me my sub never showed. I am not obligated to come in because I took the day off, but I said, lemme come in anyway, I’ll get there on time and do fish science all day. So I get to school with my dripping yak on my car and I walk to my class with my fish, playground is full of kids, and the playground erupted with excitement. Spent the whole day doing hands on marine fish science and writing, art, and fish related math. You can see it on my site



Your kayak angling trips often involve a combination of megafauna and valuable camera gear.  How do you protect your equipment, and have you ever had an incident with lost or damaged items?

I carry around way too much gear! I have a bunch of pelican cases and padded bags and just try to not be too careless. If you are around saltwater a lot and using good gear, you are gonna have problems. I spend hours each day getting my gear ready and then breaking it down. It’s a lot of work just to maintain it. I try to minimize the amount of connections I have in my flights, and I try to carry all essential gear with me on planes.

As far as being in contact with big fish, if that’s megafauna, so far I haven’t had any big fish mess with my gear yet, and if they did, obviously it would be my fault. It’s getting on and off the boats and kayaks, that’s where stuff is likely to go wrong. The hardest stuff to do is bring high quality photo gear on a kayak. I’m not talking point and shoots, but SLR’s.



What does the future hold for you?

I want to get more kids into fishing and use technology, writing, photography, and video, and put it all together. I already do that but I plan to do it o a larger scale. I am going to work with The Billfish Foundation, and share the work I do with my elementary students - fishing, marine science, and technology.


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