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Monday, 12 August 2013 19:39

South Carolina Kayak Tournament Trail: Lake Hartwell

Written by Josh Swaney
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What do you do when a tournament outgrows your expectations? You improvise! The July tournament for the South Carolina Trail was scheduled for a small lake in the northwestern-most corner of South Carolina called Tugalo Lake.

This lake is known for the abundance of largemouth, and low pressure because of a 20hp limit. But, as with a lot of small lakes, it has only one ramp and very limited parking - too limited for the number of people who were showing interest in fishing this tournament. The decision was made to make a change, and as it turned out it was probably a decision for the better.

Lake Hartwell has been my fall back lake for the entire year, with good reason. There are so many good ramps and parks, and there are places that hold fish year round. For this tournament, I chose the FairPlay Recreation Area, which has a large parking lot, large covered picnic area for the registration and weigh-in, and is located far enough off the main channel for low boat traffic.

Weeks before the tournament, I was contacted by Steven Patrick, Habersham 4-H Fishing Club Leader. He was wondering if our club would be interested in hosting a youth tournament the same day, to which I responded, “Of course!” I had read all about the Youth Trail the SKA club had going, and was already planning some stops next year for a youth trail. I started getting the word out that we would follow the SKA example, and set up a donation drive to come up with prizes for the youth tournament. It didn’t take long for a lot of people to contact me about things they had to donate, and there is no way I can name them all. I will say that there were donations from six different clubs! I can’t thank all of these guys enough: SKA, TKA, Hmong, Midland, Upstate, and Low Country clubs all pitched in to make this a great day for some really great kids! And when Steven called and said that they could use one extra kayak for one of his kids, it only took one phone call to Upstate Club member Saturday Mel, and one of the kids was riding around in a nice Wilderness Systems “Ride 135”!

A lot of guys from out of town were planning on coming up the day before the tournament - some to pre-fish, and some just to stay overnight and avoid the long drive the morning of the tournament. Tim Sizemore, Mike Niles, Frank Sargent, Nik Brown, Doug Morris, and I all arrived that afternoon and planned to do a little grilling Friday night. Later that afternoon, Phillip Gentry and Justin Carter came up to have a little supper with us and share in a few laughs. I have learned many lessons this year from running the trail, but the one lesson I hold over all others is that fellowship is the main reason for all of this, and I’ll seek this type of gathering at any future event I plan!

The morning of the tournament was actually slow for me, for once. Being up at 4:30am and at the ramp was really nice; it gave me plenty of time to get set up and ready for everybody. At 5:00am there was a steady flow of fishermen coming into the ramp parking lot, and before I knew it, we had a pretty good line going of people signing up and getting their identifiers. By a 5:45am we had twenty seven guys signed in and standing on the bank or sitting in their kayaks, ready to go! I was really wound up - this was the biggest crowd of the year so far, and so many coming together from so many different clubs, I was unsure about how the location change would affect the turnout. So at 6am, I gave the signal and the fleet set out in all directions. I hung around till around 7:15am to make sure there were no late arrivals, and then took to the water for a quick look around. Within thirty minutes or so, I had two small fish and turned around headed back to the ramp. About that time, Steven rolled up with a bus load of anxious kids! They quickly got the kayaks unloaded, and were all on the water ready to go. These kids have the passion that every fisherman strives to have; they were not there to play around in the least!

Fishing at Hartwell can be extremely hit or miss, as most found out. The two fish I caught early were in only about 6” of water, but I heard guys talking about fishing in anything from a foot to 35’ of water! But with Hartwell up almost 20’in just four months, anything was possible. It was a different lake than even the local guys had fished in almost ten years! As I talked to a few guys who stayed close to the ramp, I was glad to hear that they had at least found a few fish and even heard from a couple that they had a couple nice sized fish. I was feeling better about the decision to change venues. I paddled around, watching some of the kids, talking to some of the other fishermen, and wondering how the day would turn out. I knew there were some really good fishermen there and was hoping the fish would cooperate. Hartwell in April this year gave us our best bag of the season so far, but I knew the lake I grew up fishing can break your heart, too!

I decided around 11:30am to head back to the ramp. I had a little more to set up this go round for the tournament and the youth tourney, and figured I would get a head start. It wasn’t long till I had some company - a lot of guys had brought donations for the kids, so we began going through all the baits, rods and reels, a couple tackle boxes, and a big tackle bag for the youth winner. Altogether, there was an entire picnic table running over with prizes, and another table covered with T-shirts from SHObaits.com and OnlineTireDeals.com for all the kids!

Kids Raffle

As guys were coming in, we started checking them in and judging their fish when I got a call. It was Steven, calling to let me know that one of the kids just caught a hawg. He was trying to tell me how big the fish was, but with the bad cell signal, I had to wait for them to come in and let us all know. I was watching and waiting, then I saw Beau Barnette, one of the 4-H Youth members running from the water up to the picnic shelter. It was obvious to everyone that he had been the one to catch the big fish Steven was talking about. I finished up the weigh in and decided to announce the kids’ results and awards first. Only a couple of the kids landed fish, but all said they had lost a few, some right at the boat.

Kids Results

4th place for the Youth Tourney was Kyle Adams, 3rd place was Jeremy Burton, 2nd place went to Colton Wood, and 1st Place with the biggest fish of the day, a healthy 21.5” hawg, was Beau Barnette!

Beau Barnette

Beau Barnette, Youth Tourney Winner

Beau not only got the Bill Dance Plano Tackle Bag, but also received a custom rod made by Randy Crump of Bull Red Rods! These kids made my day, and made my mind up about scheduling a couple of youth-only events for next year.

It was time to pick a winner for the OnlineTireDeals.com “Lure of the Month” prize. Scott Cargile, owner of OnlineTireDeals, has been very supportive of our trail and fished in most of our events this year. We decided to choose the winner as randomly as possible, so Scott called up Beau and asked him to pick a number between 1 and 27, and the winner would be chosen by the order of registration.

Nik Brown

Nik Brown, Winner of the Lure of the Month, with Scott Cargile, Owner of OnlineTireDeals

The winner this month was Nik Brown, and the prize was a sweet swimbait made and painted by one of our other anglers, Tony Yang of Fatback Herring! If you have never seen them, go check them out! Once again, big thanks go out to Scott Cargile for all he has done to make this trail take off! This month’s tournament was a little bigger, so our sponsors stepped up with more support! SHObaits.com (Allen Bullman) decided that gift certificates for the Top Five were in order this time, and Grady’s Great Outdoors came through with a Tortoise weatherproof gear bag for the winner. Those prizes, with the YakAttack “GTLS Trax”, and the BackWater hand paddle, meant great prize packages for all the top finishers!

5th Place - Jamie Swaney - 34.5”. Jamie is a member of the Upstate Kayak Fishing Club. He was awarded a SHObaits.com Gift Certificate. He also tied with a 19” bass for the “Big Fish” award but was short on his second fish by just an inch!

4th Place - Phillip Gentry – 38”. Phillip is a journalist for South Carolina Sportsman Magazine, and after this weekend is an official member of the Upstate Kayak Fishing Club. Phillip was awarded a SHObaits.com gift certificate!

3rd Place - Brad Knight – 50”. Brad has come on strong this year, with a Top Three finish in every tournament he has fished! His take for the day was $108, YakAttack GTLS 4” Gear Trax and SHObaits.com gift certificate. Brad also had The Lake Wylie Bait and Tackle/YakCity.net “Big Fish” Award and the Big Fish Pot of $135!

Brad Knight

Brad Knight- Lake Wylie BIG FISH winner

2nd Place - Frank Sargent - 55.75”. Frank is a member of the Southern Kayak Anglers. He has become a friend to all of us, and is one of those guys who exemplifies what this sport is supposed to be! Frank’s earnings for the day were $162, SHObaits.com Gift Certificate, YakAttack GTSL 8” Gear Trax, and a BackWater hand paddle!

1st Place - Nik Brown – 70”. Nik is a member of the Tennessee Kayak Anglers - that’s right, I said Tennessee! Nik came all the way down to SC, and showed us all how it was done! I can tell you this: after meeting and talking to Nik, he is just one of the guys and is always invited to come down and take our money. Nik proved on a tough day that you can never give up: he was one of the last guys off the water, and was fishing the entire day. Nik’s winnings included $270, YakAttack GTSL 12” Gear Trax, SHObaits.com gift certificate, and Grady’s weatherproof gear bag! Overall, a good pay day for the long ride to SC!

all winners

Nik Brown on top with 1st, from left to right, Frank Sargent-2nd, Brad Knight-3rd, Phillip Gentry-4th, Jamie Swaney-5th

I really have to say “Thank You” to so many for the help with this tournament, from getting the word out about the location change to getting together the donations for prizes for the youth tournament. Everybody involved was just great and so happy to do it! Six different clubs - that is what it’s all about!

Read 3234 times Last modified on Monday, 12 August 2013 20:00