Mark Watanabe

Many of the sport’s most iconic and ubiquitous phenomena have been touched by the talented and busy hands of Mark Watanabe. As the co-founder of YakAngler.com, Mark has created one of the web’s most endearing and popular gathering places – one utilized by thousands of anglers searching for camaraderie and information. Mark’s name is also one associated with Boondoggles and vote-driven choice awards, two events he has greatly influenced through a collaboration with Kayak Fishing Radio. When not shaping the various cultural nuances of the sport, Mark can be found on the water, passionately pursuing impressive catches of his own.

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

After I sold my boat and moved away from the ocean, I found myself turning my nose up to freshwater fish, thinking that most of the fish I’d catch were the size of bait we’d use offshore. It wasn’t until I met Adam Hayes and started fishing on the Ohio River with him that I realized that yes, many of these fish are not much bigger than ladyfish I’d use as bait, but it was still a blast. We started fishing out of his canoe, and I was hooked. One day I stumbled across a magazine that had folks fishing out of a kayak, and that was it. I bought my first kayak a few days later and haven’t looked back.


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

It’s really sad, but I have no idea. If I had to guess, I’d say it was probably a catfish or a small panfish. Back then I had no clue about bass fishing, so I know it wasn’t a largemouth or smallmouth.


 

 

Yak Angler, the website that you created with partner, Adam Hayes, was born from your own fragmented search of contemporary kayak angling media. In constructing your site, you brought together many far flung corners of the internet, and built one of the most prolific and comprehensive resources the sport has ever seen. What does this accomplishment mean to you?

Not one to rest on my laurels, I’m constantly going over the site – tweaking something here, adding something there. It’s tough to stand out in a sea of great kayak fishing websites. Our community of great users and staff members make YakAngler.com stand out from the rest. We would be nothing without our users.


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

I hate to admit it, but I often find myself listening to the Top 20 stations – you know, the ones that only play five songs over and over again… I have also been known to meet up at Waffle House for a pre-fishing All-Star Special with hashbrowns (smothered, covered, diced, peppered, and capped).


 

 

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

Ha! This is a tricky question. I know plenty of folks who think they are the ones shaping the future for our sport. I really think it’s the kayak fishing community as a whole- the everyday angler who doesn’t like the traditional kayak seat, so he mounts a camp chair on his kayak and shares his idea on forums. I think it’s the DIY “think outside the box” spirit of the everyday kayak angler that shapes the future of our sport.


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

The kayak allows anglers to access areas that typical boats can only dream of; this makes it great for the angler, but puts even more pressure on fish. We need to do our part and be responsible stewards of our environment, only keeping a few and leaving the waters cleaner than we found them.


 

 

The Kayak Angler’s Choice Awards, now two seasons deep, have become the definitive and go-to barometer for determining the needs and views of the sport’s populace. Explain to us the etiology of this survey, and what its success has come to mean.

Wow – I had to look up “etiology” prior to answering this one. The Kayak Angler’s Choice Awards (KACA’s) were actually the idea of my good friend Chip Gibson of Kayak Fishing Radio (KFR). Two years ago, he brought up the idea of having a kayak fishing-specific set of awards that was 100% community driven. Adam and I quickly jumped on board, and a few months later launched the first KACA.

We had no idea what type of response we would get – if any at all. The first year we had a few hiccups. I learned quickly that even if there are no monetary awards or prizes, people will still cheat. I also learned that no matter how hard you try to make things fair, someone always feels they got the short end of the stick. For this year’s awards we had more than double last year’s participation, and we hope it keeps growing.

Some people see the KACA’s as “just a popularity contest” – and we agree! The Awards were never meant to be what Mark and Adam from YakAngler.com and Chip from KayakFishingRadio.com think are the best products, people, events, and places. We wanted to know what our users and other members of the kayak fishing community thought were the best.


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

There are so many places I’d love to go. How about a year-long sabbatical? My beautiful family and I would pack up everything and travel the world from a luxury mother ship, fishing exotic locations. First stop – Christmas Island!


What’s in your milk crate?

Often too much! You never know when you will need that set of 450 “Banjo Minnows” your mom bought you for Christmas fifteen years ago.


 

 

Tell us about your best day on the water.

My best day on the water was this past summer. Joe Maione (A YakAngler.com Pro Staff member) and I decided to take some of the kids down to a private Ray Scott-designed bass lake we’ve dubbed “The Compound.” We had a great day! Joe’s daughter lost a 5-6 pounder that looked like a freight train on her panfish rod, and my oldest son, Luke, (five years old at the time) caught his first largemouth on an artificial. All the kids caught fish and had a blast; there is nothing better than seeing how proud they are of their first solo caught fish.


What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

For me, the lifestyle has become more about the YakAngler.com website than about fishing. I find myself logging in first thing in the morning and staying connected until I go to sleep. It’s become an obsession trying to build the best kayak fishing website out there.


 

 

Tell us a story, any story.

A few years ago, I had this bright idea that I could make the ultimate super bestest fishing kayak trailer known to man. My buddy, Mada, knew how to weld, and his friend, Ymmot, had all the equipment. I snapped up the first bargain I could find – a couple hundred bucks, and I had my Craigslist deal.

The first stop was the trailer store, where I found out that the wheels and bearings were shot, the wiring needed to be redone, and that it’s illegal to have a trailer without fenders in the state of Kentucky. A couple more hundred bucks more, and all I needed now was the metal for the kayak frame. If you’re not keeping track, I’d already spent $450 getting the trailer legal and safe. “How much was a new trailer again…$500; maybe it wasn’t such a sweet deal?”

After picking up the metal for the kayak frame – “$100” – we spent several weekdays in Ymmot’s garage grinding, welding, painting, grunting, and doing other manly things. We finally completed all the fabrication a week before the Boondoggle. I hooked the trailer up to my Explorer and headed home triumphant. A block from Tommy’s house I heard a loud clang and scraping. I pulled over, and found the left fender lying in the middle of the intersection – “Crap!” Grabbing the fender, I thought it must have just been one bad weld. Half a block later, I now hear the infamous sound of a fender trying to commit suicide. By the time I got home, not only had I lost the fenders but over half the welds on the kayak frame had broken. So much for Mada knowing how to weld!

With three days until the Boondoggle, I ended up paying a professional to weld the fenders on and used material I am comfortable working with for the rack – wood. The rack was heavy, but functional, and I didn’t have to worry the whole trip down about pieces of it falling off.

The worst part, with the time and money spent on the ultimate super bestest fishing kayak trailer, I could have easily bought a brand new kayak trailer and saved myself the time and hassle.


 

 

For many kayak anglers, a major milestone for which to shoot involves the acquisition of sponsorship deals. A skilled and well respected fisherman, yourself, you have likely come across many opportunities in which to receive complementary and sponsor-provided goods and services. Yet you have remained true to your journalistic ethics and abstained from the practice. This speaks volumes about the seriousness which you pursue the development of Yak Angler and the integrity that you have assigned to the website. Was this neutrality part of your business model from day one? And, if so, has it been a challenge to stay said course?

I had to laugh at “skilled and well-respected fisherman…” I don’t consider myself very skilled, and I’m sure many folks reading this are thinking, “Who the heck is Mark Wata-howdousayhisname?”

In all seriousness, it is very challenging to stay on said course. I want my opinions to carry weight, and if I had a sponsorship with a certain manufacturer how could my opinions not be biased? That being said, it doesn’t mean I won’t accept free stuff. YakAnglers have received kayaks and other gear at no cost to review, but I’ve never signed a contract or agreed to give a positive review just for free gear. Some manufacturers don’t like that, and others do, using the reviews to help make their products better.


What does the future hold for you?

In a couple of months, the Presidents Day Boondoggle in Merritt Island, FL.

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