Dean "Slowride" Thomas toiled for years in the Texas oil fields before he ever sat in a kayak. He'd always dreamed of working as a fishing guide, but didn't have the guts to make the risky jump until he hit 35 and realized time was running short.
"I looked at the older dudes around me," he says. "They were broken down." Thomas quit the oil fields and hung his shingle in Aransas Pass, on the redfish-rich Texas Gulf Coast, throwing himself into his new career with a roughneck's gritty work ethic. "You're not going to make it if you don't sacrifice," he says.
In those lean, early days as a fishing guide, Thomas took a sit-on-top kayak in trade for some engine work he did.
"From my first day in that kayak I understood what I could do with it," Thomas says. "You can get up close and personal with fish. They never hear you coming."
Six years later, Thomas spends his days stalking redfish in the Gulf's shallow sea grass beds, operating a thriving guide service and kayak rental business with his wife. He is now among the foremost authorities on kayak fishing, and when Captain Scott Null and Joel McBride began work on their new book from the Heliconia Press, Kayak Fishing, the Ultimate Guide, they asked Thomas to demonstrate his slick fish-handling moves.
Here's how he lands powerful redfish from a kayak.
Enjoy the ride: You cannot horse or muscle a fish. On a kayak you have to go along. When you hook up, pick up your feet and enjoy the sleigh ride.
Take your time: Play the fish out. Don't reel him in while he's still fired up. Bad things happen when a fish comes to the boat full of energy. If it has hooks hanging out of its mouth, the first thing that fish is going to find is your leg. I constantly tell people to let that fish run. I know every natural instinct is to just get him in. Instead, let him fight until he's worn out.
Boat that beast: A lot of people get excited and screw the fish right up to the rod tip. Now what are you going to do? Give the fish some line back, and keep your drag set loose—you need some slack if the fish comes alive or bolts. Now point the rod tip straight up in the air and swim the fish over to the boat. We use a lip gripper; nets are cumbersome and tangle with hooks and the wind.
Kayak Fishing, the Ultimate Guide is available at http://www.helipress.com