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When I started fishing tournaments, I dove in head first, driving to every one I could reach from Georgia to Texas. I was eager to compete and learn new areas. Many times I went in blind, without a clue as to where I would fish or what lures to use.

I found myself sleeping at boat launches in my truck and hanging around local tackle shops hoping to get any information I could. I did what I had to do to make it to the tournaments. It wasn’t glamorous but it was an exciting adventure and I have met some great people along the way. I didn’t always do well but competed and learned something from every tournament I fished even if it was what not to do.

More than any others, I hear two concerns from anglers considering tournament fishing. They don’t know the areas or feel they can’t compete against the pros. My suggestion is to throw yourself out there. You won’t learn an area or know your capabilities until you put yourself in that position.

At my first tournament, the Jacksonville Kayak Fishing Classic, I remember looking at the anglers in their team shirts and wondering how I could get there. It was intimidating since I had driven six hours not knowing a soul there. Here were these established kayak anglers who looked and talked like they meant business.

I know I can catch fish but now I had a time limit to catch the best of three different saltwater flat species. I ended up with a flounder that placed and thought it was the greatest feeling ever. It got me going and hungry to do better.

Since then I’ve found several strategies that work for me. I hope they can work for you as well.

One of the most important is finding a fishing / travel partner that you trust. The first person I met when fishing Louisiana was Brendan Bayard. I owe a great bit of my success to him. He taught me several skills necessary for fishing Louisiana waters. With a partner you can split up to cover more areas during pre-fishing, to discover where the fish are and what is working. At the end of the day sit down and compare notes and stories. What colors were working? Where and when did the bite turn on in different areas for each species? Sharing information is huge when it comes down to where to start your tournament day and how to prepare your gear. Our game plans are not always the same but we both base our tournament day off information from each other.

Next, prepare for your tournament day before you get to the launch. When I tie my leaders and lures on the night before I think of all the obstacles I could have thrown at me and what I need to be ready for. If you are prepared for clean water on a calm sunny day the water will be dirty with storms blowing in.

I usually start with four rods as I am usually fishing inshore tournaments in relatively shallow water. One with a soft plastic on a jig head, one with a topwater, one with a suspending bait, and one I call my mystery rod. I tied a Tactical Anglers Power Clip onto my mystery rod allowing me to swap out lures quickly as I see a need for a change or lose a lure on one of my other rods. These lure selections give me the ability to fish all the water columns throughout the day. Stick with what you have confidence in when it comes to lure colors and selection.

Pick a tournament that suits your strengths. If you are new to fishing you may not want to start off traveling to one of the professional tournaments. Find a local tournament that allows you to fish a species you are good at and in familiar waters. There are so many tournaments out there it will be easy to do. You can build your confidence where you are most comfortable.

Make test runs in the same tidal conditions weeks before to find what works and what doesn’t. Keep a log as you fish, working up to tournament day. Keep track of the tides, what the weather was doing, and where you found fish.

Organization is a must when fishing tournaments. Time is crucial. I don’t waste a minute. I tether everything I need to my kayak. Small details save valuable fishing time. They can be the difference between finishing on the podium or just a day of fishing. I use snips attached to my PFD for easy retying of my lures. Tacklewebs makes great bags for keeping everything from water bottles to pliers handy and out of the way. I separate lures and jigs into Plano waterproof boxes so I know what is where at a glance. I keep all topwaters in one box and suspending baits in another. I keep one box with nothing but jig heads and leader material ready to go.

I keep all this stashed away in the Hobie® H-Crate right behind me. The H-Crate allows me to keep all the lure boxes and rods safely stashed. It also gives me the capability of carrying extra rods when needed. My kayak of choice for tournament fishing is the Hobie Outback. It is easy to handle when launching and loading as I jump fishing spots a lot. There is more than enough room for all my gear. It is stable enough for me to stand when sight casting.

No matter how your day turns out remember to stay calm on the water. I’ve lost count of the days I have had to stop and just put my rod down for minute and relax. I can’t worry about what everyone else is doing. I fish what I know and hope for the best. I get so worked up that I forget to enjoy why I am out there. At the end of the day it’s fishing. No matter how prepared you are anyone can make that one cast and be on top. So go and enjoy the day and the fellowship tournaments bring but most of all have fun. Isn’t that why we are all kayak fishing?

Check back weekly for new videos and stories by the 2016 Hobie Fishing Top Guns.