If Virginia is for lovers, it’s also for kayak fish lover and Norfolk resident and Ocean Kayak pro Kayak Kevin Whitley. Whitley is a man of many passions—in his early life, skateboarding, snowboarding, and playing guitar in several hardcore bands—and for the past decade and a half, kayak fishing.
But not just fishing from a kayak—Whitley has been setting kayak fishing records, self-producing blood-pumping DVDs, hosting podcasts, contributing to various fishing magazines, and covering thousands of miles of water in the process.
Although full-time gigging may be in Whitley’s rear-view mirror, his zeal for kayak fishing is 100% old-school, DIY punk rock. These days, instead of scrimping gas money to fill a beat-up band tour van, he’s investing every penny into ambitious kayak fishing tours, each fishing hotspot on the map like some must-play club… while still bearing resemblance to one Lemmy Kilmister, R.I.P.
In 2003, not long after slipping his first Ocean Kayak into the water, Whitley embarked on a 500-mile paddle from the Georgia/Florida border to his home in Norfolk, Virginia. Two years later, in 2005, he paddled 1,800 miles solo from Pensacola, Florida, to Norfolk, Virginia.
Whitley’s tours have been more than sightseeing and big fish. Along the way, Whitley’s survived Poseidon’s mighty wrath; he’s been blown out to sea, weathered electrical storms and giant, kayak-filling waves, and survived flirtatious alligators and sharks. Rock ‘n’ roll to the core, these learning experiences have only intensified Whitley’s insatiable drive to explore and fish new waters.
“I probably learned more in the first 50 miles of my first tour than the entire rest of the trip. The first day I was sucked out into the ocean. I was not respecting the tides. It was almost over before it began. It was like kayak boot camp and nearly killed me, but what doesn’t only makes you stronger… or wiser, anyway,” he says.
In 2006, Whitley decided to take a break from paddling eight to 10 hours a day, sleeping on beaches, and gormandizing on nothing but canned tuna, Pop Tarts, and Smarties. “It was a pure energy thing to keep me going… and cheaper than granola.”
Rather than continued touring, Whitley set his sights on the Outstanding Angler Awards Program of the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, which acknowledges trophy catches based on length and weight requirements. An angler must register six different species of trophy fish for Citations in a single year to earn Virginia Expert Saltwater Angler status.
“I wasn’t even sure it could be done from a kayak, but I sure as hell was going to try,” says Whitney.
This ambition quickly devoured Whitley’s life. “Eating and sleeping had to wait. I was taking vacation days, I wasn’t dating, I was fishing 800 hours a year. It was obsessive. You target one trophy fish and stay on ‘em until you check it off, then move on to the next. But you only had so much time with the seasonality of the bites… it was a real race against the clock.”
The closer he got to the six different species Citations, the more narrow his tunnel vision. As the season was coming to a close, Whitley caught his sixth trophy, a 24-inch tautog to cross the last fish off the list. That year Whitley went down in the record books as the first-ever kayak angler to earn the Virginia Saltwater Expert Angler Award, which he repeated in 2007. By 2011, he had culminated 25 Citations in five different species to become the first-ever kayak angler to achieve Virginia Saltwater Master Angler status.
Of all the trophy bites he tapped, he says the a three-pound croaker was the most satisfying. “For me, growing up around here, the croaker is the first fish you catch as a kid. Even though I caught a 50-pound striper, that three-pound croaker—a monster—was something really special.”
Since, Whitley’s concentrated on opening up more waters to kayak fishing, educating other kayak anglers through seminars, podcasts, educational DVDs, videos, and magazine articles.
“I don’t want to brag, but my goal was to take my Ocean Kayak places that had never been fished from a kayak before. Guys thought we were going to die in some of the places we opened up. Like fishing big red drum in the shoals. You’ve got ocean breakers between the islands along Virginia’s eastern shore, a natural inlet where the water gets churned up exposing clams and crabs. We figured out a way to anchor properly and try not to get hit be the waves. Same thing with the big stripers on the inside bay side off Kiptopeke State Park in the concrete ships. We pushed the limits of what have been done by kayak and the fishing was insane.”
Over the past five years, Whitney’s carried on a love affair with redfish. “We’ve got legit monster 50-inchers out here, ocean-run reds that get forked tails from runs out to Gulf Stream into tuna town. They’re wicked in the pilings. And in the spring we get ‘em in five feet of water and the horizontal fight is nuts. We use gear that we can really tighten up and they pull us around faster than we can paddle at full speed. These fish are something to behold. Can’t get ‘em out of my head.”
Not only has Whitley discovered untapped bites by kayak, he’s worked hard to share the intel with like-minded anglers.
“The bites and techniques were too good not to share. So, I spent countless hours creating DVDs that document the specialized techniques that work for extreme larger fish in the sketchier areas. We definitely planted the flag here for serious kayak fishing. I’ve had lots of people tell me they got into kayak fishing thanks to the DVDs.”
Now, he’s off on his next big adventure, Kayak Kevin’s 2017 Trident Fishing Tour, sponsored by Ocean Kayak and YakAttack. In March, Whitley launched in the Florida Keys, working his way north along the Intracoastal Highway, paddling, fishing and documenting the entire six-month trek north to Chesapeake Bay.
He has intentionally allowed himself more time than needed to fully experience impromptu fishing opportunities with local kayak anglers he encourages to contact him via Facebook. Whitley will be providing live daily updates via Facebook, with full-length YouTube videos to emerge after the trip concludes in September 2017.
“I look forward to fishing some of the areas I toured 12 years ago now that I’m a better angler. I’m anxious to see how the techniques I’ve developed in the Chesapeake Bay translate to different waters.”
Kayak Kevin’s Gear
Whitley says the one constant throughout his career has been using the “right tools for the job”—in the old days, Gibson guitars and Mesa Boogie amplifiers—and now, Ocean Kayak watercraft, which he says never let him down on tour.
“Ocean Kayaks are kind of like guitars that stay in tune night after night, gig after gig, no matter the punishment,” he says. “I have three kayaks in regular use. I use a Trident 11 in my home inlet, where I’m paddling under two miles, but my main boat is a Trident 13, the perfect size for maneuvering around out-of-the-water structures like bridge pilings, but long enough to paddle comfortably at long distances. Thanks to the Mod Pod, gear I used to hold in the tank well is now stored below deck, bringing the weight below the water line, making the boat even more stable.”
And for his epic Magellan-meets-Motörhead-like tours, Whitley turns to a Trident 15 rigged bow to stern with YakAttack and DIY accessories.
“I use the Trident 15 for serious distances. It’s the boat that blends my love of touring with full fishing capabilities.”