The Feelfree US family of brands has over 60 Team Members throughout the nation. You've probably seen us feature their pictures on social media, had a question answered on one of the group pages or perhaps crossed paths at a local tournament. In this series we ask a collection of questions to help you get to know them a little better.
Featured Team Member: Jay Harman - Competitive Team Member
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
Public Profile: Facebook
Welcome Jay, tell us a bit about yourself!
Originally from Virginia Beach, VA I was raised one block from the ocean front, I started fishing as a young boy with my dad, mainly saltwater fishing, then moved to Kansas City, Mo 33 years ago where I have made this my permanent home.
There is not much ocean in the middle of the country, so I started fishing mainly freshwater. It’s funny because going out in the ocean, I caught larger king mackerel, cobia and tuna, yet I found more excitement in freshwater fishing fighting a largemouth bass or crappie with lighter tackle from a kayak or bass boat. Off and on through my life I found that fishing from a kayak was way more fun though, and I found some of the best fishing spots are where you cannot get in with a bass boat. I had stopped fishing for about 6 years as I had a few personal battles to overcome including five back surgeries and Parkinson’s but now more than ever, it's become more than a hobby, but rather a lifestyle.
On a personal level, I am married to my wife Jonna with 4 great kids and 5 awesome grand kids as well my four legged kid a German Shepard we call Maggie - family is so important to us. For my professional career I work for a large 100+ year old dairy equipment company as a Technical Support Specialist and Feberal EPA instructor for 29 years now (My wife even works for the same company for 31 years). It's nice to have lunch with the women you love every day.
You are certainly an inspiration and we know you are on a mission to help others fighting disabilities, tell us more on how kayak fishing has played a role with Parkinson’s and your advice to others.
We never know what life will throw at us, I found myself always looking at life in a positive way for sure after some of the battles I have been through, from the loss of my parents to my health issues. It’s like throwing a fishing lure under a low hanging branch that looks like a really great spot for a large fish. Will there be a big fish there? Will we get snagged? You won’t know until you just take a chance in life and fight to get that fish.
After my 5th back surgery I found myself wanting to fight back and start fishing again in a kayak as well doing some tournaments but I knew that it wold be a challenge for me. Comfort in a kayak - WOW big words after 5 back surgeries, I found the Feelfree Lure 13.5 with the Gravity Seat was perfect for what I needed. I was able to fish all day and it felt like I got my life back again. About 5 years ago I got hit again with another challenge to overcome, that's when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. The was a tough one, knowing that it will never go away or be repaired by surgery. As a kayak angler, I found that Parkinson’s was a battle in itself. Some of the smallest things became my biggest challenges such as tying a fishing lure but that wasn't going to stop me.
After fishing the Lure 13.5 for a few years I decided to jump on a new kayak. I needed the most stability and comfort I could find so with some persistence, patience and hard work I was able to join the Feelfree Fishing Team. During this time, I also came across a local kayak fishing club call MOYAK Fishing in Missouri, which is run by a great guy and fellow team member Joshua Boothe - things were looking up! Being around others that enjoy life in a kayak, friendship and support each other was what I needed. In kayak fishing I found a wonderful support network. There were times where a few of my fellow kayakers helped me tie on and change fishing lures - now that's family.
My involvement with the Feelfree Fishing Team and MOYAK contributed to me pushing myself to fish a ton of Kayak Tournaments. In 2020, I hit a 20+ mark for tournaments and got awarded the MOYAK Sportsman of the Year Award. Additionally, this run of tournaments allowed me to apply for Competitive Level status with the Feelfree Fishing Team and I made it!
My advice to those battling health issues such as Parkinson's, is that yes, it can take a lot from you if you let it. I found that sometimes you just need to laugh about it and make the best of it and if you are able, try your hardest to continue enjoying the things you love. For me it's family and fishing and hey, I did come out with a cool fishing name from all this, "Jay The Shaker Harman".
I also found that supporting organizations that are working hard to improve our lives, such as the Michael J Fox foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has been helpful for me.
Speaking of Tournaments, tell us more about that.
I found myself fishing more and more tournaments and has helped me fight my disabilities. Not just for a win or to get that limit but to be able to say hey, I can do this and get up out of that lazy boy chair and enjoy life again. I started fishing the local club tournaments with MOYAK Fishing, KBF and The All American Kayak Classic. For 2021 I may even push harder to fish Bass Maters Kayak Series. My goal in 2021 is to hit 25+ plus events.
What’s your kayak of choice and gear box?
- FeelFree Dorado
- Amped Outdoors 60ah Battery
- Lowrance TI2 Fish Finder w/ Active Image
- 8 Rods and 4 tackle boxes and a lot of Band-Aids for when I shake a hook into my hand - LOL
- Life Vest, cooler, snacks and rain gear
- As for some of my favorite lures, I prefer Chatter Baits w/Rage Trailers
What type of waters do you enjoy fishing and what’s your favorite species of fish?
I love fishing lakes more than anything and small farm ponds. I miss the ocean but wow freshwater lakes are so much fun with light tackle. My favorite fish for tournament fishing is large mouth or small mouth and for the dinner table, nothing beats crappie!
What advice can you offer newcomers to the sport of kayak fishing?
Always wear a life vest, I myself found in sketchy situations thinking it wouldn't happen to me but it did. Now, it is my #1 priority. However, having a stable kayak for fishing is just as important. I chose the Feelfree Kayaks Lure and Dorado because between my back issues and Parkinson's, I needed the stability.
Start slow and keep it simple - take one rod and one tackle box. You don’t need to be like me or the other guy and take the kitchen sink LOL! Enjoy the feeling you get on a kayak, enjoy taking your family out for a day of fun floating or fishing. Take thing easy, just be on a kayak loving life and if you have a disability, don't let it stop you from enjoying your dreams and passions.
What does it mean to you to be a Feelfree Fishing Team Member?
It has meant the world to me, I can’t put into words how much the Feelfree family and team members means to me and my life as well my family too. Feelfree cares about their customers, they care about making life fun and getting families into the sport of kayaking. I learned a long time ago after my first Feelfree kayak when I needed a small part replaced, calling into the customer care support team, they took care of me so fast. I knew then I had to become a family member for the Feelfree brand. Today, I have never regretted a single minute. I love being part of this family.
Thanks for your time Jay!