ProStaffer of the Month: Eric Atkins
Husband, dad of two risk-takers, engineer and kayak angler, Eric Atkins, is Bending Branches’ ProStaffer of the Month for June, 2018. Let’s meet Eric…
BB: How did you get started in kayak fishing? What do you love about it?
ERIC: Growing up in different areas of Alabama and Tennessee, I was never far away from a natural body of water. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom and dad taking me across a cow pasture to fish the bank of the Lake Guntersville, or under a causeway bridge to catch bluegill and crappie.
In elementary school we moved to Tennessee where we had a duck pond and a flowing creek. Crawdads, snakes, turtles, and fish were a part of our farm. My dad and I would launch our 12-foot flat-bottom aluminum boat in a creek barely wide enough to turn the boat around. I enjoyed the challenge of fishing small waters.
I love fishing from a kayak because it takes me to remote and largely inaccessible places—like that small creek on the farm in Tennessee. While in college in the late 90s I would fish from flat-bottom boats and canoes in some pretty gnarly swamps and creeks around Lake Wheeler and Guntersville.
Once Jackson Kayak announced the Coosa fishing kayak, I knew I had to have one. My wife bought me my first true fishing kayak in 2012 as a Father’s Day gift.
BB: How do you give back to the fishing community?
ERIC: I started the Alabama Kayak Anglers website and Instagram profile a couple years ago. On the website, I list all the kayak fishing events in the state so you can easily see when and where an event is happening. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from that feature. I also promote issues of concern to the angling community, and show off the catches of kayak anglers in Alabama.
I facilitate the planning of the Alabama Kayak Fishing Classic, which is a year-end grand finale kayak fishing event in Alabama. Last year was a hit, and this year looks to be the same. I work with my industry partners to provide cash and prizes for the anglers. It’s a true team effort to pull that event off as it requires the support and participation of several clubs in Alabama.
BB: How are you involved in your local fishing scene?
ERIC: I was the tournament director for the first kayak bass fishing club trail in Alabama back in 2015. Our first event with the North Alabama Kayak Anglers (NAKA) was held on Lake Guntersville. With 60 anglers attending, it proved there’s demand for a club trail in Alabama.
That trail continues today, and other clubs have added their own trails. Hundreds of kayak anglers have fished competitively in Alabama ever since. I enjoy fishing with those club members in a laid-back atmosphere full of comradery.
BB: Is there a local Bending Branches dealer you help out?
ERIC: For lightweight performance paddles in the metropolitan Huntsville area, I point paddlers to Leaf In Creek. If paddlers are outside the metro area, I point them to fellow Bending Branches ProStaffer Josh Tidwell’s store, Big Will’s Outfitters near Gadsden, Alabama. Josh is one of the most knowledgeable kayak anglers in southeast.
BB: How do you introduce new anglers to kayak fishing?
ERIC: Through real-life relationships and photography. I don’t go out of my way to sell a product and am not trying to come off as some kind of self-sustained professional kayak angler. But I do share with others that I enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle with my family through conversation and photography.
If I’m doing it right, my everyday work/life balance shows enough to help others see there’s something cool about being outside on the water in a small boat. (Or a big boat—I like to wake surf!).
And I’m fortunate to have some of my photos used in industry magazines, trade show booths and websites so my partners can help tell their story, too.
BB: Do you work with any specific groups with kayak fishing? How?
ERIC: A coworker started a Heroes on the Water chapter here in North Alabama. I helped consult with them during their launch phase and have attended several events since their launch.
That HOW group has already had a tremendous impact on families of veterans thanks to all the hard work that team has done in the last two years. Their events are well-attended, catered, and help veterans know they’re appreciated and respected. In the end, the veterans usually realize it’s therapeutic for them to get in a small boat and connect with nature and fellow veterans.
BB: Are there any conservation measures you’re involved in? Tell us about them.
ERIC: My local creek is the Flint River of North Alabama. I watch after it when I’m on it. I’ve reported issues to the state and even stopped the dumping of chemicals into the creek. I promote Flint River Conservation Association, Alabama Rivers Alliance, and Coosa Riverkeeper events. These associations as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center have used my photos.
Alabama truly has some of the most scenic waterways in the US. Early explorers in the New World recognized that. However, industrial and residential structures have encroached upon our nature resources. We now need to live with a balance between protecting our natural resources and expanding our communities.
I hope I’m always able to monitor that divide and be a voice for what I feel is the best balance for industry and the ecosystem.
(All photos courtesy of Eric Atkins)
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