Mark Castlow is one of the driving forces behind Dragonfly Boatworks, an innovative American manufacturer of fishing and touring-specific stand up paddleboards. In an industry largely dominated by surfing-centric designs, Mark has blazed his own path, and in doing so, opened up the burgeoning world of stand up paddling to anglers seeking a new way to go about their craft. A lifelong angler and light tackle fan, Mark can often be found in and around the salty milieu of his creations.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
I had always been attracted to light tackle fishing, and that was probably because my father would always take me out fishing on the weekends in an old wooden skiff that he had. Back in those days there were no Small Craft Warnings, so we would be seen fishing in almost every type of sea condition out there. That was probably what got me so in love with ocean and water. From there I got into surfing, and when the waves where flat we either fished or dived. So near shore light tackle fishing has been in my blood for quite some time and I can easily say I have been doing it for around 53 years…damn, that is a long time.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a paddleboard?
First fish from a board was a snapper, and that was back in 1966 around Government Cut in Miami. When there was no surf, we would take our long boards (which was the only board back then) and paddle out and fish around the rocks. We also use to dive for lobsters off our boards, using an old window sash weight for an anchor.
In a marriage of durability and looks that call to mind the early designs of Tim Niemier, the Dragonfly paddleboard is a welcome derivation from the race and surf-focused industry stalwarts. Clearly birthed from visions of shallow water angling, the board was purpose built long before the purpose became vogue. Describe to us the initial reception of your product.
I was asked, 4-5 years ago, by Andy Zimmerman and Jimbo Meador to design a stand up for Legacy Kayaks. I wanted to design one that was different in usage and not follow the surf path, but follow the path of what native Americans had been using, something similar to a dugout. I researched different designs from around the world and came up with the Osceola. We tooled it up and Jimbo and Andy took it to Outdoor Retailer, where there were a hand full of stand ups of conventional surfboard design. We had a totally concave deck, which lowered are center of gravity. That was so different looking; I think the early market buyers couldn’t grasp it. After a slow response, we decided to bring the project back in house at Dragonfly and do some more modification to make it more fishing friendly. In the meantime Jimbo had left Legacy and bought into Dragonfly Boatworks, and we started to really jump into the water with our design. In the beginning, people where kind of laughing at us about fishing, but as the results showed the acceptance followed. Buffett was a big driving force in the whole project because of his love for shallow water fishing and design, and also he is a hard core fly fisherman.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
Food that fuels me before going out is nothing special; music would be the Rolling Stones.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of paddleboard angling?
The cool thing about SUP fishing is that it is being shaped by the people who are actually doing it. We are constantly talking to people and listening to their ideas about boards for Stand Up Paddle Board Fishing. That is how we came up with our Shallow Water Fin System. Here we had designed this very effective fishing platform but we were being hindered by conventional surfboard fins that where stopping us from getting in real shallow. So we prototyped a couple of designs and had Buffett test them in the Bahamas, and we finally got it dialed in to where we now we have a patented design for getting into really skinny water. Also, just recently, we designed a board with Cindi Bonner of Fitness On Board. It is a purpose specific board for exercise workouts, yoga, and Pilates. It took us about 9 months of testing to come up with this patented designed board, and it has been received very well. I think the cool thing about the industry right now is that it is a blank canvas, and people can paint their own picture of what they want. Our company, from the beginning, was not intending to design a SUP for surfing but a SUP for fishing, touring, and exercise, and I think we have done some major cool things in a relative short time. And all these things have been designed and manufactured right here in the USA.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
Issues that face this growing sport is the ability for people to share – share the resource, share knowledge, share experiences. Being that our company has been based around active stewardship of the resource through conservation measures, we believe that conservation is not just a once a year fund raiser but a yearly, monthly, daily, hourly commitment to what we have to protect. If the water is polluted there are no fish; if there are no fish why would anyone buy one of our paddle boards to fish? I am excited that a whole new group of people are being exposed to our lakes, waterways, and oceans, and maybe these new found friends will share the responsibility of taking care of this vital link to our existence. The common denominator is water.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
Launching 2 boards and bone fishing through the Bahamas with my wife; she is an intense fisher person.
Your early role of globe trotting surfer/shaper was followed by a lengthy and well respected stint in the boat building business. Your current products are, it seems, a natural and harmonious extension of your past. Tell us a bit about the etiology and technology of the Dragonfly boards.
A driving force in our company is to design functional, user friendly products that people can use and maintain simply. Another factor in the equation was to design and build products right here in the USA. I understand the geo-politics and economics of manufacturing, but I feel sometimes we outsource too quickly to just say how cheap we can build something without looking at what is doing full circle. I feel good knowing that our company employs 14 artisans and that they are producing a product that is being accepted internationally and built right here in the USA. I feel proud about that. In the technology side, we use some very interesting fabrics, and a lot of the large chemical companies approach us with different materials because they know we are constantly trying different approaches to production. But technology in materials isn’t the only technology we are constantly experimenting in. How our boards are marketed, how they are shipped, and how the customer can participate in the process are all different forms of technology that we are evolving.
What’s in your milk crate?
In my crate, which is a cooler/seat, are some cool drinks, crackers, sardines (Mustard), and a couple of flies for the area that I am fishing. Pretty simple.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
Every time I am on the water is special and they all have there stories.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
We are a component of an outdoor lifestyle; we might have different uniforms that differ us from each other i.e. offshore fishing, surfing, diving, hunting…we all are participating in the out of doors.
Tell us a story, any story.
Sat at the Royal Norwegian Yacht Club with the Prince of Norway, got an award at the White House, surfed some cool spots around the world, and designed some neat products.
Your knowledge of shallow water fishing, and its associated crafts, has been parlayed into a business venture in which you produce multi-day excursions for like-minded anglers. What is it about this angling milieu that captivated your interest and passion?
It became apparent along time ago to me that humans are pack animals, and we like to buy in packs, participate in pack events, and be identified by what the pack wears, eats, drives…etc. So I try to follow the pack that is passionate about their water pursuits, and design products for that passion. My wife and I used to produce Shallow Water Fishing Expos around the southeast for 13 years, gathering manufactures, retailers, lodges, magazines, fishing tackle, and everything that pertained to light tackle fishing. Bringing them all together under one roof and have top notch industry leaders and guides talking about their individual expertise. This wasn’t a flea market mentality, but a gathering of enthusiasts that wanted information and knowledge about new products and techniques, and hopefully a by product of that would be a sale.
What does the future hold for you?
The future of Dragonfly Boatworks will be in designing products for people to enjoy the waterside of the outdoors. I have assembled an amazing group of talented people who love what they build and build what they love. Myself personally? I will keep on getting into the water and having a good time.