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Get a kayak, put it in the water, find a tournament and go fish…

When you reduce it down to just a few words that is the essence of it. But between that first word and the last is a ‘yak load of details and the Devil, I’ve been told is in the details. So let’s get into it at the start of my own journey into Kayaks and Kayak Tournament fishing.

First a caveat; this is not meant to be a tech heavy or brand based article. But more about the basics of this recreational sport. What you might expect and what others who have jumped in have to say about it. 

After a two decade plus absence from fishing I returned to the banks re-igniting my passion and love of angling. But despite the joy, wonder and warm nostalgia I was experiencing that first season back, something was missing. That is until a chance meeting on a boat launch with a kayak angler changed everything.

I put down my rod and watched as he set up his rig. I marveled at this wondrous vessel, captivated as I watched him load rods and bait boxes into crates and holders with a practiced ease. We greeted each other as fishermen do and as fishermen do we began talking about fishing.

Forty minutes later we remembered why we brought rods and got back to the business of fishing. That chance meeting would grow into a friendship and my entry into the world of Kayak Tournament Fishing.

Let’s get down to it with the Why, What, Where and How;

Justin Lacasse of NE Kayak Fishing TV says, “Kayak fishing to me is like that nature trail on the edge of city limits. You are still surrounded by so much but in that moment you are really so secluded and focused on yourself.”

Kayak fishing brings with it a sense of freedom that goes beyond the constraints of bank fishing. Don’t get me wrong, I still love beating a bank once in a while but having the ability to get to whatever part of a body of water you wish is akin to getting the keys to the kingdom.

“…fishing takes me away from a high revving, stressful everyday professional life,” says kayak angler Lloyd Castillo.

A feeling echoed by Lloyd’s fishing buddy Anthony Davila, “I got into kayak fishing to help clear my mind from the everyday stress of my job.”

I’ve heard some say the water is where they go to work out all kinds of life issues and problems. In my own case it’s very much the opposite. Time in the yak is my time to empty my mind and soul of life’s hurdles and fill back up again with a harmony gained by being out in God’s country enjoying the natural beauty all around.

All that being said there is a pragmatist’s side to all this; I kayak fish to CATCH MORE FISH.

And boy, do I ever! Let’s face it, there’s plenty of great aspects surrounding fishing but without that catch at the end of your line you’re basically sunbathing. Walking a bank limits you to a fraction of any body of water. But slide that yak into the water and suddenly you gain access to a whole new world of access and hidey holes, deep water bass and shallow creeks never accessible before.

Best part? It’s fun. Really really fun!

By nature I am a competitive person. Competition helps me to set goals, having a target to shoot for. Pushes me to learn everything I can to be better. But there’s a much bigger, maybe more important reason to get into kayak tournament fishing as stated by Justin Lacasse…

“Kayak tournaments are the latest and greatest, great for both the anglers and the environment. Although you are competing for lots of cash and bragging rights for whatever reason, everyone in this community wants to see the next guy succeed. It’s like a giant family.”

It is my competitive self that cemented the decision to try kayak tournament fishing but it is the community that has lit me up and kept me in. If you open yourself up to it you join a community that offers comradery, a place to learn and to teach, and a step into a much bigger fishing world.

Okay, you’re in! What’s next? Well, for me it was choosing a kayak. This is no easy feat as the boom in kayak angling has reverberated across the world and so has the market place. The choice, range and remarkable diversity of today’s kayaks is vast and overwhelming.

I did what most of us do when looking for, well almost anything. I went straight online. Now I’m not going to tell you not to do your research online but I will caution against asking, “What’s the best blank for blank? and go…” The replies will number in the hundreds with as many differing opinions. This attempt at clarity often muddies the waters further.

I decided to set myself a budget. I set that budget low as I’m mostly a kinesthetic learner. I learn by doing. That’s right, I don’t know it’s hot until I stick my finger in the flame. I wanted something that didn’t need a trailer, that could fit atop my truck roof. I wanted ease of handling in and out of the water. I wanted something simple from which to build upon until I learned what I didn’t know that I didn’t know about kayaks and tournaments.

The internet helped me decide on the type of kayak that was within my budget and preferences. Travelling to several shops to touch and “feel” different craft cemented my choice.

If you have access to others with kayaks or can get to shops or shows that will allow you to demo kayaks I strongly urge you to do so. At the time I did not realize how much resource I had so near to me. Kayaks can be a very personal choice based on wants, needs, budget and purpose.

John Kleber, kayak angler who also fishes tournaments says, “I have been fishing for 40+ years, primarily from a row boat or canoe. The thought of buying a kayak appealed to me because as I get older I still want to get out on the water and wanted a vessel that was comfortable but manageable for one person.”

Having fished in my kayak for a full season now I have a much better idea of the direction I want to go. Which does not mean I’ll be upgrading for this next season but I have a solid set of must haves on my list now.

Admittedly I did have a big advantage in where to go for tournament info and clubs as that angler I met on the dock that fateful morning is an Angler of the Year winner 2 years running and the Co-Founder of a local Kayak Bass Fishing Club. A club and tournament trail he was about to start up of which I became a Founding Board Member.

Before joining, I knew nothing of the incredible array and number of kayak clubs and trails that abound in every state. If you live within a hundred miles of a body of water you’re likely to find a kayak fishing club, group or community nearby. So far, whether it be online or in person I have yet to find one that is not welcoming and helpful.

Obviously, through sheer convenience and exposure finding communities online is a great place to start but not the only one. Local tackle shops are a treasure trove of information for local fishing communities. Talk to the staff, ask questions. Any shop worth its salt will be in touch with the fishing community. And don’t be shy about asking other anglers there picking up bait and tackle. I can’t think of a single angler I’ve ever met that didn’t want to talk about fishing short of giving away his or her favorite honey hole.

My favorite place to talk to anglers about kayak fishing and tournaments? At, on or near the water. I am constantly approached by people and asked about my kayak set up and kayak fishing. Like most of us I relish the opportunity to talk about this passion of ours. Through meetings much like the one that started me on my kayak tournament journey I have met and helped others to also take the leap and try kayak tournament fishing.

If you’re truly new to all this don’t be shy. Say hi and ask those questions. It’s called a community for a reason. Let us show you all the great things about it.

If a full on tournament setting seems daunting to you check out TournieX pro, an online app for kayak fishing tournaments. There you will find state and local tournaments including month long events where you choose the body of water you are familiar with and can fish and compete at your leisure.

Let’s see… We got the yak, we’ve chosen a body of water and even spoken to some local kayak anglers. Time to get on the water. But NOT before you find, buy and put on a quality Personal Flotation Device or PFD as it’s more commonly called. PFDs are mandatory in kayak tournaments and I haven’t yet heard a good enough reason to not wear one.

Okay, full disclosure; I love kayak angling and tournament fishing. In season I get out on the water every chance I can. A few days without paddling a yak and casting a line and I’m going through withdrawals.  But the first few times I spent time fishing in my kayak I was miserable, disappointed and thinking I had made a very bad decision.

Everything seemed wrong. After a very successful season of bank fishing I suddenly found myself unable to get a bite, let alone land a fish. I couldn’t reach into the crate behind me which made changing baits near impossible. My tackle bag ended up being too far in front for me to reach in my sit in. I was continuously fumbling with my paddle when casting and as my friends can attest I have left quite a few lures in the trees. I am now and forever shall be known as The Tree King. I am not making this up.

My first tournament was abysmal, mainly because I just felt that I had no business being in a kayak. And herein lies the importance of community. I had people around to help, teach and encourage me. But there’s a caveat; Help comes to those who help themselves.

I scoured the net for customizing ideas that would suit my 10.5’ little yak. It became an issue of scaling down to give me more. I found a small half size crate that would allow me to reach around easily for things like baits, nourishment, extra gear and clothing.

Next I replaced my big tackle bag with a much smaller bag that holds four bait boxes and plenty of zippered compartments for tools, plastics and a stogie or two. The bag fits neatly under the cockpit right in front of me. It is out of the way until needed and easy to get to.

I also added two rod holders to the factory installed flush mounts so that I could carry four rods on board. To round this all out are cleats to tie on to wherever I need and paddle clamps to keep the paddle close but out of the way.

Oh, tethers are your friend. Trust me. I tether my paddles and my phone. Remember when I told you I am a kinesthetic learner? Yeah… Became a believer in tethers after I lost my phone to one of my favorite lakes.

While bank fishing is a wonderful way to spend a day it can limit your skillset. You have only so many place to cast from and to, so options remain limited. Once on the water in a kayak the options are far greater and wider which also means more places that the fish may not be as well as where they are.

For me it was first a matter of almost re-learning how to cast. I was in a seated position very close to the water. Side arm casting became my best technique and it took me a while to break the tendency to slap water when casting with the rod tip too low. Practice, practice, practice. Put in the time and I promise you’ll be rewarded for it.

Your choice of craft can also influence your rod choices. As I can only comfortably carry four rods I choose to go with a Med/Lt, 2 Med and a Med/Hvy. I like Fast Action, all around the 7 foot mark as it helps with casting distance and accuracy from a seated position.

I know we’ve all said it and heard it before but… Be patient.

Watch the more experienced and ask questions. Be open to the experience of others.

AoY Rich Biggie offers this bit of advice;

“Game plan/Mental aspect are major factors. We don’t have boats that can go 40mph and cover big lakes. So I personally always have plan A, B, and C prior to a tournament with a coverage area of a 6-8 mile radius. Any more takes a lot of tournament time you’re not fishing.”

I would add that you use the time as efficiently as possible. Learn as much as you can about the body of water you are on. Look for all the obvious markers such as laydowns, grass, structure, etc… Use search baits and lures that can help cover water.

Pro Angler Gerald Swindle once said, “Don’t just fish a good spot. Fish a spot really good.” I repeat that to myself often while competing.

Most important for me is about enjoying every aspect of Kayak Tournament Angling from set up to take down. I enjoy studying the sport, the banter between anglers and the trash talk. Seeing what others have done to their rigs and learning new tricks and finding cool new gear.

In my first year of Kayak Tournament Fishing I somehow managed to qualify and compete in the Northeast Big Bass Challenge Championship. It was an amazing experience but one made infinitely better as I shared the experience with a club mate, Matt Rivera who in fact won the Championship. Had we not both qualified and made the road trip together I might not have ventured three states away to meet up with a bunch of strangers on an unknown body of water.

But that’s the thing. We are, all of us not so much strangers as we share a passion for something that is based in tradition and passed from generation to generation. At the heart of all of this, and that thing that drives me back to the water time and time again is that love of fishing and the great outdoors that connects us to each other and to simpler times.

I want to leave you with this piece of advice given to us by the great legend Bill Dance, and taught me a most valuable lesson; don’t take it all too seriously, don’t forget to have fun.

“Make a cast and reel it back. Then make another cast and reel it back, That’s real important.”

Tight lines,

Eric J - Elysian Fishing Pro Team Member