We sat down with Cheeky Ambassador, Capt. Lionel James, at ICAST last month to talk fishing, how he came into the sport, and what's up next.
CF: So let's start with an introduction - can you tell us a little about yourself?
Lionel: I'm Lionel James, out of Destin, Florida. Who am I is a really good question – I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m a fishing guide, but went to school for film, have practiced Jiu jitsu for ten years and fight competitively. I could be described as an anti-social, socialite. I'm actually introverted, but I figured out how to compartmentalize different roles, kind of like actors. When I'm in the ring I can be very aggressive, versus when I'm congenial on the camera, or on the boat with clients – it’s a complicated answer!
CF: Are you from Destin, and is that how you got into fishing?
Lionel: Yes and no - I lived in Destin until I was about 8, then my dad moved us from Destin to Alaska. He was in the Air Force. I spend my childhood in the city of Anchorage, Alaska where the summer sun never sets. And what better way to pass the time than you indulge in fly fishing? It was a way of life for me, exploring the rivers and streams. Ships Creek in downtown Anchorage and the Russian River, fishing next to brown bears, is where I spent a lot of my time back then. After collage, I became a fire fighter. My dad retired and moved back to Destin to be closer to his parents, so after I had a career I wanted to be closer to my dad, so I moved back Florida.
CF: Wow, Alaska is a long way from Destin! How was that move?
Lionel: I still remember that drive taking like 14 days! Seeing snow and mountains for the first time, all that stuff - a big shift from Florida. I’m just like my dad – his outlet was fishing and lifting weights (powerlifter) and I enjoy both. Fishing is what we did all the time. I started fishing in Florida, and then in Alaska continued fishing, and that's where I started fly fishing. I had no idea what it was until I got there. Growing up in Alaska is different – not just the community, but you learn how to be in nature by yourself . I can show you polaroid's with bears and moose around me. Everyone talks about being chased by dogs on the way to school- I got chased by moose! We literally had to wait for the moose to move to get on the school bus. I also fished a lot of rivers on the military base by myself, and the mighty Kenai river by myself. I got a lot of space to grow up. My dad allowed that – but the community there also looks out for you. I love Alaska, tell tons of stories about Alaska.
I left college after playing football and went back to Alaska, 6 months before turning 21. I had to make a decision about what to do next. My dad was in the Air Force, so it was really what I knew... and I wanted to get out of Alaska. My dad pretty much pointed me to the armed forces and I was military firefighter for 13 years. I’m a proud veteran, and even though it wasn't my dream growing up, I had a really good dad who pushed me. It taught me a lot about leadership and how to make quick decisions in life threatening situations. This probably contributes to why I’m so calm now.
CF: Would you ever move back?
Lionel: No – too cold! Just to visit. I love Florida, I would move further south if I could!
CF: And now you're back in Destin! What are you doing these days?
Lionel: When we used to live here my dad took me on charters. That is where I first discovered this way of life and this type of business. My dream was always the fishing charter captain.
And now I have a business - Lion's Tale Adventures. The name comes from my name, (Lionel, meaning Lion), a Lion's story or tale. I'm going on year 8 with the charter business, and every year I've got a little better, and gotten to take more people out fishing. It was also a way out of military firefighting, which I did for 13 years. Now in addition to my charter, I want to help other people start charters as well.
CF: Could you tell us more about Lion's Tale?
Lionel: I have the charter business, but I do more than just that. I’ve got a TV show (Lion Tales) based around fishing and fitness, you can find it on my YouTube channel, along with other videos. It showcases my life and encourages the younger generation to do as much as they can. It incorporates everything I do: fishing, fitness, but not limited to just that. I've been running my channel for about 7 years – it is growing tremendously now that I’m able to really focus on it. I see these guys building tackle shops with their brands – I don’t really want to do that. I just want my channel to open doors for other people. Whether it’s inspirational, being able to help others or maybe push others to help build their own business. I try to give guidance.
CF: Awesome! Speaking of the fishing, what would your favorite fish be if you had to choose?
Lionel: Let me tell you about the redfish. The best part is that they are so accessible to everyone. You can catch them almost everywhere. My goodness they are beautiful fish, with their iconic spot. And they cooperate with fly fisherman….sometimes….
CF: And why did you decide to fish Cheeky?
Lionel: Cheeky is a fantastic company that not only promotes the sport of fly fishing but also exemplifies the values that I hold dear. Through their bold and unwavering commitment to inclusivity and diversity, Cheeky exhibits the same morals that I stand for. They fearlessly showcase the joys of fly fishing to both men and women of all colors, ages, and backgrounds, making the sport accessible and enjoyable for all.
CF: What's next for you?
Lionel: I want to focus more on helping people and giving back: philanthropy. Maybe take a little step back from guiding. I'm starting a non-profit called Lines of Service. Not sure where that’s going to go but stay tuned for more on this!
CF: And of course we have to ask - what's your favorite Cheeky Reel to fish with?
Lionel: It’s hard to pick, I like all the reels! They fit me and my personality, the bright colors – a different one for each personality. Might think I’m crazy but my reels are almost like a girls purses – different one for different occasions. Today if I had to pick, the Limitless 425, I love the color.