'The Empire Strikes Bass' Attorney enjoys competing in 'Kayak Wars' tournament


Tom Miller with a giant walleye that he hooked from his kayak in the spring of last year.

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Puzzled would George Lucas be, yes — as Master Yoda might put it, were he to hear of “Kayak Wars,” the largest kayak fishing online tournament in the world.

Sponsored by Hobie Fishing, Kayak Wars drew 782 anglers from more than 200 teams last year, with anglers combining for some 18,000 submissions.

Kayak Wars is a “catch-photo-release” tournament, meaning anglers snap a photo of their catch against a ruler and immediately release the fish.

Attorney Tom Miller is a member of  “The Empire Strikes Bass” team – with teammates Goby Wan Kenobi, Darth Baiter, Storm Popper and Luke Skyaker. Miller’s alter ego is Gar Gar Dinks (a nod to two varieties of fish) on his kayak “Millenium Fishin’ with fish tractor beams.”

“Sorry George Lucas,” Miller says with a smile. “When we first registered, we received a lot of comments about our names — that, plus the fact I wear Converse Chuck Taylors — OK, cheap knock-offs — when I wear waders during cold months.  Quite a fashion statement.”

 While Miller enjoyed fishing from shore with his mother and older brother when he was a kid, he was only recently introduced to kayaking.

“Shortly after that I was ‘hooked’ on kayak fishing,” he says. “Kayak Wars is a blast because it introduces a competitive element into the equation. It’s fun knowing I’ll be able to post that nice catch for other kayak anglers to see. And I enjoy being part of a team and the banter that comes with it.”  

Fishing is a brief but important escape from the daily routine, Miller says. “Even an hour of fishing in the evening after work can really shed stress — I don’t even have to catch anything!” 

But catch fish he has, yes — the longest being a 34.5-inch northern pike, and the heaviest a toss-up between a carp and a buffalo fish.

“Trophies” to date are a 31-inch walleye and a 22.5-inch smallmouth bass, both Master Angler entries with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Kayak Wars requires fish to be of a certain size before awarding points.

This year he’s submitted two carp, eight largemouth bass, 51 smallmouth bass, eight northern pike, one yellow perch, three freshwater drum, two white bass and 20 rock bass. 

“Oh, there were plenty more, but they were either too small or I forgot to bring my camera,” he says. 

Fishing may be relaxing, but it’s not without challenges. On one occasion, Miller was trolling — i.e. pulling lures with two rods as he paddled his kayak — when something big hit one rod, bending it nearly in half. As Miller pulled the rod from its holder and started reeling it in, another fish hit the second rod and started pulling, hard.

“The kayak seemed to twist in all directions, but I managed to land the first fish, which turned out to be a nice bowfin — my first and only to date — and hurriedly snap a picture with my iPhone,” he says.  

As he quickly lunged for the second rod, he dropped the iPhone in the lake. 

“I later purchased a waterproof camera, which I soon learned may have been waterproof, but didn’t float. I have my second waterproof camera tied to a chunk of swim noodle in case it goes overboard.” 

Painful — but not as painful as when a teammate sat on a fishing lure in his kayak and promptly and effectively attached his nether regions to the padded kayak seat. 
“He was not pleased,” Miller says. 

While Miller has fished Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, the Huron River, and a number of inland lakes in Michigan, his favorite and most frequently fished location is Lake St. Clair between Michigan and Ontario — in his book one of the best fishing lakes around.

A city park down the street from his home in Grosse Pointe Farms allows him to store two kayaks on a rack right at the water’s edge. 

“It’s great because I can zip down and get some time on the water with almost no prep time. All I need to do is throw on shorts and toss a rod in the car.” 

Kayak fishing is becoming more and more popular, he says. 

“Anyone interested in seeing what it’s all about should visit Kayak Fish the Great Lakes at www.kayakfishthegreatlakes.com.  That’s a fantastic local site with a lot of excellent anglers who can answer any questions about kayak fishing, from beginner to expert.” 

Miller also enjoys other outdoor activities, camping, hiking and exploring whenever the opportunity arises. 

“I like to geocache — a nerdy, global treasure hunt game that uses GPS — and I enjoy archery, notably shooting ‘3D’ courses which typically feature a course with foam animal targets, from the standard whitetail to the occasional velociraptor, placed throughout a wooded area, where challenging shots are presented,” he says.   

“During colder months, I like to watch pro football — especially now that Detroit seems to have a professional team — manage too many fantasy football teams, watch movies, and I’ve been known to play online video games and lose to 12-year-olds whose preternatural reflexes put mine to shame.” 

Miller is Deputy General Counsel-North America for Valeo, a leading tier-one automotive supplier. Headquartered in Paris, Valeo has 124 plants, 21 research centers, 40 development centers, 12 distribution platforms and employs 68,000 people in 28 countries worldwide.   

“It’s a dynamic workplace, with diverse people and viewpoints,” he says. “Although I’m based in North America, I’m part of a global group and regularly work with operations all over the world. In my five years here, I’ve learned much about the automotive industry and the challenges the Valeo group — and one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers — faces each day. I’m proud to be a part of this team.”

A grad of Allen Park High School, Miller earned his undergrad degree from the University of Michigan–Dearborn, and received his law degree from Wayne State University Law School. 

“I’m not one of those attorneys who always saw themselves in the practice,” he says. “I finished my undergrad degree and considered a couple of different postgraduate programs, one of which was law. I’m glad I made the choice I did.”