Since I have the "luxury" for working for Uncle Sam, I decided that it wanted to take a week of paid leave before the event to prepare for this huge tournament. I tossed many different ideas in my head on where to fish, when to fish the spots, what would be the best tide/weather mix, etc. After a weekend of tossing around different options, I finally decided on a plan. Trout all day Monday and Tuesday, flounder on Wednesday, and trout on Thursday and Friday morning. I knew I would run into reds on the way, so I was really not too worried about strictly going after them.
Now I'm not going to sit here and give a play by play of every single day. What I will do is boil it all down to this: I went through the week of hard fishing, and I mean hard! I woke up every day between 4am and 5am, rain or shine. I packed a lunch every single day, and fished until my "drop dead" time of 3pm. My goal was to narrow down dozens of ideas into one structured game plan. Picture a football coach going through 100 plays, and shaving game day down into his proven Top 15. What I did was exhaust many ideas and formulated what I believed was a "recipe for winning".
Finally tournament day was here. I was privileged to share some pre-fishing time and tournament day with my good friend and fishing partner, Joe Underwood (PhillyJoe). We got to the launch an hour early to get our kayaks set up, check over our gear for last-minute tweaks, and shoot the breeze for a bit over some coffee to take the pre-game jitters away. Once it was safe light, it was on! We headed out with a purpose, and did not deviate whatsoever. We hit our three trout spots, and both had our trout in no time. I ended up with 10 specks between 16" and 21.25", with three over 20".
Nice trout on top water
Joe caught nine trout up to 19". Just like in our script, it was time to leave the trout biting as the incoming tide went slack so we could head over to the flounder location. The rough part though was the weather! The rain was enough to make any other trip a complete bust. That's one of the many reasons that I love my Ocean Kayak “Trident 13. The rod pod is not just for fishing rods. Not only did I store extra rods, I also packed a small cooler, fishing tackle, and most importantly my Columbia rain gear to keep me dry on a day like this.
Just as planned, we launched out of Willoughby mid-day to some nasty wind and rain! It didn't take more than 15 minutes of jigging the pilings to get my first flounder of the day - over 18". I thought that we were going to wear them out after nailing one right away. I was wrong; it was not until five minutes before my "drop dead" time until I hit another flounder that was bigger than the other at 18.5". Before that, I caught a hand full of little reds up to 14.5". Hey, they were tournament eligible!
Cool looking little redfish
All that leads up to the most stressing hours that I can remember. I knew I had a decent slam, but I didn't know how it would fare. I "weighed" in at 3pm just in case somebody came in with the same size slam. The deadline was 4pm, but a tie goes to the individual that entered his catch first. One of the most unnerving times was standing in line, waiting to have your photos reviewed. After confirming my 54.25" total, it became the dreaded "waiting game".
The raffle came and went, all the other categories were announced, and it finally came down to my 40 hours of pre-fishing and eight hours on game day. There were many thoughts going through my head, all at one time. The last time I was this nervous was the day I got off the bus for basic training for the Air Force. After the fourth and third places were announced without my name being included was when it hit me. "Holy crap, I might win this," I thought to myself. When the length of the second place winner was called was when it hit me. That was not my confirmed length - YES!
"And the winner of the Hobie “Pro Angler 12” with a length of 54.25 is Richie Bekolay!" Those are words that I will never forget. I had tunnel vision as I walked up to shake Wayne's hand and to receive my medal.
Me with the Hobie crew
As great as this Hobie Pro Angler is, I'm an Ocean Kayak guy! I stand behind my kayak and have the utmost confidence in it when I board the cockpit. This Hobie will make somebody a very happy fisherman, but I am sticking with my Trident 13. It's my baby!
The best part of this whole experience was that I got to share it with some wonderful people. It felt great winning the tournament, but it was an even better feeling seeing the smiles on the veterans faces as they received prizes and had prizes from other winners donated to the Heroes on the Water chapters. As a current service member myself, my hat's off with a big salute to all those vets that we were so lucky to be around. The entire TKAA crew and Heroes on the Water coordinators did a remarkable job of putting on such a first class event. I only wish that everyone that reads this had been able to experience it. I'm already thinking about next year's event. Hmm, where am I going to fish???
See ya on the water!
About the Author: Richie Bekolay is diehard kayak fisherman and outdoorsman that resides in Newport News, Virginia. Originally from southeastern Wisconsin, his fishing roots started very early in life as he spent most of his free time pursuing the popular freshwater species with his true passion being the mighty musky. Currently serving in the Air Force, Richie has expanded his skill set from the sweet water to the salt of the Chesapeake Bay. He’s an accomplished tournament angler with most recently a 1st place win for the “Slam” division in the 2012 Tidewater Kayak Anglers Association Kayak Fish For Charity Tournament (3rd largest kayak fishing event in the country) and an 8th place finish in the 2012 IFA Kayak Fishing Tour Atlantic Division Angler of the Year race. Don't be surprised if you're on the water or at a fishing event and run into him and his "Cheesehead" accent. You can follow his fish tales in his blog; Hook, Line, & Sinker at hooklinesinker1.blogspot.com.