Eric Ozolins

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Eric Ozolins is a man of many talents – writer, record holder, conservationist, and tournament organizer. Best known as the man behind the popular cyber-tournament, Kayak Wars, Eric recently sat down with fellow tournament host, Pat Kellner, to discuss life, sharks, and the state of the competitive kayak angling scene.


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

Roughly, ten years ago I originally started to kayak fish while on my surf-shark fishing adventures. At times bait was scarce, and since I had a kayak to deploy the shark baits, I would also utilize it to venture offshore chasing the birds, targeting Jack Crevalle, and Bonito for bait. The idea of being able to reach an area on the water with the kayak and get back to the beach quickly was greatly appealing. The more I did it, the more of variety in fish I would catch. I would target larger and larger species and people would begin taking notice.

Kayak Wars tournament was born initially as a friendly competition between myself and a buddy (T.J. Pilgrim) from the upper coast. We both caught incredible fish and this would decide bragging rights. It was upper coast vs. lower coast. The idea was to post photos on the online forums at extremecoast.com and issue points per-species. We would both assemble a team, and the team with the most points and the end would be crowned the winner. After a full season, it was actually pretty cool to see what we all had accomplished. Others then began requesting to get into the action and that next year is where Kayak Wars really began. Since then, we have grown astoundingly each year. As of right now we are kicking off the 2013 season and have nearly 400 Teams from all around the world registered.


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

I can’t remember the exact first fish I caught, but it was probably a King Mackerel or Jack Crevalle. Both species are hardy fighters and to do battle on the kayak invited a whole new fishing adventure genre for me to take part in.


What separates Kayak Wars from other kayak fishing tournaments?

Kayak Wars is one-of-a-kind and the original online kayak fishing tournament. For years we have been taking to the water, both fresh and saltwater, with success and have been growing substantially. We helped pioneer this format and it is all due to the great support of all the participants and sponsors.

Another thing that separates us apart is the fact this event is completely free. The problem with tournaments these days, even those non-fishing related, is the notion of greed by the organizers. Sure there is a payout but how much money that is really put in the organizer’s pockets is rarely exposed. Tournaments are often conducted as a business where Kayak Wars is conducted on the basis of having fun, sharing and logging your adventure, and rewarding those that participate proudly without profiting one bit. Each year, money comes out of my pockets to add to prizes or help cover shipping charges of the prizes.

I do it because I enjoy seeing the fish people are catching around the world and having them share their adventures. I do it because I enjoy anglers friendly competing and promoting fair and honest sportsmanship. I do it because many times the photos of the smiling individuals are nothing short of priceless.


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

Typically I will head out early in the morning, to be at my destination before sunrise. Sometimes the drive will be upwards of 60 miles, many on the beach. There can be a good amount of time preparations and syncing into my Zen mode. I often make the drive with some badass breakfast tacos and orange juice… while jamming out to some form of rock music or even dubstep. Metallica at dawn helps motivate me. If I am on lack of sleep, a grander energy drink will help out. After a long day in the kayak, if I am camping on the beach, I will cook up an awesome meal… sometimes a ribeye steak or something tasty. I treat myself, sometimes better than when at home, while on my adventures and it makes me appreciate the outing that much more.


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

We are living in an exploding period in kayak angling history. It has reached out to many, especially those outdoors-men and women who don’t have the luxury of having a traditional boat to utilize. Also, in today’s day and age people are on a health kick. Kayaking in general has been positively promoted, and this is in some fraction responsible for the growth. The future of kayak angling is looking bright. There will be more new manufactures stepping into the spotlight in coming years, giving competition to already glorified companies. This competition is great for the industry and benefits the users with the newer technology and accommodations. I think, personally, it is both the users and manufactures that are shaping the future of kayak angling. With all the great improvements and new technologies coming along, the evolution of kayaks and kayak fishing will be a win-win for everyone.


With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you?

The greatest issue I express about in kayaking is pure safety. With all the new people taking advantage of the kayaking evolution, it is important to note it is a physical sport that demands respect and focus. When it comes to fishing, and in particular big-game fishing, you need to be at the top of your game. The physicality and mindset of an individual determines how safe they really are out on the water. Unfortunately, there are unfit or over-aged individuals who take on dangerous ventures on the water because they can. There have been people I know caught up in storms and blown miles offshore, and had to be rescued all because they were oblivious and not physically fit.

I personally know individuals who have had accidents with sharks. One buddy had a shark ram his kayak and throw him out. Mentally he lost it and freaked out and I had to kayak over and rescue him. I have also seen countless times over, people rigged and trying to get through heavy surf to kayak beyond the breakers, and they get flipped going out, sometimes violently. These particular times are inevitable, yet people think they are capable of defeating daring obstacles. Another individual I know had a shark pick up a bait while his rod was in the rod holder and the line wrapped around the [rod] tip. The torque tipped the kayak over and towed the kayak off until the line broke. I can’t say enough about having a fishing partner for situation where the unexpected does happen. Promoting safety is essential in kayaking, regardless of the experience.


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

To me, I would love to hit Alaska and fish for giant Halibut and Salmon Sharks from the kayak. That would rock. I would also enjoy exploring the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Anything exotic or mysterious is appealing to me. I love the adventures and love the new interactions and obstacles to conquer.


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What’s in your milk crate?

In short, my milk crate is an aquarium where the mysteries within are explored through the adventures I take.


Tell us about your best day on the water.

I have had so many incredible days, unfathomable to some. I would say the days where I catch and release over a dozen mammoth King Mackerel via crashing topwaters, along with a mix bag of Cobia and reef-fish would rank up there on the list. One day where I fought two 8-9’ hammerhead sharks, landing one, certainly is up there as well. The cold-long nights being isolated and catching ten 40-50lb Black Drum also are a favorite.


What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

The kayak fishing lifestyle is the lifestyle to where you take control. You are responsible for what you do, and you have unlimited freedom. It is a lifestyle, where in angling, your prized catches mean that much more because what you had to do to obtain it, and the fact you did it on a molded piece of plastic is extremely self-gratifying.


Tell us a story, any story.

One of my most memorable fishing trips revolves around a surf-shark fishing trip. I was by myself at the time and chaos was ensuing offshore. I originally planned to go out a couple miles in the kayak seeking Cobia and even bait. I get past the last sandbar and see a Bull Shark swimming right below me. The water clarity was great (for Texas). I look over and see another… look the other way and see another… then another. I saw around 20-25 Bull Sharks scattered within my view. Then I began to see large Spinner and Blacktip Sharks. They were attracted to the surrounding bait activity. With all my years of extensive shark fishing, this was establishing itself as an impressive moment to behold.

Anyhow, instead of continuing offshore, I decided to stay put and take video and photos. I began seeing other fish emerge, such as Mackerel and Cobia. I would cast out at the Cobia only to have Skipjack or Mackerel hit the lure first… and while reeling them in they would not make it through the hunting sharks. Perhaps one of the most natural and real moments of my life was during the end of this interaction when the wind was gently blowing and pushing me towards the beach. The waves were minimal and the kayak would gently cruise with the waves. I was not fishing, just relaxing for a minute and staying in focus yet in awe. I was in about 6’ of water, I ended up looking behind me, and within several feet were a pack of Bull Sharks, maybe a dozen strong escorting the kayak. Some were among the largest Bulls I’ve ever seen. Right then was a defining moment in my realm. Mentally, I knew if I had fell in the water I would without a doubt be toast. My faith and safety was set around this thin-walled plastic kayak… as long as the kayak did not sink of flip, then I would live to tell the tale.


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How have you seen kayak fishing tournaments grow over the years?

Kayak tournaments have grown extensively throughout the last few years. They are growing because more and more people are being introduced to the kayaking world and are thus seeing what others are accomplishing. Tournaments are offering more, and better, prizes every year and this attracts the tournament kind.


What is it about Kayak Wars that draws so many competitors?

Kayak Wars is unique because it is a free-to-enter event. You do not have to pay a penny to participate in this event, and win prizes. There is a vast population of great people out there, and these sportsmen for whatever reason may not have a lot of money to dispense on things such as a tournament. This offers an avenue for anyone to join and have fun, and all the while having a chance at winning some great prizes.


What does the future hold for you?

I have my hands in everything right now. Of course Kayak Wars is my ‘baby’ and I will be fully dedicated to it for a while. Meanwhile, I have countless media/production crews seeking myself for television shows and documentaries, mainly in the shark fishing world. I am also a writer for a fishing magazine, and love providing new monthly articles of my adventures. In addition I am in the process of organizing my guiding service, hopefully to be active by the summer.


 

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