Have you ever considered Nebraska a top fishing destination?
I went there early in my career, not expecting much, but I think that was the most productive fishing trip I’ve ever taken.
That doesn’t surprise kayak fishing guide Marty “Kayak Jak” Hughes. He’s been fishing Nebraska from a kayak for the past 22 years and guides clients onto new personal bests––including me, for largemouth bass.
Hughes has always balanced his life on the water with education. Throughout his tenure Hughes has gone from teacher, to principal, to basketball coach, and is currently principal again. Right now his main focus is finishing out his career, so he’s working more than ever. He’s still working to find a balance between fishing and teaching.
“I have a stressful occupation,” he said. “I worry a lot for kids. You worry a lot for people, you want to help them.” Hughes relies on fishing to keep him going throughout the year. “You need that release, not so much as an escape,” he said, “but something you can do that’s different, that allows you to de-escalate, so to speak.” He still guides, always from a kayak, but now condenses his days. “I condense my fishing into a bass day, or a catfish day,” he said.
Many consider Hughes to be the Godfather of Kayak Fishing in the Midwest, one of the earliest pioneers of modern kayak bass fishing. “I feel good that I’ve brought something good to people’s lives that’s helped them change their lives,” he said. “My passion for kayak fishing has excited others.”
Kayak Jak knows he’s considered one of the pioneers, but he doesn’t seem to focus on the praise. “When I do something, I want to leave it better than when I found it, whether that’s for school, a sports program, or kayak fishing,” he said. “I want to leave this sport better than when I found it.”
I asked Hughes his plans for the upcoming season, while he waits to retire and start spending more time on the water. “I’m big on goals, it drives me to fish,” he said. “My goal is to catch a certain amount of fish in a year. Last year I caught 2,020 fish.”
Hughes has been using a fish-count goal for years, always trying to one-up his goal from the year before. His two sons have also started to do the same in their own pursuits. One completed a goal of 50,000 basketball shots in a year, while the other ran 450 miles in one summer.
For beginners of kayak fishing, Hughes said, “Before you buy, try it and find your best fit or what’s best for you. Don’t go out and buy a $1,000 sonar unit and a $500 paddle, and a $3,000 kayak and think it’s going to change your life. Just bring one pole and a couple lures to give it a try.
This post is part of a series called, Guides I Have Known, highlighting all of the people who have helped me both on the water and in life.
They are the fishing guides, paddling guides, and communicators who changed my perspective for the better. Read the first post here.