The Duke of Bass in Florida
Josh Duke is very busy.
When I spoke with him, the LaGrange, Georgia native had just arrived home (Lakeland, Florida) from a paddling trade show in Wisconsin. After several travel delays, Josh had arrived in the wee morning hours. His children, one of whom was sick, were excited to see him.
And Josh was exhausted. Yet enthusiastic.
You could tell by speaking with him that he truly loves the way his life has turned out so far. He loves what he does for a living, for an avocation and being a father. And it’s infectious in his conversation.
Josh has fished his whole life.
“I got started when I was a kid. You know, live bait, bass, catfish,” he says.
However, he didn’t get serious about it until he was a sophomore in college.
“Bass were my first love,” he says. “My college roommate was really serious about it, so I started fishing tournaments with him as a co-angler, and I got hooked on the competition.”
But Josh realized that tournament bass fishing was an expensive proposition. The boats, entry fees and tackle needed to compete represented an investment of many thousands of dollars.
However, a solution came to him when he won a tournament on Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
“I won $500,” he said. “So I decided to take my winnings and buy a kayak.”
That was a handful of years ago and he’s never looked back.
“I like the close quarters and primitive feel of kayak fishing,” he says.
He started the group Florida Kayak Anglers, which is a group of like-minded anglers who are dedicated to being close to the water and pursuing their sport. They also work to offer angling equipment and opportunities to those who live in more impoverished parts of the world through their Backwater Economy initiative.
What drives Josh’s love of kayak fishing, though, is the simplicity and the closeness with nature and the water.
“A kayak gets me to places I can’t get otherwise,” he says. “The backwaters, the shallow water. I really enjoy the adventure aspect of kayak fishing.”
Although he primarily chases his beloved bass in Central Florida, in the Teneroc area and the Lakeland Chain of lakes, Josh does occasionally get his boat over to Florida’s Gulf Coast for some saltwater angling in the Tampa Bay area.
There, he chases redfish, snook and spotted seatrout. And with each outing in his kayak, Josh believes he improves.
“I feel like fishing from a kayak makes me a better angler,” he says. “I don’t have the luxury of bringing every piece of gear and tackle that I own with me. I have to carefully choose which rods and reels I bring. I also have to look at the conditions and what I’m fishing for and pick and choose among the lures and tackle in my box.”
For Josh, it’s a competition against himself. Each time he goes out, he’s driven to do better than he did the last time.
“I’m known for big bass. Like it or not, social media makes it competitive,” he says. “I love trying to catch big bass out of a 12-foot piece of plastic and doing it with as little as possible.
“I treat it as a match or a game. And as in life, I try not to need a lot to do it.”