Wali Gomes

Wali Gomes is an inventor, teacher, and long time kayak angler best known for his informative and often entertaining contributions to the online kayak angling world. Currently residing in Jacksonville, Florida after having spent time in Oregon, California, Louisiana, and the Virgin Islands, Wali has made a name for himself with both his tournament angling prowess and his pioneering efforts into the art of kayak rigging.

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

Why? I’m cheap. I’ve fished all of my life, but, as life intervened, it’d been back burnered for a few years. Then in about 1995, I was teaching in Los Angeles (my primary hat), and went fishing with one of my students and his father in his very nice center console.  I hadn’t been out since I’d been back in L.A. (at least three years), and that re-lit the fire. We launched from King Harbor, ran up the coast about 10-15 miles, then anchored just offshore in some kelp beds. Even though we didn’t catch much, I was happy to chip in on the substantial fuel bill, (but it stung).

In addition to teaching, I sometimes played courier, delivering samples and picking up checks for a buddy of mine who sold plastics to manufacturers. One of his clients was Warren Atkins at Cobra Kayak. The light went on; who needs $50k worth of boat and tow rig to go half a mile off the beach? A few conversations later, I ended up with a Cobra XL.

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

It was a slightly undersized California halibut sometime in early spring of 1995. I met 3 strangers from the internet at 11:30 at night in a parking lot at Cabrillo Beach, CA.  My wife thought (knew) I was insane. In hindsight, that did sound more like a response to some bizarre fetish classified.

Somebody posted, “Wanna go try L.A. harbor at night?” on Dennis Spike’s original www.kayakfishing.com board, and four people who’d never met showed up with glorified pool toys, long sticks with paddles on the end, and rubber bodysuits. Come to think of it, that was insane. I think it might have been the second time my boat had been wet.

There was an algae bloom, and I think my undersized ‘butt may have been one of two fish caught. But it was a magnificent night. It was dead calm, unseasonably warm, and the bioluminescent algae made every paddle stroke look like blue fireworks. The boat wakes were straight out of Starry Night. Unfortunately, it also lit up my line like neon, and I could almost see it to the bottom. The fishing was crap, but I was gut hooked.

You’ve practiced our sport in many locales, ranging from California to Oregon to Florida.  What are some of the regional differences that you’ve witnessed in your travels?

That’d be California, Louisiana, Oregon, Florida there, sonny. That doesn’t count the travel trips. The regional differences are pretty substantial, but they could probably be summed up as: The West coast has deep, cold water. The Southeast is shallow warm water.

The West coast seems more oriented toward ocean fishing. Even river fishing in Oregon seems more akin to fishing the salt. Holding your position is a challenge. The guys here in FL and LA fish the brackish coastal waters that can leave you stuck on a mud flat for 5 hours waiting for the tide to come back in. It’s really easy to get stuck up a creek, and it does not matter whether you have a paddle or not. They also seem almost reluctant to go into the ocean. That seems to be slowly changing, though.

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

I like doughnuts and coffee, but coffee ALWAYS requires a serious pit stop before launching, less an ugly Wali story ensue. The radio is on whatever Saturday morning fishing show I can find, then whatever’s on NPR.

Music? A screaming drag.

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

Because it’s been pretty much internet driven, I think contemporary kayak fishing (we ain’t Inuit’s), has been shaped by some unholy combination of collective intelligence, groupthink, and tradition (isn’t that the same thing?)

No one specifically is driving, but the sport seems to be growing according to the locale. Boats seem to be becoming more regionally specific. The Jackson Coosa and the South African ocean boats come to mind.

Commercial manufacturers don’t seem to be able to keep up with hull shape or rigging trends, as many boats seem designed by a marketing department that does not fish. I think more fiberglass one-offs and custom boats are going to start to pop up. I’m not a surfer, but I get the impression that it’s a similar situation in terms of commercial vs. hand shaped boards.

If I were to pick one manufacturer as “the shape of things to come,” it’d be Hobie, with the Mirage drive. Hands-free is a no-brainer. There are a couple of other hands-free systems, but until somebody else comes up with a shallow water/beachable pedal drive, they’ll own the market.

Often referred to as a “frugal inventor,” you have managed to create several products that are innovative and cost effective.  Where did the propensity for creative tinkering come from?

I’m poor and I’m cheap, (synonymous), and I sorta have champagne taste on a tap water budget. I’ve always loved making things, and I see solutions in all sorts of materials that are usually completely unrelated to the problem. Sometimes the solutions actually precede the problem.

Also, I really don’t like spending money on the emperor’s new clothes. I hate buying things that I know I could make better and/or cheaper. That said, if something works and I don’t think I can build a better one, I’ll be the first in line for whatever it is (the year after it comes out and on Ebay).

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

Access and safety.

Just as we got going good, the “gubmint” seems to want to close inshore fisheries. Because kayaks can be such effective fishing platforms, I do believe that unregulated inshore fishing could damage slow growing rockfish populations. But complete closures seem pretty Draconian. Most fisherman I know, scratch that, all kayak fishermen that I know, are pretty religious in terms of monitoring their (and mine) size and catch limits. I’m also concerned that some numb nut will go meet some strangers at midnight to fish the open Pacific, die fishing, and get us banned or regulated.

What can be done?

I’d like to see some ACA, BCU, and/or Red Cross courses that focus on kayak fishing.

Personally, I’m planning to get a BCU guide certificate, and I’d like to find a swift water rescue “light” course. I think that if you’re going to hang your shingle out that says you can guide folk, those should be basic prerequisites. Yes, I know I was just complaining about keeping “gubmint” out of “our” business. But it’s my right as an “Amurican” to talk out of both sides of my neck.

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

Ever heard of a movie called Endless Summer?

What’s in your milk crate?

I don’t like milk crates. I try to rig a with a flush deck and store my gear inside the hull. Those are some of the main reasons that I REALLY like the Hobies: a good center hatch, and the two pockets on the gunwales.

I use an internal gear trolley. Lots of small water resistant boxes strung on a line that goes around the scuppers on the inside of my hull and accessed through the indispensible hatch between my legs. Maybe a small tackle bag in the tank well.

I also really like zippered tackle binders called “worm wallets”. You can stuff a ton of small tackle and hardware into them while maintaining some semblance of order.  You have to empty them out after EVERY trip though, as they are not water-tight and will quickly turn whatever tackle you leave in them into a ball of rust. DAMHIK. Bottom line is that I carry waaaay too much shit. Especially if I don’t make the pit stop after coffee.

Tell us about your best day on the water.

My favorite trip of all time was not on a kayak. It was on a party barge.  A co-worker at a plant I worked in outside of New Orleans invited me to fish with him in the marsh in back of Lafitte.  When I got to the dock, the only boat in the neighborhood was a 35’ pontoon boat that no self respecting fisherman would set foot on.  Where I grew up, a party barge was a mobile hazard to navigation that old people used in order to make skiing miserable (pre-wake board era).  At that time, (circa later 80’s), all proper inshore marsh fishing was to be performed in a 12’ to 20’ skiff or light center console (as long as it doesn’t draft more than 18”).

I fished in a pirogue and a canoe.

The house was more than a hour away and the bank didn’t look terribly promising, so, to be polite, I asked permission, and Blaise Forsythe Sr. invited me aboard. I walked on.

Hmmf.

That was the first difference I noted from a “real” fishing boat; you walk onto a party barge instead of having to step lively onto the center of the boat so it doesn’t list. I laid my gear on one side of the conversation pit and plopped down on the other.

Weird.

Blaise asked me to sit down on a bench back by him (still have to balance the boat) and he put the burbling 200hp Merc in gear. We eased away from the dock, and then lit out like a scalded cat down the narrow canal. I had no idea a party barge could move faster than allowed in a “no wake” zone. You could not possibly carry on a proper game of bridge at this speed.

My eyes were watering.

We ran a few miles, stopped at a cross canal, and pulled up onto a flat. I walked up to the bow (front end of the conversation pit), started casting, and caught a couple of decent, just barely legal trout right off the bat. Guess it wasn’t going to be such a bad day after all.  After the first two, the bite slowed but remained steady.  Then I smelled bacon cooking.

Hmmph.

I figured there must be a fishing camp near by.  Blaise called me to come to the table. I happily obliged and sat down to bacon, eggs, hash brown’s and toast on a PLATE, with napkins, and a knife and fork.  I’m sorry, that simply doesn’t happen. On-the-water dining consists of two slices of bunny bread spread with chowchow and a slice of chopped ham fished out of a package from the bottom of the ice chest that you have to shake the fish slime off of.

Blaise handed me a cup of coffee.  In a cup.  I liked that.

The day went on and I was fishing on the roof over the stern stateroom (next to the head), and I smelled somebody grilling. I knew we had to be near somebody’s camp this time.  Blaise hollered from the grill on the bow to ask me how I wanted my steak.  Lunch ensued.  I could use to this.

The fishing that day was good, but not phenomenal. The boat ride was the lick (and I don’t really like boat rides).

My paradigm was shifted.

So what’s this all have to do with kayak fishing?  The barge is the perfect mothership giving a kayak longer legs for fishing the marsh. It runs shallow, carries a bunch of boats stacked, rock solid stable for entry and egress from a kayak, and, with a cover, it’d make a great floating camp. Top that with the fact that you can find for a song used party barges that need some rehab, and you get the picture. Can you guess what’s on the top of my Christmas list?

I guess I must be officially old.

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

Shaking the sleep out of my eyes, diving into warm blue water off of a mothership anchored in an empty cove, climbing onto my yak, and paddling towards the horizon in search of fish that weigh more than my boat.

Your “Don’t Ask Me How I Know” stories have become a big hit on the NWKA website.  Will you share a few of these epic tales of failure with us?

FAILURE!?!?! I know nothing of failure. ALL of my epics are tales of triumph over adversity. If I made it back to tell the tale, it was a triumph. I just happen to write about what most folk deny ever happened.

Use the search function.

What does the future hold for you?

Shaking the sleep out of my eyes, diving into warm blue water…..

Actually, I really want to write THE BOOK. I feel like I’ve forgotten more about kayak fishing than most people know, and that’s the problem. I actually forgot it and have to keep re-learning it over (and over). If I can get the book out of my head, maybe I can just read it instead.

8 Responses to “Wali Gomes”

  1. Rich Walter says:

    Thanks for the cameo on one of the most gracious and interesting people in kayak fishing. Wali is a true class act with a sense of humor to match. His catch phrase DAMHIK stands for Don’t Ask Me How I Know and none can give a better first hand account of what not to do when things go rotten.

  2. Keith Howard says:

    Awesome article on Wali!!! Great guy and even greater friend!!!

  3. Jerry Bryan says:

    Wali, your always entertaining and full of information and “other” things:) Always enjoy fishing with you. We just don’t do it enough!

  4. Ken Kelly says:

    Wow! You da man! Great article! The family and I just recently went kayaking this summer in Kauai. Loved it! But it was nothing like this! I’m with Christine…ready to go!

  5. Ce says:

    Now I know what I want to be when I grow up (even if I’m older than you). You’ve definately got the gift to do whatever you set your mind to doing. Thanks for giving me the kayak bug. See ya on the river.

  6. Jeff Suber says:

    Great interview Wally. I gotta ask, how late were you for the interview?

  7. David Smith says:

    Have only been a member of the NWKA Forum (family) for a few months but have read most of Wali’s threads and posts, realizing he’s a great contributor. After reading this interview, I now have even more respect for the Legend…Be safe out there Wali….Peace

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