By Paul Lebowitz
During its frequent high points, Pacific Warriors is the most compelling kayak fishing TV the world has seen. The new Discovery Channel series follows the exploits of a salty group of Hawaii-based anglers. Many of them are familiar faces to Kayak Fish Magazine readers. We've covered this crew for years, through record catches such as Andy Cho's 225-pound blue marlin and Isaac Brumaghim's viral video turn with his pet shark Chompy.
"Pacific Warriors is the most compelling kayak fishing TV the world has seen…Pacific Warriors is also exasperating at times for those who've fished offshore, or even fished at all."
They are the real deal, deserving of this epic primetime stage. Discovery's camera work is spectacular, tracking Andy's tuna-powered sleigh ride from high above, then swooping in close to catch the wicked point of his kage´ ripping through the massive tuna's head. The best of the action is astounding, uncompromising, bloody and instantly recognizable to any kayak angler who's gone one-on-one with a drag-ripping trophy gamefish – only these fish are four to five times larger than most of us will ever encounter.
Pacific Warriors is also exasperating at times for those who've fished offshore, or even fished at all. The editing is uneven. Bait fish go from dead to alive and vigorously swimming in successive scenes, the ocean from menacing swells to flat calm. Fish are fought with the clickers irritatingly on, fingernails on a chalkboard. The same footage of a pulsing rod tip is used so frequently, if you slammed a shot every time you might end up on the floor. The featured anglers deserve better.
Or maybe those of us among the kayak fishing hardcore know too much, are too close to the topic. This is TV after all, of the reality stripe. It's formulaic and derivative, The Deadliest Catch on plastic boats. That takes nothing away from the audacity on display, or the achievements of this crew that we've documented time and again. Discovery didn't make Pacific Warriors for those of us who live the kayak fishing lifestyle, although it's still riveting to watch and flat out historic. This is the first time most people in the mainstream will see what a self-reliant angler on a tiny craft can accomplish. While their jaws are hanging open in astonishment, they won't notice the gaffes or manufactured drama.
The first episode is stacked with reality TV tropes. The danger is emphasized, of ripping currents and thrashing sharks (always sharks). To a degree it's merited – Maui has the dubious distinction as the site of the only known shark-caused kayak fishing fatality. Challenging the tuna, marlin, ono and mahi that inhabit this environment amounts to the big leagues of kayak fishing. It doesn't need embellishment. The facts are plenty enough on their own.
Rob Wong Yuen showed that he was adept at hooking tuna on the first episode of Pacific Warriors, which airs Friday nights on Discovery. Check local listings for the time in your area. Photo Aaron Black-Schmidt
The characters are motley. There are heroes. Andy and Rob Wong Yuen are confident veterans fishing for monster tuna and enough cash to support their families. They are the true to themselves, the same Andy and Rob I've known over the years. Free diver Kimi Werner is a huntress with a sensitive side. Moments after biting an octopus between the eyes, killing it, she offers her catch a thank-you and an apology. She is at once badass and sincere.
As the reality TV formula requires, there are also chaos makers. Jon Jon Tabon comes across as an arrogant foul mouth who doesn't give a <bleep> what others think of his actions in pursuit of a (dubiously achievable) 500-pound marlin. He's a far cry from the guy I've had on the phone.
'Boogie-D' David Elgas is a patient teacher (for now). His student Jason Valle plays the clown, swinging his paddle upside-down and swimming, against advice, to untangle his line-fouled rudder. Later he suffers a much greater indignity when he's towed to safety by a camera boat. By the end of the premiere, the teacher is regretfully counting up his pupil's shortcomings.
It's hard to believe Jason is such a kayak fishing idiot in real life. Jon Jon must be hamming it up for the cameras. There's no other explanation for such an experienced fishing guide yelling he's on big, then pulling up a 10-pound needlefish while the narrator dramatically claims an aha fights and jumps just like a marlin. Jason and Jon Jon are actors in a show dutifully playing their roles.
Yet the best of the action is real, exhilarating and lavishly shot in the richest big game kayak fishery in the world. It's mainstream TV for better and worse, but mostly better. We have no choice but to go along for the wild ride. Kayak fishing insiders no longer control the image of the sport. That's up to Discovery now. They better not blow it.
Andy Cho is an old hand at getting the best of an ono (wahoo) from a kayak. Photo Aaron Black-Schmidt