Many of us know that Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers of all time. He is legendary in so many ways. But what a lot of people don’t know is how he got started out in his incredible journey. When he was just 12 years old he had his bike stolen in which he became very angry and reported it to a police officer. He told the police officer that he was going to beat up the thief. The police officer was also a gym trainer and encouraged Ali to get in the gym before he took on this feat. In his revenge Ali put all of his energy into the gym and trained under the police officer. Of course, you know the rest of the story as Ali dominated the sport of boxing for many years to come.
Most of my life has been spent in school either as a student or educator. In that time I was either running or fishing and playing various sports. Of course, my knees took a great beating from these activities and I ended up with ten knee surgeries (7 on one knee and 3 on the other) which hampered my ability to run or play sports. In the late nineties I had gained a tremendous amount of weight and turned to cycling. While I enjoyed it very much my true passion was on the water where I felt most at home. I spent most of my younger days on the beaches of California and local ponds where I could find lunker bass. One day, I noticed a kayak for sale on Ebay in 1997. I thought this would be a great way to get back into shape and be on the water which I enjoyed most. I was so naive about kayaking that I even purchased a nose plug and a book on how to do maneuvers like the eskimo roll. My first launch was at Rock Creek Lake in extreme Southwest Nebraska. The kayak was around 8 foot long and had a small hole where I could put my legs in and sit. It was very cramped and I could not move my legs once in the kayak. I was a little nervous at first. I put on my life jacket and entered the water paddling very close to the shore in case I capsized. My biggest worry was tipping over and not being able to get out of the kayak. I wish there was a picture of this experience! I can’t imagine what I looked like out there.
Anyway, I paddled around and found myself getting bolder and bolder paddling further from shore. At times, I could see fish below me and they seemed to not be bothered. So I brought out a fishing pole and a small box of lures. Little did I now how that first “tug” would change my life forever! I was hooked! I landed so many fish from the kayak and was simply amazed at how easy it was! Everyone that saw me in my kayak thought I was crazy. One of my former students named Dusty Birge recently messaged me and said, “I remember when you started kayak fishing, some thought you’d fallen off your rocker. But you did it anyway, because you enjoyed it.” I then purchased a second one from Florida for a thousand dollars. It was a Wilderness Systems 115 Ride Scuba kayak. I could fly across the water in that one! I paddled the perimeter of lakes to get exercise and fished at spots I thought held fish. I did this for around six years before anyone else went with me. There was the fear that they would capsize and never get out of the kayak which were my same thoughts when I started. Incredibly, I have never tipped or “turtled” in a kayak in all the years I’ve paddled or pedaled. I also purchased a Perception “Caster” which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Around 2004, a local Pastor named Chris Farmer asked me to take him fishing in the kayak. I was pleasantly surprised and agreed to take him. His intention was for me to guide him so he could catch some nice fish. Afterward, he paid me. I didn’t expect this and even told him he didn’t need to. I went home and told my wife and she said, “It’s about time!” Jokingly, of course. My Superintendent Dallas Watkins started calling me “kayak” because I went out so much. Then one day, he called me “Kayakjak!” because my real name is Jack. Everyone started calling me that and it stuck as my kayaking nickname. Then I started a guiding business at the encouragement of Pastor Farmer who I had recently taken out. We started “Kayakjak’s Outfitters” in 2004 and have been guiding since.I had dreams of fishing with others and even a tournament someday. I organized a small tournament at Rock Creek Lake and had around 12 participants. The winner got a six foot long Emotion Kayak. We gave out trophies as well. From there my business grew and we did hundreds of trips through the next 18 or so years. I did demo’s with the Nebraska Game and Parks and conducted seminars at Expo’s across the state. We grew the tournament to the Kayakapalooza and just in the last few years the sport of kayak fishing has exploded! It seemed to grow from the coasts from guys like Chad Hoover in the east and Jim Sammons and Dennis Spike in the west. There was also Dean “Slowride” Thompson in Texas. I must have been in the middle and grew it from here. Ever since that first paddle I’ve been passionate about this sport and what it has done for my health, well being, and purpose in life. Some of my fondest memories are with my kids kayak fishing numerous lakes and ponds across Nebraska. I’ve made hundreds of friends I would have never known if I didn’t take that first paddle on the water. The journey has been fun and I am looking forward to many more years of the “Tug”!