Ric Burnley

Ric Burnley is a teacher, writer, reporter, angler, and the man behind the definitive guide to the sport, The Complete Kayak Fisherman.  Currently based in Virginia Beach, Ric is the editor of www.fishcrazy.info, a gathering place for reports and instruction related to fishing the Atlantic coast.  A lifelong pursuer of fish, he has combined his experiences with literary training to create hundreds of one-of-a-kind articles related to kayak angling.  Immediately recognizable for the humor, wit, and details contained within, Ric’s words have the innate power to both inspire and enhance any aquatic adventure.

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

I’ve been fishing all my life.  Surf, boat, pier – it didn’t matter.  When my father moved away and took his boat with him, I was stuck on the beach.  That’s when I started investigating kayak fishing.  I went to a seminar hosted by Cory Routh at Wild River Outfitters to learn more.  Then I convinced Hobie to send me a Hank Parker Outback to test.  Boy, did I!  After a few outings on the backwaters – I was ready to take it to the next level.  I peddled that Hobie to hell and back chasing everything from big red drum to trophy cobia to ocean-run striped bass.    After I ran that boat into the ground, I got my first Ocean Kayak Prowler 15.  I’ve gone through four of those.  I love the paddling as much as the fishing.  Even now that I have a motor boat and spend a lot of time chasing stories around the country, I love the raw violence of kayak fishing.

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

I don’t remember the first fish I caught, but I do remember the first humbling experience I had.  After receiving the Hobie I was anxious to get on the water.  I launched out of my backyard and peddled 6 miles down the Lynnhaven River towards Lynnhaven Inlet and the Chesapeake Bay.  Assisted by the outgoing tide, the trip out was easy.  As I got closer to the inlet, the current picked up. The water at the mouth of the inlet was like a flushing toilet and I was a helpless lump of crap.  It was all I could do to peddle my way to a small island.  I sat on the island, in the rain, and watched the current ripping past for two hours.  I was less than 100 yards from a launch ramp and safety, but I was too intimidated by the outgoing current to attempt the passage.  Eventually, I gave it everything I had and pushed across the inlet to safety.  Then I had to call my wife to come and rescue me.  Humiliating!  And humbling.

Your 2007 book, The Complete Kayak Fisherman, is a well received and all-encompassing tome that serves as a repository for most everything a beginning or seasoned kayak angler should know.  Tell us a little about the decision to undertake such a project, and the resulting path to completion.

Peter Burford approached me about writing a book about kayak fishing.   I told him it would take a year to write.  Ken Schultz told me to set a schedule and stick to it.  I devoted the next year to kayak fishing.  We did a lot of “research” and I did a lot of writing.  I spent over 100 days in the ‘yak and wrote one chapter each month.  The book also gave me the opportunity to work with some cool people in the industry.  From kayak designers to paddle manufactures, I learned a lot about the physics of the sport.  My favorite part was tracking down some early pioneers for my Regional Overview.  I got to talk with Jim Sammons, ____ and a bunch of other cool guys.  I also got to spend a lot of time on the water trying to figure out kayak fishing.  My buddies and I caught everything from cobia to bull drum to trophy rockfish and developed a long list of new kayak fisheries.  It was a lot of fun.  And it’s cool to have something to show for all that time I spent on the water.

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

I live almost exclusively on ham and cheese sandwiches, Pop Tarts, apples, and granola bars.  Food just gets in the way of fishing.  My mp3 is packed with an eclectic collection of music ranging from gangsta rap to classical – I keep the player on “shuffle”.  The soundtrack of my life.

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

Honestly, every angler who buys a kayak and installs rod holders is shaping this sport.  Kayak fishing has hit puberty – maturing into a legitimate sport with an identifiable culture and mainstream appeal.  The sport is no longer defined by a handful of trend-setters; it’s the average Joe who is the new face of kayak fishing.  As more kayak anglers hit the water, they are making a bigger splash in the watersports scene.  You can’t go anywhere without running into kayak anglers.  With higher visibility comes higher responsibility.  One bad apple ruins the bunch and one dumb kayak angler threatens to ruin the image of the sport.  Just this week, several kayakers were rescued from the frigid waters of Chesapeake Bay.  Suddenly, newspaper articles, blogs, and message boards are lighting up with accusations of kayak angling being “dangerous” and kayak angers “irresponsible”.  It can’t be a coincidence that I’ve been checked twice by Marine Police since these incidents – they’ve never even approached me before. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Ethics at the launch ramp, on the road, on the water, and in the community are reflected on all kayak anglers.  While no angler signs up to be a spokesman for his sport when he buys his first kayak, if he clogs up the launch ramp, paddles into the path of an oncoming boat, anchors in the middle of a hot bite, or falls out of his boat and has to be rescued, he’s dragging all of us down with him.

Online forums dedicated to the sport often serve as an audience for anglers to publish their own accounts of fishing trips and paddlesport adventures.  What is the single greatest piece of advice that you can offer an angler with regard to improving their own tales and narratives? 

All artists are thieves. Think of the best post you ever read, and try to write the same way while adding your own touch.  My favorite posts combine enough color to carry the how-to value of the post.

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

The biggest issue facing all anglers is access to the fishing grounds.  The enemies of fishing and hunting have many ways to interfere with these traditional activities.  One of their favorites is regulating access to fishing grounds.  That could include anything from  closing a boat ramp to closing an entire body of water.  Access could also include installing fees and tariffs that discourage anglers from entering the sport.  Whatever the tactic, anglers have to keep an eye out for the multi-faceted tactics of these terrorist environmentalist.  They’re better organized, smarter, and more motivated, and better financed than outdoorsman.  Concerned anglers can start by joining all of the local and national organizations devoted to fishing for the rights and interests of outdoorsmen.  Then keep eyes and ears peeled for the efforts of the enemy.  Writing a form letter or bulk email to your representative isn’t enough.  Anglers need to go to meetings, write personal letters, make calls, and get involved – you can bet our enemies are doing the same.

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

My dream trip wouldn’t be a place but people.  As a journalist, I’ve interviewed some of the great personalities in this sport: Allen Sansano, Jim Sammons, Paul Lebowitz, Isaac Brumaghim, Jon Schwartz, Tim Niemier, and others.  But I’ve never “met” these legends.  My dream trip would include all these guys on a mothership where we fish hard all day and tell lies all night.

Imagine that we are 20 years into the future, and that you have been asked to write a new edition to The Complete Kayak Fisherman.  How would that book be different in terms of audience, focus, and content? 

Well, I wouldn’t have to wait 20 years.  Like any technology, that book was obsolete by the time it hit the shelves.  That was one of the challenges – keeping it timely while making it timeless.  I would have to include so many changes that by the time I finished the list, it, too would already be outdated.  Fishing kayak design has advanced to include specialized boats for stand-up fishing and freshwater fishing.  The range of kayak anglers has increased to cover bluewater and sweetwater species.   Online and analog publications provide more information.  Local outfitters, experts, guides, and fishing clubs provide specific guidance.  More anglers on the water mean more kayak fisheries being discovered and explored.  The number of companies producing kayak fishing specific accessories has exploded.  And so much more would need to be added. Still, the basic premise hasn’t changed.  All it takes to get into the kayak fishing game is a boat, seat, paddle, PFD, and milkcrate.

What’s in your milk crate?

Literal: As little as possible.  I really try to cut down on weight and simplify.  I always pack a ham and cheese sandwich, an apple and a couple granola bars. I can’t go anywhere without my Zune.  Or my headlamp and Costa’s.  I pack a bottle of water and a thermos of coffee.  I keep an extra pair of chicken scissors and a pair of pliers.  I only take the tackle and gear that I’ll need that day – which is tough when you never know what you’ll encounter.  But, every extra ounce is another ounce I have to paddle into the wind and current at the end of the day.

Figurative:  Every time I paddle out, I carry all of the experiences I’ve had on the water.  Not only do my past experiences guide my present trip, but I know that each cast adds to the anthology.

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?


American Family Foundation (14 Characteristics) of a cult:

The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment:  National stars like Jim Sammons, Chad Hoover, and Kayak Kevin Whitley along with local icons inspire awe and devotion of other kayak anglers.

The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.  Kayak fishing message boards, blogs, and websites induct new members daily. Who could resist?

The group is preoccupied with making money: Change that to “saving money”.  Kayak anglers revel in their frugalness.

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished:  Let one of your kayak fishing buddies catch you fishing off a boat – you’ll be out of the loop on the next hot bite.

Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).   Add “paddling 3 miles in a head wind” to that list.

The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth): Outfitters and clothiers are rushing to get in the kayak fishing boom.  Get your stuff on the kings of kayaking then sit back and count the money.

The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).  Kayak anglers are easy to identify. It is hard to miss a guy driving down the road with a giant slab of plastic on his roof.  Be sure to slap a dozen kayak fishing related stickers on the truck for when you leave the boat at home.  Expect to get a lot of waves , nods, and honks from passing ‘yakers.

The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society:  Kayakers vs. Boaters.

The group’s leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations).

Launch anywhere, fish anywhere, store anywhere, catch anything: kayaks are the ultimate subversive fishing platform.

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group (for example: collecting money for bogus charities).   How many people would spend hours sitting in the freezing cold rain on the ocean at night before they bought a fishing kayak?

The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.   Miss a kayak fishing tournament and you’re out!

Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.   Every kayak anglers leaves a wake of angry wives and lonely kids.

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.  Midnight sessions on the water.  Dawn patrol before church.  Lost weekends.

Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Kayak angling clubs get almost militant in their member’s devotion to their group and their opposition to other kayak angling clubs.

You have penned numerous regional fishing reports, and often do so in a way that goes beyond the mere providing of data.  With a style that combines fact, human interest, story, humor, and wit, you turn an often dry medium into something that provides a great deal of entertainment atop the information.  Are your stylistic expressions intentional, or merely an extension of your personality?

I’m nothing like the guy who writes those articles.  I wish I was.

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

That’s a fun question.  For a watercraft that rarely goes more than a few miles per hour, the sport of kayak fishing is moving fast.  Obviously, paddle and peddle and even motorized boats are all the rage.  Freshwater fishermen are the next frontier.  I’d love to see the sport go more “high-tech” with I hope anglers appreciate the beauty of paddling a kayak juxtaposed with the raw terror of fishing.

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