Sure enough, a nice fat largemouth bass was netted and in my kayak without much effort. Now all I had to do was put him on the measuring board and get a picture. Piece of cake, right? I’ve seen so many guys online post up pics, so it can’t be that hard, right? Pfffft. I should have known better.
Somewhere in the process of measuring that nice 20” largemouth, things went south as I fumbled for my camera and the tournament identifier. In the blink of an eye Mr. Hawg worked his slimy way out of my hand, off the board, and over the edge of my kayak, never to be seen again. I was in shock as I just sat there watching the ripples in the water fade. I had struggled just to find the first fish that morning and finally having one in my lap, only to have it escape, had me feeling as if I had just been kicked in the gut. Sadly, the rest of the day produced a couple of small bass, but no big ones like the one that had gotten away. When the sun set that summer evening, I was determined to do better next time.
Every day - no, scratch that - every minute the sport of kayak fishing is growing and new kayak anglers are entering the fold. Everyone does it for their own reasons, whether that is to just get out on some local ponds to catch bluegill, or to paddle offshore in search of a blue marlin. At some point, almost every kayak angler comes across an opportunity to enter a kayak fishing tournament and they have to decide if a tournament is for them. Many rookies, like myself four years ago, forego tournaments because they are unsure of what to expect or how to prepare. Others simply feel that they are not the same level of angler as others who might be competing. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Kayak fishing tournaments are not like your typical motor boat bass fishing tournament - at least in my experience. Kayak anglers seem to be more open to helping others compete, catch fish, and have a good time. For many, it’s more about the camaraderie than it is the competition. It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing from a $200 department store kayak or the latest and greatest ride available; most guys/gals will treat you like an equal. You can expect to be welcomed aboard and made to feel comfortable the minute you step up to the registration table. Everyone is helpful and more than happy to ask questions, so ask away!
I asked my friend AJ McWhorter, Hobie Fishing Team member and one of the founding directors of the Bluegrass Yakmasters, what he felt was the most common mistake made by first time kayak tournament participants. He had this to say after his several years of experience planning, participating and sometimes winning tournaments:
“With kayak fishing tournaments growing in popularity, there is a large number of first-time participants. While every series or tournament is different and has a different set of rules, the biggest mistakes I see by newcomers is not being aware of the unique format of Catch-Photo-Release (CPR) kayak tournaments and the rules of the specific event they fish in. Anglers should always first understand the rules and format of their specific event. Don’t be afraid to ask your tournament director questions - they are there to help. Also, newcomers are often unaware and pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie that often overshadows the competition at kayak tournaments, often leading to special memories and bonds between anglers no matter the results of the event.”
Another thing to consider prior to fishing a tournament is how much you should plan ahead. Many newbies underestimate how much this increases your chances of placing higher on the leaderboard at the end of the tournament. AJ had some more advice for bettering your chances of a better tournament finish:
“Anglers should familiarize themselves ahead of time with the waters they will be fishing, especially if they are unable to pre-fish. Lake maps and Navionics are a huge help in breaking down large bodies of water to accommodate a kayak. If an angler can pre-fish, I suggest they practice the CPR format, so they are comfortable with that come tournament day and can turn in quality pictures without penalty. But also to be careful not to catch too many of the fish they aim to catch for their event. I also suggest to try a variety of kayak fishing events, fish different series and try to make some of the larger national events to really showcase what the kayak tournament scene encompasses.”
I know advice like AJ’s helped me when it came time to fish my second kayak fishing tournament, and first live tournament, the 2014 KFGL NO-MO event held in southeast Michigan. By studying lake maps, depth charts, reading reports from other anglers, and making up my mind ahead of time to just have fun, I was able to have a fantastic time and ended up with a finish I was quite happy with.
When all is said and done, all one needs to compete in a tournament is the right attitude, a little bit of planning, and patience. Have fun, meet some new friends, and do what we all love… go fishing!