Thursday, April 7, 2016
Blog #8 "Road to the Championship" ...KBF National Championship
I recently returned from the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship and man was it an experience. 230 of the best kayak anglers meeting on one of the greatest big bass lakes in the nation to see who is the best.
Congratulations to Matt Ball from Mountain States Kayak Anglers in West Virginia on the win and his $32,000 prize and also to my great friend, Clint Henderson of Reel Krazy here in Rome on his second place and almost $10,000 prize. Also, Rok Ly on his beast of a bass that was the overall big fish of the tournament. I can say that their catches, in the conditions we had was truly amazing. What a feat and my hat goes off to everyone that competed in the wind and cold weather.
My journey had started several months prior to the March 19, 20 tournament dates with me fishing as many different lakes as possible in any condition that mother nature had to offer. I had fished in rain, cold, wind and snow to prepare so when I arrived in Paris Tn a week prior to the tournament I was a stronger paddler and mentally prepared to face whatever weather I was dealt.
I had a plan that consisted of 3 areas...2 in Kentucky lake and one on Lake Barkley, I had 6 days to figure something out...the low muddy water conditions threw me a curve ball and I hadn't seen a big fish all week. On Friday, my last day of practice I happened upon a spot by chance...a big flock of white pelicans had roosted on a small island adjacent to the river channel. I paddled out to take a closer look and noticed that one side the sand bar dropped steeply into 20' of water. I grabbed a rod and threw a swimbait which immediately got bit. Although I lost the fish I did get it up to my kayak and it was a very nice fish in the 20+ inch range. I thought all evening and although the area wasn't one of the three that I had thoroughly prefished...I went with my gut and decided that the sandbar was my spot since it held the only big fish I had seen all week. There was one drawback with this spot..it didn't offer much diversity, either the fish were there or they weren't. The surrounding area had been fruitless and if the fish had moved out I'd be in a frantic search mode which is not what you want on tournament day.
Friday night was spent at the captain's meeting and at the house that 8 of us kayak fishermen from Georgia/Reel Krazy Kayak Tour had rented. Everyone was in preparation mode. Talk of "non specific" areas, lures, strategies and big fish was constantly in the air. I've never seen a room filled with as much passion as that night in the house. We all wanted someone from Reel Krazy to win...preferably ourselves but any of our buddies would be awesome. After I had tied on my lures and checked my tackle I had to attend to my weather beaten hands. A week's worth of constant wind, wetting then drying due to paddling had caused my hands to crack in numerous places. I'd had them crack before but never like this. The only solution I could come up with was to super glue the wounds. It probably wasn't the best thing to do but it eased the pain which also cleared my mind. I was ready for Saturday morning.
I awoke to frost and a very strong north wind, drove to my launch site at 0530 and was surprised to find a vehicle with a couple of tournament anglers waiting for legal fishing time. I also noticed that their Kayaks were still loaded in the back of their truck. With very little conversation I unloaded my Jackson Big Rig and launched into the darkness.
I could hear the wind but the bay I launched in ran east/West which sheltered it from the 30 mile per hour north winds that I was soon to meet. As I left the main lake point and headed across the 100 yard stretch of open water towards my little island I encountered 2-3' white caps and the most brutal winds that I had ever paddled in. The only thing to do was slightly angle towards the island while facing the wind....duck my head down and paddle my butt off in an attempt to ferry myself across the opening. Normally a 100 yard paddle would take 5 minutes...in those conditions, it took 30 minutes and that was paddling as technically perfect as I could at an all out balls to the wall pace. Once I reached the sand bar I thought, "it will be impossible to fish from my Kayak out here", I was sure my anchor wouldn't hold and it would take constant paddling to stay in that area. I remembered from the captain's meeting that the rules stated that we could fish from the bank as long as our boat was in sight, I pulled up the rules on my phone to verify and there it was, verifying that what I had heard was right. I have never went out in my Kayak only to fish off of the bank but in this case the rules were working in my favor so I beached my Big Rig and waited on 0630, official start time of the 2016 KBF National Championship.
Like clockwork, I was rearing back to cast when 0630 hit. I started out with a crankbait and threw it for an hour with no bites then swapped over to a 6" swim bait. With the wind howling out of the North and me casting with it towards the south I had to be careful "not" to spool my reel...I was making two handed casts reminiscent of those Eastern shore blue and rock fishermen except with a touch of Happy Gilmore added in. It was fun just making those casts but at 0845, I got bit. A very nice 20" largemouth bass caught, photographed and released. My plan had payed off for day one of the tournament. At days end I had 35.75" in my two biggest fish and was sitting in 18th place out of 230 but what was even more amazing is the top 25 was separated by only 4"... I was 3.25" out of the lead. I had caught 3 fish off of that sand spit that day and had a very large fish get off due to me worrying about the wind instead of fishing. I was pleased with my day but i did realize certain mistakes i had made and set forth correcting those for Sunday. Back at the tournament headquarters there were many stories about fighting the wind and the loss of some amazing fish. This tournament was going to come down to the wire.
Going into day two, it was anybody's game.
On Sunday I was determined to be the first one at my spot, I knew some others were fishing the area and I feared someone would beat me to it. I got up at 0300 and drove to the launch. I was indeed the first one there but I didn't wait on anyone to show up. I immediately unloaded my Kayak and paddled out under a full moon. The wind wasn't as bad as the day before but it was colder and the wind had shifted from the north to a due west flow...changing things I would eventually find out. I reached the island, beached my kayak, set the alarm on my phone to 0625, found a comfortable spot amongst some buckbrush and went to sleep. I woke to one of the most memorable sunrises that I can remember and started fishing. I tried everything in my box from 0630 until noon when I caught my first bass. It wasn't a big one but it gave me some confidence. The bite was slow...I don't know if the fish had moved overnight or if the change in wind and temperature had shut the big fish bite down but at the end of the day I had 3 fish limit totaling only 42.25", my overall total was 78" which placed me out of the money in 51st place. Not where I wanted to be but definitely not as low as I may have placed if I hadn't went to check out those pelicans.
At the weigh in all of us from Reel Krazy stayed to watch Clint get his big prize, talk to new and old friends and celebrate with our good friend and his precious family on his amazing finish.
...Clint asked me before we left, "When do you want to start preparing for the next KBF National Championship?", Tomorrow, "I answered."...If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. Thank god for little plastic boats, Peace