Hank Veggian, with Chad Hoover

When you drive through the Great Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee/North Carolina border, you understand why it’s one of the most visited regions in the country. For anglers, the only thing preventing you from stopping to fish the French Broad River, the Pigeon River, Waterville Lake or Lake Junaluska along Interstate 40 is the fact that you are distracted by the beauty of the place.

That, and our destination: Chad Hoover and I are going to visit the Big Adventures factory where Bonafide kayaks are made.

Nestled into a cozy industrial park near the Asheville Regional Airport, Big Adventures manufactures a range of kayak brands on-site. Today, Chad is meeting with some engineers and I am taking a tour to see how they make the boats that Kayak Bass Fishing awards to anglers in its CATCH22 Challenge and FISHOPS Catch-5 fishing series, both of which raise awareness and money for veterans’ charities.

The Shop at Big Adventures

It’s a clear, sunny day when we pull in to the lot. The first thing I see is the factory store, and the next thing I see is the pumphouse. There is a stack of Bonafide boats nearby, and I figure we are picking those up. To the contrary, Chad is taking a call, and this is just a detour.

I take the opportunity to look around. I wonder what was here, before the kayak maker repurposed the facility. I stand in the lanes in front of the bay doors and think back on my own time driving trucks for a company in Paterson, New Jersey. Founded by Alexander Hamilton, Paterson was America’s first industrial city, and I can’t help but notice how, no matter where you go, the rubber bumpers on the loading dock always look the same.

A man comes out and Chad says “I’m here to pick up the RVR.” The man says it is around front, but we take a peek inside the warehouse. This is where the products are stacked before they head to the dealers; it’s the end stage of a process I will witness shortly….

Chad Hoover at the Big Adventures shop in Asheville, N.C., June 3, 2024. Photo Courtesy of H Veggian

Around the front, a large sign hangs over the front entrance. “Big Adventures,” it reads. A smaller sign indicates customer parking. When you go inside, a range of kayak fishing products greets you. YakAttack accessories and Werner Paddles, Rapala hard baits and Yamamoto plastics, Shimano reels and Cashion Rods. It wouldn’t take long to buy a kayak, outfit the rig and go fishing down the road at Janaluska…..

Brian Lapham greets us. He works in customer service, and will be my tour guide. Before we leave, I meet Hans the engineer, and we load a new kayak onto Chad’s trailer. I turned to Chad and ask “so, what should I look for in the Bona Fide rigs.” He doesn’t hesitate: “They are American made, by skilled artisans in North Carolina.”

And with that in mind, I catch up to Brian as he turns the corner that leads from the store to the factory floor.

The Factory

“We purchased Bonafide in 2019…” says Brian. He begins telling me a history of the brand. My eyes turn however to a dog that is padding over. Brian pauses to introduce us “That’s Vader.” Employees walk by carrying gear, others work at tables and horses. Two men are removing a new kayak from a mold. They place it on a special rack to cool, where a third employee begins working on it. “He makes some cuts while the plastic is still soft. That begins the pre-rigging process that preps the boat and shapes it.”

It starts to make sense: the floor is an assembly space. Going counter-clockwise, the various ovens are for different kayak models – whitewater, fishing, etc. You have pre-rigging and assembly, seat-building and sewing, foam cutting and storage. There is also a machine shop and a space where the pedal drives are assembled and checked.

That’s where I meet Kim Callaway. Brian calls her the “pedal queen.” Kim assembles and checks the Propel drives that go into the Bonafide P127 model. When I meet her in the shop, she is turning a gear and listening intently.

“I don’t like how this one sounds,” she says. She removes it, inserts a new part and listens. Satisfied with the result, she puts down her work to say hello.

Kim Callaway at work. June 3, 2024. Photo courtesy of H Veggian.

“It takes three days, from start to finish, to build a drive.” On the shelf behind her, I see the parts: the upper “transmission,” as they call it, castings, gear components and more. Kim continues “I’ve been working here for eight years, and we’ve been building the drives here since 2018.” She smiles and looks around. You can’t help but notice that she takes pride in the work.

Bona Fide and CATCH22

More than 450 KBF anglers are currently registered for the CATCH22 Challenge. As it stands, Marty Hughes has the overall lead on the Any Fish-Many Fish leaderboard. He also leads the unlimited catch challenge. Anglers like Steven Galloway and Zane Coker are catching up, and there is plenty of time left to fish.

What’s the goal? The main one is to raise money for veteran’s charities. In doing so, however, it’s important to spread awareness not only of the causes but also of the companies that support those efforts.

Enter Bonafide Kayaks. American-made, and a supporter of the Catch22 Challenge, it is precisely the sort of brand that Kayak Bass Fishing works with to build the kayak fishing community through tournaments, fun and charity fund raising.

As we end the tour, Brian shakes my hand and says goodbye. I can tell he likes his job in customer service – he’s a natural at it.

Out in the morning sunlight, the RVR 119 on Chad’s trailer looks different. Having seen each stage of its making from where the plastic molds emerge from the oven near my friend Vader’s station to the sewing of fabric for each seat, the art and craft of each boat is evident, and a testament to the hard work of the employees.

From a factory outside Asheville to the anglers on the water: it’s all one process that keeps us fishing. The CATCH22 Challenge and FISHOPS Catch-5 add another step to it by mustering the KBF community –   from the Big Adventures factory to KBF anglers on the water, and from there to America’s veterans.

 

ADDITIONAL INFO

To learn more about Bonafide kayaks, go to: https://bonafidefishing.com/

To learn more about the CATCH22 Challenge, go to: https://app.fishingchaos.com/tournament/Y2xm8QUVeNoRE63QTUE6

To learn more about the FISHOPS Catch-5 Challenge Series, visit https://app.fishingchaos.com/tournament/crciUx6eUXfcCIHfEAlQ

First Published June 14, 2024. The author of this article was not assisted in any way by AI or machine learning in the composition of it.

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