The Yak Fishermen

A pair of Fargo outdoorsmen prefer to do their fishing from a kayak.

Eight years ago while getting ready to go to work Matt Nelson flipped on the TV and found out his place of employment, DHL, was making sudden cuts, which included him.

Nelson used his severance check to buy his first kayak, which ended up being the best investment he ever made.

“My friend Chris (Carlisle) came up to me with the idea and I thought he was crazy at first,” Nelson said. “I had never seen a sit-on-top kayak. I had only seen the sit-inside ones. I figured I’d get one and give it a try and I loved it the first time I went out. It’s probably been my biggest hobby ever since.”

Nelson, 34, who lives in downtown Fargo and is a delivery driver for Compass Delivery, said he knew he was addicted to “Yak Fishing” — fishing from a kayak — right away. Carlisle, 37, said the same thing.

Matt and I have been friends for a long time and it was just one of those things where we were sitting there fishing on the bank of the Red River thinking of how we’d get across to the other side, so I looked online at float tubes and stuff like that and when I saw the kayak I was hooked,” Carlisle said.

Getting started

The first go on the kayaks were on the Casselton Reservoir for Nelson and Carlisle.

“We wanted to do somewhere small and the ice had just gotten off so I was a little nervous about falling into the cold water,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t very nice, but I got my first fish out of it. I think it was a 3-pound and 2-ounce bass.”

A couple months later Nelson rigged a camera up to his kayak. Now with 119 videos on his YouTube channel, “NDYakAngler,” he cracked 10,000 subscribers last week. Five of his videos have more than 100,000 views, with his informative Kayak Setup 2014 video leading the way.  

“It started out slow at first, but if you keep putting up videos your subscribers will build,” Nelson said. “I definitely never thought I’d hit that many.”

Utilizing the channel

Nelson, a Fargo native, has four GoPro cameras and three audio recorders for his yak fishing. He takes pride in his successful channel and said it’s hard to nail down a favorite video.

“There’s a few that I go back and watch quite a bit, like the Topwater Strikes compilation videos,” Nelson said. “The muskie that I caught (while wearing) my hat cam, when you can actually see it come up and bite the jig, is probably my favorite one. I could watch that over and over. I had to censor a lot of my friends’ cussing. I have a lot of kids that subscribe to my channel so I don’t want to be a bad influence.”

Another perk of his successful fan following is the other fishermen he’s met. Not only are they nice people, but they also know some good yak fishing spots for Nelson to try out.

“I’ve met a lot of good people through YouTube,” Nelson said. “I’ve got a friend from Texas coming here in June and another friend from Maryland coming in July.”

Nelson enjoys bringing new yak fishers along with him. Photo courtesy Matt Nelson.

Putting miles on the kayak 

The other way Nelson figures out where he’s going to fish next is by spending a lot of time on Google Maps and the Minnesota Lake Finder website. He usually stays in a 75-mile radius of Fargo, but makes plenty of long trips as well. The avid bass fisherman regularly makes eight-hour drives as a delivery driver, so he said he never minds making a trip a few hours away to float the Mississippi River.

“I drive a delivery truck that delivers prescription drugs to small pharmacies in northeastern North Dakota,” Nelson said. “It’s long days, but I’m done working by Wednesday night, so that’s nice. Then I have the other four days to plan out where I want to fish.”

Carlisle, who works at Phillips Travel Center in Fargo, said his favorite memory of fishing from his kayak was a trip down the Mississippi River.

“Matt and I, along with another member of the Minnesota Kayak Fishing Association, went on a two-day outdoor adventure,” Carlisle said. “It was just a blast. The fishing wasn’t the greatest, but the memories made were a lot more important.”

Carlisle was at one point the vice president of the Minnesota Kayak Fishing Association. He also participates in tournaments all over the country, with a trip to Florida planned for the futre. He enjoys the Midwest Series and some highlights for him were The Spooky Bass Tournament and fishing with Adventures on the Water, which is the kayak fishing team for Johnson Outdoors. 

Nelson is looking forward to bass season opening in Minnesota on May 13.

The biggest bass he’s caught in his kayak was a small mouth that weighed 6 pounds and 2 ounces on the Ottertail River. He hasn’t had a fish pull him in the water yet, with his only biff happening without tipping the kayak.

“I had a camera and a backup (camera) with me, so it would be pretty expensive if I would’ve flipped it,” Nelson said with a laugh. “I was standing up and when I lost my balance. I just kind of jumped out.”

Nelson’s first kayak, which he calls the best investment he ever made.

If Nelson’s on the water, he’s got a GoPro rolling

Nelson’s copious summer footage gives him leftover footage to keep his yak fishing posts steady through winter. He said he has six terabytes of footage from last year alone.

Way before he was racking up YouTube views in a kayak, Nelson got his start fishing by taking out the paddleboat at his family’s lake cabin by Perham, Minnesota. He’s the only Nelson who doesn’t fish for walleye.

“I’m the only bass fishermen so they all think I’m crazy,” Nelson said. “I just think bass fishing is more fun.”

Nelson is always excited to bring newcomers along on the river. He even let WDAY reporter Kevin Wallevand have a go in the kayak when WDAY did a story on him.

“(Wallevand’s) a pretty cool dude,” Nelson said.”He hopped in my kayak for a little bit and he just said, ‘Please don’t fall over.’”

Nelson said the biggest thing he has to be careful about is accidentally giving away his best spots. He’s even had to make friends delete Facebook posts because the post pinned the location of his fishing spot, or showed an identifiable landmark in the background.

“I get asked all the time on YouTube and I don’t want to answer in the public comments,” Nelson said. “If anything, I’ll send them a private message. I don’t mind giving up some spots, but there are some I like to keep to myself.”

Fishing the Red River

The avid outdoorsman’s ideal conditions would be sunny, with wind under 10 mph.  Although he frequently rides his kayak on the Red River, he hasn’t yak fished it yet.

“I think it would be really cool to catch some fish in the downtown area,” Nelson said. “I bank-fished it a lot before I got my kayak. One of my goals this summer is to get out on The Red a little more. The water needs to get a little warmer so the catfish start biting. I’ll save myself some gas money.”

Carlisle’s spent plenty of time fishing the local river and describes it as, “a heck of a fishery.”

Tons and tons of catfish, the walleye aren’t horrible, pike are pretty decent and goldeye’s and stuff like those are pretty abundant,” Calisle said.

Chris Carlisle pulls a fish into his kayak.

The avid outdoorsman expressed his excitement for the newly installed kayak ramp in Lindenwood Park.

“They make launching and putting these boats in the water so safe, so easy and so nice that everybody should get a chance to use one of those things,” Carlisle said. “They are a dream come true.”

(Turner Blaufuss is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism at MSUM. He’s currently working as a sports editor for the Wahpeton Daily News and will continue to work in journalism after he graduates in May. Contact him at

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