Justin Mayer

Quite possibly the most stoked and passionate man to ever practice the sport, Justin Mayer is a Virginia-based angler and blogger known for his positivity, drive, and eloquence with the written word. Truly a personification of the lifestyle, Justin has slept in bait shop parking lots and sandwiched workdays with dawn and dusk patrols. Our initial interview request was even replied to from atop a plastic boat, bass rod in hand. When not spending time with his new family, or solidifying his reputation on the water, Justin can be found enriching the kayak angling culture at his blog, Kayak Fishing Nut.

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

When I was sixteen, I was visiting my grandma in Melbourne, Florida. I had a free day to go fishing with my dad, so we went to Sebastian Inlet. While we were fishing there, I noticed a guy in a small kayak who was being towed around by a big fish, probably a nice red drum. From that moment on, I wanted to kayak fish. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until about nine years later that I started!

Later, I saw a guy that showed up to the inlet with three things. He had his surfboard, baitcaster, and a five gallon bucket with some tackle. He cast out and caught a small pinfish, then swapped out his hook to use the pinfish as bait. I watched him switch spots and take a precise cast to a rock about 20 feet out. He immediately hooked a snook that was about five pounds. He looked at it on one side then the other, admiring his catch. Then he tossed it back, went to his surfboard, and caught waves the rest of the day.

I decided two things that day:

1. Kayak fishing will be awesome.

2. I will try everything I can to live care free, like the surfing, snook catching, relaxed dude.

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

The first time I ever put my kayak in the water was in a local lake, sometime in the winter. I had never sat in a kayak before in my life … didn’t really know what to expect with the stability and all, but I took to it like a duck to water and paddled about two miles around the lake. After realizing there was nothing to it, I decided to go in search of speckled trout at a hot water discharge. I caught what I thought were a few decent-sized speckled trout, and later on realized that I had actually released several trophy-sized specks! So the first day I ever paddled a kayak, I caught trophy speckled trout. How cool is that?

 

 

Your online photo gallery contains images documenting a myriad of species, both fresh water and from the salt.  Is there a method to your approach, or do you simply chase whatever is calling you on that particular day?

Although it doesn’t seem it, that’s a pretty complicated question for me. I always have a specific species to target, but depending on the time of year, there could be several different specific goals for several different species that I want to catch. For example, in the spring time, I like to target tautog, large mouth bass, speckled trout, striper, and red drum. How much time I have and what my friends want to do sometimes helps determine what I target. Wind is often a factor in determining whether I go to big open waters or smaller, more protected waters. Regardless of the targeted species, I try to formulate a game plan before I leave the house.

There’s been several times where I’ve targeted three or four completely different species in one day. One year in March, I started early morning fishing for tautog, then as I was headed home, I saw a lake that looked good for bass fishing, so I stopped by a tackle shop, picked up some bass lures and fished for a couple hours.  After that, I got a call from a friend saying I should go striper fishing with him. Ended up being fourteen plus hours on the water that day, and I caught several different species.

But some of my favorite trips are spur of the moment – like the time I caught a flounder off of a bridge tunnel while I was stuck in traffic for two hours! There was another time when my wife and I were on our way to visit her parents, and spotted a pond at the entrance of a gated community. We stopped and caught several small bass before being kicked off the property.

 

 

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

Food? Yeah. That’s a good idea. I’m usually so excited, I forget about food. I have gone up to fourteen hours on the water without a single bite to eat. Probably not good for me, but I’ve got better things to do…Like catch fish!

So typically, I go without either food or music, but certain times, music is a necessity…especially when using live eels for striper in the winter time! It is by far the most boring (and exciting) fishing that I do. It entails dropping a live eel in the water and waiting…and waiting…and waiting…and waiting. I’ll usually play some Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphy’s, but I listen to all kinds of stuff, from Earl Scruggs to Me First & The Gimme Gimmes. This past winter I watched a forty-five minute long episode of “The Walking Dead” on my Droid while waiting for a bite. I didn’t even catch anything that night.

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

The first two names that come to mind are Luther Cifers, owner of Yak Attack, and Kayak Kevin Whitley, a Virginia-based kayak angler. Luther has really taken kayak rigging to the next level with his seemingly endless products. You’d probably have a hard time finding a fully rigged kayak without at least one of Luther’s products on it.

Kayak Kevin’s website embodies the excitement of kayak fishing with his intense videos and reports. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have half of my fishing accomplishments if it were not for him. Every time I pop in one of his DVD’s, it makes me want to drop everything and go fishing!

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

I feel that catch and release is very important, but I think it is much more important when it comes to kayak angling – the main difference being the locations. I would say most kayakers fish within three to four miles of a launch, and when fish get pounded again and again in the same location, there is no doubt in my mind that it affects the fishery, especially with structure dwelling species, such as tautog and sheepshead.

The nice thing about kayak anglers is that more often than not, they’re decent guys who are respectful of the environment. My biggest pet peeve while on the water is seeing random trash floating around. I always make it a habit to scoop up any trash that I can fit in my crate.

 

 

One of the most appealing aspects of your writing is the positive way in which it captures your passion for life and the sport you love.  The added influence of emotion really draws the reader in, and makes for a fascinating and uplifting encounter with you, the author.  In short, your style is a refreshing deviation from the sometimes mundane trip-report genre.  To what do you attribute your ability to parlay your experiences into well crafted stories rife with positivity?

Basically, I’m just so excited about fishing I talk my stories into words! My writing style is my personality; essentially, I just write down everything as I would tell the story to someone. I’m just a goofy, excited dude who puts fishing into words.

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

Amazon! I want to catch EVERYTHING and ANYTHING in the Amazon – wolf fish, payara, peacock bass, piranha, arowana, and everything else. Ever since I was about twelve years old and saw advertisements for the Amazon in the back of a Field and Stream magazine, I’ve wanted to do it. It’s going to happen one day. There’s something really awesome about fishing for fish that have never seen a lure before.

Recently, another South American fish has caught my eye – the Golden Dorado. Those fish look insane! They’re like a muscular golden salmon on steroids. The teeth are like tips of pencils. They destroy lures and gear- they’re ferocious, angry, and fast…and I must catch one.

 


 

What’s in your milk crate?

When I was twenty years old, I worked in a machine shop building milk crate packaging systems. I’ve probably handled every style of milk crate known to man. I helped build machines that packaged glass bottles, gallons, half gallons, pints, and cartons. Wait, what was the question again?

I have so much random crap in my milk crate ‘cause I constantly switch from one kind of fishing to another. Lots of times, I have trash I picked up out of the water and fishing line that came off my reels that I don’t want to throw in the water. It’s basically a bird’s nest without any birds. Who knows…maybe there is a bird in there somewhere! It’s about the equivalent of a kitchen junk drawer…some useful stuff, but mostly a bunch of crap! Oh, yeah, and lots and lots of Zoom Super Flukes (best lure ever)!

Tell us about your best day on the water.

That’s a tough one. I have so many memorable trips, it’s hard to pick just one. The one that sticks out most in my mind is the time I didn’t even catch the fish I was targeting.

I was out on the Eastern Shore in search of Virginia Tarpon. The water that morning was the most calm I had ever seen any water – anywhere. I could see several miles in all directions and could not see a single ripple in the water. There was no boat traffic, no vehicles, no sound other than the paddle blades in the water from me and my buddy, Rob Choi. Once we stopped paddling, it was almost eerie how quiet it was. I looked over at Rob and said, “Do you hear that?” He said, “Hear what?” I said, “Exactly!”

After about two hours of paddling, we came to our location and I immediately saw – for the first time – tarpon rolling on the surface. I was so nervous and excited that my heart rate raised and my hands got sweaty. Within the first hour, we saw and heard several tarpon rolling on the surface. The noise they make when they gulp the air sounds like a bowling ball being dropped from the surface of the water – just a loud ka-blooop followed by a bubble trail. We tossed out our live bait all over the place, but couldn’t manage anything other than tons of sandbar sharks. We either broke off or caught a shark on nearly every cast.

About halfway through the day, I noticed a tarpon in a shallow pool surfacing every few minutes. I was so intrigued, I had to paddle over to it to try to get a better look. I got to the area where I’d seen the tarpon and was in only two or three feet of water. I paddled as slowly and quietly as I could but couldn’t seem to find the tarpon…then as I was about to give up on it, it popped up on my right side just over an arm’s length away. It ran at least half the length of my kayak, from the nose to my seat – probably six to seven feet long. I continued to paddle in a straight line and the tarpon seemed to follow with me for about ten seconds, until it slowly branched off and swam away.

I had to take several deep breaths because my heart was skipping beats. After it swam off, I stopped paddling to gather in what I had just experienced. Even though I didn’t catch what I was looking for, that experience was worth the trip.

 

 

Tell us a story, any story.

I won a thousand dollars throwing darts in a tournament one time!

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

For me, it’s a potentially dangerous obsession. My wife has often pointed out how I can change any conversation into a conversation about fishing. She also refers to Facebook as “Fishbook.” To give you an example of my obsession, the other day I was at the grocery store looking across a row of registers. As I looked down the row, I saw all the credit card machines in a line and they all looked to me like fish finders. My fishing obsession isn’t just one type of fish or even any particular type of trip – I just really like catching fish, from three inch long bluegill in a tiny creek, to huge bull red drum dragging me around the ocean. What I like about fishing from a kayak is that it doesn’t give you the option to travel long distances and waste time searching for fish. It forces you to be more thorough and stealthy.

I like to think of myself as a pretty hardcore kayak fisherman. For example, just a few days ago, I got up after four hours of sleep to go to work. I worked from 8am to 8pm, then drove an hour and a half back home. I loaded my gear, kissed my wife and baby, and was out the door by 10:30pm. I got on the water just before midnight and caught speckled trout til about 4am, then drove to a bait shop to wait for it to open. After sleeping for an hour and a half (if that), I bought some blue crabs and took off for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. I was so excited to be targeting tautog that even after only a little over an hour of sleep, the three mile paddle ahead of me seemed like nothing! I fished til 11am, caught my biggest tog ever, then paddled in and drove to work. I worked from 1pm to 8pm and I felt like a ZOMBIE, but for some reason, I had this crazy urge to catch at least one more speckled trout…so I did! This time I was only on the water for an hour or less (in the rain). I was so exhausted that I was falling asleep during my casts, and while trying to give my super spook some action. I made it home alive, and the next day I wanted MORE!

 

 

Material science has brought to the angling world a healthy supply of life-like lures complete with anatomically correct swimming action.  While these are indeed a blessing, it must be stated that a large portion of a day’s success is hinged upon the skill and talent of the angler involved.  This is evidenced by the fact that you have landed fish using a homemade “lure” fashioned from a Toy Story action figure.  Explain to us the etiology of said lure, and how it is that you managed to derive a catch from its use.

We catch striper in the lights of a bridge tunnel. They’re so easy to catch that people use the phrase: You could catch ‘em with a dirty sock. I’ve literally caught them on frog lures, old scraps of leftover plastic baits, and even bare hooks. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes they’re extremely difficult to catch. But usually, when the tide is right, they can be caught on anything. It always cracks me up when some of the inexperienced anglers ask me, “What’d you catch ‘em on?” I always like to tell them, “Anything I threw at them!”  So one day, I was sitting around thinking, “What’s something really silly that I could catch a striper on?” I found Woody in a Dollar Tree and decided to turn him into a lure! So far, he’s caught some gray trout, bluefish, and several striper up to twenty-seven inches.

What does the future hold for you?

For starters, I am excited for the day that I get to go fishing with my newborn son, Max! I want to see my wife catch a shark, too. She’s wanted to catch one ever since our honeymoon, when she chased one in her kayak in the flats in Florida. Besides that, I would like to be the first kayak angler to catch a Virginia Tarpon! Hopefully, this is the year to do that. Recently, I picked up two great sponsors, Release Reels and Bending Branches. Eventually, I would like to be sponsored enough that I can fish as much as I like – or potentially even fish for a living! I don’t know how to do that, but I don’t think it’s impossible.

 

2 Responses to “Justin Mayer”

  1. Rob Appleby says:

    A very enjoyable read, made a pleasant break in my day!. I can certainly relate to your enthusiam. No mention of a citation Tog though……. :)

  2. Justin truly is a Kayak Fishing Nut. Our schedules don’t always mesh, especially with a new addition to his family, but we try nonetheless.

Leave a Reply

*