Richard Ofner is an Ontario, Canada-based angler, tournament organizer, and blogger (http://pka.canadiankayakanglers.com/). Perhaps best known in his capacities as the later, Richard shares with his readers both the details of his northern adventures and his immeasurable passion for the sport. When not chasing down the next prize Musky, Richard can be found traveling and spending time with his girlfriend, Julie.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
In 2005, a kayak publication had a feature story on “Kayak Fishing for Muskie.” I enjoyed the article, and thought to myself, “these guys are nuts.” Having not ever caught a Musky, and really not much more than the odd bass or pan fish, I was in awe of this adventure that the article described, which was of a group of guys traveling the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park, fishing for Musky, in November. At the time, I was intrigued but only by the article; I couldn’t imagine myself doing it.
In the summer of 2007, I purchased my first Hobie Mirage Driven kayak specifically to take up the void left after giving up due to lower back pain, and playing hockey and golf. The attraction to peddling on the water, with the option to paddle, sold me on the Hobie.
In the summer of 2008, while on the water, I met a fellow at the launch who was fishing out of his kayak. He had multiple rods and a “milk crate” that held his gear. I instantly remembered the article from 2005 and thought to myself, “maybe this is something I want to try.”
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
Two firsts at the same time. I caught a Smallmouth Bass on the Detroit River casting a Rapala; previously I had never caught anything casting or trolling. Fishing with a worm or minnow on a hook and sinker was the only presentation I knew.
You got into kayaking, and, subsequently, kayak angling, after a back injury forced you out of the sports you once enjoyed. Given the frequency with which you spend time on the water, one could assume there to be a healing aspect to your new pursuit. Is this a safe assumption?
I was having difficulty with lower back pain after playing hockey or golfing. Both are sports that I have enjoyed for most of my life, and it wasn’t fun anymore. After about a 5 year layoff from playing hockey, I tried it one last time just over 3 years ago, and I came to the conclusion that my playing days were over.
After purchasing my first Hobie, I only went out once or twice a month. It wasn’t until I started fishing that my trips increased to 2 to 3 times a week. My outings were on average 3 or 4 hours, with 5 to 7 miles covered. There were a few times where I didn’t get out of my kayak for 7 to 9 hours and almost 20 miles traveled, and still no back pain. I also found that I would drop 10 pounds (that was gained each winter) in each of the last 3 years.
I hope to enjoy the sport at least into my seventies, and don’t see why that goal isn’t reachable. As long as I can stay healthy, there is no reason that I can do this even longer.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
Depending on how long I will be out on the water, I usually take a few granola bars and some water. If it is an outing with Julie, she packs us a picnic, but only because our outings would usually be a minimum of 4 or 5 hours. I have only recently taken an Ipod out with me on the water when I fish alone, and I listen to all genres of music. Once I drop a line, the Ipod is put away.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
The internet is the best resource available – a place where you can research kayaks, fishing gear, electronics, locations, fishing reports, weather, water conditions, satellite pictures of plakes, plot GPS locations, find kayak launches with Google street view; it is an endless resource of tools to help you get started or expand your kayak fishing experiences. Online magazines like “The Milkcrate” are an example of the type of publications that are online today, and are a valuable resource for the novice to experienced kayak angler. You can join kayak fishing forums, and learn from other kayak anglers. The manufacturers of kayaks and equipment aimed at kayak fishing are also a driving force in the growth and future of kayak angling.
Armed with a travel trailer and an exploratory spirit, you’ve created a rather impressive online map of your 2011 fishing season. Describe to us the perfect Canadian road trip.
Loading up my travel trailer and kayaks, heading north from Windsor, Ontario, up through Michigan to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, then west to the coast in British Columbia, and coming back via a different path that drops into the bordering US states, going through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan on the way home.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
It is easy to take for granted our waterways and their health. With today’s concerns on the Great Lakes – Asian Carp, Zebra and Quagga Mussels will all compete for the forage and food that the different species of fish depend on. Also, the over abundance of phosphorous, which is a result of the chemicals that are draining into our lakes, has created an unhealthy algae and takes the form of an ugly green slime.
Even though the Great Lakes commercial and sports fishing industries are worth 7 or 8 billion dollars, sportsman and commercial fishing companies don’t have the influence that large corporations have politically. This makes it challenging when it comes to trying to get the large companies to take responsibility for their pollution or actions that affect our lakes. All of the different sportsman’s organizations need to group together to give themselves a larger voice when issues are being discussed and tabled by politicians.
Safety on the water is also a concern; being visible to power boats is probably the number one issue that we have to contend with. Making yourself visible to them is not an easy task when you consider that you are basically sitting in the water. Raised flags, bright coloured clothes, and being well lit at night are important while on the water where there are power boats.
What’s in your milk crate?
I now try to carry as little as possible, and it depends on the species I am fishing for. Whatever presentations I plan to use with a few spares, pliers, scissors, extra leaders, snaps and swivels, repellent and sun screen, and a small dry box to carry my license and other personal items that I would need depending where I am fishing.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
My girlfriend Julie and I were staying at a cottage in Erieau, Ontario, and while walking through the local marina, noticed all the boats coming in loaded with steelhead and walleye. Being new to fishing, I wasn’t aware that Erieau, which is surrounded by Lake Erie and Rondeau Bay, was a very popular port for steelhead and walleye fishing. With the direction of an employee at the marina, who showed us where they were catching fish that day, I took the coordinates from the map, plugged it into my FF/GPS combo unit,and launched at a public beach about four miles away from the targeted spot. I had never before used divers to assist in getting your presentation down to the depth of the fish, so we were experimenting with how much line to let out and what speed to troll at. I was about eighty feet behind Julie when I heard the drag of her line scream. As she was grabbing her rod, I just about fell out of my kayak. A fish then came out of the water right next to me, and I didn’t realize it was the fish on her line. I quickly brought my lines in, and went to assist her because we had only one net between us. Julie had it up against her hull, already subdued and just laying there. I went to net it, but her line had got hung up in the rudder, and the fish pulled the spoon out of its mouth. I only got to watch this five/six pound steelhead swim away. The excitement of hooking up and being that close to getting it in the boat without either of us really knowing what we were doing made up for losing the fish. We had only been at the spot for less than five minutes before she hooked up. We quickly set up our lines again, and a few minutes later, my drag started to go off with a fish dancing at the end of my line. The twenty four and a half inch steelhead was landed quickly, and we decided that we would bring it back for dinner on the BBQ. We continued trolling for about a half hour, and I did get another hook up but one of my knots let go.
Our first trip on Lake Erie, trolling, using divers and spoons, was a successful day on the water, and getting back to the cottage and cleaning, cooking the fish on the BBQ within four hours of catching it, was a very memorable day of Kayak Fishing.
You’re known for having a deep and passionate stoke for the sport. On cold January days that are full of snow and devoid of fishing, how do you keep this stoke alive?
It is no different that any other seasonal sport. The time off only refreshes your drive and motivation while you impatiently wait for the ice to melt. In this part of the country, target the early walleye, and pike in late March, early April. New equipment, rigging or maintenance can also fill that void.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
It can be anything you like. You can go out and fish with a group, fish alone, fish with your spouse/GF. Julie and I, we like to travel to destinations that combine fishing and camping.
During my first full year of kayaking, I met Julie, who at first was hesitant to come out on the water with me in the kayak. Though a good swimmer, an incident of capsizing in a small sailboat was still affecting her confidence to be in a small watercraft on a large body of water. Finally, on a sunny, calm day in late March of 2010, she joined me for a quick outing on the lake just to give it a try. She was shocked as to how stable a ride the kayak was, and any of her fears disappeared that day.
We participated in a number of kayak fishing events that summer (throughout Ontario) and along with meeting new friends, we discovered how much we also enjoyed camping. After our first outing, we purchased a travel trailer, and with Julie’s photography skills, she captured quite a collection of photos from these camping/fishing outings. In 2011, we did not participate in any kayak fishing tournaments, but chose to pick destinations where we could include fishing, and camping.
Recently, ABC’s Good Morning America selected Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and Lakeshore as the most beautiful place in America. Julie and I planned to attend an annual outing that is organized each year by the Michigan Kayak Fishing Community. This takes place in September at the DH Day Campground, which is part of the Sleeping Bear Dune National Park. It is a rustic campground on Sleeping Bear Bay on Lake Michigan. Kayak fishing for salmon on Lake Michigan, amongst the view of the Dunes and North/South Manitou Islands, is hard to describe in words.
Tell us a story, any story.
When people who aren’t familiar with kayak angling have met me at a launch, the first question they usually ask is, “have you ever tipped over, or how do you keep from flipping?” With an estimated 200 trips on the water since I started kayak fishing, I have gone for a swim twice. Both times fully loaded with gear. I am proud to say I have only lost 1 fishing rod, a few lures, and 1 shoe.
This summer a group of us were camping at a local provincial park on Lake Erie, through the July 1st long weekend, kayak fishing for steelhead. It was our 3rd day, and a few of the guys had already caught fish, but I had only lost a nice size one that looked to be about 10 to 12 pounds. It was Saturday evening, and with conflicting reports of nice weather and a chance of thunder storms, a couple of us decided to give it a shot. I carry a cell phone that gives me access to satellite weather reports, and a VHF radio that also gives weather reports and warnings. Before launching, I couldn’t get reception on either of them. With clear skies, we launched and started out to the targeted spot where we were successful the day before, about 2 miles straight out. Half way there, the sky seemed to be getting dark in the east horizon, but I hadn’t heard anything on the radio (or I wasn’t getting good enough reception to understand the report). Brian, who had ventured out with me, had his line in as we approached our destination. We started to troll, heading west, the direction the wind and waves were coming from. After about 10 minutes of trolling in that direction, I heard his drag take off, and saw his hooked steelhead leaping above the water, about 100’ behind his kayak. I knew that he had a nice silver bullet at the end of his line. I reeled in my lines and quickly got close to him while he proceeded to land the fish. Throughout him fighting and netting his 2nd steelhead of the weekend, we got turned around by the wind, and were now heading east. It was like a dark blanket was draped over the skies above us. Brian hadn’t even finished unhooking, and I yelled that I was heading in. We had about a 30 to 40 minute paddle to get in, and it looked like we had enough time to beat the storm that was coming directly from the east.
It wasn’t 5 minutes, and I barely had my rods put away, when it seemed like a wall of wind hit us, and the direction of the waves and wind changed 180 degrees and were now coming from the east. in a matter of a few seconds, he 1’ waves from the west turned into 5 and 6 foot waves from the east. The wind was reported at 30 mph gusting to 50. The push of the rain and wind were making it hard to stay upright. Brian had caught up with me by now, and we were both peddling as hard as we could go. Now, never being in this type of situation, I remember thinking of a movie I had watched, “The Perfect Storm”, and the similarity of the scene we were experiencing, only here we were sitting on 60 to 70 pounds of plastic with waves and water breaking over us onto our laps, our rods sticking 7 to 9 feet in the air acting as lightning rods, and total darkness except the light provided by the lightning in the sky. I wasn’t even thinking of capsizing, until I did.
Well, the only time that I had capsized before was in 4 feet of water 50’ from shore in a calm creek. We were still a mile and half out in 38 feet of water, and the storm was picking up steam. My kayak was loaded, 2 rods, bag full of gear, large net sticking up, tools inside netted pockets, my Humminbird combo unit at the front of the kayak.
As I surfaced and grabbed the bottom of my hull, the picture of my mirage drive fins sticking straight up in the air is burned into my memory. From only watching how to turn a SOT kayak over and getting back in on a Youtube video, I quickly grabbed the far side of the kayak and pulled it towards me. Brian said it seemed as though I wasn’t going to get it around, and I remember being stuck at the top and slightly falling back down when maybe a wave or gust of wind assisted to pull me back and help upright the kayak. Only the bag of gear was floating in the lake, everything else was still attached; both of my rods were gone, though. Brian proceeded to grab the bag which had my ID, my phone, and licenses in a dry box. Getting back into the kayak with the wind and waves blowing directly into my face was the next task. I have never climbed into a kayak in water that was over my head. For whatever reason I climbed in backwards, facing the stern of the kayak. Getting back around was more difficult than climbing in; the whole process maybe took 15 seconds. Once seated and composed, we were once again on our way. I remember being relieved that my lighting rods were now gone.
We eventually reached shore about 2 miles west of our launch, and luckily, we had brought our wheels to get the kayaks back to our vehicles. The storm never let up, and while we were still on the beach loading the kayaks onto our wheel carts, large hail started to pelt us. As I was pulling my kayak out of the water, I noticed a lure and line tangled in the rudder. I started to pull on it and quickly realized it was my lure. It seemed like forever to get it in, but my rod and reel were at the end of the 3 to 4 hundred feet of line.
It was a long walk back and it seemed like it took forever. By the time we had our kayaks packed up and ready to go back to camp, the storm was over. It had lasted almost 2 hours, and ended up being our worst thunder storm of the summer. The next day, a ride into town showed us just how bad this storm was with large trees and branches damaged and knocked over. I had always heard that Lake Erie could, at times, be unpredictable, I now have first hand experience.
You were one of the driving forces behind the 2011 Border City Classic. How did you come to be involved with the tournament?
Jeff Goudreau, a driving force in the Canadian Kayaking Community, was one of the first Kayak Anglers that I had met through the CanadianKayakAnglers.com forum. He had just moved back to Windsor, and I met him online through the forum, and planned a hook up on the Detroit River in Early May of 2009. For the short time he was in Windsor, we fished together a number of times, and when he moved out of province, we kept in contact. Late in 2010, he started to plan the 2011 CKA’s Cross Canada Tour!! and he asked me if I was interested in helping. Having participated in a few events, I quickly agreed and thought that we could put together an event that would attract both the novice and experienced kayak angler. To attract the first time kayak anglers to come out and give it a try, a local company, Pelee Wings, provided fully equipped kayaks, for people that did not own a kayak, and allowed them to give kayak fishing a shot. The entry fee included a chance at winning an Ocean Kayak Torque. The event attracted just over 30 participants, from the first time kayak angler to the experienced, as young as 20 and up to 70. Almost 20 percent were women.
For 2012, we have joined with the MichiganKayakFishing.com community and will be organizing the event on both sides of the border, making it a true international event. We are hoping to have up to 70 anglers participate.
What does the future hold for you?
For each of the last couple years, I have made new goals that I want to achieve. This year it was to catch more walleye, catch and land a musky alone without any assistance, hit at least 70 outings on the water, and improve my salmon/trout fishing. Walleye were caught from Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, The Detroit River and Ahmic Lake near Magnetawan,Ontario, using various tactics. Fishing by myself, I caught a 41” musky at the beginning of November, and I have been out over 80 times to date. Though I did catch a small Chinook, I will try and improve on the salmon/trout fishing in 2012.
For 2012, Julie and I have leased a property in Wheatley, Ontario, directly on Lake Erie, where we will park our travel trailer when not vacationing with it. Wheatley is neighbouring east of Erieau, and from the end of June through July and August, is considered some of the best steelhead, walleye, and perch fishing on Lake Erie. I hope to try trolling my Hobie Adventure Island, a kayak that converts to a tri-maran. Youtube videos of kayak anglers trolling for salmon and halibut look like a lot of fun, and I plan to attempt it on Lake Erie next summer.
All pictures submitted are owned by Julie Nowicki. http://photovisionsbyjulienowicki.com