Tom Stubblefield of Texas Kayak Fisherman Interview E-mail
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 18:47

TKF Tom

Tom's Wife

KFM: Can you tell our readers about yourself and your involvement with kayak fishing?

I am a hospital pharmacist by profession and I work at a major hospital in The Golden Triangle area of Southeast Texas. Since I work 7 on and 7 off, I quickly learned that you could spend a lot more money on the 7 off than you can make on the 7 on. So, I’ve always tried to keep something going on the side that will, one, make money, and two, fulfill my need to be close to water. Fishing has always fulfilled half those needs anyway. I don’t make a lot of money off of my fishing, but if I can break even, I think I’ve really done something. I grew up in Oklahoma pond-hopping and chasing largemouth bass in the rivers and reservoirs of Southeast Oklahoma. When I got the chance to move to Jasper, TX, on the banks of Sam Rayburn reservoir, I was really excited. So, I guided part time on Rayburn and the Angelina River for about 10 yrs before we moved again to Angleton, TX, even closer to the coast. That move changed my perspective on fishing altogether. First, I’d never fished saltwater and I did not want it to “ruin” my bass boat. So, I sold it and became a wade fisherman. If you’ve ever fished in an area that has 1 foot of water and 3 feet of mud, you know the frustration that I experienced. On top of that, the majority of the fishermen that I ran into, used live or dead bait. Here I was, an artificials-only bass fisherman, chasing trout, redfish, and flounder in hip deep mud using live shrimp. It was NOT a satisfying change at that point.

Then, one day while I was slogging around Drumb Bay, a guy camp paddling by in a funny little plastic boat, chasing a school of trout, and staying within casting distance of them all the time. My momma didn’t raise any fools, so this looked like the next logical step for me! So, I started renting kayaks at the old Sy’s Bait camp, on Christmas Bay, and it wasn’t long until I knew which  one I had to have. My first kayak was an Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro T/W that was bright lime green. It had a rudder and a paddle. That’s all. So, being an all-out bass fanatic, it wasn’t long before I had an anchor trolley of sorts, depth finder, and even a cooler/tackle box that I could spend hours on end paddling around and enjoying my fishing more than I EVER had before. I even got my wife a little interested in kayaking and she would go out with me sometimes. But, I knew this method of getting really close to the fish couldn’t be kept a secret for long. In fact, I guess I was just as excited about SHARING my love for this “new” sport, that I told just about everyone I knew about how it had improved my fishing success.  The Internet was still fairly new and there were not many places that a budding kayakfisherman could go to gather and share knowledge. The one place that I learned a lot from, Kayakfishing.com, a West Coast based message board run by Dennis Spike, the Godfather of Kayakfishing in my eyes, actually set aside a “Gulf Coast” forum for us “outsiders” to share information on.
My knowledge grew exponentially while I was a part of that board.

KFM: Can you give us a bit of background on how TKF came to be?

While I was a part of the Kayakfishing.com community, I helped to organize a local Texas Gulf Coast fishing forum, “The Coalition of Confused Coastal Fishermen”, better known as CCCF. This little group of surf fishermen and women quickly adopted the kayak as the go-to bait launcher as I explored the inshore bays and marshes with mine. About this time, one of our members, who had started a little forum focusing on fishing from kayaks, decided to sell this “burden” that had frustrated him since the start. So, after a crash course in running and building a website, Texas Kayak Fisherman.com became mine! I’d like to say that “the rest is history”, but that would be selling short the knowledge, bumps, and bruises that have been a necessary part of that “history”.  It seems like there was always “The next level” just ahead that needed to be conquered.  I could not have made any of these next levels without the help of my web guru and good friend, Clay Yeaman (TKFClay to the board members). Clay has always accepted the seemingly insurmountable obstacles he calls “upgrades” as just growing pains. We have gone through several upgrades over the last 8 years, growing from 38 members in the beginning, to very close to 12,000 active members now…and growing faster every day.

KFM: Tell us a bit about your membership?

Our 12,000 members come from every walk of life. We have doctors, nurses, lawyers, mechanics, pharmacists, oil field workers, retailers, dolphin rescuers, guides, kids, photographers, pilots, truck drivers, … you name it, we’ve got it! So, the only common thread among our membership is a love of fishing, kayaking, and nature.  Not so amazing to me, is that we all get along so well. We try to give our members a chance to exercise their “individuality” by providing separate forums for “Off Topic” conversations, General Discussion (where politics and religion are welcome subjects), New To Kayaking/Fishing forums, Flyfishing, Freshwater, Saltwater, Classifieds (where a good boat deal may last just a few minutes), Fishing Reports, and 18 semi-private forums for our local chapters around the world to conduct their own local business. In fact if you’d like to form a chapter, we have only 3 rules…

  1.  
    1.  
      1. Keep it family-clean
      2. adopt at least one community project a year
      3. HAVE FUN!

Our membership is very talented as well as creative. We have some that build their own boats, some that make trailers for the rest of us, and some that keep us in stitches with their home-grown humor. This is a very GIVING community and we always step up to the plate with one of our members is in trouble. In other words, WE ARE A FAMILY!

We fight like family, but we also love like family.

KFM: Kayak Fishing is big in many areas of the country, but in Texas is seems to be a way of life – why do you think that is?

Our coastline is marked by a very fertile estuary system that is very shallow and almost half the water we fish is inaccessible by powerboat. This leaves a lot of water for us to explore and a lot of fish that need catching (and releasing). We are what you might call skinny water experts. When we were traveling to Florida for the EEF tournaments, our Texas Coastline style of fishing was quite a surprise to our Florida brothers and we earned their respect with our methods.  There is no more efficient method of getting to the fish than by kayak or canoe.  Wind is always a consideration on our coastline as well. The ability to launch a kayak just about anywhere makes it easier to fish close to your launch site. AND, Texans are very quick to adopt more efficient ways to do ANYTHING! Call it Aggie Engineering, or just smart thinking, but Texans don’t miss a beat when it comes to adopting a more efficient method of pursuing our favorite sports.  

KFM: Running a kayak fishing forum like TKF must be challenging – how do you deal with all the different personalities and what are some of the major problems you have seen?

Since we consider all of our 12,000 members as “family”, we also know that not everyone is going to be as “social” as everyone else. If we have a REAL troublemaker that seems bent on disrupting the family friendly atmosphere of TKF, we ban them for life! That may seem harsh, but folks like that aren’t going to be happy anywhere. We just prefer they are unhappy somewhere else. We also have our 40 year old teenagers who require a little more TLC than they should, but, hey, we are family…we love all of our family! This is no more evident than when one or more of our members are in trouble. Prayer requests are treated with the same urgency as requests for fishing partners.  We try to see that no one goes away from TKF without feeling like they have visited with family or at least close friends.

KFM: I know you have really worked hard to get kayak fishing tournaments to be as big as some of the power boat events out there – what are some of the hurdles you are running into?

Tournaments have always been a big part of my fishing experience. I guess it’s just my competitive nature. This nature is shared by a lot of Texans and men in general. However, as kayak fishermen, killing our tournament catch is NOT an option. Somehow, when you get deep into our sport, you feel differently about those finny creatures that we chase. A respect develops that just won’t allow us to waste this natural resource. So, catch and release is “normal” for our days on the water. That’s not to say that we don’t’ enjoy a big plate of fried fish now and then, but to kill them needlessly is foolish if not downright WRONG in our books. This attitude carries over to our tournaments as well. Catch-Photo-Release tournaments have been very popular with most kayak fishermen around the country and TKF members participate in many of these tournaments around the state. However, high dollar sponsors want to see large audiences (especially TV audiences) enjoying the tense moments at a live weigh-in. For the last two seasons, we have been promoting tournaments that share the weigh-in moments with a TV audience but still release 100% of our catch back into our bay systems. This type of competition among kayakers is fairly new and is till in its infancy. But, necessity is the mother of invention, and we have seen some innovative livewell ideas being employed in these tournaments. I believe that it will be no time before some kayak manufacturer will offer livewell options on some of their more tournament-friendly boats. This can only be GOOD for the sport. We also believe that there are a lot of powerboat tournament fishermen that are really feeling the crunch of higher gasoline prices and are looking for less expensive ways to release their competitive juices. Well, here we are!

I believe the best fishermen will be found on the tournament trail because we have to learn unfamiliar water very well in a very short time. Methods that we employ will ‘trickle down’ to the average fisherman as we share our knowledge on TKF. Shortcuts to knowledge are always appreciated.

KFM: Tell us about your upcoming tournament series?

We are fishing two different tournament series this season.

  • One, The KayakSeries (http://www.kayakseries.com), a live weigh-in and release tournament that piggybacks onto a powerboat series. The directors of this series wanted to see if there was a demand for a good Kayakfishing tournament series and I think they have been pleasantly surprised.

  • The other series we are fishing, the Third Coast series http://www.thirdcoastkayakfishingseries.com/
    is a very well ran CPR (catch-photo-release) series that brings food and fun into the mix. Both of these tournament series offer our members a variety of fishing venues including some, like the Lower Laguna Madre tournament, very out-of-the-way pristine waters where catches of snook, trout, tarpon, redfish, snapper, and flounder are very real possibilities.

KFM: I understand your wife has been bitten by the kayak fishing bug, tell us about it?

Yes, P.J. has really taken to the Kayakfishing experience. She was spoiled when her first saltwater fish was a 10-pound Redfish! A lot of pretty good fishermen go a lifetime with out such a catch. Just a couple of weeks ago, she beat that with a 17.5 pounder that really gave her all the fight she could handle on 12 pound test line. I could hear her screaming all the way across the bay when she was taking her obligatory “Texas Sleigh Ride”, being pulled along as part of the “drag system” that we use to tire the fish. I hope that picture gets published with this article. Soon, my grandson will be big enough for his first Texas Sleigh Ride!

KFM: The sport has seen some tremendous growth in the last couple years, where do you see kayak fishing in 5 years?

I firmly believe that high gasoline prices coupled with the awakening of our eco-friendly attitudes will help usher in a massive migration to smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient modes of transportation. Well, you can’t get any smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient than a kayak!  I think we will still be traveling. But, we’ll be traveling in 40mpg vehicles pulling kayak trailers instead of 2 ton boats and trailer packages. The latest figures that I have say that it takes an average of $200 just to get a tournament powerboat “wet”. That’s the cost of fuel, insurance, boat payment, and upkeep on an average tournament powerboat. Folks are looking for other ways to enjoy the waterways. Well, HERE WE ARE!

KFM: What innovations in kayaks and gear would you like to see?

We have seen some real fishing-friendly innovations in kayaks in the last few years including larger tankwells, hatches, more comfortable seats, electronic pods, and “plug-and-play” modules that make Kayakfishing more effortless and appealing.  I would like to see them become more durable, lighter, and efficient. Many manufacturers are already working on innovative propulsion systems like Hobie’s Mirage drive, sailing kits, camping models, hunting models, and photography platforms.  Legacy, Ocean Kayak, Malibu, Cobra, Wilderness Systems, along with Hobie have really poured their efforts  and resources into making a “better kayak”. These efforts are paying off. Keep it up, guys!

KFM: Tell us about your style of kayak fishing, what is a typical day on the water like with you?

Well, that depends on what type of fishing I’m going to do. If I’m prefishing a tournament, I’ll burn many nights looking over topographical maps like Hook-N-Line’s excellent fishing maps or Shoreline Publishing’s excellent aerial photo maps of the area I’ll be exploring. Then, I’ll interview some successful local fishermen to get a sense for how their fish feed and what they are feeding on. Then, I’ll get out on the water and EXPLORE those areas that looked promising on the maps. This trip will be more like hunting than fishing.

Then, there’s the more lay back day on the water with my wife or one of my sponsors. This kind of day will be spent in PROVEN water that I know well and also know how the fish will be reacting in any given situation. PJ has a 6th sense about where feeding fish are and I trust her judgment. That’s not something you can teach…or learn. If you know someone like this, stick to them like glue! This kind of day will be spent trying to make sure PJ or the sponsor get more that their fair share of excitement. This is a much more laid back day on the water but no less enjoyable than a tournament day. I’ll have a few more lures along on this day, trying out some new models to see how they work. I’ll also be trying out new sponsor’s equipment for later review on TKF. To me, this is the time when all my efforts to get TKF where it is, is paying off big time. I can relax, take in the scenery, experience new toys, and truly enjoy my time on the water with my BEST friend, PJ, or my next-best-friend, the sponsor.  You know, you’d think that the head of leading rod company or a kayak manufacturer would be able to do this all the time. But, believe me, their days are just as hectic as yours. They get all stressed out just like you do and they CRAVE those stolen hours on the water … just like you do!

KFM: What is your favorite species to fish for?

Right now, I’d have to say the Redfish (Red Drum) because our tournaments are geared to catching them. But, overall, I’d have to say the Snook is my favorite. It’s like a bass on steroids! Redfish are stronger and less forgiving, but Snook are more explosive and THEY LOVE TO JUMP! I like those jumps!

KFM: What kayaks do you currently use?

Right now, the stable is a little low with our wrapped Native Ultimate 14.5’s, an Ocean Kayak Prowler 13, a Native Manta Ray 14, and a Hobie Adventure 16. These boats give us a choice of paddling and fishing experiences. The Ultimates are so easy to stand and sightfish out of. You can pole it or paddle it. It also has enough cockpit room to accommodate our livewell systems. I’m attaching a picture of our sponsor-wrapped Ultimates for you to see what a ‘tricked out’ tournament boat looks like. We have tournament jerseys to match, of course!

KFM: What species are on your “must catch before I die” list?

I still have not landed a big Tarpon. Last summer, I got my fill of Alaska Halibut, so its off my list now. I’d love to catch a nice Bull Dolfin one of these days, too. Tuna, sharks, and some of the snapper species will have to take a backseat to “the jumpers” on my Bucket List.

KFM: What is next for you and TKF?

I’d like to be able to semi-retire and do a lot more TKF functions around the country. We have some awesome members that I’ve yet to meet and I KNOW they’ll be as much fun as the ones I’ve met so far. Gatherings that include fishing, fun, and food are tops in my book. That’s one reason I really look forward to our yearly “Everything Kayak Expo” in Aransas Pass, TX every October.

  • We are going to expand our TKF Store to include a lot of neat gifts that kayakers have asked for. 

  • We are still trying to work out live feeds from tournaments and other functions where we can share our on-the-water experiences with our membership in real time. Youtube and Photobucket have helped us get closer, but we still need that missing link to allow live feeds.

  • We would like to expand our Local TKF Chapters to include more kayak fishermen, women, and kids, around the world.

  • This is a great place to meet and greet and learn from some of the best fishermen in the country. We want to be able to provide speakers and teachers so all the chapters can learn from those who have been where they are.  I truly believe that they should have the resources to shorten that learning curve as much as possible. We have several ACA instructors in our membership, but we need more.

  • I just want everyone who wants to try Kayakfishing to have the resources available to make their Kayakfishing experience the best and safest possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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