09 Apr How I finished 2nd at the KBF National Championship
What a week it was in the Shreveport Bossier City area, fo the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship. If you don’t have time to read this article, try listening to the latest Hooked on Wild Waters Podcast to hear the audio version where Dr. Kenneth Noisewater (Ken Morris) and I recap the week we had at the KBF National Championship. You can find and subscribe to the podcast on itunes, Stitcher or Google Play.
I hardly know where to begin; my original plan was to leave on Friday the 22nd from my home in Charlotte, and arrive in the area on the 23rd, to start scouting and pre-fishing. However, a few of my boys weren’t going to let me leave without pre-celebrating my 40th birthday in style (which was March 31st, the day after the tournament) with a guys shoal bass campout trip. Georgia was on the way for me, the water levels were right, so it made sense to me. I ended up leaving Thursday (21st) and we fished for shoal bass on Friday (22nd) and Saturday (23rd). Huge thanks to Dan Mullane, Brooks Beatty, Caja Ormand for planning this and giving me a reason to relax and just “go fishing” without cameras or pressure of a tournament. We all caught some solid shoal bass and it was the perfect mindset to get me into before tackling the massive challenge that was awaiting in Louisiana.
I left GA after fishing on Saturday and got to about Birmingham before I called it a night. The next day, Sunday, I woke up early and ended up making inside the tournament boundary around 2pm. I called the guys I had teamed up with (Ken Morris and Clayton Haske) and they had arrived that morning, and were already fishing an area that we had pinned on our shared Google Map. I decided since I was on the east side of the boundary that I could at least start driving around to try and scout as many access points and put ins as I could near the headwaters of Lake Bistineau. It’s hard to stay incognito in my RV since it has many sponsors logos on it, and is wrapped for my Hooked on Wild Waters TV show & YouTube Channel. Plus, I had my Tennessee Trailer behind it with 3 Jackson Kayaks and one Blue Sky Boatworks Angler 360. I stood out like a sore thumb! I didn’t like this because I didn’t want any other competitors seeing where I was and what I was scouting…even if I had no idea if it was a good area or not. Still, it made sense for me to do some scouting, so I wanted to check out an oxbow section that “looked” like it may connect to the bayou. There were a few roads that I could take that may give me a clue as to whether it did or did not connect, and do so without having to drop a kayak and head upstream 4 or 5 miles. Even though the signs said “private road, no outlet, no trespassing,” I drove through the gate because I could see a “normal looking” guy in his driveway cleaning out his truck and figured maybe he could help me. Turns out, he couldn’t have been any nicer. He told me all he knew about the fishing in the area and even gave me a lead to another guy who had even more knowledge. Some more scouting in the area led me to, at one point, come back to my RV where the local cops were waiting on me! Yes, I was really causing a scene in this little town and people wanted to make sure I wasn’t up to no good. Turns out even the police were super nice, and even had a few tips to pass along! Even though I didn’t end up fishing this area on tournament day I made some new friends and appreciate how friendly everyone was in this quaint little Louisiana town.
Our first day of pre-fishing, Ken, Clayton and I explored more around the north end of Bistineau and were fortunate to have Jackson Kayak provide us (and several others) with some pre-production E-Drives that helped us motor around to see as much of our area as possible. We never really found the type of water, depth and vegetation we were looking for and I only caught one or two fish. I wasn’t too concerned about the number of fish because I was more motoring around looking at as much water as I could, and not really fishing super hard. That’s how I prefer to pre-fish so I can get as familiar as possible with the various water temps, clarity, depths, structure & vegetation near my launch. Clayton did have an owl swoop down and try to nab his frog, and then it perched literally right next to us and hung out for a while. It was cool to see the wildlife in this area, but we knew we hadn’t really found our spot yet, so we headed back to the Air BnB to regroup for the next day’s scouting.
Some local intel pointed us to another area of Lake Bistineau, so we headed out optimistically. It wasn’t long before I missed my first fish and then got into my biggest fish of the week – a solid 7.5lber on, what else, a Z-MAN Jackhammer Chatterbait with Diezel Minnow trailer. I knew fish were in this area so I decided to motor around and learn more about the surrounding coves just so I was familiar with it in case this is where we ended up. I only ended up catching a couple in that area, and losing a nice one, but we still weren’t convinced this was where we’d end up; we quickly ran over and tried one other oxbow lake that we felt we could probably squeeze our kayaks into. Turns out we did find a channel that we could paddle into from the main bayou. This lake and it was absolutely stunning! Water was 72 degrees and clear, fish were on beds and there was a lot of grass and shallow water for spawning. We caught some fish on a topwater frog and I missed a few nice ones. I was almost certain with a whole day there that I could pull off 5 good fish. On our way out of this lake area I ran into a guy in an aluminum bass boat, and was stunned he somehow made it in there. His name was Wesley and he literally lived at the landing where we put in, so he really knew this lake well. He turned out to be super helpful and said there was another oxbow over, where a guy had caught a 7 and 8lber out of the day before. He also recommended we go try Caddo for a day, even though we knew that is where most anglers would be. He showed us a few general areas he thought we should try. We all decided that we’d already found a few areas that we felt could give us 5 fish if we really grinded it out, so it wouldn’t hurt to explore some new water.
The night before our final day of pre-fishing I decided to install a motor with a little more power – a Motorguide trolling motor – just in case I needed the extra speed. I actually have to thank our Jackson Kayak team manager Aaron Stiger for making a post reminding us to get any boats that may end up with a motor on them registered before tournament day! That could have been a huge setback had I forgotten to do that; these are the first motors I’ve ever had on my kayaks before so it was important to get this done,. Right before I left town I got my Angler 360 registered with the good ol’ state of NC to make sure I was in compliance. I have to thank Dave Newman & his wife for allowing me to ship this motor to their house and bringing it to me in Shreveport. Also, I have to thank Ken and Clayton for helping me install it on my Angler 360, starting at 9pm! It wasn’t easy to figure out that late at night, especially when we had to shorten the shaft, but a few Yak Attack parts and some ingenuity by Clayton got it on the watercraft. I also have to thank Eric Jackson for getting me connected with Motorguide, at the last minute, which allowed me to get this sent over. Also big thanks to Lithium Pros batteries who I connected with on very short notice as a battery solution; Kevin believed in me in a very short amount of time, and those batteries were nothing short of incredible! Thanks to Jackson Kayak Pro Staffer Josh Evans, who picked up the batteries for me on his way through Knoxville. Unknown to me at this time, this motor, and batteries, would end up being one of the keys to my second place finish.
According to the rules we only had until 3pm on Wednesday, our final day of pre-fishing. I stepped on that motor hard all day to see as much area as I could that day and again fished very little. I ended up catching 2 fish and then missed a fish on a Project Z chatterbait on my way back to the landing. That one missed fish ended up being the key to my entire 3 days of fishing. Had I never gotten that bite, there is no telling what place I may have finished. The area I was in had a slight, but noticeable, current. The bite I got came on the back side of a group of cypress trees that were creating a nice current break. Most everyone knows I started River Bassin’, and am a river guy at heart, so finding a bite that was related to current had me optimistic, even though I only had one missed bite to go off of heading into tournament day.
So, to recap our pre-fishing; out of the three of us, not one of us caught even 5 fish a day, we had no consistent bite, and I was literally basing my entire tournament on one missed bite at the end of the final hour of pre-fishing, hoping that it was an actual pattern and not just a random missed bite. And, we were about to put all our eggs into the basket of a lake that we had only fished for about 6 hours total in our lives. So, how in the world did I end up in 2nd place with a start like that? You’ll just have to keep reading.
Onto day 1 of the tournament. Expectations weren’t super high, but I knew that this is a 3-day tournament, so if I can just grind out 5 fish in this spot, end up with a few decent ones and learn more about this fishery, then who knows. I made a long run to my area that morning, and it turned out that my missed “bite” was indeed a pattern as I’d hoped. I began catching fish on the back side of cypress trees and they were actually slamming the chatterbait hard just like river bass. If I missed one, I could throw back in and normally they would bite again. The weather was nice and sunny so I decided to do a lot of my fishing while standing on the seat of the Angler 360, to get an even better view of where my fish were ambushing from. This helped me learn more about the type of cypress trees the fish were holding on, how the fish were reacting, and where exactly they were coming from on the trees. I missed one really good fish on day one that came unhooked, and I saw a bass boat catch a 5lber right by me so I knew bigger fish were in the area, even though my biggest on day 1 was only 17.75 inches. I ended up with a solid start though, 86 inches, putting me in 35 place.
My top 3 fish from day 1:
Day 2 started out with about a 45 minute motor to my area, and I got a cool text of encouragement from my dad during my ride in the dark. He reminded me that God had blessed me with a talent to find and catch these fish and to just trust in that, and He’ll see me through. He also said he was praying for a big one for me today, and sent me a Bible verse to think on. I was tearing up a little because my parents, and grandparents, are the reason I found my passion for fishing, which led me to be so blessed to do this for a living. If only I can give a gift like that to my son one day. It also happened to be that I was born in Texas, and my parents are from east TX as well, even though we moved to the southeast when I was young. One of my grandparents actually retired on Toledo Bend, which isn’t too far away from where we were. I hadn’t fished this kind of water since being a kid, but it brought back a lot of great memories with my parents and grandparents.
On this day the sun vanished and it was mostly cloudy with some scattered rain as well. I knew my area wasn’t big enough to sustain 3 days of pressure, so I decided to work out a little more from one end to hopefully find some new fish. This new water proved to be important because not only did I find more fish, but bigger ones. There were really crushing the chatterbait and something happened that I’ve never seen before while bass fishing, not even on a river; similar to how bream, or any type of panfish will sometimes peck at your line where it enters the water, I had a full sized grown bass crushing my line! My lure was still 40 feet behind him and I wound it in as fast as I could to get it in front of her face. As soon as it got to her, she crushed it too! It ended up being a 17+ inch fish, not even a dumb little one. One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. I also switched up my presentation and actually had several Project Z chatterbaits tied on, in various sizes and colors. I wanted to make sure my fish saw a slightly different look than day 1’s sexy shad w/ white Diezel Minnow trailer. I used mainly the “breaking bream” color this day, tipped with a 4-inch Z-MAN SwimmerZ in gold rush as the trailer. I had a couple over 18 inches early on and started to realize that not all cypress trees were created equally. This is when I made the decision to stop throwing at every cypress tree, but instead to constantly be on the motor to move to every one that looked juicy to me. I won’t give everything away, but on stage I did mention how my fish seemed to be on “clean” cypress trees free of grass. They were likely spawning or preparing to spawn on these trees and wanted the water above to be clear to allow for ample sunlight for their spawn. I threw against one of these juicy looking trees and got hammered by what turned out to be my biggest fish in competition this week – a 20.75 incher that was somewhere around 6lbs. I knew I was on them at that point so I pulled out a GoPro that had a battery pack and 256gb card and just let it roll the rest of the day. According to my Raymarine Element I seemed to be catching more of my good fish on trees that were around 4ft of water. I upgraded a few more times and by the end of the day I was shaking off 17.50 inchers and wondering if I should leave for new water so I don’t burn my area up. My smallest on day 2 was 18.25 inches, giving me a total of 95.50 inches which was the 4th biggest stringer of the day. This moved me from 35th, up to 11th place where I was able to lurk right under the radar. The reason this was important to me is because I didn’t have to worry about camera crews following me on day 3. Although, you certainly get a lot of exposure when the cameras follow you, but the way I was catching these fish I’m not sure they could have kept up!
Best 5 from day 2:
Day 3 started out with a bang for me. I finally got to where I wanted to start fishing around 6:40am. Within a few casts, with the chatterbait again, I hooked into a solid 18.75 inch fish. In person the fish touched 19, but looking back on it I ended up calling her an 18.75 because the photo didn’t conclusively show it touching. The light was still so low I had to use the flash to take the photo. I was like, “It’s on again!”
About an hour later I picked up a 17.25 inch fish and now I was just saying to myself “3 more that size or bigger and then lets the chips fall where they may.” However, a front was moving in and I noticed my bite change drastically. Fish were now just bumping my bait, and not really crushing it like the day before. It was clear they were on bed and just wanting to shew the lure away instead of actually eat it. Even when tossing back with a soft plastic they wouldn’t really take it, and the water was a little too stained to truly sight fish for them. This made things very tough, and I still needed to get my 5 fish limit. I was getting a little stressed because my area was very beat up, bass boats were all around fishing their normal Saturday tournaments, plus the wind and cold weather was moving in fast. I made a run further than I’d gone before into some new water and somehow found a 19.25 incher! Ok, now I just need 2 more good ones. Not too much after that I got a 16.75 inch fish; not a bad one, but not a giant either. This made my 5 fish limit, but I still had a 15 inch fish as my smallest. I have to get rid of this fish if I’m going to have any shot at really making a move. By now, it is much colder than when the day started, I had beat my area up multiple times along with other anglers on the water, boats had murked up the water in my area and it has been hours since I have caught a decent fish, or had any bites at all. Stress levels were high and I just kept praying and grinding for one more big bite. I only had a few minutes left and I had made another run to an area where I caught a fish earlier, but decided to fish the opposite side of this zone. I’m not giving up, not one bit, even though I’ve been fighting the urge to give up for a while. I figured I’ll give it my all for my family, and once 2:30 hits and I haven’t upgraded then so be it, I can quit then. At this point I’m flying past trees casting to as many as I can before 2:30. Somehow, by some miracle, at 2:26pm I felt a hard thump! Not only had I finally gotten bit, this was the good one I’d been praying for. I got her in as fast as I could and put her on the board to get that photo before the 2:30pm time stamp deadline. I just barely made it at 2:27pm, and this 19-incher gained me about 4 inches, and ended up making my total a solid 91.5! I never made another cast and just laid down and thanked God for that final bite, how far I’d come, and an awesome tournament overall. My goal was just to get into the top 10, and I felt good about my 5 fish doing at least that.
How far that last keeper would push me up the 3-day leaderboard, I had no idea, but she put me in 4th place for day 3. I knew that if conditions were this hard for me, maybe some others in the top 10 struggled. When I arrived back at the tournament headquarters I heard some rumblings of some top anglers really struggling on this final day. At the results, Chad Hoover got into the top ten and every name he called was someone else, all the way down to the top 2! I was blown away, especially when I saw that second place got $20,000 plus any bonus bucks! After this many days of hard physical fishing, with little sleep, and a long time to wait for my name to be called, the sweat and nerves were running high. All my family back home was watching the live stream and I kept thinking about how much this would mean for my wife and son. Theo is almost 11 months old now, and as many of you know having a kid is apparently not cheap! Haha. Bills have been piling up, especially since he had to have a couple cranial bands (helmets) for a common condition called Plagiocephaly. We’ve been praying for God to provide by some miracle, and this is certainly going to help big time no matter where I placed.
They called my name, and Mike Elsea’s name to the stage. We had made it to the final 2 out of 461 qualifying anglers. This was already hard to believe. Mike and I shared our thoughts on the event and how our tournament went, and then Chad proceeded to announce the winner. It was no shock to me, as I knew Mike had been in the top 10 each day, but he took the title and I proudly accepted 2nd place and took home 23k! Plain and simple, we all got beat by Mike in this tournament. I believe he had 14 inches or more on me, and I was the closest angler to him! Huge congrats to Mike, he’s a great champion for the sport. Also, congrats to Greg Blanchard for really smashing them on day 3 as well, and taking home 3rd place.
After thinking about how much money I won for 2nd place, I wanted to compare it to the larger bass boat tournament trails out there. I was blown away at how close KBF is to being in line with these professional tournament series. For example, MFL pays out $24,000 to 4th place. BASS Elite Series pays out $25,000 to 2nd place and FLW pays out $25,000 to 3rd place. Also, keep in mind that FLW & BASS have entry fees as well. I know FLW is about $5000 per tournament and BASS is probably similar. I believe I paid about $400 to enter this tournament and $100 for Bonus Bucks, that’s it! Of course these other leagues have many events with payouts like that and KBF just has one. However, when you think about it, it really is impressive what KBF and their partners have done, despite the hard road it has taken them to get where they are. I haven’t always been the biggest fan, but to be honest people do change and learn from mistakes, and KBF has done a good job of that in my opinion.
In summary, as you now know, I was lost in pre-fishing and didn’t really have a plan. One conversation with one guy in some backwater lake, led to where we’d give it a go on our final day of pre-fishing. Then, one missed bite in the final hour of pre-fishing led me to learn one key thing that ended up being a pattern I used, and dialed it in further for 3 straight days! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the line between being in the bottom of this field and being on top is very very thin, and anyone reading this can be encouraged knowing that fortunes can change in a hurry! I’ve been blessed to now have fished 4 of these events, and finish 2nd (via tiebreaker) in the very first one losing to Tony Yang. Then, I took a few years off as I ran the River Bassin’ Tournament Trail. I came back in 2017 to finish 16th, then placed 5th in 2018 and now another runner up finish in 2019. I’m so close! One of these days I’m going to lift that trophy!
Again, huge thanks to KBF and all of their staff, Chad Hoover, Kristie Hoover, Joe Haubenreich, Dwayne Walley, Lynette Brentlinger, Josh Martin, Amanda Brannon, Scott Beutjer, Gene Jensen, Rob Hatfield and all the guys at Helliconia Press who do a great job filming and producing the TV show. They ran an amazing event, especially considering how many people were in this tournament. There is a world of difference in how things went this year compared to 3 or 4 years ago; they’ve come a long way and clearly learned from previous years very well. And even though I wasn’t using a Torqeedo, they certainly deserve a lot of thanks as well. Payouts wouldn’t be where they are without them, and for that I am appreciative. Also, thanks to Shreveport, LA, for having us and helping make this event great!
Huge thanks to Jackson Kayak, which is how all of this started when a small whitewater kayaking company took a chance on me, and I on them. It lead to a lot of great fishing kayaks being made, and new and different brands, including Blue Sky Boatworks, which is the boat (Angler 360) I used in this event and helped me place 2nd. Also big thanks to team Jackson Kayak and all of their support and camaraderie. Congrats to Josh Stewart and Matt Ball for top 10 finishes and Ken Morris for making it just into the money as well! Big shout out and thanks to Ken Morris and Clayton Haske for all their support and the good times we had on this trip – “Straight bass homies!” Let’s do it again next year! Thanks to James McBeath for all his support in the marketing efforts of Jackson Kayak, and Jameson Redding for letting Ken and I use his truck on day 3 of the tournament!
Also, I have to give a blanket thank you to all my sponsors; couldn’t do it without the immense support you all give me. Most notably Z-MAN Lures, Yak Attack, Bending Branches, SMITH Optics, Power-Pole, Raymarine, 13 Fishing, Orion Coolers, Anchor Wizard, Boonedox, Lithium Pros, Kokatat, Under Armour, GoPro, Plano, Tennessee Trailers, Tackle Warehouse, Hi-Seas line, Titan Tungsten, River Bassin’, Digital Alchemy, Waypoint TV & Kayak Angler Magazine. If you want to learn more about any of them, feel free to visit the sponsors page on hookedonwildwaters.com
And, of course, I couldn’t do any of this without the love and support from my family and all of their encouragement, especially my wife Cristina and our son little Theo! Can’t wait to teach you about this fishing stuff soon! On my back from the tournament I stopped in GA, where all of my family and my wife’s family was already going to be there to celebrate my birthday and hold a baby dedication for Theo. My dad performed the ceremony and it was an awesome way to celebrate a long couple weeks, with family.
Thanks to SOOOOO many of you who took part in my wife’s super thoughtful 40th birthday scrapbook gift. All the things you guys wrote about me had me in tears. I’m so grateful that I’ve had such a positive impact on your lives the way you all have in mine. It made my birthday special, and little Theo’s dedication special as well. I took Cristina and some of the family to a secret honey hole in GA on my way back, and she was thanked by the river with this awesome largemouth bass from the bank! She deserved it for all the hard work she put in at home while I was away!
Thanks to all of you who follow along with my crazy life, and all I do with Hooked on Wild Waters (new episodes coming soon!). I probably do a good job of making it all look so much fun, and so glamorous, but don’t let Instagram and Facebook fool you, life is hard and we struggle like anyone else. I’m blessed to have faith in God, that I can rely on in the good times and bad. You always hear of people thanking God in the good times, because that’s easy. I feel it’s important to trust Him in the bad times as well, because He’s probably teaching you something or getting you where you need to be in order to allow the best things in your life to happen. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t lost a job that I was so happy and content with. My world crumbled, but in hindsight, as mad as I was with God, He had bigger plans. Plans to lead me to fish for a living which had never crossed my mind; the loss of that job had to happen for the dominoes to fall which allowed this fishing thing to happen. Trusting Him in the tough times is why we decided that during a very tough time this past December to, by faith, give a kayak away to someone in an even deeper need via the Coosa Claus promotion. It made no sense, but we trusted what we were feeling led to do. It changed our outlook by reading so many of the inspirational stories so many of you sent in, and it made our tough situation not seem so dire. Ryan Cash received that kayak, and I can’t wait to see him in person in TX soon, to thank him for all he has selflessly done for his family and anglers over the past several years.
Thanks again to all the anglers that make up the kayak fishing community. I’ll see you all at the next tournament I’ll likely be at; the joint FLW Tour and KBF event on Lake Nickajack!