For a proper introduction, we turned to Rob’s friend and angling peer, Mr. Chuck Wrenn:
“Dedicated, focused, determined, motivated…these are just a few of the superlatives that come to mind when someone mentions the words ‘kayak fishing’ in the same sentence with the name Rob Choi, aka ‘Angling Addict.’ Rob is someone I consider a close friend, even though I have only known him for 3 years now. Whenever I have a question on rod selection or tackle preparation for an outing, Rob is the first person I call. Rob is a family man first, with a loving wife and two beautiful children, and a kayak angler second. He toils away at work during the week contemplating the next time he can get on the water. Rob is well known in the Mid-Atlantic as a dedicated angler who thrives in the saltwater, but is also an accomplished freshwater angler. Rob has placed well in several tournaments over the last few years, has earned the respect of his fellow anglers, and recently was afforded the opportunity to become a member of several Pro Staffs – most notably Ocean Kayak, Werner Paddles and YakAttack. If you have the chance to fish in the Chesapeake Bay region, you just might find a lean silhouette on the horizon sightfishing and chasing that next citation in the quest to become the next Expert Angler here in VA. If you have the opportunity to spend time with Rob, you will find he is one of the most genuine and down to earth individuals you could ever hope to have the pleasure of meeting, let alone fishing, with. Just mention the words ‘sheepshead,’ ‘bull reds’ or ‘tautogs’ and you will soon learn how dedicated Rob is. I speak from firsthand experience and can assure you, Rob is an ‘Angling Addict.’”
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
It was a simple gift idea that set it all in motion. My mom came up with the brilliant suggestion and after a little homework on my part, my dad was to be the recipient of a new kayak for Christmas of ’07. We got the funds together and before I knew it, it was sitting in my backyard until the time came for me to transport it to their house. I sat in it and immediately realized the potential. My dad, who was responsible for instilling the love of fishing in me at an early age, was going to love it. Aside from the occasional headboat outing, we almost exclusively fished from shore. Pops didn’t want to deal with the costs, repairs, clean up, and general headache from owning a boat, but he never thought about a kayak. It was going to open up a whole new world.
During the week between Christmas and New Years, I couldn’t stop thinking about that potential, and it became imperative that I own a kayak. By the end of January, it became a reality, and by spring, I was completely addicted. Add the abundance of information available on the local forums and Kayak Kevin’s site…there was no turning back.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
There was a hole that was just out of reach from shore. We would see boaters come and consistently catch decent flounder there. So that was the first spot I went to on my new kayak. I couldn’t help but smile being on the water and seeing it all from that perspective. I was looking at the spot on shore where I used to stand when I got that familiar thump. It was a decent little 19″ flounder. Afterwards, I looked around and realized I had a lot more water to explore.
Despite media appearances, tournament-derived prizes, or high-profile sponsorship, you are most known as a guy who personifies one of the greatest attributes of kayak anglers – approachability. Be it through forum posts or replies to emailed inquiries and blog comments, you always seem to take the time to help your fellow sportsmen. To what do you attribute your propensity for giving back to the sport?
All I can say is, I genuinely enjoy helping people. It just feels good. I like empowering others with just enough knowledge for them to go out confidently and learn on their own. I don’t give them specific spots, but I do tell them the general area. I never mind sharing rigs and tips as well as quality products that have helped me. Some things that may have taken me a while to figure out might not be shared, but it’s those things that I mentioned earlier that you can only learn by spending time on the water. I just hope to inspire like I was when I first started (Kayak Kevin).
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
My addiction to saltwater has me driving at least an hour and half one way for every trip. So needless to say, I’m consistently pumping tunes. However, I can’t say that a single genre is constant on my iPod. From The Barber of Seville to Paranoid Android, the Last Waltz to License to Ill, Midnite Vultures to Papa Don’t Take No Mess, my tastes will vary like the weather. Three Little Birds to Foo Fighters to DMB, Mothership Connection to Jeff Buckley to The Roots, Voodoo Child to Jurassic 5 to old school Smashing Pumpkins, Medeski Martin & Wood to Morcheeba to Bohemian Rhapsody, Vivaldi Winter-1 to Old Crow Medicine Show to Sublime, Mary Jane’s Last Dance to Stanton Moore to Sunny Day Real Estate, Queens of the Stone Age – Song for the Dead to Yo-Yo Ma’s Suite For Solo Cello No.1 to Weezer’s El Scorcho to Edison’s Tonka Truck… I’m pretty much all over the place. As far as food goes, whatever’s quick. From breakfast bars, to trail mix, to drive thru, anything except the dreaded banana.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
You know…I can mention TV stars like Jim Sammons and Chad Hoover, or DVD makers like Kayak Kevin and Jeff Little, or maybe mad scientist/innovator Luther Cifers of YakAttack, but really… it’s just as much the everyday guy/gal who posts up reports on his or her local forum. It’s those people that are willing to share their experiences good or bad so that others can either learn from those mistakes or succeed with that little extra info. I think it’s the local people near you that will make the most impact. With the most relevant tips and reports, it’s those people that will help you learn your fishery.
Your blog displays a writing style not often seen within contemporary kayak angling media. Combining the sultry restraint of Hemingway with the artful silliness of, say, Tom Robbins, your posts speak of a deliberate and successful attempt to entertain and inform. You bring both refreshment and humanity to the genre, and transcend all preconceived notions of what a fishing report can and should be. What advice would you give to anglers looking to improve their own narrative accounts of on-water exploits?
First off, that is quite the compliment and I’m very flattered/honored. I do admit, however, that I take pride in it and put a lot of time and effort into most of my posts. I hope to make people smile, strike an emotion, or simply be as mindful as I have when I read the works of other writers of this genre that I admire like Paul Lebowitz and Ric Burnley. As far as advice goes, I’m not really sure what to say. I never really sat down and analyzed how I write. I know that I start thinking about a post as soon as I hit the road to get back home. I mentally edit the parts I don’t want to talk about and focus on telling a story – kind of like as if I was hanging out with fellow fishermen at a tailgate after a long day on the water. Don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself or let some personality show in between the information you’re trying to share. I try to incorporate any funny tidbits from things that happened on the water or conversations I might have had earlier. Sometimes, putting aside my insecurities about what others might think, I’ll just let my emotions do the talking for me. I like to think that even though other people may have caught it first, or their’s was bigger, or they had more, or whatever… it’s how you felt when you caught yours and your willingness to share those emotions that might make your story that much more interesting. Side note, it’s OK to use the dictionary, thesaurus, Wikipedia, and even the urban dictionary.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
I grew up in a family that kept nearly everything we caught. But as I got older, I realized that for me, it was the act of fishing that was far more important than filling my belly. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating fish. But with all the technology nowadays, we can locate and catch more fish than ever before. And there’s more and more fishermen joining in everyday. Fisheries have never felt so much pressure before, so conservation weighs heavy on my mind. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t keep any fish ever…I just think we could be more responsible/respectful. There are some species that reproduce and grow at incredibly fast rates, but there are some species that are much slower and can’t keep up with the rate they are being harvested. There are also many species that stay on certain structures or can be consistently found in certain places, so once they are fished out of those kayakable areas, they’re gone for a long time. There’s also the plight of the menhaden, oyster beds, eel grass, etc. We humans can be awfully destructive. I think educating fishermen and supporting those organizations that deal with research and restoration can help keep our fisheries healthy and strong, not just for us but for generations to come.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. How about a marathon that starts in Florida for tarpon, bones and permit, then down to the Amazon for some crazy jungle fishing. Perhaps a stop in Panama, Costa Rica, or Belize for everything and anything that puts a mean bend in the rod. Maybe keep going up the Pacific coast and go hang out with Sammons in Baja for some roosters, yellowtail, and whatever else. Might as well throw in Hawaii and Alaska too, right? Maybe New Zealand?
What’s in your milk crate?
Literally – I’m always switching things out since I change target species often. But I always try to bring my camera.
Figuratively – The things I learned from every trip I’ve gone on before stay with me, always. Those previous experiences are invaluable, and can’t be learned from books, magazines, or anything online. I’m constantly learning, keeping an open mind, hypothesizing, and proving/disproving theories I come up with.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
I like to think that my next time on the water is the best day. But I guess you can count the time my little 3 yr old daughter reeled in her first fish. Or maybe the time spent with HOW taking out the veterans. As far as personal achievements go, I got a story that I’ll share a few questions down.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
It’s checking the weather incessantly. It’s constantly scheming of ways to call out sick and/or finding the right angle to approach your significant other about your next fishing trip. It’s checking the dozen or so forums and reports as soon as you get up. When the vast majority of your Facebook wall posts has something to do with kayak fishing. When you realize that your favorite fishing buddies’ names stay at the top of your recent call list and the first thing they usually ask is “Dude, when are we going fishing next?” It’s when you want to be on the water so bad that you start daydreaming about it at work, staring at the wall and smiling as your co-worker walks in and just shakes his head. My wife no longer asks me what I want to do on my day off. She understands that it’s my lifestyle.
Tell us a story, any story.
Here’s an excerpt from a blog post back in December of 2011.
Over the past three years, I’ve learned a lot about the kayak tautog fishery in the lower Chesapeake Bay. I’ve put in a good amount of time, and if I had to guess, I’ve probably caught nearly 200 togs during that time. Though some were under 15″ and not worth talking about, I’ve also had my fair share of near trophy togs and everything in between. Coming within less than an inch of citation twice this year made my desire to catch that 23″+ tog that much more insatiable. My quest for Togzilla became an obsession.
The day started with my wife going to yoga. By the time she got back, I was contemplating just staying at home since I wasn’t going to have too much day light left by the time I got down to Virginia Beach. Tautog are a daytime only species. But the weather was so nice with the wind laying low, so I decided I had to give it one more try before switching gears for the big stripers. My little girl wished me good luck and I made the long drive down. After a tough time finding bait, I finally got on the water a little after 2pm.
I got me out to the spot by 3:00, leaving me about 2 hours of tog-able time left. I had exactly one tog bite in those two hours. But, it was just like the two other 22″+ togs from earlier in the year…a single solid thump, and I didn’t hesitate. Setting the hook, I knew immediately it was a heavy fish. After the first few cranks, the response came in the form of a violent jackhammering of the rod. I loved it. The bulldog of a beast put a nerve-racking bend in my rod that started from the handle, and line started peeling off the super tight drag. I really didn’t want it getting back to it’s hole, so I stayed confident that my tackle would withstand it, and I pumped the rod and cranked. It fought hard the entire way up. When it got to the surface, before I could grab the leader, it slapped it’s tail and went on another awe-inspiring run that had me praying that the hook stayed in. It did and my second landing attempt went smoothly. I grabbed the leader and as the head hit the gunwale, I used my leg to scoop it in. I smiled but didn’t let myself get too outwardly excited until I measured it. Please, please, please be 23″…23.5″ RELEASE CITATION TAUTOG!<
The emotions came pouring out. My screaming “Yeah! Woohoo! $#%^ yeah!” turned into maniacal laughter that echoed under the bridge. The lack of wind made it seem even louder. I know in the grand scheme, it’s not that huge of a tautog, but for me it was. And it was enough to be called a trophy in VA. I was on cloud 9.
I released it in hope of keeping this kayakable fishery strong. Especially since it’s a big female. Not too long after, the sun started touching the horizon which marked the end of my tog season. I laughed out loud and had yelling fits of joy during the entire paddle back. It was the greatest ending I could have asked for.
Later on, still giddy as my thoughts lingered on how I wanted to tell this story, I was oblivious to the fact that I was driving through a deer crossing gauntlet. Having seen so many deer on that stretch of highway before, I should have known better. I was cruising a little over 55mph when the first one popped out. I slammed the brakes, miss it, but the one chasing it was just too close. All my equipment slid up and hit the back of my seat. The buck got clobbered then airborne. I wasn’t scared or panicky. I was immediately pissed. Talk about a buzz kill. The buck died and my car ended up needing a tow. It was all too bittersweet to say the least.
In addition to possessing an enviable angling talent, you also create amazing works of art through the medium of gyotaku. Arguably the most difficult step in said art form sits within the final brush strokes aimed at creating lifelike eyes and texture. These details often separate true art from simple fish rubbings, and it is the former that wears your signature. How did you come to learn, and subsequently perfect, this ancient art?
I don’t know if I’ve “perfected” the art, but I do enjoy doing the prints. My mom showed me the general idea a while back on a 24″ flounder. It was my personal best and she wanted to show me a way to remember it and also eat it. So in her garage, I watched in awe. I got the gist pretty quickly and went on to try some of my own. I’ve always had a decent eye for art and craftsmanship. I also went to VCU and got a bachelor of fine arts degree with a major in illustration. Brushwork and painting was actually my obsession before kayak fishing.
What does the future hold for you?
When my wife and I had our first baby, everyone thought my fishing would slow down considerably if not halt all together. When we had our second child, people said it I wouldn’t be around for a while. Throw in the fact that I live far from where I like to fish and the odds were stacked against me for the last 3 and a half years. A year and a half ago, my buddy, Justin Mayer, asked when I was going to get some sponsors. I told him I didn’t care about sponsors, I just care about fishing, plus they would just take time away from me. Yet, somehow, I got to spend more time on the water last year then I ever have before, while managing multiple sponsorships. What’s in store for the future…I have no idea. I can only hope I can keep doing what I love to do, perhaps a little cheaper for me, while helping to spread the word on some great products/sites.
You can learn more about Rob by visiting his blog, Angling Addict: www.angling-addict.com.