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The Michael Gowen Interview: Kayak Fishing On St. Simons & Coastal Georgia

The Michael Gowen Interview
Fall 2009
By James Calemine

A couple of weeks ago my old friend and I Michael Gowen conducted this interview on the Shifting Banks of the Village Creek Landing located on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Last month I wrote a little article on Michael's father and gator hunting. Friday evening we went flounder-gigging. Gowen runs Southeast Adventure Outfitters, a company that provides a rare degree of clear insight and first hand experience to the beauty Georgia's coast. He's a beacon of knowledge on these coastal environs.

A few years ago he summed up his business mission statement: “As far as our tours go, they’re geared towards first timers. Anybody that’s been paddling before will enjoy our trips also. We offer some of the finer opportunities for kayaking around Brunswick, St. Simons, the Satilla River, the Altamaha River, Cathead Creek. We also head out to Sapelo, Blackbeard, and Cumberland islands. We primarily camp out on Cumberland in the winter when it’s nice and cool out. We do year around day trips. We do a lot of tours around Christmas. We’re pretty busy in the summer. We’re slower in January and February, but that’s when some of the best camping can be had. It’s also good for those folks who are in cooler parts of the country to visit South Georgia. If you carry in the winter here what you need in the Rockies during the summer, you got it down. As the island becomes more popular, visited and busy on the roads it emphasizes the relative seclusion and solitude you can find within minutes on the water. To get away from the hustle and bustle of the island, you must get on or around something that floats--a preferable mode of transportation would be a kayak or boat."

Now Gowen is implementing kayak-fishing into his business. In this interview Gowen explains the latest developments that will begin in a few weeks and his involvement with purchasing Queens Island near the coast of Darien, Georgia. Also, I'd like to announce Michael Gowen will now act as Swampland's Wayfaring Editor. So look out for his periodic contributions soon...

JC: So this area may be used for a fish camp?

MG: Yes.To me, I guess in Coastal Georgia—nationally and internationally the most happening thing right now is fishing out of kayaks. That’s the fastest growing part of kayaking using them to fish. The fasting growing part of the fishing industry is also using kayaks to fish. These two sports or genres found something they like about the other and now they are combined into kayak fishing that is going to be the latest thing that happens out here in the fall, spring and summer in coming years. More and more folks are using the kayaks to fish en lieu of their powerboats—there’s a financial plus because there is no gas involved and you don’t have to pay to put in the water; with kayaks because you can put them in anywhere; you’ll be floating and fishing in no time as opposed to gassing, in and out and then fishing. As our lives become busier and more hectic, it’s easier to come up with a couple of hours to fish out of a kayak than it is for a half day or full day to launch the powerboat, and then get it cleaned back up. Those practicalities are contributing to this becoming a growing activity.

JC: So, Southeast Adventure Outfitters will take folks out…

MG: Part of our expression of enthusiasm for the sport is that we will be offering guided kayak fishing tours in the next few months. We have more boats on the way. We’re going to trick them out for fishing with live wells, depth finders—the whole nine yards. Then we’ll start offering a nice kayak-fishing trip, which primarily will be around the waters of St. Simons Island. For future use, SEAO has partnered up to buy Queens island, which is near Sapelo Island and that will be a destination camp site for overnight trips, multi-day trips and also available for use by other groups by reservation. We’ll continue to offer fishing on those types of trips that would primarily be a camping-fishing trip. We’d like to grow the fishing up there, but for now it’s going to be mostly around St. Simons.

JC: What will people be fishing for? The fish indigenous to the area such as…

MG: Primarily Red fish, trout and flounder although certain times of year you can go off the beaches and target Triple tail, Tarpon or sharks. Primarily, in-shore fish. A fun thing with the kayaks is waiting until the highest tides—once a month during the full or new moon—you can site cast to Red fish—stalking in the marsh and that’s some of the fun fishing, I think. You’re stalking, seeing, casting, catching all one trip either on foot or standing up in the kayak.

JC: These kayaks, will they be one-man or two-man?

MG: Mostly one-man kayaks. The one’s we’ll be using for our kayak fishing and our tours will be one man boats with alternative forms of propulsion meaning they’ll have foot pedals that you’ll pedal with your feet like a bicycle. It turns the propeller and that way you can fish hands free. That enables you to tie knots and use your feet to maintain position instead of using a paddle. These kayaks are equipped with anchors. We also have stake-out poles, which you stick in the mud…three ways to maintain position that are hands free to hold the rod. I’m looking forward to the fall. It’s September now—the boats are coming. By October, November we’ll fine tune everything and start offering it.

JC: Tours are dictated by the tide, right?

MG: Yes, usually three to four hours based on the tide.

JC: What’s the kayak time to Queens Island?

MG: If you put in on the mainland north of Darien, Georgia, it’s about a seven-mile paddle I think which will be an achievable goal for groups to rent the place. We haven’t fine-tuned all the ins and outs of that type of rental.

JC: So, folks can bring their own poles…

MG: We would supply everything and you just show up with yourself and personal items. We would supply the guide. If they are fly fisherman they might generally bring their own rod, but we would have some available. The other type of fishing is spin fishing. Spinner rods—that’s what we will use on our guided tours probably. As far as bait, we’ll have access to live shrimp and live minnows but generally it’s easier to fish with artificial lures. There are so many effective ones now that a lot of our fishing is artificial lures. In general, it’s easier just to have some lures and it’s easier from a kayak.

JC: Would folks throw back what they catch? A catch and release system?

MG: If they’re legal and you want to keep them you can keep them, otherwise we will encourage mostly catch and release. Well catch, photograph and release (laughs)…

JC: How big is Queens Island?

MG: They say 73 acres, but it’s only got 2 acres of high ground with shell beachfront.

JC: Any edifices or buildings there?

MG: No buildings as of yet. We may build a little shelter.

JC: It’s all happening pretty quick…

MG: We’re waiting on the paperwork.

JC: Is Village Creek landing where things will be done? Does Queens Island work into the fishing?

MG: It doesn’t work too much into it, but it can be a fishing camp over there and it may happen occasionally, but the island is primarily for overnight camping. Just paddling out there with primitive camping, which is enough activity for most groups.

JC: What does one have to do to buy an island?

MG: Well, I guess get lucky or have money because the realtor came into the shop looking for a map. He said there was an island for sale. I knew the island because we camped on it before. He said it was in bankruptcy court and I said ‘it won’t be there long—probably won’t be there next week’. I was just kidding with him. It’s in the marsh. It’s on the ocean. There are a lot of state law restrictions concerning what you can do on the islands like that. We believe in minimizing our impact. We will use it in a safe and caring manner. We also feel it’s important that folks get to experience these remote coastal Georgia areas so when they have an opportunity to express an opinion about what it takes to save the marsh or protect the marsh, then they’ll have an opinion about what the marsh really is and what a treasure coastal Georgia has. If folks aren’t able to experience it they don’t know what they are protecting. That’s especially true of kids.

Another thing we’re going to be doing is we’ll have a powerboat and it will be able to support the kayak fishing trips so folks can kayak, fish and the boat can bring them lunch, move them to new spots, or take them back in the case of bad weather. There will be a lot of possibilities—not only with kayak fishing with the powerboat, but just kayaking in general. So, a lot of possibilities are there and we’re going to entertain and focus on trying to offer more services to our guests. We’ll be able to do birding tours, nature tours, boat rides, destination-type wedding arrangements—so we’re looking to putting all that stuff into our quiver…


(All Photos Courtesy of SEAO)

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