Last year my brother Caleb and I fished the Hobie Bass Open in May. It had been tough going trying to dissect Kentucky and Barkley Lakes for the first time. We vowed to return this year in June and make a run for the Hobie Worlds qualifying spot or the money.
The 2016 Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship at Kentucky Lake was another opportunity to scout the lake and capitalize on what we learned last year. Soon enough we are on our way from my home on Camp Creek to Paris, Tennessee.
We spend days and hours researching. We check annual reports, trace maps and watch countless videos. Our plan is to select a chunk of the lake and spend our pre-fishing time breaking it down. It doesn’t take long to figure out both a shallow and a deep pattern.
For once, our premeditated spots hold hungry fish. Before the sun is halfway across the sky, we’ both catch a limit of very nice bass. Our bigger fish are holding offshore. We locate a couple productive areas, mark them and let them be.
The next day Caleb is checking some spots and finds a very nice area holding big fish. He lands two smallmouth going 21 and 22 inches. Both are personal bests.
In little time, we both catch five-fish limits exceeding 100 inches. It’s a dream moment. We exchange slimy high-fives. After a handful of ‘last casts’ we move off the area, saving its treasures for game day. As the tournament weekend approaches our confidence soars. We spend the last day of pre-fishing checking some new spots without much luck.
I lay half-awake in the tent that night, a bit of brown beer in my belly and bit of big bass dreaming in my heart. I sleep deeply until 430 am, when a graying gym teacher wakes us with more zest than I can ever imagine mustering at that hour. An hour later, we are launching into a very cold breeze. As usual, the dawn of tournament day brings a cold front. The temperature drops 20 degrees and the wind gusts to 35 mph on the main lake.
As we approach a bridge on the main lake, the wind howling one way, the current going the other, we hear a roar and look behind us to see a herd of glitter sleds approaching at mach speed. It’s crazy. We tuck behind a jetty, catching our collective breaths instead of fish. One sore glance in the direction of our fishing spots reveals three foot rollers and raging wind gusts. We take a lengthy pedal to a protected area and spread out only to find what looks like a small kayak fishing community on the edge of the lake. Anglers had pulled their kayaks onto the bank. A whole gang of guys are slinging umbrella rigs. We head back for the marina, another long voyage into the wind. At the marina, the same scene looms.
There are kayaks and bass boats following each other in circles. Caleb breaks at that point and turns towards the ramp. It looks like we were on the descending side of the roller coaster ride. We had been in position to catch winning fish and the weather had her way with us.
In desperation, I tie on a finesse jig, fall in behind a bass boat and begin making token flips to the rip-rap. A few casts in and the water swirls around my sinking jig. I set the hook like a mad man and an 18.5-inch bass hurtles out of the water. It reminds me of when I finally had a good bite at the Hobie Bass Open months earlier on the lake. Things can change in a minute.
I yell at the bass boat duo busy tying on finesse jigs and ask them for the time. I have 30 minutes before check-in. I pedal as fast I can back to the ramp. A quick pitch to the dock and I feel a twitch. I hammer back and a dink 13.5-inch bass joins me aboard the” Mirage® Pro Angler. I have my two fish limit and I’m in a rush, yelling at Caleb and throwing my gear in the back of the truck with disregard. I check in at 2:59 with a half a minute to spare. I am sitting in 54th place out of 231 pre-qualified anglers. I’m still in it.
I learn once again to never give up, no matter what mother nature throws at you. I utilize the advantages of my Pro Angler to fish areas that other kayaks cannot. I learn again how crucial it is to have different patterns to turn to if the weather changes dramatically.
The next day’s sunrise is a work of art. The skyline is stormy blues giving way to wine reds. Fiery oranges and yellow burst out just above the horizon. It casts a golden light on everything.
I am floating beside the Coast Guard Cutter Chippewa which is lit up like a Christmas tree. I remember, it doesn’t matter if I catch a fish that day. Five minutes later, I have two. The water is glassy. I make a turning point decision. I head to my offshore spot. I slide across the calm reflection of the sunrise to my secret coordinates. Soon, the marker buoy is spinning next to my kayak.
On the first cast, as my bait crosses the dinner table, my crank takes a slamming hit. I s ee the gill plate of a big bass flash in the clear water, illuminated by the gold sunlight. Moments later, the big largemouth is in the net. I lay her on the board. She measures 21.5 inches. With three fish I have a limit and a nice kicker to boot. I raise my fists in a small personal celebration. The wind begins to whip again.
My next cast yields a slamming strike and another hard fighting largemouth. This one is 20.25 inches. My heart is really racing now. With one more fish I could be contending for the title. As I pedal back to my spot after being blown off during the measurement, I called Caleb. He tells me a 20-inch fish could win it. I still have a 16-inch fish to cull. Over the next few hours, I grind the spot hoping for one big bite.
As we approach a bridge on the main lake, the wind howling one way, the current going the other, we hear a roar and look behind us to see a herd of glitter sleds approaching at mach speed. It’s crazy.
The wind is blowing hard but I stay on point with my MirageDrive® powered Hobie Pro Angler 14. I catch a 15-inch bass followed by a 17.75-inch upgrade. Then, in the last five minutes, I lose a giant fish that breaks my line after shaking its head at me. I retie the same bait and catch a 19.25-inch upgrade! I pedal back to the ramp feeling weak with emotion. I know that pulling over 60 inches should put me near the top of the leader board.
At the award ceremony I feel nervous. When my name is finally called I tie for third, only an inch from first place and over $35,000. I feel relief beyond anything for finally taking home a check after coming so close in the last few tournaments.
It is a good feeling when all the hard work pays off and you earn it. I can only hope to do as well or better against the competition in June at Hobie Open. This year I’ll bring more confidence.
I learn once again to never give up, no matter what mother nature throws at you. I utilize the advantages of my Pro Angler to fish areas that other kayaks cannot. I learn again how crucial it is to have different patterns to turn to if the weather changes dramatically. Kentucky Lake is an exceptional venue but it is a fickle beast. We take away knowledge that will be very useful come the Hobie Bass Open.
The HBO was awesome last year. It was neat mingling with the classiest of the kayak fishing breed. We’ve already begun research preparation for the 2016 Hobie Open trip. The 2016 Hobie Open is a two-day bass tournament June 3rd through 5th at Kentucky Dam Village.
It has a cash and prizes payout and the top two qualify for the Hobie Worlds – a big goal of mine. I’m anxious to see how Kentucky Lake treats me in June.
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