Ken Whiting

As the founder, president, and producer of Heliconia Press, Ken Whiting has brought to the paddlesport world an array of educational and entertaining media, including The Kayak Fishing Show and the award-winning book, “Whitewater Kayaking:  The Ultimate Guide.”  Included in Paddler Magazine’s Paddlers of the Century, Ken is also a man whose name is one of the most recognized in the world of whitewater boating.  A champion several times over, Ken’s trophies include those awarded for the 1997/1998 Freestyle Kayaking Championship, the 1998 Japan Open, and five Canadian Championships.  Now retired from competition, Ken is focusing on bringing the sport into more homes via webTV, social media marketing, and television, with the later endeavor including two miniseries to be aired on NBC in the coming year.

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

I was a professional whitewater kayaker for over 10 years. In 1998, I reached my ultimate goal by winning the World Whitewater Kayaking Championships. Over the next 3 years, my passion for pushing the limits of whitewater kayaking waned and I started to look for a new sport. I still loved to be outdoors, loved to travel, and loved being on the water. It wasn’t long before I discovered that kayak fishing was a perfect fit. It provided endless opportunities to learn, explore and even push ones limits.

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

Clearly.  I remember going kayak fishing for the first time on the Ottawa River and catching a whack load of smallmouth bass.

In 2008, your definitive tome, Whitewater Kayaking: The Ultimate Guide, won the National Outdoor Book Award, and sealed its place amongst such modern classics as Kazlowski’s The Last Polar Bear, and Maurice Herzog’s Annapurna.  Describe to us how it felt to learn of this honor.

Winning the World Championships was one of the biggest moments in my personal life, I would say that the Whitewater Kayaking: The Ultimate Guide book represents the pinnacle of my professional whitewater kayaking career. It was the culmination of over 15 years of teaching, competing at the highest level, and followed up on the release of 5 other book and DVD projects.  Winning the National Outdoor Book Award was great recognition for the years of ‘work’ that went into it.  With that said, I would be just as proud of the book had it never won any honors. In fact, the book is sitting right beside me on my desk because it not only represents a piece of work that I’m really proud of, but it provides incredible memories of the adventures I went on, and the amazing friends who partook in them.

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

Cinnamon Buns, Slightly Stoopid, Eminem and Pearl Jam

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

I think the sport is being shaped on many different levels.  The pro anglers that are pushing the sport and driving new developments in gear are playing a large role.  At the same time, anyone who is pushing the sport of kayak fishing deeper into ‘mainstream angling’ is also playing a major role in shaping the sport.  I think those that are doing both of these things at the same time are the most influential.

As producers of the popular television series, The Kayak Fishing Show, The Heliconia Press has, perhaps, brought the sport into more homes than any other media outlet.  Besides serving as a conduit though which the audience can view exciting angling and far-flung destinations, the series offers aspects not normally found in the genre, such as character development, attention to story, and thoughtful cinematography.  Tell us about the creative processes involved in developing The Kayak Fishing Show.

You have to remember that my background is outdoor adventure sports. When I was growing up, I always thought I was going to be an extreme skier, or surfer, and so I watched ski and surf films tirelessly. And then of course, I got hooked on whitewater kayaking, and burned out many a VHS tape.  When I got hooked on kayak fishing, I wanted (and expected to find) action kayak fishing films to feed the hunger, but there weren’t any to find, and so that’s how the Kayak Fishing: Game On series of films came about.  While producing the movie, it was my goal to turn it into a TV series.  But I didn’t want to produce a ‘typical’ fishing show. I wanted to produce something that had more of a story and that would serve to inspire people to get into kayak fishing.  To me, Jim Sammons seemed like the perfect guy for the job because I wasn’t looking for a ‘host’. I was looking for someone who was passionate about the sport, and excited about pushing the sport to new levels.  I also felt that Will Richardson (our video production manager) was the ideal person to direct the project, because he wasn’t already immersed in the fishing industry, and so neither Will nor I had any preconceived notion of what a fishing show needed to look like.  I’m really proud of what we came up with.

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

My dream trip is a raft supported 14-day kayak fishing trip down the Nahanni or Mountain River in Canada’s North West Territories.

What’s in your milk crate?

I’ve got a number of different tackle boxes/bags ready to go for the different types of fishing in the area (and for traveling), but I only have one milk crate, and it’s reserved for musky fishing tackle. It’s actually a bit of a hazard in my gear shed because of all the big musky plugs with massive treble hooks hanging over the edge.

Tell us about your best day on the water.

Good friends, remote location, and big, hungry fish!  Otherwise, it doesn’t matter where or when.

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

To me, the kayak fishing lifestyle isn’t really unique to kayak fishing… it’s shared by anyone who understands that despite how busy and overwhelming life might be, taking the time to get outside and lose yourself within our natural environment is much more than a great thing to do – it’s a necessity.

When writing of complex paddling techniques, such as kayak rolling or fine tuning of stroke, you effectively address subject matters often reserved for live, class-based lessons.  Tell us how you overcome the challenges associated with teaching these skills through the written word.

People learn in different ways. Some people only learn by watching. Others only learn by having things broken into clear and concise steps. Most people learn through a combination of these two things. A good teacher/instructor will deliver a new skill to students in a way that satisfies both learning styles. In most cases, this involves an introduction (what and why you need the skill), a demonstration of the skill in action, a clear explanation of the skill broken into 3- to 5- key steps, another demonstration of the skill in action, and then a quick overview/summary.  The same rule applies for text based instruction. The written word alone (without supporting images) will only help a limited number of people. This is why we always published our books in large, full color format, and we always worked with great photographers who could capture what I was trying to demonstrate.

Tell us a story, any story.

During the shooting of the first edition of ‘The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing’  (book and DVD) by Scott Null and Joel McBride, I got to visit a number of the top fishing destinations in North America… and I didn’t wet a line once.  I simply wasn’t interested in fishing at the time (and didn’t know what I was missing).  A year later, I took my kayak out on the Ottawa River to give it a try, and was immediately hooked. Needless to say, I was kicking myself for not taking advantage of the kayak fishing opportunities that I had let slip by.  This was one of the reasons I decided to pursue the ‘Kayak Fishing: Game On’ films – they provided me with the opportunity to visit cool places and try new types of fishing.  I guess you could say that I was trying to catch up on lost time.

With regard to the sport of kayak angling, what are your predictions for the coming year?

I think the greatest potential for kayak fishing is in the freshwater world, and in 2012, kayak fishing will see heavier growth in this segment of the fishing industry than it has to date.  I say this because during my travels this year, I really identified a change in tone towards kayak fishing by the general angling community. Kayak fishing really seems to be accepted as more than a ‘fad’.  The general angling community is understanding that kayak anglers are just anglers who have learned to use a tool (the kayak) that offers some enormous advantages when it comes to catching fish. I think we’ll see a lot more of these anglers hop into a kayak and get their feet wet for the first time in 2012.

What makes a good fishing story?

A good story teller. Even the lamest fishing trip can be ‘epic’ if it’s told the right way!

What does the future hold for you?

In many different ways, there’s nothing that I enjoy more than learning and noticing marked improvement in my performance. As it relates to kayak fishing, the future holds lots more traveling around North America and beyond to meet new people, discover new bodies of water, and learn new styles of fishing.  On the ‘production’ side of things, 2012 is an exciting year because our kayak fishing shows are now showing on NBC Sports, which is a major step for us in reaching and sharing the word about kayak fishing with as many anglers as possible. Moving forward, I’m excited to see our programs evolve and improve, while reaching even more people around the world.

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