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Introduction:
Whether you are new to kayak fishing, or an experienced kayak angler looking to test your skill, kayak tournaments are a fun and inexpensive way to spend a weekend. This article will help new and experienced kayak anglers alike, who are considering entering their first kayak tournament. As a new competitor, it can be difficult to know what to expect when entering a new event, this article will provide an overview of what you can expect, how you can prepare, what the rules are, and where to start. Kayak fishing is becoming more popular every year, as the community of kayak anglers expands, so do the local and national kayak tournaments. From local bass tournaments to deepwater events like Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament, kayak competitions cover both freshwater and saltwater, and include a range of target species. If tournament fishing is something you want to try, do some research, there is probably an event for your preferred style of fishing.

Getting Started:
Whenever you enter a competition, the first thing you should ask yourself is: what are you trying to get out of it? Is this a fun activity to spice up your favorite hobby? Or are you expecting something more serious? Setting you expectations is essential to having a good first experience with anything new, and tournament fishing is no exception.
I wasn’t expecting to get hooked on tournament fishing, but thought it might be a good way to learn, and an opportunity to meet more like-minded anglers. When I first started, the tournaments were all about meeting up with the group, pooling some cash, then coming together at the end to see who had won with the best catch. Kayakers are a great community of people, and we’d end the day with an evening of laughs, stories and great food. It didn’t take long before I got the itch, and began looking for bigger tournaments with harder competition. Now I compete both locally, regionally, and nationally to find new challenges.

Local and Virtual Competition:
Local kayak bass fishing tournaments are easy to find, with new ones popping up all over the country all the time. Although not all groups promote through social media, a quick Facebook and Google search are often the easiest ways to find local competitions. If there is not tournament series in your area, an innovative company called KBF (Kayak Bass Fishing) holds online tournaments which allow people to compete against one another in online competitions. These competitions are usually limited to a certain state, but multi-state and overnight events are also held online. Online competition opens up many opportunities, letting you compete and fish at your pleasure, while cutting down on traveling costs often associated with tournaments. This low pressure competition allows you to hone your craft in a low pressure environment, and can help you prepare for larger competitions.
Virtual and in person tournaments alike often use apps for online photo submissions and judging, most groups use these, however some still reserve judging for after the tournament. Most, (if not all) kayak bass tournaments are catch, photo, and release competitions (CPR); and for good reason, more fisherman means more fish are being taken each year, depleting the reproductive gene pool in our favorite waters. Catch, photo, release tournaments ensure there will be larger schools and bigger fish year after year. The morning of the tournament, you will be given an identifier to place near your catch pictures, this allows judges to know that fish were caught for this specific event, and helps eliminate cheating. Rules vary from event to event and from state to state, new rules are coming out all the time to combat potential cheaters (kayak fishing is still a small community...don’t be that guy).

Required Equipment:
You may be wondering what to bring to your first kayak tournament, this is an important part of minimizing the stress of your first event. The most important tools you will need while in a kayak fishing tournament are a PFD (Personal Flotation Device), your boat, and your rod. Next, you will need a Hawg Trough to measure your catch. It is important that all raised lines are highlighted with a black felt tip pen for easier judging, as many events will disqualify fish entries without measurement lines clearly marked.

Hawg Trough Tips:
A few tips for using a Hawg Trough, practice, practice, practice... Just like the pros, you’ll have fish get free and flop back into the water, it’s frustrating but part of the game. Don’t let it ruin your day, focus on the next fish, and how to control it better the next time. One important thing to note is to ALWAYS dip your Hawg Trough in the water before placing the fish on it. The water will cool off the surface, so the fish doesn’t begin to panic and flop on the hot, sun soaked plastic. Keeping things comfortable for the bass, and your photo. There are some basic guidelines when first photographing fish on a Hawg Trough.
  1. The fish should have its mouth closed, points can and will be deducted in most cases.
  2. Keep hands free from gill plates.
  3. Make sure the fishes eye is visible.
  4. Make sure to have identifier clearly identifiable in picture. Do not place the identifier directly on top of fish. I like to keep the identifier on my left wrist so it’s near the fish when I’m holding it still. This is not necessary as long as the identifier is visible in the frame. ​
Tackle:
Another important consideration for any tournament is what tackle to bring. I recommend bringing what you are comfortable carrying on your boat, it’s all personal preference. Arriving at a location a day early will allow you to pre-fish the area, and can help limit the tackle you need to bring. Pre-fishing an area doesn’t always help as conditions can change drastically overnight, driving fish to deeper or shallower water. Fish are not always creatures of habit and can change feeding habits quickly as seasons and available prey change. What worked a few days ago might not cut it the day of the tournament. One lesson I learned early is to come to the event prepared, but limit your tackle the morning of based on the specific conditions. It’s better to have more than you need than to not have enough, but you’ll only catch fish if your line is in the water! The temptation to find the perfect lure may hurt your chances at success.

Rod Choice:
Your choice of rods, and number of rods all comes down to how you fish. I have fished tournaments with anywhere two rods all the way to eight. Although you may be laughing at the thought of this, asking yourself “EIGHT RODS! REALLY?” The answer is yes, it all goes back to preparing for the conditions. Some days you have no idea what you are going to do or how the fish will behave, on these days, bringing more gear is a way to cover all your bases. After a few tournaments, you will get comfortable and understand what works best for you and your style of fishing.

Optional Equipment:
One piece of optional equipment is a net for landing your catch. A net is not something everyone uses, however, it’s a good habit to get into. Many tournaments have been lost by trying to land a fish...the hook shakes and your biggest catch of the day disappears into the blue with a shake of its tail. As sportsmen and women, it is our responsibility to care for the waterways we use, this includes treating the flora and fauna with respect. This is another great reason to use a net, it puts a lot less stress on the fish; allowing the bass to rest in the water instead of flopping on the hot, dry deck of your kayak while you get ready to take a photo of the fish. Letting your catch rest in the water allows the fish to continue to breathe, this keeps the fish calmer as you snap a picture of your trophy. Pro Tip: I highly recommend a rubber coated net, these won’t waste your time trying to dig barbed hooks free of the nylon.
Another item which can improve your performance in tournaments is a trolling motor. This is a new addition to kayak fishing, as motors have only been allowed in kayak tournaments very recently. Fortunately, this means there aren’t many competitors who have made the investment yet, making it a great way to gain an advantage. I find trolling motors useful for saving energy on long days of paddling, especially when fishing offshore. They can save you time by allowing you to travel between locations while switching lures, they allow you to correct your position without awkwardly juggling your paddle and rod, and they let you hold your position in currents and winds. Trolling motors such as the Newport Vessels Kayak Series are specifically designed for use with kayaks, are ideal for this. The Kayak Trolling Motor options from Newport Vessels are offered in 36lb and 55lbs of thrust, and are the best kayak trolling motor currently available on the market.

Personal Preparation:
When preparing for a kayak tournament, don’t forget to take care of yourself. This may sound like common sense, but the excitement of an event makes it easy to forget your routine. You won’t have fun if you end up getting sunburned, eaten alive by bugs, or have a grumbling stomach all day. Remember to stay hydrated, bring enough snacks, and a trash bag for your wrappers. I always bring a water bottle, an electrolyte sports drink, and a jar of peanut butter to keep me fueled and whipping casts all day long. Getting a headache on the water from low blood sugar will quickly take the fun out of the experience. Pro Tip: Make a list of everything you need, and check it off before you leave for the tournament. My list always includes items like snacks, drinks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses (with Croakies), phone, waterproof bags, trash bag, a small first aid kit, multi tool, and a few other personal items.

Final Thoughts:
Well there you have it, hopefully the idea of entering your first kayak tournament isn’t nearly as intimidating now! Have fun trying to sleep the night before, I still struggle to sleep even after years and numerous tournaments. I toss and turn all night before an event! Be sure to eat something the morning of, it helps calm your nerves, focus your energy on the day ahead and avoid headaches. Always budget plenty of time to unload and setup your gear, check in at event registration, and find parking. Doing this is a simple way to make sure you are not rushed and distracted as you prepare your boat for a day long tournament. With most tournaments, you are permitted to start fishing at safe light, and allow you to fish for six to eight hours before you have to check in at the end of the day. If for any reason, you leave a tournament early, always notify tournament organizers! Otherwise a search party will be sent out fearing the worst!
Last, it’s important to note that if you don’t have the latest and greatest kayak or gear, that’s okay. The coolest looking stuff doesn’t help you catch fish, just enjoy yourself and remember why you are there, whether it’s to have fun, to learn, meet new people, or start a career! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get to know your fellow competitors, kayak anglers are a special breed and they love helping a new guy get hooked! Be humble, be curious, learn a lot, and have fun.

You're friend,
William Pfingst

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