Josh Holmes is a Maclean resident and publisher of the ever-popular website, Yakass. A man truly immersed in the sport of kayak angling, Josh also runs an online video show and, when not adding to his tens of thousand of compiled kayak miles, can be found selling and demonstrating boats for Maclean Outdoors. Through his writings, Josh has become a trusted source of product reviews and sport-specific information, a role that has led him to become one of Australia’s most respected watermen. A kayak fisherman for over a decade, Josh has pursued a variety of species across the greater portion the eastern coast.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
I was first drawn to kayak fishing by realizing that by comparison, the land-based fishing I was doing was a waste of time. It was back around 1998-99 that I was working in IT heavily, and fishing was my only outdoors-recreational release. When I needed a break from work, I’d walk down to the local break wall and cast a line. Sometimes I caught fish, mostly I didn’t. But, I knew that if I could just get my line a full 100 meters further out, I’d be into the fish. So I bought the cheapest kayak I could find to paddle out and test the theory, catching a good fish on my very first cast and it all blossomed from there. Thankfully I’d been fishing for years and had reasonable experience in kayaking as well, having completed several kayaking courses a few years earlier so I took to it pretty well, though. I’ve never stopped learning since.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
I do indeed – it was the snapper just mentioned. It was near on 4kg of one of the tastiest and most sought after fish in Aussie waters. It took me just 2 minutes to catch after casting out a bait and lowering it down. Up until then, I’d spent countless hours trying to land a fish like that, even on boats, so I was pretty well sold on the concept of yak fishing at that point.
As the editor of the popular website, Yakass, you provide an entertaining and informative assembly of product reviews, trip reports, and news alerts. From where did the idea to start such a multi-faceted media outlet come?
Yakass.net started life as a blog created to follow an 8-month coastal kayak fishing odyssey up and down the east coast of Australia, and was known as ‘yakabout’ at the time. I’d set it up from the beginning to grow into an information portal, having done much the same sort of thing in a completely different industry (as a career) some years prior. As my experience and knowledge expanded, so to did the quality and quantity of the content and having other contributors come on board to help out has been invaluable as well. My intention has, and always will be, to help promote the sport of kayak fishing by informing and inspiring it’s participants.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
I’m not much of a top-40 kind of guy, so my car radio is tuned in to the nation’s leading independent music radio station (JJJ), which offers a wide selection of music, almost all of which never surfaces high on charts. I listen to a lot of instrumental music otherwise. As for food, I do have a few staple snacks that fuel me for the open seas. I start each trip with a good hot coffee, which I make on a real espresso machine and drink along the way. This keeps me awake and alert for pesky kangaroos that like to jump in front of cars at dawn and dusk hours. I always pack energy bars as provisions on the kayak, often including nuts and crisps as well.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
Definitely the user base. The humble milkcrate itself is iconic as an example of the kind of simplistic creativity that is often embraced by kayak fishos. For a long time the whole kayak fishing thing seemed a bit too much like trying to fit square pegs into round holes for kayak manufacturers, so for a while it was almost exclusively shaped by the user base. However, certain kayak manufacturers have begun paying attention and a few of them have come a long way in a short space of time. Special mention for Hobie here, as their pedal-powered mirage drive has done a hell of a lot to drive the sport forward. If not for this invention, kayak fishing wouldn’t be where it is today. That device has opened possibilities to a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in using a paddle kayak, and this has resulted in huge exposure for the sport.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
My biggest on-going issue related to kayak fishing is that of safety. It’s a topic I focus on a lot, and am constantly reminded as to why I need to be. There’s lots of reasons for this, but chief among them is the fact that kayak fishing has gone from being a sport patronized typically by kayakers who were experimenting with fishing from their kayaks to one that land and boat-orientated fishermen are now approaching with no previous experience in kayaking. These are the guys who most often get themselves into trouble, mainly because they were just too focused on the fishing part and not so much the kayaking part.
I’m not sure what can be done about this on a personal level, other than what I have already taken upon myself to do. Safety is a topic that is heavily featured on Yakass.net (around 50 articles currently) and I also try to teach by example in my videos, too, which is why there is a disclaimer at the start of many of them. It’s also why you see me wearing a PFD vest heavily kitted with safety gear, even in situations I know it’s probably overkill.
Upon watching your fishing videos, one could quite easily conclude that you have a background in film, or, at the minimum, a healthy amount of training in the cinematic arts. You seem to effortlessly combine well-written narration, interesting camera work, and polished editing to create a viewing experience that resonates with the audience. Are your film making talents a product of the above-mentioned schooling, or are you self-taught?
I am self-taught to a fair degree, though I have been fortunate to have worked closely with a trained video production director for a couple of years, and I learned a lot by working along side him. We were co-directors in a video game software company, and we worked together on several promo trailers for our game (which went on to win best Indi Aussie video game of 1999) and this gave me a bit of a feel for the art. I went on to do some similar work in several projects afterwards as well, so by the time I got the bright idea of doing some video work with kayak fishing, I had a bit of a head start. Mind you, video games and kayak fishing are two very different things, so I have had a fair learning curve to work through. It’s challenging enough fishing from a kayak without adding a few cameras into the mix, so capturing the footage in itself is a task, and then chopping into something that is both entertaining and or informative (without being exhaustive) is something I’ve been making up as I go along.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
As odd as this may sound, a full circumnavigation of Australia with no time limit to fish the entire coast (or every fishable part of it) is about as good as I can imagine it getting. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of spots around the world I would just love to sink my teeth into, but the coastline of Australia is so vast, and it’s biomass so prolific and diverse, it really is hard to go past.
But if I was offered an international expedition outside of Australia, I’d struggle to choose from options in South Africa, New Zealand, USA (including Hawaii) and Mexico. If I had to pick one, I think I’d pick South Africa. Those guys get into some big fish over there, and I really like the character of the SA kayak fishos I meet in Australia (of which there are many). I’m not sure what it is about South African chaps – and I’m generalizing here – but they take to yak fishing really well and their target species interests are in line with my way of thinking, even if our strategies differ.
What’s in your milk crate?
Truth be told, not only do I not have a milk crate, I never have had… and perhaps I’m one of few veteran kayak fishos who can say that. So in this instance I will use the phrase milkcrate as a metaphor for the fitout of my kayak, which can best be summarized as ‘maximum use out of minimal gear’. I try to carry only what I need without sacrificing what I may very well need, especially if that ‘need’ is life dependent. The fitout of my kayak and all the gear I carry, is the sum result of over a decade of kayak fishing experience with almost half of that time experimenting heavily with the luxury of having access to all manner of equipment to do it with. As kayak fishing is such an individual sport, my milkcrate is a very personalized load-out that has been carefully pieced together through a rigorous regime of experimentation, trial and error.
It has been reported that you have logged over 12,000km in pedal-powered kayaks. What advice would you give to anglers looking to increase their pedal or paddle-based reach?
Actually, by now I’ve done a lot more mileage than that, but I stopped counting a few years back. It’s really just a result of spending a lot of time on the water and taking a very exploratory approach to it. For sure, going from using a paddle to pedals as a primary means of propulsion helped push my reach further, and later going to a sail-powered Adventure Island helped even further. Perhaps more important than propulsion system, however, is actually hydrodynamics. It’s not uncommon for new-comers to place stability on the top of the requisite list, but some of the more stable models sacrifice speed to achieve it. A more hydrodynamically shaped hull will provide better pedaling and paddling performance in most conditions, and anyone serious about clocking up some serious milage should be looking at more efficient hull types. Stability might be the beginner kayaker’s first concern, but it’s typically also the first thing kayakers stop thinking about.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
I had to think long and hard about the answer to this one, but I keep coming back to the day I inadvertently allowed a humpback whale to get too close – frighteningly close – and not only living to tell the tale, but also snapping off some awe-inspiring photos in the process. I spotted a solo humpback feeding on krill. Although I’d witnessed many whales before, I’d never observed this form of feeding and I was transfixed by the way it was launching itself along the waters surface, massive mouth gaping ajar and collecting food. I positioned myself about 150 meters away and started filming and taking snapshots. Slowly but surely it edged closer, and at one point it went under while on a heading for my yak. I sat there with camera in hand and just as I looked at the video cam and said ‘where is it?’ it burst into the air no more than just a few feet from the bow of my yak. That 18 meter beast scared the crap out of me, and for a second there, I thought I was in trouble. When it first appeared it was heading for the bow of the yak and was only a few feet away, yet miraculously, did a half twist turn and landed on it’s side. The photos were great, but the video failed to show what really happened. That was the day I decided I needed to add an extra cam or two to my kayak in order to get multiple angles of video footage. I also learned to be more cautious about letting humpback whales get too close.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
That can’t be holed into a single category, and I think it very much depends on what kind of kayak fisho you are, and here in Australia there are several categories. One lifestyle worth mentioning is that of the tournament kayak fisho. My hat goes off the the dedication these guys have, not just to the competition, but also the species they chase and the obsession they do it with. These guys travel far and wide, spend days pre-fishing alien waters, some of them spending big bucks to participate, and that they do all of this demonstrates how seriously some guys take their kayak fishing.
Then you have all the guys that couldn’t care less about competing, or the species featured in such tournaments, yet are equally serious in the sport. These can be generalized into inland and off shore orientated kayak fishos, and I think the lifestyle for both is very different. If I had to summarize them, I’d say that inland kayak fishing is all about the hunt, using stealth and smarts to locate and extract prey in a relaxing yet challenging environment. Open water kayak fishos have a lot more to think about when it comes to safety and are often more typically focused on larger species. For many open water kayak fishos, it’s all about the fight (not so much the hunt), the thrill of hooking up to something that has a head bigger than your own, and can tow you for considerable distances before it’ll even let you look at it. That’s the category I now fit into, though previously I was more into the hunting side of it and will probably go back to that at some point.
Tell us a story, any story.
Any reader who goes on to find out anything more about me is likely to discover that I once had a fairly well publicized encounter with a Great White Shark a couple of years ago, so that’s as good a story to add here as any. People have varying responses to the footage that I shot from that experience, not all of it kind, which is understandable given how it looks, so I’ll take this as an opportunity to set the record straight. I could have easily avoided the situation had I not been so foolhardy – I admit – but in my defense I didn’t know the dark shape I spotted floating in the middle of a feeding frenzy was a white pointer… I just knew it was a shark… and I decided to get up close enough to shoot some footage. I guess the journalist in me took over.
As I approached it from behind, cameras rolling and stills cam at the ready, I got within about 10-12 meters before it sensed me and then turned around and swam straight over to me, directly to the side of the yak where I was seated. It then swam underneath, tail-whipped my pontoon and then then circled around and tailed my rudder as I high-tailed it out of there. The experience was a little daunting I must admit, though I’d prepared for it mentally well before I even started yak fishing in the ocean, so not quite as scary as one might think. That said, it’s not an experience I plan to repeat. The best quality footage of this can be seen in my kayaking with sharks clip’ which can be found at Yakass.net or YouTube ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?&
Given the large and growing size of your audience, it can be deduced that your product reviews are both well read and influential. As such, you have become a trusted source through which kayak anglers filter their purchasing decisions. What does this responsibility mean to you, and how does it come into play when crafting your articles?
Good question. I do take this responsibility pretty seriously, for several reasons. Chief among them is that the topic we’re discussing here is one that is potentially dangerous, so giving bad advice on gear is something I’ll do anything to avoid. I’m quite the gear freak myself and having had the luxury of working in the outdoor recreation industry for over a decade (manufacturing, retail and wholesale), I have developed a pretty good eye for quality and how products will perform. So I’m pretty good at picking out good equipment and have a fair idea of what I write about it. Usually I will cover an item of particular interest in at least two ways, which is to first write a preview of sorts (introducing the item, what it does and why I plan to try it out) and then follow up a review after having used it on the water for some time. If said item ends up in a video clip, chances are I was pretty taken with it. There are occasions where I’ll test gear for months before offering a review, and that’s because I really want to be damned sure about it before recommending it (the more expensive or complicated it is, the more time I will take).
What does the future hold for you?
I wish I could reveal the most exciting part of the answer to that question (ask me again in 6 months), though suffice to say there’s some very interesting things happening in the background that I can discuss. 2012 will see me release a movie-length documentary on kayak fishing, a project name ‘Paddlefield’. As the combative nature of the title suggests, it’s all about the fight – how to hook em, then how to beat em. It will include a few brief scenes from my online series War on Fish and Yakass Coastal kayak Fishing Show, but will feature mainly new material. Paddlefield will be released free online via stream sites like YouTube as well as torrents for the HD version. So that’s whats in store for my video work for 2012.
I’m also very keen to complete an online kayak fishing game (text based choose-your-own-adventure-
But more than anything, I’m hoping my future holds a marlin, caught from my kayak. 2012 could be the year. It bloody-well better be if all the 21/12/2012 doomsday predictions are right!