Interview With Rolando Willmann E-mail
Friday, 25 September 2009 16:46

I first became aware of Rolando when I placed a post on the forums about the Dry Tortugas. Rolando had been there a few months previously and posted pics and a description of his trip. Continued posts from Rolando and it was obvious he was a serious fisherman. I hadn't realized he was also guiding until my buddy, Bob (Quirkster on the forums) told me. Both Bob and Rolando have been working on a project, out of Flamingo, to clean up a lot of the waterways to make them navigable again. So I got his contact info from Bob and we chatted.

1) How long have you been fishing?

Seriously for about 3 years, before that I hadn’t been fishing as often due to a lack of time and a stressful job (working over 100 hours a week). Once I was free of all that I had all this spare time and actual days off so I began trekking off into the backcountry about twice a week…till I got married last year, now its once a week! The one thing that saves me is working in a kayak shop, so now when I go fishing in the morning it’s for work!

2) When did you start kayak fishing?

On and off since I was a small child, my family traveled a lot and although none of them fish we all have an affection for the water. So when they would rent canoes I’d bring a rod, when we’d go to Newfoundland for the summer I’d spend everyday either exploring the bays and coves around Notre-Dame Bay with my father in our boat or I’d be pestering the neighbors for their little sit-inside kayak to use in the many small lakes around New World Island and the Lewisporte area. But when I came home to Florida I’d resume my shore-bound fishing. I bought my first kayak in 2006.

3) How and when did you start guiding for kayak fishing? Also tell me about your services. Pricing, types of trips, etc.

Sort of just came up when I started working at Kayak Jeff’s, People would come in and ask if we ran any guided trips so we began running guided trips! It didn’t take long before we were scheduling trips regularly for our calendar on top of the private charters. We try to keep the costs down as much as possible so our local 4-hour trips are only $85 and include boat, tackle, and all safety requirements, the full-day charter cost depends on the location but it varies from $125 to $200 out to places like Goodland, Chokoloskee, Flamingo, the Indian River Lagoon, and everything in between. Jeff runs a full-service kayak shop so in addition to the charter fishing we run multi-day backcountry trips in the winter months. Great fishing on trips as we get far up into the deep reaches of the 10,000 Islands or Everglades National Park, right where the fish spend those chilly South Florida winters.

4) You use an unusual kayak, especially in Florida. Why do you use the kayak you do?

I’m a lazy man by nature, I don’t like working too hard and sit-on-tops are a lot of work compared to cock-pit or touring sit-inside kayaks. It’s a simple matter of efficiency coupled with my laziness. Using touring kayaks allows me to cover more ground and to expend much less energy doing it. I mainly use my Current Designs Whistler since it is a little wider than the average touring kayak at 24.5’’ wide. That gives me a ton of room in the cockpit for my tackle and miscellaneous gear. The wider cockpit also gives me the freedom of movement that I need when fighting fish. There are some added benefits like the ability to stay completely dry by using a spray-skirt (great for those chilly South Florida mornings) and using a half-skirt keeps the sun off my lower half during the summer thus keeping me a bit cooler. I also do a ton of camping so I need a kayak that can go the distance and carry all of my gear, like everything else the choice was born of necessity.

5) What gear to you regularly use?

I prefer baitcasting reels but I’ve been using light spinning gear more and more these days and there is a reason: I fish mostly Shimano and have been slowly building my collection of G Loomis rods over the years but they are all 7’ or more rods. As I said they’re mostly for baitcasters; the only spinning rods I had were 6’6’’ or under but medium-heavy with fast actions. During the summer high-tides big snook will flush the shorelines and it’s much easier to deal with a 6’ rod around or in mangroves than a 7’6’’. Loomis makes a series called the Bronzeback, originally made for smallmouth bass with sensitive tips and a solid backbone. The rod transfers perfectly over to flipping the mangroves for snook. They make a 5’ 10’’ that I’ve been eyeing for sometime now as the 6’10’’ I own has become my favorite snookin’ rod paired with a Calcutta 250, my reel of choice. So due to my lack of appropriate baitcasting rods for tight cover I’ve been using my 6’6’’ greenwater’s with stradic 3000’s loaded with 10lb suffix performance braid. I’ve also been increasing my leader as well, I started out this summer using 30-40lb leader, now I’m up to 60lb for my topwaters as those big snook maws will saw right through 40lb during a prolonged fight…those big Rapala X-walks are too expensive to be losing a couple a day, I’d use 80lb but then I’d have to taper my leader down in order to work it with 10lb braid and that’s all I ever use on spinning reels.

6) What species do you pursue?

That’s the toughest choice I face living here in fishing paradise…what to fish for? I break it down into three categories: Fun, food, and game. Fun fishing is low-stress minimal gear fishing, which, can be anything from trout fishing North Biscayne to playing with the baby tarpon come summertime. Food fishing is usually an offshore affair for me, living 5 minutes from Dania Beach and having a 10am report time at work, in Dania Beach, allows me to jig for yellowtails and muttons before work. During the summer they come in rather close and you can limit out with some regularity if you have the tide and moon going for you. Game fishing is the serious stuff, all-day trips tossing big topwaters for monster snook in the morning, switching to soft plastics, jigs, and twitch-baits for reds, tarpon, and big sea trout in the afternoon…so many choices but if I had to pick one that gets me more excited than anything its big snook. Who doesn’t love big snook?

7) Tell us about some of your most memorable kayak fishing trips and catches.

The Dry Tortugas will always hold a special place in my heart and there isn’t a month that goes by without me scheming ways to make a trip down there. The first time I went I came way under-gunned. My outfit had 20lb mono on it but I still managed to bring a few of those big bruising goliaths to the beach with it, the tarpon just laughed at me. It was a memorable trip because of the intense fishing but mostly because I asked my wife to marry me on the Western wall of Fort Jefferson. Since then we’ve referred to goliaths as “engagement grouper” and try to make it back to the islands every year, which is still amazingly tough to do during peak season as the ferry fills up quick.

Locally we have the Loxahatchee River; one of Florida’s two “Scenic and Wild” rivers and pictures can’t really do justice to the place. It’s hard to even describe the scenery of the upper reaches and the best I can do is a Sub-Tropical Cypress-lined creek. Besides the scenery there is some great catchin’ too, during the cooler months the snook move up into the upper reaches of the river and we use micro tackle to chase after them. 4’ rods, 4-6lb braid, and tiny little rapalas and beetle spins will ensure you a day filled with panfish, bass, and 3 different varieties of snook. Most of the snook caught in the upper reaches are Fat or Tarpon snook, but the Common snook can also be found mixed with its smaller cousins and they are quite a handful on ultralight tackle! Even though the catches aren’t huge in the upper river I don’t know of any place like it anywhere near South Florida and I guess maybe since I was raised in a land of mountains and rivers it holds a bit of nostalgia for me as well.

8) Which websites do you frequent and what handle do you use on forums?

Usually you’ll find me on Kayakfishingstuff.com or paddlefishing.com, but I also frequent the Floridasportsman forum and Tightlineskayaking.com. The latter site holds a few online tournaments that draw anglers from all the forums, great fun and it seems to be more about the journey than the end result. Fishing with a purpose or for competition is a lot fun, especially when it’s a good group and they always have a great gang of angler competing. My handle is Redfishn’ale but the spelling varies and I think on one other forum I might be KayakRolando…hard to keep track sometimes.

9) What’s your favorite part about working in a kayak shop?

There are quite a few things I really like about it but by far it’s being able to take all these new kayaks fishing! Its one thing to read reviews and stare at fishing kayaks online all day long but to actually go out and paddle them gives you a very good understanding of what the boats can do, that’s also why we offer demo’s on any of the kayaks we have in stock. Kayak Jeff, being a full service kayak shop, has far too many objects of interest in stock for my wife’s liking. We had a demo Freedom Hawk in the shop for a bit and I took it out as much as I could out on Biscayne Bay. I was sad to see the thing go. Right now we have the new Moken 12 from Feel Free Kayaks and it really handles phenomenally. It turns on a dime and comes pretty loaded as far as fishing kayaks go, lots of really cool integrated features like molded in handles and four rod-holders with tethers already attached. Besides the access to fishing kayaks I have all the gear I could possibly need at my fingertips so I rarely spend much time wondering what else I need as its usually sitting right in front of my face…a double-edged sword but I’ve learned to keep it in check, sort of.

 

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