"I've been hooked on paddle fishing ever since," he said.
After that fateful day, Samuels set out on a mission to satisfy the paddling bug. He began building his own paddle boats in the early 1990s, constructing nine different wooden boats in his garage, including a Mill Creek 13 custom wood kayak. By then, Samuels had relocated from his hometown of High Point, N.C., and settled in Summerville where he began exploring the waters around Charleston.
"I found out that oysters and wood don't mix," he said. "After nearly tearing the bottom out of my beloved Mill Creek, I switched to plastic. Plastic has no soul."
In the search to find a suitable replacement, Samuels bought and sold 42 different types of plastic boats before finding the one to his liking. Rechanneling his efforts, Samuels began concentrating on his first love, fishing, and offered to show other kayakers the ropes of using their kayaks to find and catch fish in Charleston's inshore waters. Having worked as a part-time fly-fishing guide in the North Carolina mountains, Samuels took delight in teaching what he knew to paddlers of all ages, from a 73-year-old man to a 9- year-old boy, casting to tailing redfish on the flats.
"It was Chad Hoover, the pro-staff director of Wilderness Systems, who talked me into starting a kayak-fishing guide service," Samuels said. "He convinced me that there was a need."
In 2009, Kayak Fish SC was started. While the Charleston area is home to several recreational outfitters who rent kayaks and canoes and a host of inshore fishing guides who will take clients fishing in traditional power boats, the idea of a kayak-fishing guide service was a novel one. Soon enough, Samuels' weekends were booked up with guide trips, and he began booking weekday trips with associate guides when his "day job" took precedence. Kayak Fish SC became a successful guide service. But that's not the end of the story.
Since 2007, one of the strongest ties that have bound South Carolina kayak anglers together has been a Web site started by Rick Ammons: SCKayakFishing.Com. Ammons started the site in order to bring awareness to fishing from kayaks and to create an online community and gathering place for kayak fishermen across the state. The site was a great rallying point, but after a few years of existence, it fell into disarray.
"Rick got busy raising a family, and the site was overcome with spammers," Samuels said. "The site was failing, so I convinced him to sell it to me."
After a reformat and some new security measures, Samuels, whose online handle is "Too Busy", brought the site back up to speed and more. Today, SC Kayak Fishing offers an online resource on all aspects of kayak fishing. In its message-board format, the site allows members to ask questions, arrange fishing trips, post fishing reports and photos of catches, and it serves as a central focus for two different kayak fishing clubs in the state.
"We have some really great anglers out there who know a lot about kayaks and a lot about fishing, and they're more than happy to share what they know," said Samuels, "and there's plenty of opportunities for new anglers to get together and fish with other kayak anglers."
Truth is, if you want to bring anglers together, there has to be some type of competition. That's where the SC Kayak Fishing's monthly challenges come into play. Each month, Samuels and the moderators of the site concoct a kayak-fishing challenge - essentially an online tournament where entrants combine their catches for an entire month. The rules vary with the challenge. Members are challenged to catch the longest species of a certain fish or mixture of species. One month, it might be the two longest largemouth bass; another month, it might be one catfish, two flounder and three panfish. There are also challenges that rank saltwater fishermen against freshwater fishermen or allow substitutions of species so that both saltwater and freshwater anglers have an even playing field.
Unlike typical weight tournaments, these online tournaments require competitors to download a photo identifier, a logo or symbol that must be in the photo of the entry. Fish are photographed lying on a rigid measuring board where judges can score fish based on their length, not their weight. Entry photos are posted to the SC Kayak Fishing website, and a leaderboard is posted periodically so entrants know where they stand during the month.
"At first, we were fishing for prizes that were donated by kayak outfitters like Sunrift Adventures up in Travelers Rest and Grady's in Anderson," Samuels said. "Some members were even donating prizes, but it still wasn't getting the participation we hoped for. That's when we went to cash prizes."
Now, monthly challenges offer a $20 buy-in with a 100-percent payback. Tournaments pay one place for every 10 entries, and entrants either mail in entry fees at the beginning of the month or use PayPal.
"It's just one aspect of kayak fishing, but we keep it a friendly competition," Samuels said.