Interview with Kayak Fishing Pioneer Jim Sammons


When Jim Sammons started kayak fishing over 20 years ago in southern California, he was one of the first. Now the veteran angler is considered by many to be one of the godfathers of modern kayak fishing. These days Jim divides his time between his guide service in La Jolla, California and his popular television shows. It’s an arrangement that places Jim where he is most comfortable: the water. After a lifetime of fishing, Jim simply calls it “home.”

“I’ve been fishing since I was a kid,” Jim said. “I started off just fishing from a pier and then graduating to a bigger boat and later this raft that I would fish on. As I got older and started enjoying more the aspect of being out there alone I began surfing. I had this longboard that I would paddle out with and I started fishing off that too.”

As a guide, the California native helps new kayak fishermen learn the ropes and students are never in short supply. The popularity of kayak fishing has been booming, but Jim stated it is a far cry from when he first started out.

“There certainly weren’t very many of us,” Jim recalled. “There was this scene in San Diego when I started out. Southern California is one of the first places where kayak fishing became popular, or what I would suppose could be called modern day kayak fishing.”

Kayaks have been a means of transportation for generations, but it was only recently that modern anglers began seeing the benefits of the craft. Kayaks are stealthy, low-cost, and even environmentally-friendly. Kayak anglers will readily attest that everything the vessel loses on speed is made up for in accessibility and sheer fun.

Southern Californian anglers were some of first to take to the sport, and it was there that Jim found his passion.

“I was introduced to paddling by my father-in-law, who’s an avid paddler. He later also introduced me to kayak, and as a fisherman I thought to myself, ‘I could get some great-sized fish from this,’ which caused me to take the next step.”

Jim said that at the time, catching big fish from a kayak was not as common as it is now. He later experienced a brush with celebrity when he became the first to land a striped marlin from a kayak.

“At the time it had never been done before,” Jim shared. “I was the first.”

Jim nabs this catch by its sharp bill.
Jim nabs this catch by its sharp bill.

Although it has been nearly 10 years since that catch, Jim still ranked that marlin as his favorite fish.

“Without a doubt,” Jim said. “It’s a big fish, most of time as big or bigger than you are. They can be longer than the kayak you’re on. When you chase marlin you’re going for a ride; the excitement and adrenaline factor really kicks in. I’ve caught all kinds of fish, but there’s not really a danger factor that you get with a billfish.”

But with a long list of marlin under his belt, Jim knows how to handle the spirited creatures.

“Every marlin I’ve caught has been in a kayak. I’ve never caught one from a boat,” Jim said. “My most memorable is the first. I can remember every single moment of that fight, from the hit to when it was under my kayak.”

Jim never set out to be the first to land a marlin from a kayak. In fact, he was actually fishing for something completely different that day.

“It was an entirely random catch when I was fishing for yellowtail,” he recalled. “I remember I kept looking at my watch because I knew I wouldn’t have it for very long, and it was on a 20-pound test line.”

But two and a half hours later and eight miles out to sea, the fight finally ended. Since then Jim has aided over 40 other kayak fishermen in landing their own first marlin. The veteran angler chalks up some of his enjoyment of fishing out of respect.

“Marlins really drag you a long way,” he said. “They are very large and very strong fish. We had one blue marlin that we fought for four and half hours and 15 miles.”

The marlin may remind anglers of another large fish: the shark. Newcomers to saltwater kayak fishing are often wary of the ocean’s sleek assassin, but Jim reported that they were never a big problem in his experience.

“When we’re fishing sharky waters I now have a Shark Shield, which is an electronic deterrent and I can say firsthand it does work.” Jim said. “Now when we go to land fish, I remember to turn it on so I don’t have to deal with sharks. I’ve had sharks who grabbed fish right out of my hand, but I’m not in northern California or other places where they would be more of a worry.”

As for the sport itself, Jim shared that he is glad kayak fishing is becoming more and more popular. If interest from manufacturers is anything to go by, kayak fishing is one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry. However, one word of advice that Jim has for fishing industry manufacturers is to leave behind kayak-specific gadgets.

“They’re focused on making kayak-specific gear, kayak fishermen just want quality equipment,” he said.

Jim has been a major influence in the kayak fishing front and for years worked with manufacturers on the design end. Most recently Jim is working with Jackson Kayak for their new line. He is also currently the host of The Kayak Fishing Show on World Fishing Network and The Extreme Kayak Fishing Challenge on NBC Sports.

You can see a video of Jim in action below. It is part-teaser and also part-tribute to the kayak, water, and the fish he loves to catch.

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