Dean Brown, a Bass Pro Shops Pro Staffer and freelance graphic designer, is, perhaps, reinventing the way we experience the visual media of the sport. His online kayak angling journal, Up Down Bass, has been featured in several outdoor publications, and offers to the kayak angling public a variety of artistic photographs, poetic syntax, and good old fashioned stoke. Dean can often be found searching the North Texas countryside for signs of his favorite pursuit, the largemouth bass.
What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?
My good friend, Jason, set everything in motion a few years ago. He was catching some really good fish out of his kayak, and eventually, I started to do some research. What I found was this interesting culture of people who spoke their own language, and most importantly, were approaching the sport of angling from an athletic perspective. Something about their ethos resonated with me in a very profound way. I felt connected to them immediately.
Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?
My rookie launch stands as one of my favorite and most productive outings. From one minute to the next, I could feel myself progressing and gaining an early understanding of this challenging dance. Of course, my clumsiness and inexperience prevented me from completely landing the first fish, so I doubt I will ever forget it. The first official fish came soon after.
A rarity in the kayak angling world, you are an angler targeting largemouth bass, eschewing tournaments, and having to your name a Pro Staff title. Explain to us, if you can, the etiology of the components of this trilogy, and how it is that you have come to harmonize their individual notes.
I serve as a Fishing Team Lead for Bass Pro Shops, and ultimately, as a Pro Staffer. This, coupled with my design and communication skills, allows me the opportunity to represent the sport in a unique fashion. You don’t necessarily have to be a tournament angler to have a voice.
Here in North Texas, the Largemouth Bass reigns supreme. I have spent most of my life chasing these native predators, and to be perfectly honest, I really don’t know anything else. My involvement with Bass Pro Shops is simply a natural and logical relationship. To say that I am proud to be a part of their efforts would be a massive understatement.
What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?
I have an iPod port in my car, so I change out my selections on a fairly regular basis. Right now I am listening to John Cougar Mellencamp, Explosions In The Sky, Lucero, and This Will Destroy You. For breakfast and snacks, I like to bring along some trail mix, a banana, and plenty of water.
Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?
I am so proud of our global community. Every month it seems like a new part of the world is organizing and voicing their local contribution. The internet, coupled with social media, has made it hard to ignore the kayak angling movement. The water is warm, and all of the amazing possibilities leave me awake at night. Here in North Texas, our scene is really starting to elevate. I can’t cover the entire scope, but I will try my best to word a few of the specifics.
Jim Dolan, of Heroes On The Water, calls North Texas his home. I doubt I need to elaborate on this one. The HOW project continues to grow and flourish, and many of our local anglers are heavily involved.
Josh Neumeyer comes to mind. Josh truly understands the kayak in a scientific manner, and while he has spent several years working for the HOW Project, he now runs the North Texas Kayak Trail. The NTKT just completed its first year, and as far as I can tell, the sky is the limit.
Two of our local anglers, Rob Milam and Shaun Russell, have recently joined the Hobie Fishing Team. In addition to this, they represent one of our most prominent kayak shops, Mariner Sails. Not only are these guys true southern gentlemen, but they are tournament-winning machines. They really work hard to spread the message.
My good friend, Bert Rodriguez, recently launched The Lone Star Chronicles. While this online publication isn’t completely kayak specific, the quality content is difficult to ignore. With the help of his son, Dan Rodriguez, the project is really starting to turn some heads. In fact, Dan takes some of the best kayak-related photographs I have ever seen.
With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?
I recently taught a kayak angling class for Bass Pro Shops, and in this particular instance, for whatever reason, it dawned on me that I spend more time talking about safety than anything else. The ease and immediacy of our sport contributes, in no small part, to its success and popularity. Unfortunately, it also creates an obvious safety issue. Anyone can buy a kayak and head straight to the lake, so I think it is important for our community to talk about safety as much as possible. For the record, I wear my PFD at all times, with no exceptions. I don’t want my float plan to be the last thing I leave behind.
Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?
The Canadian wilderness has always captured my imagination. There are thousands of small lakes that cover this mountainous and rugged land, and a majority of them are completely inaccessible. Like most anglers, I DVR all of the fishing shows. A few weeks ago, I saw Babe Winkelman strap a few canoes to the pontoon section of a floatplane. I think it’s fairly obvious where I am heading with this.
What’s in your milk crate?
I swapped out my milk crate for a standing Kelty backpack with removable tackle boxes. In fact, I actually use my backpack as a small tripod for photographs. As far as tackle goes, you can always expect to find Grande Bass Rattlesnakes, Berkley Chigger Craws, Bass Team Tackle Texas Rig-Jigs, and Buzzbaits in my assortment. One of my favorite tools, and a tool that every kayak angler should own, is a pair of fish grips. The last thing you want is a fish flopping around in your lap, especially if it has a mouth full of treble hooks.
Tell us about your best day on the water.
One thing that all kayak anglers tend to agree on is that our sport involves a total experience. The idea of the total experience absolutely fascinates me, and in this light, it’s hard to imagine a bad day on the water. You may not be locked into a solid and productive pattern, but you will most definitely be in the moment: breathing fresh air, listening to the rhythms, and getting some pure exercise.
Your photographs truly evoke a sense of place; when viewing your sometimes granular and muted imagery, one cannot help but feel the still and warm Texas air upon one’s face. There is also a certain aura of hipness and freshness to your work, and, as such, it is not hard to imagine your name being cited as one who swung the sport’s imagery toward the artsier side of the scale. To what do you attribute your unique stylistic approach to kayak angling-themed photography?
Well, first of all, thank you for your kind words. My design work is often systematic. I approach every project from a mathematical standpoint, using a rigid set of guidelines to ensure an appropriate and unbiased final solution. In contrast, my photography work for Up Down Bass is very personal and organic. I don’t hold anything back, and I try to create a space where I can freely express myself. Perhaps my love of the sport shows up in the photography, as cheesy as that may sound.
Technically, I make good use of a few basic design principles. Most importantly, I utilize a grid system. The grid system makes it possible for me to tell a literal story and a purely visual story at the same time. My photographs, on their own, aren’t particularly strong, in my opinion. However, when they are arranged in a calculated manner, they sing. The visual elements, such as balance and direction, support the literal story and the overall composition.
What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?
Again, I think it involves the idea of a total experience. Exploration, adventure, physicality, sport, competition, solitude, exercise, and angling are all equal components.
Tell us a story, any story.
My Grandfather believed wholeheartedly in the purple worm. In fact, I can still see the look on his face when I would tie something else to the end of my line. “Boy, you ain’t gonna catch a thing on that monstrosity.” For the most part, he was right. I have successfully expanded my lure selection, but I constantly go back to this staple. It’s a soothing reminder of a very important piece of my life. I am very lucky to have come from a long line of avid anglers.
The visual aesthetics of your blog speak of your self-proclaimed minimalistic philosophy of design. You have, however, admitted to extending this alignment to include your approach to kayak angling. Explain to us how minimalism has affected your relationship with the sport.
When I was in design school, as you can imagine, we spent most of our time studying theory. I will never forget the first time that everything clicked – that special moment when I realized that design is much more than making cool graphics on a computer. We were looking at some images, and I asked my professor how I should go about recreating a particular shape. My professor responded, “You are asking the wrong question.” She went on to explain that it is always more important to ask why than how. You can easily add a bunch of entertaining shapes to a composition, but they are absolutely irrelevant if they aren’t objective and appropriate. It wasn’t long before I started applying this same thought process to my life, and I realized that most of the “stuff” that I surround myself with is utterly useless. I want my belongings to work for me, not the other way around. In a kayak, this theory rings very true. As such, I focus on efficiency and versatility. At some point your tools start working against you, regardless of your hobby or profession. It’s very important to be conscious of this dilemma.
What does the future hold for you?
Many graphic designers dabble in screen printing, and my story is certainly no different. The hobby eventually spawned a respectable home printing studio, and it was only a matter of time before I started thinking about using these skills in a professional context. Having said that, I am excited to announce that I will be starting a kayak-themed clothing brand. My early efforts will focus on shirts and a few accessories, and you can expect to see some high-end pieces that seamlessly tie into the ethos of our sport. The project is still in its early stages, and I will be sure to let you guys know when I am ready to launch.
Apart from the clothing label, I am really looking forward to teaching some more kayak angling clinics for Bass Pro Shops. In fact, I am in the early stages of planning an event that will go above and beyond anything we have ever done before. The clinic will feature several of our top local kayak anglers, and we will be utilizing the small pond at the Grapevine BPS location. From an event perspective, the pond is absolutely perfect. The spectators can stand or sit on the small bridge stretching across the water, while the anglers meet them face to face from the seats of their kayaks. Very exciting.