Hailing from Rockaway, New Jersey, Jon Shein is a man dedicated to the bettering of the sport of kayak angling. As the editor of Kayak Fishing Magazine, Jon provides his readers with trusted product reviews, thorough instruction, and grounds for interaction. His 2010 book, “Kayak Fishing,” has gone on to become one of the treasured guides to the sport, and is illustrative of his passion and experience. Prior to his literary career, Jon recognized a void in the supply chain, and founded Kayak Fishing Stuff, a retail outlet that forever changed the way kayak anglers could go about procuring the equipment necessary for enhancing their on-water experiences. Jon has recently added to his resume the role of television personality, and can soon be seen starring in kayak angling segments on the Pursuit channel.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
I was standing on the wall at Monmouth Beach, NJ in November 1998 with my buddy Chris. We were surf fishing. There was a massive blitz as far as we could see. The only problem? The fish were a few hundred yards out of reach. We kept coming back to the beach, but the fish never came closer. At dusk we headed home. The next day I read on the forums that some of the school crashed a beach a few towns south just before sunset. They were striped bass that averaged 15 to 30 lbs. I had recently read an article about using kayaks to get beyond the waves, and thought it made a lot of sense. I vowed then I would be a kayak fisherman the following spring.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
Yes, eastern chain pickerel at a pond near my house the first day I tested my first kayak.
Kayak Fishing Magazine has become one of the most popular media outlets of our sport. As such, anglers place a great deal of trust and value into the information and reviews that you provide. What does this responsibility mean to you?
It means a great deal. I have always tried to promote kayak fishing by making it more user friendly for fishermen who don’t have the time to do the research and can’t get accurate information from most paddle shops because they’re not (staffed by) fishermen. Because of KayakFishingStuff, I had the opportunity to play with more stuff than most. I’ve always taken the approach of being honest with people and focusing on their needs. I look upon readers the same way I did customers. Treat them as I wish to be treated. That’s probably why so many of my friends are people I met as customers and readers.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
I generally listen to classic rock, but more often than not I’m listening to Sports Talk radio. I rarely eat on the way to put-in.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
My early influences were the Southern California anglers, however much of what they did didn’t carry over to the northeast. I went to the beat of my own drum and always have. That’s why I created KayakFishingStuff. I got out of retail while writing my book but I’m about to turn a new chapter in this journey and take it to a whole new level. As to shaping the sport, there’s lots of people that I respect. I think what Yakattack is doing, regarding gear, is fantastic.
Your product reviews are known for being informative and quite thorough in their details. Describe to us a typical session in which you are testing items related to kayak angling.
That’s not easy to answer. Regarding a product, I try my best to not only to think about my needs but also about others’. That’s what I did when I was a retailer. It’s always about the fisherman/reader’s/customer’s needs. So I try my best to take that approach. There’s nothing really organized to my approach. I live with a product rather than simply use it once or twice. First impressions have merit, but an opinion develops over extended use. Often my first impression changes as I get to know and understand a product. For instance my most recent article comparing electric kayak (EK) options took over 2 years of living with EKs to gather enough info to write the article. I could never have covered the products if I simply used each kayak a few times.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
I think access, for one. In many places access to the water has been lost. I know that in some parts of the country, environments have been closed off, but here in the northeast it’s only been launch points. Unfortunately, it takes people organizing and doing something about it, which isn’t easy. It’s a lot like herding cats.
Equipment wise, most of the major companies, whose products we’ve been using, haven’t kept up with technology. They’re offering old outdated vessels. Kayaks need to get lighter, more efficient and more specialized.
With regard to the sport of kayak angling, what are your predictions for the coming year?
Electric kayaks will continue to gain popularity because they’re incredibly effective fishing tools. We’re going to see more products that make the sport easier – both accessories and some very interesting vessels.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
The Seychelles for a month. Second would be an extended trip fishing Baja for a few months in a row. I’m especially interested in the more remote areas like the Isla Encantadas, the Pacific coast from Punta Baja south to Santo Domingo, Bahias Mag and Amejas and the southern Pacific coast.
What’s in your milk crate?
When I do use a milk crate, it has 3 PVC tubes attached for rods. Usually I’ll use a crate for freshwater or bay fishing. When fishing the ocean I don’t use a crate. As to what I take along, it depends on what I’m pursuing. I try to take only one Plano 1612 for all my lures. I take a dry bag along in the hull with flares, a space blanket, mirror and a layer of clothing.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
That’s not easy. I’ve been fortunate to kayak fish from Alaska to Baja to the Caribbean up to New England for many species of fish. If I had to pick only one day, it would be this past Columbus Day at Montauk, NY. We were there for 3 days, and each day got better than the previous, with Monday, the final day, being totally off the charts. The reason being, considering what one anticipates regarding general expectations of fish and weather, is it was much better than we could have hoped for. The weather was fantastic, and water temps warm enough that we didn’t need dry wear. To top it off, the surf was negligible. The camaraderie was fantastic, too. The targeted species were false albacore and striped bass. By mid-day we were worn out by albies on fly rods. Pursuing tuna with a fly rod from a kayak is challenging to say the least. So much has to go right as they move around so fast but we had all we could want. So we stopped fishing for them by mid-day and chased bass that were running 26 to 40”. Again, we had all we could want. We quit early. It was 3 of the best days in a row that I’ve ever had fishing, considering what one could hope for. My companions all felt the same way. It was epic. As we pulled onto the beach on the last evening, Dave summed it up well. He said, “I thought last year was incredible – and it was – but this is so much better.” The only way it could have been even better is if some bluefin tuna showed up.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
It’s a few things: good people and camaraderie, solitude in the midst of population, an escape into the outdoors, the adventure of exploring new places and catching new species, and more.
Tell us a story, any story.
It was on the above-mentioned Montauk trip. I hooked up with an albie on the north side, and the combination of outgoing tide, north wind and a feisty albie heading down-current took me far from the fleet. Albies are tun,a and when close to the kayak they do the concentric circle thing. So, I was concentrating on the fish so I wouldn’t break my fly rod on the stern or bow of the kayak. I had just released the fish and put my fly rod in the Scotty Powerlock, when I looked up to see a 30’ boat heading right for me. It was flying. My initial reaction was I couldn’t believe they were deliberately trying to run me over. Then the captain saw me and his face was ashen. He turned the boat immediately but it was about 10’ from me. The wake flipped me. The boat came back to help me. They said they couldn’t see me until the last moment and pointed to the early morning sun on the water that was reflecting a huge bright swath. I was in that swath as they were heading offshore. I wouldn’t have seen me either. Other than losing some gear I was fine. As I headed back to the fleet and my fishing buddies, I thought about what happened and what I should do differently. First, close and secure everything, which would have prevented any loss. Second, don’t wear an inflatable PFD for fishing offshore. I didn’t need it but if I had been hit my inflatable was useless; only real PFDs for me in the ocean for now on. Third, even though I wanted to keep the rod from hitting the kayak, I can’t solely concentrate on one thing. I need to look around at regular intervals. Forth, when I joined my companions, none of them had any idea I was in trouble as the fight, wind, and current had taken me close to a mile from where I had started. We felt a buddy system might be appropriate. I’m glad I’m OK; I learned quite a bit from the experience.
Your 2010 book, Kayak Fishing, covers nearly all aspects of the namesake topic, and, as such, pays homage to the various roles you have played within the sport. When you sat down to write the tome, was the breadth of subject matter overwhelming, or did the words flow forth as if a natural extension of your past experiences?
I had actually started it in 2002, and then KFS took off. Like any endeavor, when I jumped back in it was a bit overwhelming getting started, having taken a 5 year hiatus. However, having been involved in many aspects of the spor,t I just worked on things I thought were important. I wrote them like articles and then pieced them together filling in the gaps. I grouped them together, and got feedback from friends to see what I was missing. I did know I wanted to make it personal and use stories as much as I could to explain why I did things certain ways. That way the reader could understand the reasoning. Much of my evolution and that of KFS was via trial and error.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m going back to my roots – sort of. I accomplished something pretty special with KayakFishingStuff and now I’m going to stretch the sport with a new business that’ll be launching late winter. I’m very excited about it.
One of my first customers, Mark Kenyon, aka Surfacetension, became a good friend, and at the time he was hosting a TV Show on the Speed Channel. We spoke about a kayak fishing show. Last spring, he became part owner of Team E Outdoors. They have a hunting and fishing show that airs on the Pursuit channel, which is on Direct TV and Dish Network. It’s also available online for folks like me who don’t have satellite TV. Starting this season, I’m to be doing a kayak fishing segment on the show, and we’ll see where it leads.
Jon has graciously offered to The Milkcrate readers his book, “Kayak Fishing,” at a reduced price of $19.95. Head to www.kayakfishingbook.net, and use the following coupon code: Milkcrate.