If modern kayak anglers attributed the birth of their sport to a single spark, it could be said the the ignition lie, in part, within Tim Niemier. The founder of Ocean Kayak, Tim’s original designs propel a large majority of those who seek fish atop small plastic boats. Constantly innovating in pursuit of a kayak in every garage, Tim can be found heading up On Water Designs, a kayak design and consulting company based in Washington.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
I mainly used to do spear fishing in the early 1970′s. I grew up in Malibu and could look down at the ocean. I then started diving there. We also got shellfish and lobsters. I also fished off the same kelp beds that I spearfished, and I knew exactly where the big Calico Bass were. They were on the outside of the outer most edge of the kelp beds. We would run a lure across the outside edge of the kelp bed while drifting over the kelp itself. Scott Winner was the first kayak kelp fishermen I knew of that was really good at the kelp beds. I went to kindergarden with him and he was a good friend that passed away recently. He could catch more fish in pounds than the old fiberglass boats weighed!
Another dive buddy used to line fish off Big Sur in Central California. He had a secret spot that he would drive up to, tie a rope to the bumper (when cars still had those), and tie the other end to a fiberglass Scupper and lower it down the cliff. Then he would climb down the rope, take off through the surf into the ocean, and load up on ling cod and snapper. To get up, he reversed the process. He always wondered what would happen if someone stole the rope.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
I think it was in the 70′s with an old dentist friend of mine, Chuck Frankle, of Dog Beach. I sold 30 kayaks in that one mile stretch of beach. Chuck tied a piece of yarn to a hook, with about 10 feet of line for me, and I caught a nice bonita in a few minutes just off the beach. Chuck said it just wasn’t like the old days when you didn’t even need the yarn!
Perhaps one is a byproduct of the other, but a lot of your boats marry function with aesthetic appeal. What fuels your creativity when you are designing new products?
I just sit down and shape the little 2 inch to 1 foot models. I figure out what I want before I start. Then just start. I have only a vague idea or feeling what I want before I start. The kayak or craft sort of shapes itself . I try not to get in the way of the process. I am an sculptor that makes kinesthetic sculptures. I also make PROSTHETIC DEVICES FOR AQUATICALLY CHALLENGED MONKEYS.
When I was young I was afraid of the water. Kayaks were a way of exploring and overcoming that fear. I get the same charge out of getting other people into the water. My goal is one billion butts in boats or boards. In the little island of Guam there are over 1 million people that do this every year. All together, I am about 1/3rd of the way there. I love hearing about how my kayaks have changed peoples lives. Being on the water brings me and other people into the present, which takes us out of our own self-inflicted misery of the past or future.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
I usually didn’t eat too much before going out on the water, however, sometimes I did take a snack or two out there. If I dove, I would take three tanks so we were out for a few hours. The radio on my car at the time didn’t work. Now I love music but don’t do it on the water or when getting ready because it makes me forget something. After I get out, I like stuff like Deep Forest.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
I would like to think I am. Recently I have designed for other people. It has been 14 years after selling Ocean Kayak with 70 employees and a lot of rushing around. I told the people that bought it that I thought fishing would be the next big growth area. There was a natural marriage between the ease of getting on the water via kayaks, and all the fishermen that were otherwise tied to the shore.
I started to design for others and I did the kayaks for www.diablopaddlesports.com in 8 weeks from idea to showroom, and then the Kajun Kayak www.kckayaks.com. Both were really different. The main advance we did was to make it easier to stand up. We made the kayak wider and more stable, and made the seat so it could either be higher or lower, which makes it easier to get up out of the chair. The Kajun Kayak is used in Louisiana and they also pole the craft through the shallows. Both kayaks are made from the vacuum forming process, which is lighter and is less expensive to make limited quantities with. It is also cheaper to get started.
Now we can build small runs of 100 kayaks of a unique design for an individual shop. Who needs to wait for the big company to design the right boat for you?
I am also designing for larger companies who could drop the price of kayaks significantly in the future. However, they may be fairly generic.
In the future, I would like to build a production sailing outrigger, which would be capable of longer trips than even sea kayaks, and could troll off shore. I had one in Malibu called the Malibu Outrigger. It was made from wood and was big enough to sail to Catalina and sleep on in the water.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
My biggest issue, like many others, is making time to get out on the water. I am trying for 100 days a year where I somehow spend time on the water fishing or just paddling.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
Costa Rica with an outrigger sailboat for week long trips. It is tropical with the most diversity in the world. The fishing is fabulous, with some really big fish.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
Another great spot for fishing was Catalina Island. Once we found a hot spot around a small kelp bed and caught a bunch of Opeleye off Button Back, which were kind of trash fish, but it didn’t matter. If you cooked them right, they were like lobster, really. Anyway we started a frenzy going and the other 20 boats were looking at the kayaks getting all the action and scratching their heads. It was priceless. My buddy, Dan DeVault, and I started hollering, which made the other boats (catching nothing) more intent on doing something. That made the fish go into more of a frenzy.
What do you believe to be the single most important innovation within the sport of kayak angling?
The ability to stand up.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
I think the original beauty of kayak fishing is it’s simplicity. Now the kayaks are getting really complicated with all the gear. I designed a fishing paddleboard that is getting back to the original kayak system that Scott Winner used in the 70′s.
I like the simplicity of getting up, fishing for just enough for the day, and having a great dinner with great friends. Fitness, adventure, and friends is what I want.
Tell us a story, any story.
One time I wanted to go to a party on Catalina Island, but had sold my Malibu Outrigger. It was Friday night before the Forth of July weekend, and I had to deliver a kayak Saturday morning. I also had a girlfriend, Carmen, who was up for an adventure. What to do? I arranged to deliver the kayak at 7:30 near Marina Del Ray and then picked up Carmen and we paddled out to the breakwater and put our our thumbs for a ride to Catalina before 9:00 AM. I really didn’t know if it would work at all especially because the first two boats said NO. The next boat was 40 feet long and had an older couple that thought it was a great idea, and in two hours we were there. That weekend had us camping on the beach, where we caught a huge halibut and lobsters, and cooked over an open fire with a griddle from an old mine up the hill.
What’s in your milk crate?
Tackle box, baseball hat, sandwich and beer.
From its beginnings as a dive platform and means of inter-island transport, the sit-on-top has become specialized for a wide array of uses. Tell us about an event or specific era in which the SOT kayak established itself as a legitimate and preferred fishing vessel?
I think it was when there were people just off shore in the kelp of Southern California.
What will kayak angling look like in ten years?
There will be kayaks for as little as $300 dollars, and there will be more SUP’s equipped for fishing. There will also be other craft with sails.
What does the future hold for you?
I want to make a folding paddleboard or kayak that I can take on jets to places like Micronesia or Costa Rica. Be equipped for being someplace tropical for a few weeks.
Also I would like to try more traveling and water hitchhiking with minimal kayaks to far away places while not having a one hour vacation around home.
The other back to the future story is that I am coming out with the kayak very much like the original fiberglass fishing kayak, which still does everything really well and is thought by many people to be the best all around sit on top of all time.
Mike Baker, a world class wild water kayaker, says I am the “Steve Jobs of paddlesports”. He reminded me that I have more small boat designs in use than anyone else. This was probably because I had to start my own kayak company to sponsor my designs because no other company would