Kevin Mattson: From Professional Angler to Cancer Survivor — and Back Again

The C word. In today’s world, it’s sadly all too common. Often striking like a bolt of lightning, cancer affects the weak as well as the strong, the healthy and the unhealthy. It crushes dreams and destroys families with neither rhyme nor reason.

Kevin Mattson, 54, is a professional angler through and through. He grew up around the ocean, spending every possible moment fishing, surfing, hanging out on the beach with friends. Like Kevin, for many of us growing up on the coasts in the ’70s and ’80s, when it came to sunshine, ignorance was bliss.

Kevin Mattson

During his youth, skin cancer wasn’t as well understood as it is now and — for many, fair-skinned like Kevin or not — sunscreen wasn’t even on the radar.

“I would spend days on the beach, I was never indoors,” he says. “All summer long my dad would drop me at the pier. I’d be surfing, fishing and would almost always have my shirt off. Then, when I started long-range fishing, I was doing long days on the water, in the sun, getting grilled. I would get burned and, afterward, my skin would peel in sheets.”

Years later, he noticed an odd sore. “I had this wound on my lip that just wouldn’t heal; it was getting worse and worse. After that, I had this spot on my scalp that started to really hurt, like the tip of a knife digging in. The pain got to where it was keeping me up at night. I finally went to the doctor, and he was immediately like, ‘Oh, yeah. This is not good.’”

He ended up having two cancerous sections of his scalp removed and was left with a total of 25 staples. But that was just the beginning.

fisherman skin cancer

Over the years, Kevin worked his way through the sportfishing ranks by consistently catching big fish and being fully committed to the game. It wasn’t long before his list of accomplishments grew and with it the accolades and sponsorships. “I started working with a few brands — Graphite USA was one of the first — getting the occasional shirt here, a rod there,” he says. “After a while, I began getting invited on trips, field testing gear. I ended up winning a few events.”

Eventually, Pelagic took notice and Kevin was added to its roster of professional anglers. For someone spending so much time in the sun, the company’s evolving line of UV shirts were a game changer. Okuma and Phenix rods also were soon added to the list as Kevin continued to make his mark as a real deal professional angler.

Then, in the summer of 2015, Kevin took the game to an entirely new level. “There had been reports of blue marlin in the area; we don’t get too many of those, so I figured I’d give it a shot,” he says.

After a couple tough days trying, time seemed to be running out as the weather began to kick up and an impending cold front brought with it the likelihood that the fish would move south again in search of warmer conditions. But, as that final day turned to evening, Kevin had a serendipitous encounter with a truly enormous beast.

kevin mattson fishing

“It was getting dark, and I had been trolling around all day, but just before dusk I caught a glimpse of a big fish up on the surface,” he recalls. “I came around on it and, as I caught the downside of a swell, my lure dropped right into the pocket where I thought he might be lurking. Sure enough, BAMMM! The reel started screaming!”

Sure, catching a solo blue marlin might sound like an interesting achievement, but how about doing it from a 17-foot bass boat? While the “Glitter Boat,” as he calls it, has put Kevin on some remarkable catches, he might be the first person on Earth to catch a blue marlin from a bass boat. In fact, just finding someone mad enough to take a boat like this offshore is hard enough.

After fighting it for more than two hours, the fish went deep and the battle turned. “When I got it up, I tried to revive the fish, but it had died during the fight. Looking at it, I really wasn’t sure how big it was, maybe 300? Either way, I couldn’t get it into the boat no matter how hard I tried. So, I just strapped it to the side and started to head in.” After 2½ hours, he got the marlin into port and started making calls. It took all night but getting it up on the scales, it came in at an even 350 pounds.


It was this catch that really took Kevin’s career as a professional angler to new heights, but, as the accolades rolled in, so did the warning signs. It wasn’t long before Kevin was back in the hospital dealing with more cancer.

He isn’t bashful when he talks about the various surgeries he’s been through. “I had this squamous spot on my nose; it started as a bump right where my shades would sit,” he says. “It was peeling all the time.” What started as a small squamous lesion led to reconstructive surgery on his nose.

kevin mattson fishing

Flash forward and Kevin has had more than a half-dozen surgeries to remove cancerous lesions on his skin. “I had basal on my shoulder, then my wrist,” he says. “They took out a huge piece, 14 stitches. When I got this second spot on the top of my head, I ended up having to do radiation — that was just torture. I equate it to putting a piece of cold pizza in the microwave; your skin is just being fried. It’s no joke.”

He’s surprisingly blunt about advice for others potentially at risk for skin cancer. “You know, that’s a tough question because who am I to tell others not to go in the sun or to wear sunscreen? But I guess I would just point out that there are repercussions. This goes especially for those like me who have light eyes.

sun protective clothing for fisherman

 “If you’re fair-skinned and don’t use sunscreen and you get fried, it’s almost like a pay-to-play thing — you’re at high risk of getting skin cancer; it’s as simple as that. When I was growing up, face masks, sun shirts, those weren’t part of the equation. These days, sun protection is much more accepted.”

At this point for Kevin, skin cancer is an ongoing threat. “People come up to me and mention they had skin cancer; I tell them I still have it. My doctor has made it clear: I have a 99% chance of going back under the knife.”

While cancer is likely to be a recurring part of Kevin’s world going forward, he’s not letting it stop him from enjoying his life.

“My doctors were telling me to take time off work after these surgeries, but I told them I can’t do that. If I’m taking time off, it’s to go fishing, period.”