Steve Gibson

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Veteran outdoor writer and photographer, Steve Gibson, is a kayak angler blessed with an amazing talent for telling the stories of our sport. Steve also possesses a gift for angling, and has to his name numerous top tier fly-specific tournament finishes. Not content to remain in his role as tournament participant, Steve is also the co-director of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers/Sarasota CCA Fall Fly Fishing Challenge.  When not behind the keyboard or camera, Steve can be found spending time with his wife, Kathy.

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

Believe it or not, I’ve been kayak fishing since 1986. I was working as the outdoors editor of the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota when I received a call from the owner of a kayak shop in Venice, Fla. Of course, he just wanted publicity for his shop, but I was intrigued about fishing from such a silent watercraft. I wasn’t disappointed when I first started paddling the kayak. I don’t even remember what brand or style it was. I do remember that I was amazed by the way it glided through the water so silently and effortlessly.


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

I caught a snook on fly rod. While out doing a story on kayak fishing, I found snook gathered around a dock light. That’s typical. The light attracts baitfish and shrimp. The snook gather to dine on an easy meal. I don’t think it was a very large snook — maybe 23-24 inches, but I will never forget that fish.


 

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You have to your name many published articles and photographs, including pieces run in such notable periodicals as Florida Sportsman and Cabella’s Outdoor Magazine.  You have also served your country in the capacity of being an Air Force journalist and historian. How have these roles influenced your journalistic style as it pertains to the oft-meticulous documenting of your angling adventures?

I made my living as a writer for 35 years. I don’t do as much writing these days outside of my blog (www. http://gibbysfishingblog.blogspot.com/). I’ll do an occasional article if I’m approached. Or I’ll shoot some photos, but I prefer to fish by day and spend time with my wife when I’m not on the water.

As an outdoors writer, I got to fish with guides all over the state and country. Most were really good. I can only remember a couple that clearly had no clue. The job afforded me the opportunity to learn from the best and to interact with some of the leading people in the industry.

My style was simple: Create a story that weaved technical information within the framework of an entertaining column. I didn’t want to bore readers, but I did want them to learn something. In my 35 years, I never wrote about myself.

Of course, serving my country was a privilege that I was honored to do. Even though I served during the Vietnam Conflict, I was stationed at Eglin AFB near Fort Walton Beach, Fla. What a great spot. I cut my saltwater fishing teeth their and learned from the best. I even worked as a first mate on some of the Destin charterboats during that time.


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

Country, of course. I’m a fan of most genres, but country is my base. I love the stories that are told in every country song. While I love the older artists like Hank Williams, Jr., Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, et. al., I’m quite interested in new groups such as The Black Lillies, Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers.

After a long week on the water, I love to sit down and eat a medium rare ribeye steak, bake potato and salad.


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

Guess I can put on my philosopher’s cap here! Goodness. I’m not sure it’s any one person or group. I think it’s all of us. I truly believe kayak anglers are a brother/sisterhood of conscientious anglers who, for the most part, are concerned about the environment and the fishery. I do like to catch fish, but I also don’t mind putting the rod down to watch a bald eagle soar above me. Or to witness a manatee and her calf swim under my kayak. I’m still mesmerized by alligators. Although I’ve lived in Florida most of my life, I still have a hard time believing we have giant lizards in our lakes, rivers and ponds.

I also must give credit to all of the kayak manufacturers, people like you, and all of those associated with kayak fishing.


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

Pretty easy question. I’m most concerned with protecting the fishery and the habitat. Habitat loss probably is No. 1 on my list. We’ve got to make sure our fish have places to spawn, grow up and feed. We have also learned over the years that no fishery is limitless (witness the north Atlantic). The fisheries belong to the people and not to any one group. We are all stewards of the fisheries and need to do whatever it takes to protect them.

While I don’t disapprove anyone taking a fish home to eat, I don’t believe that’s why we fish. We fish to enjoy the great outdoors. We fish to get away. We fish to recreate. We left the hunter/gatherer society long, long ago. Few people depend solely on the fisheries to feed their families.

I can remember 30-40 years ago when most everyone killed each and every fish they caught. In Florida, there were very few bag limits, size limits or seasons. You could go out and catch 50 redfish and kill every one of them. And I know folks who did just that. Many of them are disgusted by their actions of long ago. But it’s those feelings that spawn conservationists.

Personally, I haven’t killed a snook, spotted seatrout or redfish in more than 30 years. In fact, outside of an occasional pompano, I rarely take a fish home.


 

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

My favorite type of fishing is to be on a remote bonefish flat with a fly rod. So, I would love to be in the Caribbean (Bahamas, Venezuela, Mexico, Belize), sitting in my kayak with a couple of fly rods. Imagine what it would be like to hook a monster bonefish in that situation?


What’s in your milk crate?

I just laughed because I carry WAY too much. At the end of any fishing day, I could probably carry every lure I used in my shirt pocket. But that doesn’t keep me from carrying boxes of everything. I have a plastic tackle box for grubs, jerk worms, shad tails, topwater plugs, suspending plugs, plastic shrimp, spoons…you name it.

Figuratively, I carry hope, desire, compassion and strong sense of commitment to protecting the great outdoors.


 

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With regard to tournaments, you have spent time on both sides of the organizational fence. You have served as director and champion, and, with particular attention paid to the later, have placed in the top tier of numerous fly-specific events. How, if at all, have the titles of organizer and champion impacted each other?

A friend, Capt. Rick Grassett (Snook Fin-Addict Charters in Sarasota) were talking one day. We’re both avid fly fishers and competitors. And since there were no fly tournaments in this part of the state at the time, we decided to start our own. We held the first Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers/Sarasota CCA Fall Fly Fishing Challenge in 2004. We’re still going strong. It’s a low-key event that draws some of the best fly anglers along Florida’s west coast. If you win, you can take pride. If you don’t, you can fill up your belly at out our awards barbecue.

Once the tournament starts, my role as co-director is tucked aside. I love putting together a game plan and trying to implement it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve never won the overall championship, but I have been a divisional winner six of the eight years.

Three years ago, I decided it would be in my best interest to fish from my kayak. Previously, I fished with a friend out of his micro-skiff. No complaints, but he spent 50 percent of the day poling me around. I spent 50 percent poling him around.

When you fish from a kayak, you don’t have to worry about anyone or anything. You fish where you want and how you want.

First year I did this, I won two divisions: Snook and Trout. I caught eight snook in the first hour. Then headed out to the deep grass and caught 156 inches of trout. Because you can only win one division, I opted to take the Snook Division. The fellow who won the Trout Division had 42 inches.

I’d like to think my angling prowess led to such a great day. But I have to give all the credit to the kayak. When the fish don’t know you’re there, they’re a little easier to fool!


 

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Tell us about your best day on the water.

That’s a tough one. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend at least 200 days a year on the water for the last few years. It would have to Jan. 8, 2013. I’ve had a lot of great days on the water, but this was a day when the stars aligned. I took a friend, Dave Robinson of Sarasota, to the Myakka River. He had wanted to drive up to the Manatee River where he had some redfish in shallow water just begging for a fly. But I convinced him we needed to give the Myakka try. “Call it a hunch,” I said.

We only caught 21 fish that day, but we caught some monsters. Dave got his best snook ever — a 42-incher that had to weigh in the neighborhood of 25 pounds. I caught and released a 39.5 inch snook. I also caught a couple more snook better than 30 inches, caught a couple of redfish, gar and even landed a couple of small tarpon.


What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

It’s about making friends, discovering new fisheries and having a great time. I learned a long time ago that I don’t have a big outboard attached to my kayak, so I just can’t turn a key and head off 10 or 12 miles to a distant spot if the fish aren’t cooperating. So, I know all of my spots quite intimately. Kayak fishing has made me a better angler.


 

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Tell us a story, any story.

My wife, Kathy,  is the most important person in my life — by far. Three years ago, I was getting ready to leave for the Florida Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers’ state conclave near Orlando when she walked into the house and said, “I’ve got cancer.”

That floored me. I knew that she had a growth on her neck, but really didn’t believe it was anything serious. In fact, you couldn’t even see it.

I had gone with her when she had a biopsy of her thyroid. Even the doctor didn’t think it was anything to be alarmed about.

He said he would call her Friday to let her know.

But she received the call on Thursday at her work.

“I knew it wasn’t good news when I heard his voice,” she said.

Of course, I cancelled my plans and stayed home with her. There was nothing I could do but support her. I think I was more upset than she was.

Two weeks later, she had surgery to remove the cancerous thyroid. The surgery was successful and the doctor got all of the cancer.

“Of all the cancers to get, you got the right one,” the surgeon said.

Easy for him to say.

Looking back, the ordeal went quickly. And I’m glad it did. I’m glad it wasn’t a lengthy process.

Most of all, I’m glad my wife is alive, healthy, and active. We have a great time together and are with each other a lot.

She’s my rock. And I couldn’t imagine life without her.


 

Leaning into the battle

 

With the sport’s rampant embracing of low-cost, high-tech cameras, many kayak anglers have taken to documenting their adventures via multimedia offerings. Place upon your head the deserved hat of photojournalist, and offer to our readers some tips related to the improving of their kayak angling-related media.

A veteran photographer once gave me some sage advice: “Film is cheap, so burn a lot of it,” he said.

While most of us don’t use film these days, the advice still holds true. Shoot a lot of pictures and you’ll screw up and get a good one every once in a while.

I carry my camera in a waterproof Pelican case and have it within easy reach when I’m in my kayak. Some days, I shoot 300 photos. Some days none.

But I’m always ready.

Good photography, of course, is subjective. One person’s “great” photo is another’s “ho-hum.” So, shoot to please yourself.

I like action and wildlife photography. I like to shoot when my clients or friends are fighting fish. Of course, I’ll take the obligatory “holding the fishing” photo, but I like the action shots the best. When someone in your group hooks a noteworthy fish, grab your camera and start shooting. Pay particular attention when the fish nears the kayak. Ask your angler to let you know when he thinks the fish is going to jump or is near the surface.

If you have to shoot posed photos, make sure your angler is smiling. There’s nothing worse than a photo of someone who looks totally pissed off by the situation.

Men are worst when it comes to smiling. Guess it’s just not macho to smile. They must want everyone to think that 150-pound tarpon are common catches.

Another thing I try to do is to “fill the frame.” I like to zoom in on my subjects. I don’t care what style of shoes they’re wearing and I’m sure most people don’t either. You don’t have to get their whole body or the entire kayak in the photo.

Sure, it’s great to have quality equipment. But a great photography can take a great picture with a cheapo camera. There’s little correlation between quality photos and great cameras. One doesn’t necessarily lead to the other.


What does the future hold for you?

I owe a lot to the sport. I feel so fortunate to be able to make my living doing something about which I’m so passionate.

I hope that my business continues to grow (It’s hard for me to believe how lucky I am) and that I can help introduce kayak angling to people from all over the country.

I’ve found that once I get them hooked up to a fish while they’re in one of my kayaks, I’ve usually got them hooked on the sport.

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