They like fishing areas new to them, and enjoy meeting new fishing buddies. When they find out that I fish in tournaments, the questions fly at me and usually the conversation ends with “I’d like to try that one day…” Well, there is no reason to wait - the world of competitive kayak fishing is open to everyone!
Most kayak fishing tournaments start with a registration process. This can usually be done online. The entry fees vary, and there are tournaments to fit every budget. The formats of each competition vary as well. There are single, stand-alone tournaments, annuals, and series. There are kayak only events and regular tournaments with boat and kayak divisions. I have found that most local or regional boat tournaments will allow you to compete in a kayak, alone or as a team. Most tournaments have websites with information on their format; don’t be afraid to use the contact information if you have questions. Rules often differ greatly for each event, so it is very important to familiarize yourself with them. Some events allow live bait, while others are artificial baits only. Some only allow specific lures. There are tournaments that only allow you to fish in a specific location, while other let you fish anywhere as long as you return to the weigh in on time.
Once you have registered, paid the fees and read over the rules, its pre-fishing time. If the event you have entered is local and you are very familiar with the area, you can probably get away with skipping this part. Frequently, however, tournaments are not where you are. It is important to have a general knowledge of the area you are going to fish. There is usually a mandatory captains meeting as well, so you will be in the area anyway. In the days leading up to an event, I usually look at the area on Bing or Google Earth to get a general idea of where the fish may be. I try to pre-fish every tournament the day before the actual event. [Editor’s note: Check the rules – some tournaments don’t allow pre -fishing as much as a week before the event.]This is really an exploratory trip and you don’t want to catch all the fish. For example, a school of redfish will most likely be in the same area the next day, unless you keep throwing lures at them to drive them away. If I see the fish I’ll be targeting during the tournament, I just move on and note the location for later. When you pre-fish the area, it’s a good idea to mirror what you plan to do on tournament day. Launch at the site you plan on launching from at the same time as you plan on tournament day. Fish for the same amount of time as you plan to the next day. This will give you the best idea of what to expect in regards to tides, water movement and fish locations. If you can’t pre-fish an area, don’t worry too much about it. You can get a lot of local information from fishing forums or other online resources.
Usually the day or evening before the tournament is the captains meeting. This is usually mandatory and it’s a good place to meet other kayak anglers. This is competitive angling, but most kayak anglers I know are very friendly. This is also the place to ask questions and clarify rules. The tournament directors will usually give you everything you need to measure your catch, and will advise you of specific information that you will need to know - listen to them carefully. Captains meetings can also be online in the form of videos. The idea is you can get all the info you need from the video, and if you still have questions, use the contact information provided.
Tournament day is here. A wise man once told me that he never shows up to a launch not ready to fish. I have caught the majority of my tournament fish within a mile of the launch. Have your plan ready and all of your tackle tied the night before! Most tournaments will have you launch at safe light. Depending on how many people are registered, you may have you move quickly to get to your spot. If you are lucky, you will begin to catch fish right away. If not, it may be a long day. Almost all kayak tournaments have gone to a photo catch and release format. Taking a picture of your catch is not always easy, so take your time! Once you have a fish in your kayak, he is yours - no one will take it from you. Most mistakes are made during the measuring and photo process. You have to make sure the fish is lying as flat as possible on the measuring device. This could be your own ruler, or a specific ruler the tournament director wants used. The entire fish should be in the picture, with the measurement clearly visible. You may have to get out of the kayak to take this photo. It is a good idea to have a tournament board for this. I have bungee cords around mine to help safely hold the fish on the board. Sometimes I have to take several photos to get it right. When you get a good picture, take the time to revive the fish. Measure every legal-sized fish you catch, because you never know if you are the only person catching fish. I have won a tournament with a 12” mangrove snapper because I had the only fish caught that day. Also, fish until the last minute. Don’t give up, because many times the winning fish is caught at the last minute on the way in.
The weigh in time and area is usually discussed during the captains meeting. If you are late to the weigh-in you are usually docked points or even disqualified, so try to be there a little early. The weigh in usually consists of someone downloading your pictures from your camera into their computer for verification. It’s a good idea to bring your camera’s USB cable as well. Your catch will be scored and points assigned. Have a seat, relax, and talk to the other anglers. Eventually, everyone will be weighed in and the awards will begin. Whether you win or not, you were out on the water. Every tournament is a unique experience, and soon you will be placing and winning prizes!
Whatever your level of experience is, competitive fishing is fun. You will meet new people and fish in areas that you normally would not have. You will learn new tactics and techniques that will bring your fishing to a new level. Most of these tournaments are reasonably priced, and if you look into your resources online, I am sure you will find a kayak angling tournament in your area. Don’t be shy to enter, and don’t be surprised if you start placing right away!
About the Author: Bob Bramblet is an avid tournament angler, competing in local, regional and national events. He is the President of the Southwest Florida Kayak Angler’s Association at www.swfkaa.com. Bob also writes kayak fishing articles and reviews for several online resources and kayak fishing magazines. He can usually be found fishing his home waters of Estero Bay or Pine Island Sound, where he has been fishing for over 20 years.