“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
I set a goal in 2017 to achieve Angler of the Year at the IFA Kayak Championship after winning third place at the Hobie Worlds in December of 2016. I received this honor on October 21st, 2017 in Venice, Louisiana among my fellow anglers that I have been competing with the last five years of my participation in the IFA Kayak Tour tournaments. I finally achieved the one recognition that I’ve been directing my energy towards and the question now is “What did it take to win angler of the year?”
2017 Angler of The Year, Matthew VannPosted by IFA Kayak Fishing Tour on Sunday, October 22, 2017
I began this journey fishing in uncharted waters, having little knowledge of the area other than what was shared with me from other anglers as well as scouting on Google maps too because I’m native to Pensacola, Florida. The greatest teacher is experience. I’ve consistently competed in the IFA Louisiana Division the last five years. I’ve witnessed the success of our area’s greatest kayak anglers that fueled my desire to progress in this sport. You have to show up, do your best, and learn from your time on the water.
I’ve learned from direct observation, conversations with competing anglers, as well as hours of scouting over the years within the IFA boundaries the patterns of big bulls and trout depending on the time of year. The greatest asset to my success is my fishing partner of the last five years, Brandon Barton, with whom I can cover twice the terrain while learning from one another what rigging, lures, or rods best serve the conditions. We have learned the migrations of the fish and how the tides affect their feeding patterns and where they are located. Together we have learned what to do and what not to do. First and foremost, timing is everything.
We have to know exactly how long to allot for travel to and from our hotel to where we are launching and how long it will take to unload our gear. The timing to pedal our Hobie MirageDrive Kayaks to where we are fishing as well as the return to our vehicles to load up our gear and return in time to the weigh-in for our aggregate inches of the day. Every one-quarter inch matters at the weigh-in and I have lost with the same number of inches as my competitors because I arrived later at the weigh-in and I have won because I arrived back first.
Now, I know the gravity of the choice to stay on the water to upgrade my fish, or am I satisfied with the number of inches to head back to the weigh-in. I base my decision depending on where I am on the leaderboard, how many inches I am ahead or behind my other competitors, who is on the leaderboard with me and are they experienced in the IFA, as well as countless other choices that I rely on my gut instinct if I should stay or get off the water. I tend to thrive in adverse weather conditions and there are numerous experiences in the IFA where I have fished with winds blowing at 30 mph, torrential rain, and huge waves. We joke that if you want a severe thunderstorm, schedule an IFA tournament.
Secondly, consistency is key. In order to compete in the IFA championship for Angler of the Year, one must win Angler of the Year for their Regional Division with the total points received based on two qualifying tournament finishes. There are five regional divisions in the IFA: Florida East, Florida West, Atlantic, Louisiana, and Texas. I placed fifth in the first regional event in Hopedale, LA and won Big Trout in April, 2017. I placed 2nd in the regional event in Houma, LA in August, 2017. At that event, I received the 2017 Louisiana Regional Angler of the Year with two consistent wins based on my two finishes in the top five. The IFA rewards one angler in each division with the opportunity to compete for National Angler of the Year at the championship. This award is the most sought after recognition among kayak anglers on the tour because it honors consistency with results.
In the bigger picture, my consistency in fishing the tournaments over the last 5 years provided me with the knowledge and experience to gain the confidence to know I can produce results. I am grateful to my fellow anglers for their encouragement, insight, and inspiration. We are individuals on the water but we are one big family. The journey continues but what a way to close the 2017 tournament season!
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