As much as James Coker loves surf fishing, he had come to dread the ordeal of hauling gear down sandy beaches and up slippery, jagged jetties. Wet canvas backpacks, stubborn wheel carts and shuffling back and forth to get his gear were beginning to take the shine off his peaceful enjoyment of fishing at the beach.
Above photo: Natasha and James Coker are the creators of JettyWalker, a backpack designed for toting fishing gear.
The Fernandina fisherman kept thinking, “If only I had a way to carry all of this stuff on my back like a backpack, then I could fish anywhere easily.”
Coker, a 36-year-old master electrician and owner of Horizon Electric, says he thought about it for years.
“I had to come up with a solution,” he says. “I sat down on my living room floor and came up with a concept.”
His solution was JettyWalker, a lightweight aluminum fishing back rack. Worn like a backpack, the gadget has rod holders and space for a bucket, tackle box, small cooler and cast net.
Coker’s wife, Natasha, designed the logo and website, Ol’ Salty’s Tackle. Coker hired an attorney and applied for a patent in 2012, which he says is a few months from approval.
“Before I knew it things were really taking off,” he says.
Four years later, the JettyWalkers are still handcrafted on the First Coast. A welder builds the aluminum frame, Natasha sews the shoulder pads and comfort cushions and he assembles the gadgets. He’s added a JettyWalker with an LED light and water resistant battery pack, and another designed for stand-up paddleboards.
“I have the freedom to be able to go wherever I want to go, and not worry about toting 150 pounds,” Coker says. “I can ride a bicycle, go through woods, up and down stairs, hold rods in my hand and the rest of the stuff on my back.”
Coker is thrilled that others enjoy it, too. Not long ago, he received a photo from a Marine on the Texas coast wearing a JettyWalker with a cooler and 30-pound kingfish strapped across the back.
“It was kind of neat,” Coker says. “There’s a Marine serving our country and using something I designed that helped him have enjoyment.”
Coker took up surf fishing at age 16. Self taught, he asked locals for pointers and learned to read the subtle signs of a good fishing spot, like the way big fish follow mullet up the beach and the way that waves break over sandbars.
“It’s a way of life really,” he says. “When I look at the water, I look at it just like a surfer.”
Two years ago, he caught the pompano limit every morning for three weeks.
“It’s nice to go out and catch your food and eat it, to wake up and see the sunrise,” Coker says. “There’s something about that that gets me.”
Left photo: James Coker heads out to the shore for a little surf fishing with his JettyWalker.
“I have the freedom to be able to go wherever I want to go, and not worry about toting 150 pounds. I can ride a bicycle, go through woods, up and down stairs, hold rods in my hand and the rest of the stuff on my back.”
— James Coker
The JettyWalker is sold online at olsaltystackle.com and in several tackle shops from Texas to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as well as locally at Strike Zone in Jacksonville and Amelia Island Bait & Tackle in Fernandina Beach.