How to Measure and Submit Bass in a Kayak Tournament

One of the most overlooked challenges when it comes to competing in kayak fishing tournaments, is measuring and photographing your fish. Catching a fish is only half the battle in the Catch, Photograph, and Release (CPR) format. 

Without fail, after every kayak fishing tournament, there will be an angler sharing the tale of a tragic mishap where their prized catch jumped off their measuring board and back into the water. Now, this is sometimes used as a great way to avoid admitting you got skunked but oftentimes, it really is just a series of unfortunate events. Some fish are easier to calm down than others and with every catch comes an unpredictable adventure. 

Over the years, I’ve competed in many kayak fishing tournaments, and through those I’ve picked up a lot of tips and tricks for successfully measuring and photographing fish. Everyone has their own slightly unique process for photographing fish but here are some helpful tips that would have really helped me in the early days.

Tethered Fish Grips

Using fish grips or any other tether that allows for a fish to stay in the water while you prepare to measure is crucial. This is a step that not only ensures that your catch isn’t harmed in the process but it also allows the fish to tire itself out further. Doing this, in theory, makes for a more cooperative fish when it’s time to place them on your measuring device. I was informed about this great trick by a friend and fellow kayak angler and I’ve been so grateful for it ever since. 

Of course this trick isn’t perfect but in my experience it’s super effective.

To use fish grips effectively, you’ll need to buy the type of fish grip that will work best for you. Throughout my local club, there are a variety of different fish grips being used. For me personally, I use the Donkey Leash from Cal Coast Fishing. This little grip is deceiving, it’s extremely strong and built in a way that prevents you from accidentally releasing a fish (I’ve only done this once but it was enough). Other anglers use the Fish Grips brand which offer a great quality product at a really approachable price. You can’t go wrong with either choice but make sure you fasten the grips to your kayak using paracord or a Neverlost leash

It may seem obvious but I’ve heard a few instances where anglers have forgotten to tie down their fish grips and a fish has taken off. A final word about these two, they grip the fish’s lip without requiring a puncture hole. This goes a long way to ensure that little to no harm is done to your catch.

Measuring and Photographing

As a kayak angler, I don’t consider myself to be any kind of photographer but when fishing competitively, you’ll need to get really comfortable using your phone with one hand. This is one part of competing in kayak fishing tournaments that’s often overlooked and underestimated. Often times we land a good fish and get pumped because we think we’ve just moved up the leaderboard. In kayak fishing tournaments, catching the fish is half the battle, the second challenge is getting a fish to cooperate long enough for a clear detailed photo that displays that fish’s length. 

First things first, be sure that your kayak is organized. If you go on the leaderboard for a kayak fishing tournament you’ll see some people have lures and gear all over the place in their photos. While this can be fine for them, you’ll be surprised at how tough it can be to get all of your gear together after landing a large fish. I find myself shaking and not able to think straight for a few seconds and if my phone and measuring board aren’t in easy to reach places, I could risk knocking some expensive gear out of the boat or potentially even losing the fish. I always keep my measuring board and phone in the same spot. If I need to use them for any reason, they’re easy to grab and always return to the same place. This may sound crazy simple and obvious but trust me, it’ll go a long way.

How to Measure and Submit Bass in a Kayak Tournament(2)

Some clubs have differing rules when it comes to photographing and measuring fish but for the sake of this article, I’m going to be basing the remainder of this section on the KBF rules. 

I won’t get into all of them, but the key rules to focus on, the fish must be facing left, mouth must be closed, the tournament identifier must be visible and able to be read. On top of these rules, you must be using a KBF approved measuring board. There are also some rules regarding where your hand placement can and cannot be in the case that a fish needs some help laying flat on the board. 

When it comes to getting a fish to lay flat on the board, always let the fish swim for a bit while tethered to your fish grips as we mentioned above. When the fish has had some time in the water, be sure to dip your measuring board in the water you are fishing. This will ensure that the board isn’t too hot and also helps prevent damage to a fish’s slime coat. Once the board is ready, I like to get my phone out and the camera activated. I use a tether for my phone so once the camera is on, I just keep it on my lap.

Now for the fish, carefully pull your catch up and release your fish grips. 

Once you do that, slowly lay the fish down on the board with its head facing left and against the gate of your measuring board. One tip is to use your feet to tilt your board. This puts the fish’s weight against the gate of your measuring board but also aids in keeping a fish’s mouth closed. When the board is tilted in a particular direction, it helps predict what direction a fish will flip should it decide to jump. 

How to Measure and Submit Bass in a Kayak Tournament(1)

I always keep my net on the gate side of my measuring board in the instance a fish jumps, hopefully I’ll catch it. 

Once your fish has calmed down and is laying still, grab your phone and snap a picture. Be sure to take a couple of photos just in case one doesn’t come out correctly. It is also a great idea after you take a photo to put your fish back on the fish grips while you make sure your photos look good and meet the submission criteria.

Uploading to Tournament Software

After you snap a clear photograph of your fish, you’ll need to submit that photo to your tournament software so that it can be judged. Be sure that location services are enabled on your camera so that your GPS location can be captured, this proves you were within the tournament limits when your fish was caught. Once the app is open, select the photo that’s clear and submit to the leaderboard. 

If you find yourself without service, apps like TourneyX have a Livewell feature which allows you to get the fish in the app to be submitted at a later time. Just remember when you put fish in there that you have to plan to leave the water a bit early in order to find a signal to fully submit those catches.  

Measuring and submitting fish can be intimidating at first, but with the right steps it becomes second nature. Like everything, practice makes perfect!

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – Small Spinnerbait

For the third installment of this series discussing my favorite fall bass fishing baits, we’re going to be talking about the small spinnerbait. You can check out the first two baits by clicking these links: 

  1. Lipless Crankbaits
  2. 1/4-ounce Buzzbaits

When I say small spinnerbaits, I’m referring to the overall profile, not necessarily the weight. These are finesse spinnerbaits, spinnerbaits with a short arm and smaller blades than your typical spinnerbait. Like most of my fall favorites, I like these baits because they do a good job of matching the hatch.

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Small Spinnerbait | Size Does Matter

The reason I bring up the size of the bait’s profile and not the weight of the bait is that there are actually some finesse spinnerbaits now, like those made by Davis’s Baits, that have more of the weight along the shaft of the hook instead of just in the head. So you can still have a smaller profile spinnerbait but keep the added weight for casting. These spinnerbaits work well when fall bass fishing, especially in windy situations because they’re easier to throw than traditional finesse spinnerbaits that are lighter. 

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But weight is important. 

Part of the appeal of a small spinnerbait is that it can be reeled slowly through the water column. Obviously the heavier the bait, the faster you’ll have to reel it. So a true finesse spinnerbait for me is around a 1/4-ounce. 

Small Spinnerbait | Colors and Water Clarity

Nichols Lures makes a great finesse spinnerbait in their Nichols 33 Mini Double Willow Spinnerbait. As far as color schemes and blade combinations go, there’s a lot to choose from and as usual, the water clarity determines a lot of that for me. But in the fall, the water is usually clear to slightly stained, often with a green tint to it. 

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For most conditions, the Bombshell Bass color scheme with one gold and one silver willow leaf is very good. 

If the water does get muddy, I’ll typically just move away from a small spinnerbait and go to a bigger one. If the water is particularly clear I’ll use something more like the Blue Shad Pepper color scheme with double silver willow leaf blades.

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Small Spinnerbait | Gear and Location

This is another bait that works well on a 7’0” medium-heavy rod with around a 7:1 gear ratio reel. I’ll either use 15-pound fluorocarbon or even step up to 30-pound braid if I’m fishing around a lot of heavy cover and the water clarity will allow it. The braid is necessary at times. Even though you’re fishing with a smaller bait, it has a fairly strong hook and you still need to fish through some pretty gnarly cover. 

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As far as what to target, the same old same old holds true. 

Grass, wood, rock, open water, you can catch bass anywhere with a small spinnerbait in the fall as long as there is bait present. Creeks and pockets are the best places to start looking for the shad but they’ll often be on the bluff walls and points right outside if they haven’t quite pushed back into these places.

How To Land More Bass | Grae Buck’s Bass Fishing Tips

I recently had a co-angler lose a 5-plus-pound smallmouth in an Oneida Lake tournament. Afterward, he asked me, “Why did that happen, and what could I have done differently?”

They’re both good questions. The answers can help you put more fish in the boat when money is on the line … literally.

My technique for fighting a bass depends significantly on the equipment – my Dobyns rod, Ardent reel, Seaguar line and Cornerstone Baits – that I’m using at the time.

When using a lure with treble hooks, it’s important to play the fish and determine how it’s hooked to decide if you can swing it safely or if you need to get down and grab it with your hands or a net. If it’s hooked outside the mouth or with just one treble, it’s safest to not swing it. Play it with caution, then carefully grab it or net it.

The size and weight of the lure, as well as the number of hooks, factor in as well. It’s generally tougher to land a fish on a lure with treble hooks than a single-hooked lure. A prime example would be a lipless crankbait. Landing a fish on this bait can be very tough because of the size and weight of the lure paired with treble hooks. Bass can get enough leverage to pull loose. But it’s a great bait nonetheless. Landing a fish on a lipless crankbait just takes more finesse and caution to maximize success. You can play them differently on a small swimbait with a single hook.

Read the rest of Grae’s article here!

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2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year October Update | Headed to La Crosse

Featured Image Credit: Scott Beutjer

The 2019 KBF season is winding down… we have seen the National Championship won by Mike Elsea on Caddo Lake, Cody Milton crowned at Bienville while a group of anglers piled up in Jeff Fader’s spot, and Clint Henderson win the first KBF/FLW event on Lake Ouachita in Hot Springs, Arkansas. 

Over 1000 anglers have driven thousands of miles; slept in campgrounds, hotels, VRBOs, Airbnbs, in the backs of trucks or in the front seat with a snoring buddy as Wal-Mart parking lot cleaners blew trash from under vehicles. Batteries have run out of juice, tires have blown or gone flat and trailer bearings have failed… vacation time has been exhausted (sick days too)… and many Waffle and Huddle Houses have been overtaken as anglers chased coveted KBF ANGLR of the Year points in five separate regions across America.

The top three KBF trail series tournaments (1800 possible points) added to their top score in a regional final (600 possible points) comprise most of the points. But the final event of the year, The Trail Series Championship to be held in La Crosse Wisconsin on October 17-19, has a potential 1200 additional points. 

With 95 points separating first and tenth place, and only 210 points between first and twenty-fifth; this is still anyone’s title to win. 

The weather forecast and rising water levels are combining to make the championship on the Mississippi River even more challenging for competitors. The current will play a factor for many anglers, affecting their ability to hold position or even reach certain spots, but the field is stacked with some solid sticks. The AOY’s from each region, past members of the “Ten”, and a couple of competitors who fished their first full KBF year are at the top.

Let’s meet the top ten as we head to La Crosse.

#10. Danny Uribe – California; 2019 Western Regional AOY

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(1)

Danny’s story of how he entered kayak bass fishing is one that is very familiar to those who follow the kayak fishing community. He fished out of a Ranger boat before settling into a kayak.  After years fishing with the Stren series, and getting heavy into saltwater tournaments including Bisbee’s Marlin tournaments, he was given an opportunity to work and travel with Accurate Reels and later started his own freshwater bass rod company; Uribe Fishing Products. While at a visit to a central California tackle shop for a seminar, he ran into a kayak fisherman who said that he really liked the Uribe rods for kayak fishing. 

He said ‘dude your rods are great for kayak tournaments’ and I said ‘kayak tournaments?’ and he told me about KBF so I looked it up, it seemed interesting. I really liked the idea of CPR, not putting fish in the Livewell and killing them.” 

The “man vs. man and athletic aspects” of the sport really appealed to him. 

From the get-go, you have to make really good decisions… you can’t carry 50 rods… it is way harder to win a kayak tournament than a boat tournament. You have to be very methodical… your practice has to be very good, you have to make good decisions.”  

So Danny bought a Feelfree Dorado last November and didn’t pick it up until January.  He used the weekend to learn the kayak, went to a couple of local lakes to get a better feel for it; then headed to Lake Havasu for a KBF event. 

His first time in a KBF tournament was his fourth time in a kayak.  

I hadn’t fully grasped that I couldn’t move like a bass boat.  I killed my first four hours just paddling around to end up back where I started.”  

Even though he had spent time traveling instead of fishing, Uribe landed in 7th place after settling down and focusing on fishing. The experience taught him a lot and he leveraged that experience to finish 6th on San Vincente and 4th at Otay; the only three events he was able to make this year.

So leading the AOY race in the western region, Danny loaded up his wife Rebecca and headed to Clear Lake for the regional championship. 

It was her birthday.  I went out Thursday at 6:30 and pedaled around at spots I planned to fish… on the way back I threw a swimbait and caught a fish… then I spent the rest of the day in Napa with my wife.” 

His success has landed him a spot on the Native Watercraft team (with other opportunities in the works) and he plans to fish three to four of the 6 regional events next year out of the Native Titan. He also has plans to travel to Guntersville for the KBF National Championship… but is doubtful that he will make it to La Crosse. 

It is killing me not to make it!” 

He gives credit for being able to fish first and foremost to the Lord, then his wife Rebecca who supports him even while “dragging her to Clear Lake to stay in a junky hotel with nothing around for miles”. His work designing outdoor products for companies and his rod company provides the funding.

Uribe gives high praise to the kayak community. 

I am not afraid to tell people where and what I did. Everyone is so open to sharing everything. When I fished boat tournaments, when you showed up to the awards, the only people there are the winners. When I showed up to kayak tournaments, everyone is there… everyone is chatting… I was a nobody in the kayak community… now everyone welcomes you and talks like I am one of them. There is no drama like the boat tournaments. In the kayak community, everyone is congratulating everyone… no one is bumping their chests… everyone is humble.

Note for Uribe: The offer to bring a spare Hobie for the tournament is still on the table for you Danny, if you decide to fly in!

#9. Josh Stewart – Tennessee

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(2)

Josh with Randy Howell at the Hobie BOS at Lake Guntersville.

Unless this is your first exposure to KBF or kayak tournament fishing in general, you know the name – if not, you will. Josh has become one of the more consistent anglers on any trail; this year alone he punched his second ticket to the Hobie Worlds, winning on Guntersville and placed second in the Hobie event of Kentucky Lake; won the KBF trail event on Kentucky Lake (read more about that tournament and Josh), placed tenth in the first KBF/FLW event on Lake Ouachita and just finished fifth in the Tennessee State Kayak Championship. He is one angler with a good opportunity to say he has been one of the KBF Ten every year. Trailing the leader by only 85 points also leaves him with a chance to be the AOY. 

In the race for the southeast region AOY, with his methodical presentation and persistence, Josh finished third behind two others in the top ten this year; Cody Milton and Rus Snyders. In addition to the Kentucky Lake win, he placed 12th at Santee Cooper and 8th at Chickamauga; allowing him the opportunity to fish for AOY and hopefully compete in the Ten next year.

He is already qualified for the Hobie TOC, the National Championship and is smashing them on all trails across Tennessee. He fishes as a member of the Jackson Kayak Team, the YakAttack team, and is on the pro staff for Hog Farmer Bait Company and All Pro Rods

Josh will be in La Crosse for the KBF trail championship. Last year at an Open on the same water, he finished 6th under similar water conditions, so he is a favorite to take home the win. 

Stewart is a humble guy who credits his grandmother with teaching him how to fish in the creeks close where he grew up and says his mom is now involved; she is trying to learn more to beat him.

#8. Erick Simien – Texas

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(3)

Erick, like Danny Uribe, is enjoying success in his first full year on the KBF trail.  

He had fished last year’s National Championship after qualifying through the NTXKC – a KBF partner organization. 

I finished awful (at Caddo)… but pre-fishing was amazing, I had plenty of opportunities, they just kept coming unbuttoned. I only had two fish in the kayak and they called me ‘two fish Erick’”.  

He said that he tried to slow down and use a wacky rig, but got frustrated and moved to a jig

He openly shared how he ended up in a kayak, and his story is similar to others too. 

I fished all my life, grew up fishing. I quit drinking a little over eight years ago and needed something to decompress… I wanted something to get off the bank and my wife surprised me with an older model Ascend for Christmas. In the first few months, I could only sit in it for a few hours, but it got easier. I finished 2nd in a north Texas trail event and wanted to get a better kayak, so I sold it and picked up a Diablo Amigo.” 

Erick is still shocked by his 2nd place finish in the KBF Texas Regional behind Matthew Scotch.   But with solid finishes, 2nd on Ray Roberts, 13th on Belton, and 4th on Toledo Bend, he found his way into the Texas regional championship on Lake Fork where he finished 5th on day one. He was able to move up on day two. 

I didn’t catch my first fish on day two until 11, then 12:30 caught my second.  I had gone to a place and saw a gator earlier, I went there and caught my last four fish.”  

After day two, he had moved into 3rd place in the tournament and into 8th in the KBF AOY standings. 

Erick is unfortunately not going to La Crosse. His job selling hair care products to hairstylists only allows him so much vacation time, so he is out. “I would love to quit and just go kayak fishing” but for now, he like the rest of us has to work. He has no sponsors… “my wife tells me I need to get better at posting on Instagram”… so he plans to work on that next year. 

When I asked if he planned to chase the points next year, he shared some concern that with the realignment of the KBF regions he may not be able to make as many events with only one being close in Texas. 

I liked it being in Texas. I may do it on a shoestring budget… do some camping… I will see at the last minute what’s going on.

#7. Richie McMichael – Kansas; 2019 Central Region AOY

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(4)

Richie is not unfamiliar with having success on the kayak trails; entering a couple of KBF events in 2017 before diving into KBF for 2018, finishing 7th in the AOY race. He fished in the Ten at Bienville and was quick to repeat what a lot of us have said at one time or another. 

I wish I had a do-over at the event. My goal was to win AOY last year, but the event on Lake Erie killed me… and I didn’t end up well at Bienville.”  

This year he has won the Central Region AOY, finished 5th on Lake Fork during the Hobie BOS event (qualified for the TOC) and is currently in the same position he held at the end of last year.

A 6th place finish at Big Hill, an 11th place finish on the Madison Chain of Lakes, a 4th place finish on the Mississippi River and 3rd at Mark Twain shows his ability to win and be competitive… and that he knows how to find them on water that will be in-bounds for La Crosse. Richie is in position to get another chance at the Ten (though not at Bienville next year) but may not make it to La Crosse. He appraises commercial real estate for the county and has some training that he may not be able to reschedule. 

I am hoping they understand, but when they are paying for it, it is hard to say that I am not going to make it.

When asked how he ended up fishing in the kayak, his story sounds a little familiar.  

I was burnt out on the boats. You can break even at best. A buddy of mine, Josey Stillman, started the Northeast Kansas Kayak Anglers and another buddy of mine kept wanting to fish it. I kinda resisted it for a while, I still had a bass boat in the garage and didn’t see the point of the whole kayak thing. I ended up breaking down and giving it a try. You have to do it and see what it is like to really understand. I didn’t do any research. I went to Bass Pro and bought an Ascend and started doing it. I didn’t stay in it long… a guy came down from Nebraska in a Hobie and was pedaling all over the lake and holding position… by the next tournament, I had a Hobie… now I have the 360 ordered and am waiting for it.”  

Richie fished with the Northeast Kansas Kayak Anglers, winning AOY several times but now fishes a lot of the Moyak tournaments. He likes that the club seems to be growing and is getting some sponsor attention. 

I have caught bigger limits out of a kayak than I ever did in boats. I cover tons of water, cover as much as you can… then slow down. Slow down and get upgrades late in the day… slow down and catch the stubborn fish. A lot of people try to finesse them to feed, I just don’t do the finesse. I am more junk fishing at times; jigs, spinnerbaits and cranking.

I asked if he had any sponsors and he replied that it was just he and his wife. 

I think the attention is lacking for the guys who are not on any big sponsorship. I am kinda a quiet guy, haven’t really done the whole ‘getting on teams’. I’ve just been fishing. A buddy owns a company, I am going to try and do something with him.”  

So, if you’re looking for a solid angler to represent you, consider giving Richie a call.

#6. Dylan Fuqua – Illinois

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(5)

I met this young man at the Hobie Open last year.  He and his father had just picked up his kayak and traveled down to fish. They had been fishing on Lake Barkley without success on day one, and I offered some advice. What I didn’t know that day was that he had picked up his kayak swinging a baseball bat. 

Dylan is schooled online but wrestled and played football with a school (“I got tired of being in a cast”); and played travel baseball with one of the best teams in Illinois for over five years, as pitcher and shortstop. His dad had introduced him to the kayak community… he liked “fishing and competing, so you put fishing and kayaking together, I was in!” Dylan wanted a Native Titan 12. His dad told him “hit a home run at your first at-bat, I will get you one”.  Young Mr. Fuqua now fishes out of a Native Titan.  

That determination comes through in conversations with the fifteen-year-old and is evident in his accomplishments this year. He calls the Santee Cooper event his first real KBF tournament; with a 2nd place finish in the trail event and being the first winner on the KBF Pro Tour speaks to how real it has become for Dylan. He also won the Madison Chain tournament, placed 6th on the Mississippi River and followed that up by landing in 10th at the Central region championship.  He now sits in 6th place overall for KBF AOY and will be in La Crosse… well, he has to miss five days of driver education classes (something most of us would not have missed and all he is allowed to miss) in order to attend, but “one of the spots I fished is in-bounds so hopefully there are some good ones there”. 

Though he fished a lot of tournaments without catching limits, Dylan has proven that he can hold his own with the best. Despite that fact, he was not allowed to fish the FLW events because he was not 18, he still came to both events to be around the anglers. He jokingly talked about the events. 

Those are the rules. I kept getting emails saying I was qualified, but they were just teasing… my baseball coach always told me to play against someone better to get better. If you lose, you gotta suck it up and try again later.”  

He is hopeful that there will be a chance for him to fish on the Pro events using what he calls his style; “power finesse” – throwing Texas rigged creatures and ned rigs. 

I like fishing bluff walls, throwing a ned rig, letting it fall and reeling it in… throw it out and reel it in… finesse lures fished fast.

FishUSA talked with Dylan and he is now on their pro-staff, but he credits his dad with being his biggest supporter. 

My dad helped me a lot this year. Getting me to all the tournaments, getting me there on time and helping me pay for things. I love him. It has been a fun year.

#5. Rus Snyders – Tennessee

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(6)

Rus Snyders with Steve Owens.

The Tennessee State Kayak Championship was held on October 12-13th on Lake Chickamauga.  93 anglers showed up to fish Friday evening and Saturday with hopes of being crowned the state champion. Rus Snyders took home that honor and now heads to La Crosse to try and establish himself as the AOY for KBF. 

He has had a good year with wins during KBFTN events, a 3rd place finish at Santee Cooper, 13th at Guntersville, 11th at Chickamauga, 3rd at Kentucky Lake (read about KY lake and Rus here), and 4th at Lake Lanier. He was 10 points ahead of Cody Milton for AOY going into the Southeast Regional Championship; Cody finished 4th and Rus landed in 8th, allowing Cody to win AOY. Both guys are now in reach of the top spot.

I have had a pretty consistent year. Ever since getting in a kayak, I have been more consistent; I was not doing that in a bass boat. The difference is, I used to fly down the lake to the next spot, in a kayak, before you say it is not working… you just buckle down and try new techniques, keep an open mind. I didn’t realize until recently that I have been able to get a limit on every single TourneyX event. A lot of this year I was fishing for points, my goal was to get AOY in the southeast. I picked Santee Cooper over the Hobie event to try for points.

Rus is one of the most solid anglers fishing KBF this year, and is known in Tennessee as one of the best-prepared kayakers; going to an event with plans A, B, and C in case something doesn’t pan out. He may not be one of the most recognized anglers in all circles, but that is only because he hasn’t dedicated the time to chasing points until this year.  

This consumes your free time if you chase it. I had fun chasing it this year. I am doing it for fun and to be part of the community… I could be out making money, but I enjoy this… but I have to get back at work soon. I am not certain about committing to next year yet. I am 100% certain that I am doing the National Championship and both Kentucky Lake tournaments; the Hobie and KBF.

Rus is a team member at Hook1 and carries iRod as a sponsor. If you need some power washing done in the Nashville area, give Rus a call or check out his site; Nashvillepowerwash.com. If you want to learn from a guy who is capable of finding fish, he also has a guide service; look for http://www.kickfishing.com. Those will most likely need to wait until after La Crosse; he is planning to win it.

#4. Derek Brundle – Massachusetts; 2019 Northeast AOY and Potential Rookie of the Year

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(7)

This seems to be the year for new introductions into the top ten for KBF. Derek has only been in a kayak a couple of years, but today he sits in 4th place for AOY and has a 50-point lead over Danny Uribe for rookie of the year. The facilities manager for a social services company in the Boston area had one goal in mind when he started the season; make it to the National Championship. He punched his ticket to that event during the April state challenge, then won the May challenge… then never looked back. 

This is my first year in KBF – it been great, that’s for sure. I have been fishing my whole life but recently got into kayaking and got a chance to get on team NuCanoe. I was fishing local clubs and directing one of the local clubs for NEBassin and just wanted to get into the next level. I wanted to fish the larger-scale tournaments on these larger lakes. I used to fish in a bass boat, but it sat in the yard after I bought the NuCanoe, so I sold it. We even bought a camper so my wife can travel with me to the tournaments.

On the northeast trail, Derek missed the Lake Anna event before starting with a 6th place finish on Lake George where he had an 83-inch limit of smallmouth on his first five casts (then caught 25 more fish from the same spot), this was followed by a 4th place finish at the Chesapeake, then another 4th place finish at Winnipesaukee finished out the trail. At the Northeast Regional Championship, Derek lost to Casey Reed by two inches but sealed the AOY title with the 2nd place finish.

Research (and a black and blue jig) is the key to his success.  

I watch a lot of YouTube, the old FLW and Bassmaster videos, and look to see where they are fishing. I go on google earth and zoom down to eliminate water, using it to get waypoints and to choose where to fish. I pay attention and look for things in the background… then use Google Earth to find them.

This year he concentrated on offshore fishing. His ‘go-to’ now is to find something offshore, the fish will reload and he can keep catching them. The rougher the day, the nastier the weather, the fishing seems to pick up offshore. If he can keep my pursuit out there on the water and upright, he feels like he is in it. He uses a Motor Guide on his kayak to “anchor” and hold the spot.

Derek is a guy who pours his own jigs and says that if he has a box of 100 jigs, 80 of them will be black and blue. When we spoke, he was getting some ready before the 19.5-hour drive to La Crosse.  

My wife is going with me, so we are going to drive straight through to be there by Wednesday.

There are a few sponsors he wanted to mention; Tightlines World Wide, Larry the Lizard custom baits, McCain hi-performance and Thrasher Sports Apparel. He already has plans to attend all of the northeast and mid-Atlantic events for the 2020 season. But for now, La Crosse… then, perhaps the Ten?

#3. Cody Milton – Arkansas; 2019 Southeast AOY, 2018 KBF AOY

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(8)

One of the most unassuming anglers you will meet in a kayak, Cody greets you with a smile, and then generously shares the knowledge he has acquired during his time on the trails.  

He also recognizes the skill in others and offers praise to his competition. I had the pleasure of fishing close to Cody a couple of times this year and was a little surprised by how much water he covers during a tournament; picking apart cover, picking apart the competition. And if you get a chance to see him launch and reload his kayak in the “Cody Milton/FishUSA” van… don’t pass it up. But do not underestimate him, this dude can flat catch ‘em.

Last year, he took on the best and before the season ended – before it was announced, everyone knew who had won the 2018 KBF AOY. This year, the field is stacked up and isn’t as clear; but Cody is always a threat to find fish and best the competition. A 4th place finish at Santee Cooper started off the season, then a 6th place finish at Guntersville and 2nd at Chickamauga (read about that win and more about Cody) left him 10 points behind Rus Snyders for AOY. At the Southeast Regional Championship held in Alabama, Rus was 13th and Cody 14th on day one. Day two saw Cody find them and he finished that day three places ahead of Rus; with his total inches enough to finish 4th overall with Rus in 8th. The win sealed his bid for the southeast AOY. Cody also finished 4th in the East-West Harbors event in the northeast region to add points for the KBF AOY. 

He grew up in a fishing family and that may have helped develop his skills, but having talked with him on several occasions, it is easy to see why he is successful. He studies, and studies and then covers a ton of water pre-fishing to test what he found during that study. Not everyone you speak with will discuss the information they gained by talking with local biologists. His success has gained him some recognition, and put him on a few teams; FishUSA, Accent Fishing, BRD jet – kayak wraps, Proangler Hub, Anglr and All Pro Rods.

Since Cody is definitely going to La Crosse, you should keep your eyes on the leaderboard; he is going there to win.

#2. Casey Reed – Virginia

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(9)

We are not sure when we first met, we couldn’t remember as we talked, but are certain that we will always remember the day we fished at Bienville in the location where Jeff Fader had crushed them all day during the KBF Tenvitational this year. It was one of those days that defines what our kayak community is about and who we are. (read about that day)

Casey Reed is not a newcomer to KBF. He is one of the guys you might see no matter what corner of the United States there is a tournament; he puts in the miles and the time to be competitive. He first fished KBF the year they began the National Championship and has been fishing since. Last year, he was 11th in AOY points going into the Tenvitational with a shot to make the Ten. In 2019, he mentions as his best year, Casey finished 5th in the southeast event at Santee Cooper, 1st at Lake Anna, 24th at Lake George, 6th at the Chesapeake event, 22nd at the East-West Harbors and finished third in the northeast behind Derek Brundle and Russell Johnson.

I had a few good events and a few crappy events.  I sucked at both of the FLW events, but I did well at the right events. At Lake Anna, I caught over one hundred fish and had a nice limit fishing docks. At the Chesapeake, I fished tidal water for the first time, but there were docks and I was able to scratch out a limit.” 

Sitting in 2nd place going into La Crosse, Casey is doing nothing but planning for the event. 

I want to fish some of the pro events next year, but I am just focused on this year right now… I’ve worn myself thin with work and fishing.” 

And like many of us, he has run out of vacation time. 

I have been begging to be able to hit the next two events, but my boss works with me. They watch the trackers from work and support me. My boss used to tell me if I didn’t finish in the top ten percent, I’d have to buy him lunch.  After a while, the guys started betting among themselves.”  

He will tell you that he is either rigging his kayak, fishing, sleeping, or working at the Liberty University Snowflex Center. “Before I started fishing, I used to snowboard a lot. They built this place in my backyard and I have been there ever since. I was pretty darn good at it, won a little here and there.” 

Casey started in a Pelican sit-in kayak that his girlfriend had bought him for his birthday. It wasn’t long before he was rigging it up with flush mount rod holders, an anchor trolley… then he started seeing other rigs and began upgrading kayaks. He now fishes out of an Old Town Predator PDL and is on their pro-staff, is a member of the Dakota Lithium team and just signed a deal to work with FishUSA.

This guy is hungry for a big win and has the skills to make it happen. Casey will be giving his all to take this one home… his boss may just be buying dinner.

#1. Matthew Scotch – Texas; Texas Region AOY

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(10)

Matthew Scotch is one of two Texas anglers in the top ten, but he stood alone this year when it comes to performance.  

It feels that this Culinary School trained chef has definitely made the right choice when he moved to kayak fishing and guiding. In what has been an unprecedented season, Matthew not only dominated the Texas region, he pulled out a 2nd place finish to end with three wins on the KBF trail! 

Where do we start? 

NTXKC events; Lake Lewisville – 2nd, Lake Gilmer – 3rd, Lake Worth – 5th, Ray Hubbard – 1st, Lake Grandbury – 1st.

KBF events; O.H. Ivie – 1st, Ray Roberts – 1st, Toledo Bend – 1st, Sam Rayburn – 2nd, Belton – 5th and then 4th in the Texas regional championship on Lake Fork.

Then we add a tie for second place, 3rd place finish on Lake St. Clair in the Hobie BOS (read more about this and Matthew) event and it all adds up to an incredible year worthy of recognition.  But then in addition to NTXKC AOY and the KBF Texas region AOY, Matthew shows up last weekend to win 1st place in the Lonestar Throwdown.

He was very open about what helped him be able to compete this year. 

This year Texas had a region, so we had the opportunity and I went after it… I got to fish events that were not over 6 hours away. I might fish KBF events, but with the miles to Arkansas for the new regions, I may not be able to do it again. The longer you pre-fish, the farther away… the more money it costs for events… so the traveling has been difficult…. buying fishing licenses, places to stay, food. It is great to have all of these options with Hobie, KBF, NTXKC, and others coming along, but it is still hard to travel. If the prizes were higher when you win, you might be able to afford it, but living farther south and east like Texas, it is just hard. It isn’t financially feasible for most guys to go.

Matthew is on the Hobie Fishing Team, sponsored by NRS, Accent Lures, and Mariner Sails. His guide service, Lonestar Kayak Guide or on Facebook is something to check out, but he feels that it is time for the sport to represent the anglers; showcase those who create the community.

We need to promote the stories from the events. The things that happen, the success of the anglers at the events – get them some opportunities to be able to afford more of the travel and offset some expenses at the same time.

I asked him about his approach to fishing and he seems to have a more philosophical approach to being successful on the water.

Time on the water is so important. I just take it one tournament at a time… like football, baseball or other sports… take it one bass at a time, one tournament at a time. I don’t circle dates on a calendar. I don’t spend time talking about tournaments in the past… I move on to the next… if you talk about the past, you compromise your future. There is no need to gloat, being humble is part of being successful to me. The fish today do not count tomorrow… the experience is important.” 

We talked on his way to La Crosse and he shared some of his thoughts on the event.  

There are things I like about La Crosse, the water being high levels the playing field a bit. I like to think I can pick where fish will be, so I am coming with an open mind – no preconceived notions about what to expect.

Talking with Matthew heading into this event… I’m pretty sure he has a solid plan; a plan to take it all this year.

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year October Update: Final Thoughts

So there you go, the top guys and a little about them and how they landed at the top of their respective trails. Many guys are already on the water in La Crosse; some of us are at our jobs counting the seconds before we can roll out, some wishing they could make it. A part of me is wishing I had decided to sit on the sidelines and just watch this play out because it is shaping up to be a memorable event! But that isn’t how we are wired once we start doing this – these ten know that… we have to chase it… we have to sleep at ramps and in parking lots if that is what is required to be a part of the kayak tournament family. 

Regardless of your status for this event, follow along… it is shaping up to be an incredible finish to another great season of KBF events. See y’all in Wisconsin.

Fishing Arkansas | Cody Milton’s Top 5 Arkansas Fishing Destinations

When most people think of fishing Arkansas, they think deep, clear, tough lakes. Yes, we do have plenty of deep, clear lakes that are difficult to fish, but we always have a plethora of lakes that are full of aquatic grass and lily pads. What is commonly overlooked is the diversity of the fisheries across Arkansas. In almost all of the lakes in Arkansas, you can expect to catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. This always makes for a fun trip. 

Without a doubt, the most famous waterways in Arkansas are those which hold our brown trout. Three of the best trout fishing rivers in the state have all held the world record brown trout at some point in time. The Arkansas record and previous world record of 40.1-pounds was broken in New Zealand in 2013, by a 42.1-pound brown trout. 

The trout fishing here in Arkansas is a very special treat and is not taken advantage of enough, in my opinion. Even if you have never caught a trout, you would love the beauty that these rivers hold. 

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Fishing Arkansas: Trout Fishing

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Fishing Arkansas: The Little Red River

My personal favorite and without a doubt, the most famous body of water for trout fishing is the Little Red River in Heber Springs, Arkansas. It held the world record German brown trout for almost 16-years! I was fortunate to grow up 15-minutes away from here! 

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As a kid, almost all of my summer afternoons were spent wading along some stretch of the 32-miles of trout waters that this river provides. Photo Credit: Onlyinark.com

The Little Red River is the tributary of Greer’s Ferry Lake. Most of the river is wadeable from several different public access points. Some of the most notable areas to fish are Swinging Bridge/Barnett Access, JFK Access, and Cow Shoals Access. 

The best months to fish here are November-January. This is during the brown trout spawn. It is truly an unbelievable sight to see so many fish swarm the shallow shoals. An added bonus is that this is in the middle of the winter when bass fishing is on the back burner of most people’s minds! Come give it a try and come check out this beautiful area of Arkansas. I promise it won’t disappoint! 

Fishing Arkansas: The White River

The White River in Mountain Home, Arkansas, also held the world record brown trout for many years and regularly kicks out a 30-pound brown every few years. 

The White River is much bigger than the Little Red River. Its trout waters below Bull Shoals Lake run over 100-miles long! It is much wider than the Little Red River as well and can be a little more difficult to fish on your own due to the sheer size of the river. I would recommend finding a guide out of Cotter Access or Gaston’s Resort for your first day on the river.

The winter months are by far the best for fishing but check regulations, as much of the river near the dam is closed during the spawning season. It’s been this way for a few seasons now and it has tremendously helped the fishery. Opening day up there is insanely crowded but totally worth going. One thing that is very special about the White River is the number of hay fields around the lower part of the river. These fields hold an enormous amount of grasshoppers and this makes the river notorious for an unbelievable “hopper” bite in October. It is not out of the ordinary to catch 100 brown trout this time of the year. 

Even though I have spent way more time fishing the Little Red River, my largest catches have actually come from the White River.

Fishing Arkansas: The Norfork River

If I could trout fish one river in Arkansas for the rest of my life it would be the Norfork. The crazy part about it is that it’s only 5-miles long from the Norfork dam until it dumps into the White River. 

The Norfork River, just like the White River and Little Red River, has also held the world record brown trout! It still baffles me that people travel all across the world to chase record size browns and we have 3 rivers in Arkansas within 2 hours of each other that ALL have produced world record size trout.

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What I love most about the Norfork is how easily you can catch the “grand slam” in a single day. Photo Credit: tworiversfly.com

The “grand slam” is landing a brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout all in a single day. 

The Norfork is also very wadeable and that makes for epic fly fishing throughout the 5-miles of trout waters. You can learn this river very quickly without hiring a guide!

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Fishing Arkansas: Bass Fishing

Fishing Arkansas: Lake Columbia

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Lake Columbia in Magnolia, Arkansas, is said to hold the next state record largemouth bass and I absolutely believe that to be true. I’ve personally only been on the lake about a dozen times but have seen bass pushing 13-pounds on two different occasions. 

The lake does get a lot of pressure but it is as healthy as any lake I’ve been to across the country. Columbia is loaded with cover for monster bass, something much of the state lakes lack. There is aquatic vegetation that runs close to 15-feet deep most years and the water is gin clear.

If you can find yourself on this lake around the spawn in April, you are in for a treat! You may not catch a double-digit bass but I can almost guarantee that you’ll see one if you look long enough.

Fishing Arkansas: The Buffalo River

The Buffalo River in St. Joe, Arkansas, was the first-ever “National River”. This occurred in 1972 to protect the river from plans to dam up sections for power. 

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Today, it is a Blue Ribbon smallmouth stream because of this act of Congress made back in 1972. Photo Credit: buffaloriver.org

The river stretches 152-miles. Over 100-miles of the Buffalo River is floatable and loaded with smallmouth bass. What I appreciate so much about this area of Arkansas is the sheer beauty that surrounds you. Caves, bluff walls, bike and hiking trails, all surround this famous river. 

There are tons of public access points along the river but I will share my favorite stretch of the river. Ponca-Pruitt is a fantastic stretch, even in low water months, Ponca-Pruitt still makes for a good float without dragging your canoe or kayak. The Buffalo River is a destination that you can take your whole family on and spend several days. It is the heart of why Arkansas is called “The Natural State”.

Kayak Paddle | A Guide to Selecting the Right Kayak Paddle

Featured Image Credit: Scott Beutjer

Selecting a kayak paddle for me was a simple process; once I had some idea what I planned to be doing on the water. I knew I was not (still am not) adventurous enough to drop over falls in a kayak, so there is no way I can offer you advice on that; I am a kayak bass tournament angler, not a whitewater enthusiast – looks cool, but it is not for me. However, I can offer you some things to consider when standing in front of a wall of paddles at your local outfitter.

Your Kayak Paddle Needs to Reach the Water

First, the paddle needs to reach into the water. 

You might be saying at this point, “Everyone knows this….who is this guy?”

Well, I can tell you I have seen too many people pick up their first paddle without thinking about the distance to the water. A paddle that works well in your smaller Wal-Mart kayak will force you to bend excessively in a larger sit on top kayak and be virtually useless in the newer, wider models on the market. 

The movement required to move the boat will wear your body out, even on short trips, and cause the boat to track differently. Each time you reach down to the water, your body and the boat follow that motion.  So consider how far is it to the water. Sounds simple… but again, I have seen too many folks regret a purchase over this simple oversight.

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Joy Cheatham gliding across the water in her Hobie.

Kayak Paddle, Pedal, or Motor?

Second, you need to ask yourself if you are going to primarily paddle or pedal (or motor).  There are purists whom I respect greatly, guys who feel that the sport should be for conventional paddlers only; sit in (maybe on) kayaks. And many more who feel that putting a motor on that kayak is sacrilege, despite the popularity of Torqueedos and other motors on the market. Regardless of your stance, or personal choice, you will need a paddle on the kayak as a method of propulsion; even if it is for backup only. So pick the paddle that fits your intent.  

If you plan to be a pure paddle kayaker, pick up the paddle and hold it out in front of you. 

Is it heavy? 

Does it feel comfortable? 

Remember, it is going to become a part of you for the time you spend on the water. If you are fishing; it is going to be picked up, put down, picked up and used several hundreds of times during the day. If it feels too heavy then, on a hot summer day five miles from a launch or take out point, it is going to feel like lead.  

If you own or plan to get a pedal kayak, the weight is not as much of a consideration. A lot of pedal/motor kayakers do not even carry a full paddle, or just use the paddles that come with those boats. A Hobie, for instance, comes with a paddle that is more than adequate as a backup; and most guys carry it in two pieces. Another viable option for pedal yaks is a Backwater Paddle, a shorter paddle (held in one hand), that allows you to make short strokes to turn the boat or back up.  

Now, I am going to add some free advice about paddles and pedal yaks… unfortunately, the drives can break, the props can be damaged, and the fins distorted by running into submerged objects while running across water. If you can see your vehicle, no big deal. If you have pedaled for a couple of hours away from that vehicle and were planning on pedaling to get home, it will be a very long trip with an assault or half paddle.  

So, my advice, carry a full paddle. I had a buddy use a piece of wood he found, way upstream from a launch, to get back. This effort makes paddling with a short paddle seem like a lot of fun!

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Matt Spencer as he fishes along a rip-rap bank in his NuCanoe.

Kayak Paddle | Decide How Often You’ll Be Fishing

Third, be as honest as you can with yourself. I first bought a kayak to enhance our camping trips because I had a bass boat in the garage. My intent was to use it once in a blue moon, then I got paid in a tournament and was immediately hooked… and haven’t been out of the kayak except to work and sleep. This will not be true of everyone, many of you will buy one with the intent of using it a lot, but you have to honestly define “a lot”. 

My brother bought a couple of Wal-Mart kayaks so they could get out on camping trips too. He bought some sit-in kayaks with the cheaper paddles. He used them a few times and will use them very minimally forever. The choice to go with a less expensive boat and the paddle was the best choice for him. If you are just thinking about giving it a try, I suggest you go with the less expensive options until you are sure; if you are sure, seriously consider a better paddle.

Kayak Paddle | Know Your Price

This brings me to the last thing I would recommend you know before you get in front of that wall of colorful paddles; how much are you willing to spend. There is nothing wrong with buying a paddle that fits your price range.  There are several brands that are relatively inexpensive and more than adequate, then there are high-end paddles for those who spend every weekend on the water. 

Choose for you, choose what fits you.  

My first adventure in front of the paddles, I picked out a really cool looking one… had Ryan at Caney Fork explain that it needed to reach the water… got attached to the design… then found out how much it was going to cost. I have since learned that as expensive as that first paddle was, it was barely a middle of the road paddle when it comes to cost. I was fortunate enough to win some money fishing tournaments and upgraded to the Bending Branches Angler Pro Carbon (then another after I backed over that one at a ramp… not a good day) and prefer that over any paddle I have picked up since. But before you pick one up, and get attached to it, make sure you are willing to spend the amount required.   

I am not a paddle expert. 

I may not even be able to play one on TV, but I have offered up the things I would think through if I ever buy a new paddle. Also, read the reviews and the selection guides offered by companies; not just one, but many. I Googled it, so I know there are countless guides out there for selecting paddles. Bending Branches, Werner Paddles, and others have some very informative sites that can give you specific details on the shape of the paddle, length of the shafts, etc.; and I recommend that you research those sites and read reviews. 

The paddle can literally become one of the most important parts of your day on the water, even if it is only to push offshore or to get you back when your other propulsion methods fail, so make sure you are able to reach the water with the best paddle you can afford.

Hands-On Review of the Feelfree Lure 11.5 Fishing Kayak

Owning a Feelfree Lure as my first fishing kayak is a lot like getting a corvette as your first car. Being a new driver, you really don’t even have the experience necessary to fully appreciate everything that it is capable of. But, that’s the situation I have found myself in and I am very thankful and happy to share it with you. 

In June of 2019, I knew I wanted to get into a kayak and I knew I wanted to get into one that would be able to grow with me as I learned how to fish from a kayak. I did a TON of research and you can read more about my final list of kayaks and the complete selection process in my off the bank series here

The Feelfree Lure 11.5 is an Incredibly Fishingable Kayak

This post is going to provide a brief outline of what I have liked (and disliked) most about my Feelfree Lure 11.5 fishing kayak. I’ve spent three months fishing out of the kayak an average of once a week and I could not be more excited to share this experience with you. 

I am just going to provide a call-out list of my favorite things in no particular order to give you an idea of what has really tickled-my-fancy about this kayak so far. 

Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend this fishing kayak to anyone, no-matter where their angling skill level and experience. It’s a blast to fish from.

What I Love About the Feelfree Lure 11.5 Fishing Kayak

The Wheel in the Keel

The wheel in the keel system that Feelfree has patented is very useful. Simply grab the molded front handle and lift to about waist height and you’re ready to roll.

Literally.

The wheel is fully engaged and rolls extremely well. I LOVE not having to mess with a taxi or kayak cart of any kind. I simply roll my kayak over to my car. Throw it on top. Drive. Take it off. And roll it to the water. It’s so simple, fast, and easy. I love this feature.

The Seat

First, this is a very comfortable seat and this was important to me when selecting my yak. I planned to spend a lot of time in it. Second, it’s extremely easy to adjust. I’d say it’s the most simple and easy seat to adjust on the market. There’s a small red strap towards the bottom front of the seat that hangs. I simple grab it and pull the seat up or give it a quick yank directly upwards to drop it lower. It’s so easy and simple.

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Why does this matter?

Because I love the ability to transition from high to mid to low seat settings throughout my fishing trips.

Why does that matter?

Because if I am in current or in wind, it’s very nice to be able to drop the seat super quickly and have a lower center of gravity and more aerodynamics to efficiently paddle. When I get to a spot I can quickly transition to a higher position for better fishability. It’s just awesome. 

The Appearance

This thing just looks cool. I love the unique desert camo mold that this kayak comes in. It has a nice and flat profile that just looks lean and mean compared to many of the other kayak hulls on the market. There are some very tall profiles out there. This kayak just looks clean, hydrodynamic, and stable. And, it is.

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I simply love how this thing looks.

The Versatile and Removable Center Pod Console

As your on the water it’s very convenient to have this accessible and water sealed pod to keep valuables, chargers, phone, keys, etc. Feelfree has designed this center pod to be very flexible in use. It comes with pre-drilled and sealed holes to run wires for electronics or transducers.

It’s also very easy to remove if you’d like for storing.

I have mounted a Ram Mount X-grip to the top of mine where I keep my phone running the ANGLR app while fishing. I keep a power bank inside the main compartment and run a lightning cable up through their pre-fabricated hole. It works extremely well. I just throw my Iphone on the mount when I hit the water and I am ready to go without having to worry about power. In the future, I can even swap this pod out for the Feelfree pedal drive system. 

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The Walkable Deck and Overall Layout

This one is pretty straightforward. There is plenty of room between the seat and where the center pod and elevated bow begin. I can take a few shuffle steps easily for rotating while standing in this boat without running into space issues.

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I like how it’s a nice clean and clear area for standing.

I feel everything is where it should be. Rear stern storage is also very well laid-out and I can quickly access tackle and other items with plenty of storage. 

The Stability

This was very important to me as I knew I wanted to be fishing standing up often. I love to power fish and there’s just something about power fishing and covering water that doesn’t feel right sitting down. You get extra visibility for sight fishing as well when you’re standing.

This kayak feels very stable when I am standing. I go from sit to stand in this kayak constantly. Oftentimes I don’t even use anything to stabilize myself when transitioning and stand up completely un-assisted. This kayak handles all my fumbling around on my feet, rotating while standing, rookie hook-sets and all my shenanigans with ease. The hull design is very stable for standing yet it wants to move in the water. I love it.

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The Built in Paddle Storage

When you’re done paddling and need somewhere quick and easy to stow your paddle, having a quick and easy place to put it is incredibly important. Think about how often you will switch from paddling to casting and you’ll have a good understanding of why this is.

Feelfree nailed their built in paddle storage.

They placed two built in locations on either side of the kayak where the paddle rests perfectly on a molded perch that is perfectly integrated into their molded handles. You can quickly secure the paddle into this slot with a built in bungee that is easy to fasten with one hand. I use this feature constantly and I have really grown to appreciate the thoughtful design.

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The Molded Handles

Now, you don’t really think about handles as one of the big features of your kayak until you try to move said kayak. These things aren’t a powder puff to throw around. They have some girth. After loading this thing on top of my Ford Explorer and then unloading it the first time, I was incredibly grateful for the nice molded style handles that Feelfree provides on all four sides of this kayak. They are solid, convenient, and absolutely essential after hauling this thing around for the past three months.

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Lots of Goodies Come Stock

Rod mounts. Adjustable foot pegs. Rear storage bungees. Crate straps. Rod leashes. Seat storage pockets. Tackle box storage inlays and bungees. Paddle management. Handles. Tracking. 

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What I Don’t Love About the Feelfree Lure 11.5

Nothing is perfect. After fishing in this boat for the past three months, here’s the things that I’d change if I were Feelfree.

The Seat Upper Back Support Isn’t the Best

The upper seat support seams to hit your back a little bit lower in the lumbar area than it should. It can cause some discomfort after spending six hours or more on the water. Feelfree does sell an upgrade to fix this issue and I will most likely be grabbing the upgrade. 

The Standing Strap

This kayak (and many others on the market) comes with a strap to help you stand from sitting position. It is attached to the deck right in front of the removable pod in the Lure. I found this to be completely unnecessary and it mostly gets in the way. I removed it after the first two uses. Not a big deal at all. Just not something I loved. 

Tracks Need Adapters

Another minor gripe that I have run into was the track system on Feelfree kayaks. They require an adapter in order to use many aftermarket accessories. This was easily fixed with a pack of adapters I got on Amazon, but it would be nice if they were just the standard track size that played nicely with most of the other big players in the aftermarket kayak accessory space. 

Front Bow Storage Cannot Fit Rods

I’d love to be able to store some rods in the sealed front hatch of this kayak, but I haven’t found a way to get them to fit properly. This would be a nice feature when transporting and storing the yak.

Final Warning… 

I have to warn you, if you’re thinking about getting into kayak fishing, it’s very addicting. Especially in a boat like the Feelfree Lure. I have found myself constantly thinking about the next time I can get on the water and where to take the kayak next. It truly is the best anti-depressant and stress-relief I have found. I truly feel free while I am on the water (see what I did there?).

To quote my buddy Shaye Baker…

“Once you go, you know. And now I know.”

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – ¼ Ounce Buzzbait

In a previous article, I talked about one of favorite fall bass fishing baits, a lipless crankbait. Well, another favorite of mine this time of year is a ¼ ounce buzzbait. It’s a bait that I rarely throw any other time of the year but has a way of bringing a big one to the boat once the fall rolls around. 

As I mentioned before, my dad and I have traveled to Lake Wheeler in north Alabama with our club in October each year for decades. It’s always our first taste of cold weather, the first time we see the leaves begin to change colors and the first shot we get at fall fishing. 

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The shad flood the shores and spill over into the backs of creeks and pockets, bass are aggressively right on their tails ready to feast. And we eagerly set out to interrupt the smorgasbord. 

As previously discussed, one of the best baits for catching lots of these bass is a lipless crankbait. But one of the best baits for catching the biggest fish in the bunch is a ¼ ounce buzzbait. 

In the fall, I can catch 5 fish on a ¼ ounce buzzbait to everyone I can catch with 1/2-ounce buzzbait. I believe this all comes back again to the overabundance of bait, matching the hatch and the fact that a big loud bait just isn’t necessary.

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¼ Ounce Buzzbait: Why Not a Big Loud Bait?

Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. Because there is so much bait present in the fall, sometimes you have to work even harder to get a bite, especially from an older, battle-weary bass. But you want to still present something to it that’s fairly close in size to what he’s already grown so familiar to and you don’t want to throw something that so obviously different that he just turns his nose up at it. 

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All this is why I believe a ¼ ounce buzzbait is so effective. 

You’re presenting something very similar in size to what the bass are eating but you’re doing so on the surface, giving off the appearance that the bait is struggling or fleeing from another predator.

Now, all of this is taking into consideration that I’m trying to break down the physiology of a bass. But who’s to say its right or wrong? No one really knows what goes on in a bass’s head. All I know is what I’ve seen. And I’ve seen my dad or myself win several of those club tournaments on Wheeler in the fall thanks to one 5-pound bite on a ¼ ounce buzzbait.

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¼ Ounce Buzzbait: What to Target?

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Wood, rock, and grass are all great structures when throwing a buzzbait in the fall, but the main thing you have to have is bait. 

I’ve fished miles of some of the best-looking water on the lake in the fall without bait and without a bite. And I’ve caught fish with a buzzbait in the middle of a barren shallow flat that was loaded with bait. Bait is key. But bait around any kind of structure is the best to target.

Fish Bump Board | The Top 3 Kayak Measuring Boards

When kayak fishing tournaments started using the Catch, Photo, Release (CPR) format, a consistent and accurate kayak measuring board was needed. In the early days, the main fish bump board used was the Hawg Trough. The Hawg Trough was great; it was light, cheap, and reliable. 

As tournaments progressed and expanded, other options have arrived offering many advantages and differences from their predecessors. While these measuring boards may not seem all that flashy, you can’t win a tournament without them, so take the time to pick out the option that works best for you.

Fish Bump Board #1: Ketch Board

I can still remember getting ready for the 2018 KBF National Championship and seeing the advertisements for the lime green KBF Edition Ketch board. At first, I saw a really expensive Hawg Trough, but after getting my hands on one in person, all of those assumptions went out the window. 

The Ketch Board is KBF and Hobie approved for their tournaments and is one of only a few approved measuring boards for these events. One thing I hear all the time from fellow anglers are comments about the price of the Ketch Board. At first glance, it is expensive. When you consider how many plastic boards you break over the years, it ends up being about two and a half of those and trust me, your Ketch Board isn’t going to break.

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The first thing you’ll notice about a Ketch Board is the quality. 

Each Ketch Board is made of milled aluminum, there’s no question that this board is going to last a lifetime. If you’re someone who’s into a specific color, Ketch offers custom colors and engravings allowing anglers to build their own unique design or represent their local club. The quality of the powder coating applied allows great visibility of the measurement lines making the judge’s lives much easier.

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Now, with that build quality, comes a less than buoyant product, so be sure to grab a Neverlost Leash to protect your investment. 

Ketch Boards are 100% American made, and if you ever get a chance to chat with some of the folks from Ketch, you’ll know you’re getting the absolute best quality product. Grab yourself a Ketch board, you won’t regret it!

Fish Bump Board #2: YakGear Fish Stik

The YakGear Fish Stik is a natural evolution from the classic Hawg Trough, constructed out of more durable plastic and being able to fold closed to be stowed safely out of the way. A bit of a disclaimer before going on too far about the Fish Stik, be sure to purchase the KBF and KATS approved versions of this product if you plan to use it for fishing tournaments. These boards have darkened markers and numbers making it easier for judges to review fish. 

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Another key advantage to this product that should not be understated, it floats!

Fish Bump Board #3: Hawg Trough

The Hawg Trough is an absolute staple of any competitive kayak angler. I would be willing to bet that every kayak angler who competes in tournaments has had a Hawg Trough at one point in time throughout their career. 

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The Hawg Trough is a cheap and reliable option for anglers of all levels and can even be customized for additional strength or to help it float in case it finds itself overboard. 

There’s not a whole lot to the Hawg Trough other than its a cheap and reliable measuring board for CPR tournaments.

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing | Mike Cheatham’s Kayak Setup Tips

So, you are headed out fishing in your kayak. By now you have all the basics and are looking at all the stuff to carry on the water, stuff you think you will need. There is a simple question you need to ask yourself; where do you plan on fishing this weekend? I ask you to ask yourself this question because it will be critical to setting up a kayak for fishing.  

If you plan to drop the kayak off an embankment and fish some hard to access water, you may not want to load up several tackle bags or all the attachments you own. If you are going to back down to a nice ramp and fish open water, the considerations are different.  

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Robert Guigar fishing a small creek.

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing: Take Only What You Need

I am among the worst at carrying things I don’t need, packing entirely too much gear on top of my kayak “just in case”, but I did learn on a recent trip to rethink that practice. I dropped my kayak into a smaller creek, loaded up all of my rods and tackle and headed upstream. I hit a spot with light rapids… snagged my rods on a tree, had it pull my Engel cooler over because I couldn’t get stopped soon enough, and came home missing one of my favorite Mojo Bass rods. 

Now, I stop and ask myself where I am headed and what to expect.

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing: Preparing for a Shallow, Moving Water Outing

Skinny water fishing (shallow or narrow creeks) can provide unique challenges. First, you will not want to have several rods standing up behind you, these will snag every tree or bush you pass. I can tell you, there is nothing more fun than reaching behind you hoping to catch your rods just in time to see them disappear underwater as they shake loose from a tree that pulled them out of your kayak (second warning). If this occurs in rapid water – it is challenging to control the kayak while trying to retrieve them. Second, there is always the potential to get hung on an obstruction. These can cause anything from simply being stuck on the bottom or a log, to getting spun sideways and over into the water.  

One of the first videos I saw when learning about kayaking was of my friend Anthony Shingler’s adventures on a local creek. I watched as everything inside his kayak exited and created a debris field as far as the camera could capture. So this leads to another important consideration on these types of water, especially if you expect a faster water flow; attach stuff to your kayak.  Bungees, leashes, rod holders, tackle storage options with the lids in place can save you a lot of grief. You should think about buying waterproof tackle storage boxes, carry a dry bag with wallets and/or phones (and extra clothes) to keep things dry should you capsize. You should also use any storage space under hatches on these trips.

If you are going to be shallow for long stretches, you will most likely not need to worry about dealing with a depth finder either. When you can feel the bottom with your rod, or even see the bottom, all that cool side imaging will not really provide you much value. I fished out of a small jon boat for over twenty years without any depth finder at all because I stayed in water from six inches deep to ten feet. It was the style of fishing that provided me the most happiness, and it would have only provided me the added knowledge of water temperature.

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing: Preparing for a Deeper, Calm Water Outing

Now, if you are going on a calmer body of water you still need to think about not taking too much, but you have more options. Rods can be stored upright, you can feel better setting tackle boxes and bags in the kayak because you have a smaller risk of being on the receiving end of an overturned boat. It will be easier to stand up and stretch or fish standing up, and digging through all the extra stuff behind your seat will be much easier. I would still encourage you to leash some items down, and use waterproof boxes; the only time I ever flipped my kayak I was sitting on the boat ramp – so it can happen anywhere.

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Tom Monahan ready to launch.

The latest depth finders will be of greater value on larger and more open bodies of water. They help you to locate humps and grass lines, or to simply navigate with charts. You can find fish on ledges and stumps you might pass over without fishing and set waypoints to use on future trips.  Couple this with data you have collected from the ANGLR app over time and you will start looking like a real pro…. okay, maybe you’ll just catch more fish.

Make sure you attach a flag (like the YakAttack VisiCarbon) to make your kayak more visible to boats on larger bodies of water. This can help when you are in swells, or if there are a lot of personal watercraft buzzing around. Also, wear your life jacket on any trip you plan. I know it is more comfortable to fish without it hugging you, but it is the one thing that can help you make it home; so others can hug you.  

I cannot stress enough the importance of a PFD when kayaking.  

Again, when setting up a kayak for fishing, make sure you know where you plan to fish. Consider the plan for each trip, they are not all the same, so be prepared for the body of water you are fishing. Lay out your rods and tackle with location, water conditions and even what species you are targeting in mind. Twelve rods on board, rolling over rapids, with all of your tackle could end with you missing a Mojo Bass rod or with your friends making a video of your stuff floating off into the distance.