Winter Kayak Fishing | Some Tips & Advice From Mike Cheatham

When it comes to winter kayak fishing, some kayakers in the north are forced to leave their kayaks at home to fish hard water. Some move to hunting during the winter months, or have other pursuits to fill the winter days. But there are still many of us who fish year-round from our kayaks — for bass, crappie, stripers, white bass – for everything and anything that will bite.

My third tournament from a kayak, I left my hog trough in the truck while fishing on Kentucky Lake. It snowed so hard that by the time I retrieved it from the back floor board, the seat on my kayak was covered with snow. I repeated that on Dale Hollow just two years ago. It was miserable, cold, raining, and snowing… but I was fishing dang it! 

I recently followed a series of posts just this week from Jaxton and Jim Orr who had fled south to fish Chickamauga and had some success. So there is that option too. For me, I know the crappie and white bass are biting here in Tennessee and they really taste good soaked in some hot grease.

So I am partaking in winter kayak fishing.

But prepping for a winter kayak fishing trip is not the same as prepping July. You have to be very aware of the weather and really understand the temperature of both the air and the water. Hypothermia is real and with kayaks having a higher chance of flipping than larger boats, you need to be prepared. Learn what to do, how to do it, but more important: learn what to expect should you find yourself in the water.  

Winter Kayak Fishing: A Close Call

Before I owned a kayak, I picked up a friend to fish out of my small jon boat. I knew when he got in the truck he was not dressed for the 20-degree air temps and I should have called it off then, but I had some extra coveralls in my truck that would help him stay warm. 

We fished for a few hours without success, and decided to head in. I asked him to hand me a tackle box, and the next sound I heard was him falling into the barely 50 degree water. He was not wearing a PFD and the coveralls quickly absorbed water. Fortunately for my friend, we were less than 50 yards from the ramp because I could not get him back into the boat. I held his arm as he clung to the side and I used the trolling motor to cover the distance.

In that short time, I had to help him up the ramp and out of his wet clothes. I gave him my coveralls (which would have also pulled me under had I fallen) and cranked up the heat as he shivered uncontrollably.

That day could have been our last.

Be Prepared When Going Winter Kayak Fishing

Since then, I have made myself more aware. But to be completely upfront, I am probably still not as prepared as I should be during the winter months. I do understand that cotton is not good and that I should be well insulated from the elements – not the air, but the water. I also understand that we should all carry extra clothing and a way to start a fire. 

The biggest thing is to ALWAYS WEAR A LIFE JACKET

I am not telling this to keep you off the water in the winter. I will be out the next free day that I can get on the water; 30 or 80 degrees. I will have a dry bag full of essential items, someone will know exactly where I am and when I plan to be home. But most likely, I will not be alone if it is cold. I am careful to prepare for 30-degree weather because I know the reality of what can go wrong.    

Y’all read up on what to consider when fishing in the cold.  Below is a tiny sample of what is available online. Educate yourself on the effects of hypothermia.

This is a fairly comprehensive (although high-level) explanation.

The 1-10-1 Principle explained here is something else to understand.  

I personally feel that this document provides some good information to consider when kayaking in cold weather. 

No matter what you chose to review, just be safe. Winter kayak fishing can lead to some really fun days on the water, just remember there’s plenty of people who want you to come home safe and plan accordingly!

Tennessee Kayak State Championship | A Recap With Mike Cheatham

Tennessee is home to ten clubs that fall under the umbrella of a larger organization, Kayak Anglers Society of Tennessee (KAST)

All clubs are required to follow the same KAST rules and regulations to insure a consistent point system across the state. Each year, KAST chooses a location from the home waters of one of the local clubs to be the site of the Tennessee State Championship. Once chosen, the clubs send their top ten anglers to the event to compete for individual and club titles.  

In 2019, Tennessee Valley Kayak Anglers (TVKA) hosted the event on Lake Chickamauga out of the Blue Water Resort and Marina in Dayton, Tennessee.  

Steve Owens, who co-directs the club, did an incredible job with the event by getting sponsors, prizes and an excellent venue. Daniel Davis, the secretary and treasurer for KAST, and John Ferguson, who doubled as photographer, worked with Steve to make sure that the event ran smoothly — keeping all of the anglers in line. 

It was an incredible team to say the least.

Tennessee Kayak State Championship(1)

The title sponsor for the Tennessee State Championship is selected through blind bids from vendors who would like to support the event. Hook1 got it this year and Chris Smith, director of operations, was extremely supportive of the Tennessee event.  

They donated boats — a Titan 12 propel and a Bonafide, and a Yakima Easy Rider Trailer. If you guys see Chris Smith or Chris Conder give them a big thanks for all they do for our community. Not just during the event, but all year long.  

These dudes are pretty cool. 

I do not want to leave out some other significant contributors to the tournament’s success. Fish Dayton was a very generous financial sponsor, check out their website. Native donated a Manta Ray XT. Real Deal Tackle gave a big discount that allowed the team to buy several reels. Raymarine donated two Element depth finders. There was also a Tennessee Trailer raffle held to raise money for TVKA. Tremont Tavern provided a meal at the final check-in and awards. And I am going to tell you: check out their burgers if you are anywhere close (or go out of your way) to these guys on Hixon Pike in Chattanooga.

Tennessee Kayak State Championship: The Event’s Format

There is an individual 2-day, five fish limit. Each club competed against the others across Tennessee. The event started on Friday afternoon and continued Saturday morning. You were allowed to fish from Watts Bar Dam to Chickamauga Dam.  They set the boundary on the Hiwassee and you could not pass I-40.  

And here are some notable stories from the event’s top five finishers:

First Place: Rus Snyders 

Tennessee Kayak State Championship(2)

Rus Snyders, who fishes with KBFTN, was fishing the Harrison Bay area. He had found fish pre-fishing, and on day one they were still there. He was catching them on buzzbaits and chatterbaits after a tip from Chris Conder about location. Day two, he was having a much harder time. The fish just didn’t seem to be as aggressive. He passed Derek Bostic during the day who told him to slow down and throw a jig.  After making the adjustment, virtually dead sticking a jig on 45-degree banks, and not losing a single fish during the tournament, Rus walked away as the 2019 Tennessee Kayak State Champion.

Second Place: Russell Rutledge

Tennessee Kayak State Championship(3)

Second Place finisher, Russell Rutledge, sells construction supplies when he isn’t fishing. He has a much different story. 

His journey to kayak bass fishing is a bit different than most folks who fish with us. He came from a white water rafting background, but suffered a shoulder injury after eight years that left him unable to truly enjoy that any longer. On a lark, he bought a $25 Crappie Max at Bass Pro to fish a local creek. He ended up catching several bass from the bank, then tied that rod to his old whitewater kayak and didn’t look back. He bought a smaller kayak and in 2016, he found the West Tennessee Bass Yakkers on the internet and joined up with them.  

After catching zero fish on day one, he decided to take his time getting to the launch. He got a late start and decided to whip in to a Waffle House, have a nice breakfast and just enjoy the day on the water.  Russell was fishing on the northern end of Chickamauga and launched with no expectations.  

He figured they were up around the wood, close to the bank and deeper water. After throwing just about everything, he started catching fish on a Heddon Pop’n Image after changing to red Gamakatsu hooks;

“I am not sure if that is what triggered them or not.”

Trent Harris and Russell had been talking and suggested that he use the bait. He also convinced Russell to add split rings on the bait to get more action. It seems it was pretty good advice. 

At around one o’clock, Russell lay his head back and took a few moments for a snooze. He drank some water, ate a sandwich and decided to chill out and “just enjoy it”. He kept hearing fish popping, so he decided he better get back to it.

Third Place: Ryan Lambert 

Tennessee Kayak State Championship(4)

Ryan is no stranger to the area, a big stick in the TVKA pulled a solid third place finish. He is always a contender, when you see his name on the roster, expect him to show up on the leader board at some point.

Fourth Place: Trent Harris

Tennessee Kayak State Championship(5)

Trent Harris, who sells medical equipment after spending 25 years as a paramedic, finished fourth. He got into kayak fishing by finding KBF online events, then like Russell, he hooked up with the West Tennessee group. 

“People in my family had so many boats, I didn’t see a need to buy one, so I picked up a kayak. I could fish with them,” he said.

During pre-fishing on his first trip to the lake, he found some fish busting everywhere and decided that he had found the spot. He was less than 10 minutes from the check-in location. 

On Friday afternoon, he targeted the thick grass around his location but couldn’t connect. They kept pulling a Stanley Ribett Frog under, but they would not stay pinned.

He hadn’t landed anything until almost dark, then found them on the same bait that Russell used on day two. It was a Heddon Pop’n Image as the fish schooled around a bridge. He picked up three fish before the day ended, with two of them being decent.

“I lost what would have been the large fish for the tournament on Friday night.”

Saturday he found them on the frog.  

“I had watched videos of people fishing a frog, and learned that it is just like fishing Brown’s Creek. If you are too far from the bank, they ain’t touching it.” 

Then Trent let me in on a little secret: “I kept missing fish and I put some garlic spray with chartreuse dye on the legs and the fish didn’t let go like they did Friday night. I kept spraying it every so often to make sure it had some scent.

Fifth Place: Josh Stewart

Tennessee Kayak State Championship(6)

If you haven’t heard of Josh, that means you have not been tracking anything in the kayak world.

He rounded out the top five list toward the north on Chickamauga Lake. He was also fishing a Ribbit Frog.  

“I missed a four or five pounder on day one that would have changed things for me.” he said.

I will tell you this, if you get a chance to talk to Josh about his day on Chickamauga, do it. He is without a doubt one of the most colorful story tellers I have had the pleasure of interviewing. He and fourth place finisher Trent both talked highly about each other and how they helped each other to catch fish.  

These top five personify the Tennessee kayak anglers. They are friendly, helpful and encouraging of everyone fishing around them.

Tennessee Kayak State Championship: Who’s Ready For Next Year? 

For 2020, TNKATT has been selected as the host club and the event will be held on Fort Loudon and Tellico.  

“After the phenomenal success of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville it only made sense for us to build on that success and bring some of that good mojo to the kayak side of the angling world… However, with the added versatility kayaks allow, we will also be including the Holston and French Broad Rivers as eligible waters.

“With an established population of largemouth, quickly growing Florida strain population and the added choice of targeting smallmouth in moving waters, these waters will offer several options to the top kayak anglers from across the state who earn the right to compete for their respective local trail.”

Blade Bait Fishing | The Perfect Cold Water Bait

Everyone is talking about the blade bait these days.

Or at least it seems that way. 

Apparently one of the most effective baits of all time when it comes to near freezing water temps, the blade bait is all the rage right now. I personally have little to no experience with it and wanted to know what the craze was all about so I called on my buddy and smallmouth guru Ben Nowak to shed a little light. 

“It’s not the most exciting way to fish, but it catches a lot,” he said. “And I can throw it all the way up til there’s ice on the water.”

catch more bass fishing app banner 1

Why the Blade Bait is so Effective

The later we get into the winter, the colder the water gets and the slower the bite tends to be. So to be able to fish a moving bait, no matter how slow it’s moving, certainly has some appeal to it. 

“It’s almost like fishing a jig. I mainly cast it myself and rarely fish it vertical. I like to keep the bait within a foot or two of the bottom and just drag it or slow hop it,” Nowak said.

The presentation is also a lot like slowly fishing a lipless crankbait on the bottom, but the blade bait offers up a couple advantages to the trap. One, the bait sinks a lot faster allowing it to be fished deeper more efficiently. And it also has a tighter action. 

But there are certain times where Nowak will lean towards the lipless crankbait

“If I get in really dirty water I’ll go to the lipless crankbait because of the rattles,” he said. “Or I’ll change the color of my blade bait. My predominant colors are silver or white. And then if I get in really dirty water I’ll go with a chartreuse or gold blade.”

bass fishing blog cta equation

Nowak’s Blade Bait Gear

The gear Nowak uses is a little unorthodox compared to the bigger, stiffer baitcasting rods and heavier line used by a lot of anglers throwing a blade bait, but there’s a reason for it all. 

“I throw a blade bait on a spinning rod all the way up to 5/8ths of an ounce and I don’t throw over a 5/8ths. A 7-foot medium fast or extra fast spinning rod with 15-pound test braid and an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.”

Nowak prefers spinning gear because it allows him to throw lighter line. He prefers lighter line because it’s more effective at starting the bait’s action. 

“A lot of guys are going to fish it on a baitcaster with 15- or 17- pound fluorocarbon and the blade bait just doesn’t start as fast once you’ve let it sink to the bottom with that setup as it does when you fish it on lighter line.”

There’s More to His Blade Bait Setup!

His unorthodox choices in gear don’t stop there.

“The other big thing is a really long leader on that spinning rod, like a 30-foot leader. I actually prefer a longer leader like this on all my spinning gear.”

The reasoning here is a little complex, but sound. Nowak explains that with a shorter, say 6- to 10-foot leader, you’re going to have issues where you shock your leader and you’re going to break off.

“Fishing a longer leader lets that fluorocarbon absorb the shock of a hookset but it actually lets you cast a lot further too. Think of how your line comes out of a spinning rod. When your connection knot hits that choker guide, it slows the line down coming out of the reel.”

As the knot catches the guide, the momentum of the braid behind it continues to push the line out while the leader line that has already passed the guide begins to slow down.

“Your braid catches up to the fluorocarbon and ends up tangling around your connection knot. With a longer leader, your line basically has more momentum coming out of the reel before your connection knot hits that choker guide and it comes out a lot cleaner.”

One thing’s for certain, fishing in near freezing waters often makes for a long day with little action. A blade bait may very well be the magic bullet you need to fire in the direction of deep, lethargic bass this winter. 

Blade Bait (1)

There’s only one way to find out.

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year Recap with Rus Snyders

The first year I fished competitively, my idea of prepping for a tournament was to make sure I knew where the check-ins were. I verified that I had all of my equipment, some food and water.  I looked at a map or two, planned launch and load times to make sure I wasn’t late. Fishing water I knew, this was enough.  

As I started running across the country chasing the trails, I quickly learned that having enough Diet Pepsi and Beanie Weenees to survive a weekend was not adequate. At check-ins, I talked and listened to the guys who were having repeated success and learned a lot from those conversations.  

I learned preparing for tournaments can consist of more than just re-tying lures, spooling line or sorting tackle. We can research online maps, reviewing Navionics or LakeMaster charts. Google Earth or the ANGLR app give you the ability to see satellite images and allow you to see current and historic water levels and flow. YouTube gives virtually unlimited access to past tournament videos, or locals giving insight on what works and when. You can even collect data with apps like ANGLR and review where and under what conditions you had success. 

Before you drive to a location, you can spend hours and hours learning a body of water.  

Three years ago, I had no idea any of that was available. Armed with this knowledge, I am better than I was at prepping for bodies of water I have never seen; I even thought I had it “kinda” figured out. But I honestly had no idea how to really connect all of the pieces together.  

Then, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Rus Snyders about his success during 2019. Rus had a great year, winning several events and finishing as the Tennessee State Champion and the 2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year. I have known who Rus is for quite some time, having heard stories about him creating a Plan A, B… then C and D just in case he needed it; and I thought those were just myths. After the year he had, I wanted to see how much was real. I asked him “how do you get ready?”; thinking there was not much difference in what we all do.  

It took about two minutes to realize that I had ascended a mountain, reached the top and found a master; not only in building a game plan, but in continuous preparation. I sat listening and taking notes that I want to share. Well… most of them.

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year: Efficiency in Gear and Tackle

There was a consistent theme when it came to tackle and gear; efficiency.  

I spend a lot of time planning how to manage all of the tackle. Trying to eliminate as much wasted packing as possible. The more organized you are, the more efficient you can be later on the water. I know guys who just throw stuff in their kayaks, and it works for them. I need to be more organized.

I used to fish out of a bass boat and carry everything I owned with me. You find conditions where you throw things you didn’t plan on throwing. In a kayak, you have to strategize very differently due to lack of space.”

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(1)  2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(2)

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year: Rus’s Tackle Storage

“I had everything on peg boards. One peg for beaver type baits, one for brush hogs, etc.. Every time a peg was full, I would have to start moving everything around to make room for more. I would pull off what I planned to use for tournaments and carry them in gallon bags. With the pegs, you start pulling them off to get to stuff on the back… then put others back on the peg, maybe looking on several pegs. I also still have a lot of stuff in Plano boxes, so I had to dig through all of that. Now I am moving to clear plastic shoe boxes; one for each type of bait. This will let me find larger bins and just drop the smaller boxes in so I can load up quicker, then when I get where I am going, it is easier to select baits to carry in the kayak.”

[I can tell you that those clear boxes can be picked up at Wal-Mart.  $8.98 for 10 of them.]

In my BlackPak, I carry two waterproof Plano 3600 boxes without dividers; one with crankbaits and lipless, one with topwater. Then another with dividers for spinnerbaits and chatterbaits.  I also carry four one-gallon bags with plastics, then a small box with terminal tackle. I also carry a small binder filled with jigs.”


“Anything with treble hooks, I don’t store them with the hooks on them. They just get tangled up if you keep hooks on them. I only put hooks on around 25% of them. Also, they are open to rust.  If it is raining and you open the box, then everything is wet, without hooks, there is less chance for rust.”  

“When lures do get wet, I never put them back in the bag or in boxes; I let them sit out until they dry, then put them back into their storage. I see some people who are really sloppy searching for lures, then they just throw them back with the others. I have some lures I have carried for ten years.”

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(3)

[I stopped listening for a second as I pictured the box of lures I have in the garage with rusty hooks and rust marks. Not a small box. Then put an asterisk in my notes… this is one to remember for sure!] 

“Not having them all with hooks makes it easier to keep fresh hooks on them. When they get bent or look worn, I just switch them out.”

“I change out all of my split rings with one kind. I buy them in bulk from Jann’s Netcraft.  It is very easy to add hooks to the baits using the same split ring, so I can do it quickly. You can get used to doing it easily if they are all the same.”  

“I trim the thumbnail on my left thumb differently, leaving it longer.  This allows me to change out hooks or split rings even faster.”

[This is the moment I realized that I was sitting with someone who thought about everything – the guy I had heard about, the legend. I mean we all have little things we learn to make lure changes easier, but… man.  Then I put another asterisk in my notes… not to change how I trim nails, but to look for the details in all I do.] 

Spinnerbaits & Chatterbaits:

“I individually wrap spinnerbaits in 3” x 3” bags; chatterbaits in 2”x 3” bags.  This allows me to stack them in Plano boxes. It also lets me pull them out in the rain without everything getting wet.”  

[I asked Rus where he picks up the bags. He showed me this link: 600 pack assorted ziplock bags.]

“I can easily find the baits I want to use since they are individually bagged.  I can look through them in any conditions too.”


“The only thing I like binders for are jigs. I make my own jigs and keep them in 2” x 2” bags.

“I have a page in the binder for ¼ ounce swim jigs, one for 3/8 ounce jigs, one for football jigs…it makes it compact and efficient.”  

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(4)  2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(5)

Old Plastics

“I keep all of my old and torn plastics.  When I get a fairly large pile, or just start running low on certain baits, I pull them out along with a bottle of Mend-It.  I even keep baits that have lost appendages, then pair them up to replace them.”

“Unless you are totally out of a bait, do this at home. If you allow the Mend It time to dry, the baits hold up better. They actually seem stronger. It takes a couple of hours to cure correctly. It actually seems to toughen up the plastic. They seem to stay on the hook better the second time around.”

“I did the math. I save about $600 a year. I spend around $15 a bottle, going through three a year. It takes around an hour to an hour and a half to do between 100 and 200 plastics; making about a $30 dollar an hour. If the math had equaled $10, I might not be worth the effort, but at $30…” 

[I thought that me biting off old senkos or worms that had been torn was the best idea on the planet.  Sometimes it works, but I had struggled with Ribbit Frogs. Once you tear the nose, they do not fish the same.  Before I started putting my notes into this document, I had ordered a bottle of Mend It.] 

“Super glue isn’t the same. It dries hard and the baits will just come apart or break.”

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year: Rus’s Process and Tools For Locating Fish

We all have bad days on the water, it is inevitable. But Rus is one of the most consistent kayak anglers I have had the pleasure of fishing against. So, after we spent an hour talking about prepping his gear, I wanted to dig a bit deeper about the process and tools he uses to choose an area to fish.

“I try to find multiple options when I choose locations. If you only have one spot to fish in a certain area, especially in a multi-day tournament; those fish leave, then you have to move. I look for places with choices close by.”  


“I use a 7” Hummingbird Helix G3. I used Lowrance for a long time… then switched to a Hummingbird G2 before upgrading. With the G3, side imaging makes a big difference.”   

“The real advantage, is the mapping. LakeMaster… LakeMaster is the deal! The biggest thing with it is the detail.”  

“I use the highlighting on the Hummingbird to find high spots on a flat. I use two different shades… for example I highlight 3-5 feet in one color, then another from 8-15 feet to see the ledges and the humps on the flats… then I can see the humps and drop offs with a quick look. It allows you to see all the sweet spots in an instant. It eliminates so much time – I can just see the spots and do not have to keep searching. I spend a lot of time fishing flats and the different colors just eliminate so much water quickly!”


“I watch videos of tournaments held in different locations. It can provide information about where to fish or what to use at different times of the year.”

“Google Earth has a lot of information. If you use your computer, not an iPad or phone, you can search archived images or the most recent.”

Use Google Earth to find when the lake levels are down – some lakes it doesn’t really work so well, but lakes where the water will fluctuate a great deal – you can see rock piles and structures.  

Pairing the Internet with Electronics:

“The good thing about a fish finder in a kayak is that it is fairly portable. All you need is a battery. So, I take the pod out of my boat and bring the finder to my computer and Google Earth.”

“I find those structures, and while I have that fish finder right next to me, I put waypoints on the fish finder while I am looking at the computer. That way, I already have waypoints before I even get to a lake. A lot of stuff will not show up on the charts, but you can find it with the satellite images.”

“This can also help you to see where grass has been, or might be… things always change with the grass, but it can help you to narrow down the places to start.”

Final Thoughts on the 2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year

The stories I had heard of Rus’s preparedness from his fellow KBFTN friends were not just tales; this guy really immerses himself into fishing.  I told him I would have never put this much effort into getting ready; organizing or preparing for an event before our talk. But since he had just spent over two hours on that mountain top, master teaching student; I made it clear that I planned to use the education. Then we joked that one day I might beat him at a tournament using what he had just taught me. I also told him that by writing this, others would know more too.  

Rus, being the incredibly soft spoken and kind guy that he is replied; “There are plenty of wins to go around. With all of the new opportunities, there are going to be a lot more people fishing the kayak tournaments. I am looking forward to it. I hope you win some.

We had talked at La Crosse about him taking off the next year to do something different. He had just won AOY and wanted to spend some time in Virginia. But as our talk wound down (just a few weeks later), I could hear in his voice that his direction had changed. 

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(6) 

Rus Snyders is someone we will have to compete against for a while, so you might want to do your homework. I can guarantee you that he is already doing his while you are reading this.

The Essence of Kayak Fishing Partners | Thoughts from Mike Cheatham

  I was asked to put together an article on “selecting on-the-water kayak fishing partners.” To be honest, I have been struggling.  

Not because I am unaware of what I like in people or because I have no kayaking buddies, but because I have not found a single friend since deciding to kayak — I found a family of kayak fishing partners.

From the first time I met Ryan Martin at Caney Fork Outdoors, to the chance meeting of Greg Phipps at the Clarksville Marina, to helping Jay Minor take a kayak out of my garage two days ago so someone could use it… I have done nothing but build an extremely large circle of kayaking buddies. I have been trying to decide if there are any that I wouldn’t enjoy fishing with, or spending time on the water with. I am not finding a single name.

Kayak Fishing Partners: What I Didn’t Know When I Bought My First Kayak

How easy it is to find someone to fish with, someone to help you learn the “how and where” to fish for bass out of a kayak. A quick search on Facebook will find some local kayakers, no matter what region of the country you call home.

In Tennessee alone, there are ten solid clubs (listed here) that when compiled create KAST, Kayak Angler’s Society of Tennessee. Each club has anglers who will help you demo boats – bringing a spare if you don’t have one, show you how and where to fish, introduce you to an ever-widening circle of other anglers to accommodate your style and skill level of fishing. If you cannot find someone to share some water with, you haven’t looked up yet.

I personally love the quiet and solitude of bass fishing from a kayak.

Paddling or pedaling across the water makes you feel closer to nature. You have to physically battle conditions while searching for a bite. Fighting the weather, rising or falling water, and yourself is a large part of the appeal to me. There are a lot of days I go out alone to recharge or re-center.  

At the same time, I have learned to enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie that is prevalent in the kayak community. Tournaments make it “you against nature” and the 20 (or hundreds) of strangers who will quickly become friends.

The first time I fished a tournament, I had no idea how it all worked and had never fished with anyone out of my kayak. I still remember pulling into the parking lot at the Busy Bee store in Cumberland City, then considering driving off as a herd of strangers looked in my direction; parking, putting my truck back in drive… putting it in park… then forcing myself to walk into the crowd of folks and say “hi.”

Just between us …

Before I make it sound too simple, understand something about me:  All of the personality tests that I have taken since high school for college or work labeled me as a more introverted person. I have accepted that the label, as much as I hate labels, is fairly accurate.   

I Googled “introvert” to help me give y’all a fair definition: a shy, reticent person; then I had to Google “reticent” ‘cause I just didn’t exactly know what it meant; “not revealing one’s thoughts or feelings readily”… then I got lost down a rabbit hole about Carl Jung for an hour or two, realized I am a nerd in the truest sense then remembered why I had gone down that path…. anyway… to continue…

So, don’t feel like you are alone when that fear creeps over you during your first event or connection with a fellow kayaker. We have all felt it, and for some of us it can be almost crippling, but worth the effort in the end. Someone will talk to you and drag you into the family if you get close enough to hear them.  

One Thing to Consider In Kayak Fishing Partners

Before you pick kayak fishing partners, if you plan to cover miles and days to attend events, remember the reality of competitive kayak fishing: most of us have day jobs.  

There are a lot of Fridays where we carry our boats to work then head off to drive 8-12 hours, sleep on a ramp for a few minutes, then fish the event before driving back home that night. 

Add two-day tournaments, you are forced to leave late Sunday to get back to work on Monday morning after driving all night. Having a friend along allows sharing of the driving time and gives some nap time for all, in addition to helping with expenses along the way.

 Kayak Fishing partners(1)

Josh Stewart and Anthony Shingler

If you are planning to sleep on a ramp, you better make sure you can tolerate the level of snoring (or snuggling) that might come from your kayak fishing partners.

I can promise you that if you are a light sleeper and are in a Walmart parking lot, or a dark ramp with Anthony Shingler (not a quiet sleeper)… you are in trouble. If you share a cabin or hotel room there are lights, televisions, eating and drinking habits to consider. I stayed with some guys in Guntersville and feel certain that I will never be the same again — ever. As I get older, I am not as adaptable to sleeping with just anyone, so I usually travel with my wife who somehow tolerates all of my bad habits and keeps me out of trouble.

Kayak Fishing Partners: A Quick Story

Here’s one that you will find me repeating again and again if you decide to tournament fish from a kayak.  This is why I tell you writing about selecting one instead of multiple kayak fishing partners is hard, because no matter where you go, you find someone else you would love to spend time on the water with.

I hadn’t found fish and was seriously considering heading home from the KBF Championship held in La Crosse when Jimmy Mcclurken called and said he had found them.

The issue: I would have to pedal a mile and a half with the current, then a mile and a half against a light current.

The trip back, I had to pedal against the Mississippi River, well above flood level. Normally nothing for me — I pedal miles every weekend — so it would just be another day on the water, except for the fact that I had become acutely aware that I couldn’t feel my feet and the stabbing pain in my calves was not going away. 

I knew back surgery was in my future, though not yet on my calendar.  

On day one, Jimmy and I joined up with a guy we didn’t know from Pennsylvania, Ryan Matylewicz. We all left the ramp together, getting to know each other along the long trip down the Mississippi River. Almost to the spot, I bent a fin on my drive. Then I spent an hour repairing it because I knew I was going to have to make the trip back. 

Ryan stopped fishing to come over and check on me – to see if he could help. In the early morning during a big KBF event, he wanted to make sure a virtual stranger was OK.

The three of us spent the day sharing what was working, how we were fishing, what lures we use, fish stories from other events. It was one of those days we all talk about when we say kayaking community. After what was usually a thirty-minute ride that took almost two hours, we were back at the ramp.

Kayak Fishing partners(2)

Ryan Matylewicz and Kelsey Sands at the Championship Captain’s meeting in La Crosse.

We talked at the captain’s meeting and learned by looking at maps that we could cross public land.

We could put in without making the long pedal. The problem was that we had to carry/drag/roll our kayaks almost three-quarters of a mile down a path to put in.

I knew that I could never make it alone.

I could barely walk by day two; my back was failing me and I should have already given in.  

Jimmy called later and said he had bought a dolly made to move furniture. I had a Hobie cart. The next morning, we shared both with each other and then Ryan to make the journey along the path. We made it, fished the tourney, and the two of them helped me pull my kayak onto the path because I couldn’t walk up the hill. 

We pulled all of our gear back down the path and stood talking about our day with Ryan and his girlfriend Kelsey for an hour; friends Jimmy and I did not have when we left Tennessee, but friends we will have going forward.

Kayak Fishing partners(3)

Jimmy at the KBF event on Lake Lanier (9th place) with Scott Beutjer.  George Nemeth and Rus Snyders in the background.

I wanted to share this story because Jimmy and I had met during the last year at our local (CAKFG) events, knew of each other, but had never actually fished together. We had been within sight of each other during a club event and fished a couple of KBF events at the same time, but we were not guys who went out together, until then. We had to talk through Facebook to even exchange phone numbers.

Kayak Fishing Partners: Final Thoughts

I guess all that rambling leads me to this: I have never chosen just one on-the-water kayak buddy, which is why I have struggled to write this. I personally struggle to make initial introductions because of my personality, but that hasn’t hindered me from finding people I enjoy on the kayak trails; it is such a great bunch to hang out with on the water. I have fished with a lot of people and hope to fish with them again in the future. I have a double handful that I will meet up with when I am not traveling somewhere, but it seems in our community that we just naturally gravitate to each other regardless of where we live.  

Maybe just a series of serendipitous meetings that slowly tie us together into a community that I now consider my second family?  Maybe.

Who knows, it may just be a bunch of folks who love kayak fishing and share such passion for the sport that we are all just friends who haven’t met yet?  Either way it will not take you long to have a group to spend time with on the water.

A Recap of Mike Cheatham’s 2019 Kayak Fishing Season

First and foremost, I was extremely blessed to represent the Hobie brand for my 2019 kayak fishing season. 

It was my first year as a member of their fishing team. Joining the team was more than a goal I set for myself last year — it was an aching desire to stand in a crowd of fellow anglers with the Hobie name on a jersey.  Ryan Martin and his family gave me that opportunity after a year on the Caney Fork Outdoors Fishing Team, the other brand I am proud to carry on my kayak, truck and jersey. 

I am not the kind of guy to chase sponsors or pro staff positions; I will promote brands I use and believe in, and I believe in Hobie and Caney Fork.

It has been a great experience to share my passion for kayaking with others, to participate in demo days and to help get folks in what I consider to be the best brand on the market.  When I see people on the water and know that I played a role in their choice to land in a Hobie, I feel a sense of pride that even a less-than-stellar year cannot erase. Next year, I am in a brand new PA14 with the 360 drive and I will do all I can to be a good representative for Hobie and Caney Fork Outdoors. Thank you for trusting me.

A Recap of My 2019 Kayak Fishing Season

It was not my best year by KBF AOY standings. I was in the top twenty my first two years (19th in 2017, 20th in 2018) but fell to 40th this year. Landing among the top fifty anglers who participated in KBF is nothing to be ashamed of, but I set the expectations high for myself and to say I am disappointed in that statistic would be a gross understatement. I know it doesn’t reflect the effort. But it does represent the results of a year where I just couldn’t put it together on tournament day.  


Carried this skunk around for a bit… I couldn’t seem to get it off my back.

While I am not happy with the standing for AOY, not doing well in the Hobie events and basically bombing after making it to the Tennessee State Championship — I am extremely happy with my season. I mean it would really be a waste to not learn from disappointment, wouldn’t it?  

For the past few years I have fished KBF, Hobie, CAKFG and about any other tournaments I could find, year-round. 

It never mattered how cold, hot, rainy, windy … how tired, how sore or even how far I had to drive. I guess you might say it has become a lifestyle for us.

It’s one my wife, Joy, supports, encourages and participates in with me. I also took pride in catching limits, no matter how small.

But this year I made a small mistake when I decided to break away from the baits I trusted: a Mann’s Classic Spinnerbait, a cheap Wal-Mart Buzzbait (both in white with a chartreuse grub – tail always up!), Yamamoto Senkos and the best lure in the universe… a Rapala Skitterpop. I used them at times because I know they work. But I spent more time using lures I have never fished, forcing them into the wrong situations. There is no doubt it affected my standings because I didn’t catch limits too often. I even skunked a few tourneys while swinging for the fences, but felt I had to try new things in order to grow, and in the end, I did.


Myself and Anthony Shingler (on the right).

At a KBF event on Kentucky Lake, my best finish of the year (10th in the trail event and 3rd in the pro division), I started the day in the back of a creek throwing a Skitterpop around, bait swarming, and surfacing at intervals with limited success. A good friend, Marshall Yarborough, had told me that a swimbait with chartreuse markings had worked earlier with these conditions. This was not a bait I used often, but I tied one on and gave it a shot. 

A Learned Lesson for My 2019 Kayak Fishing Season

I will say this… the next time you are in the back of a creek and see bait surfacing, tie one on and give it a try. I had upgraded enough to get a check within thirty minutes.

While pre-fishing for the KBF Southeast Regional, Kris Hummel told me the fish had been biting a frog on Wheeler Lake, fishing it slowly. I rarely throw frogs and spent all morning tying on different frogs without success. On a whim, I switched to a white Ribbit Frog and tossed it over timber and grass, slowly. Out of frustration, I reeled it in quick and noticed the action of the legs. I started throwing it out and reeling it in with the speed of a buzzbait because – well, why not, I was sucking.


I finally caught a good limit. I didn’t finish well overall because I had not pulled a limit on day one, but I did learn a new technique that I have since taken to Guntersville and wore them out on creeks at home.  This is now in my ANGLR app as a bait to be chosen again and again as I track catches and build my data.

Finally (not telling everything, so we end here!) in La Crosse, I spent half the day throwing a bait that I had first used at Guntersville. It is what we locally call the “Jay Minor Special” because Jay won the CAKFG AOY by beating us up with it over and over, a black and blue Yum Dinger. 

I rigged it on a shaky head and threw it against the current and pulled it back ‘till they smacked it after Jimmy Mcclurken had turned me on to the location. Then I went even farther out of my comfort zone and flipped a beaver style bait, the Missile D-Bomb. 

Those of you who have not fished with me will be unaware how out of character it is for me to throw any plastic that isn’t a Senko, but friends would look at me as if aliens had landed and taken over my body and forced me to do it.

I caught fish. Me, with plastics, who woulda’ thunk it?  These baits are also set up in my ANGLR app now.

The harsh reality is that my season ended sooner than I meant for it to this year.  

I Should Have Quit Fishing Before I Went to La Crosse

But I fished it, then one more local tourney when I came back to Tennessee. Then pedaled out in my new Hobie 360 for a few hours ‘cause it is awesome and I needed to get it wet after picking it up; but those times on the water were a struggle. The MRI told me I would be having back surgery before Christmas… and all I could think about was getting it done quickly. I need to be ready by the first events in January! (The surgery went well and I’m itching to get out there!) 

And some of you are going to ask me “Why, what is the attraction?”  Some of you will just smile because you know the answer without the question.

… It is because of days like Bienville where I fished with a great group of guys and had the best day of my entire life on the water. It was magical — the kind of day that makes kayaking my life. All of us who shared that day still smile when we see each other – and always will, it was just that special.  

… I met Scott Beutjer, who hooked me up with the folks at ANGLR, who in turn have allowed me the opportunity to share kayaking and stories with you. I have learned to use the ANGLR app to make me better, to use the keyboard to (hopefully) help those new to the sport and I have been blessed to interview the best anglers in kayaking and share their triumphs with everyone. All while learning new techniques and making new friends.

2019 Kayak Fishing Season (1)

…I was part of the first FLW/KBF events on Nickajack and Oauchita. Since I was young, I had wanted to just go to an event and watch weigh-ins; but to be there (meet Jimmy Houston and Hank Parker!!) and be part of it all was incredible. 

…I saw the Hobie BOS come to life.  The inaugural event on Chickamauga started with rain, then rain and rain; I saw a creek blow out while I was in it….had to leave early on day two because my camper was about to be flooded…but I was there.  I fished as many of those BOS events as possible during the year. 

…I met a kayak fishing country singer from Massachusetts sitting behind me at an event – that doesn’t happen every day…y’all need to check this dude out, Rob Pagnano, he is pretty dang good.

…I learned that I get seasick while on St. Clair.  After fish number four, I was blowing chunks all over my hawg trough but there was no way I was leaving.  Now I carry Dramamine everywhere I go; just in case. After the St. Clair event, still sick from the day, we drove to Niagara Falls; a little out of the way, but worth it.  

2019 Kayak Fishing Season (2)

…I fished more plastics than I have ever before, caught fish on Guntersville (finally!!), destroyed a mirage drive pedaling with the wind dead into a rock, only kicked two rods over the side, met Randy Howell…caught fish on a double fluke and my personal best small mouth on Wilson Lake.

…my greatest supporter traveled with me to almost every event.  Joy and I drove eight hours to Ohio, slept three hours in a WalMart parking lot before I fished the tourney at East/West Harbors; then we drove home stopping to see Big Butter Jesus.  

…we ate at unique spots, shopped at out of the way places, slept in a few smelly rooms and just shared the journey with each other.

In summary, I learned a lot from my 2019 kayak fishing season, but I’m ready to get 2020 kicked off!

Kayak Motors | Adding a Trolling Motor to My Kayak Saved My Marriage

Now obviously being a 33-year-old bachelor, I’m not talking about saving my literal marriage. I’m talking about my marriage to kayak fishing. Though I could definitely see the advantages of coming home to your spouse not worn out from paddling all day. 

But babe, I had no choice once I paddled so far but to turn around and paddle back.” doesn’t sound like a great excuse for missing dinner reservations. 

For me, it was more about longevity in this sport. If I wanted to commit to kayak fishing for the long haul, there had to be more than a paddle involved. 

I like paddling. I like the exercise — and need it. But I can see a lot of joint pain and wear and tear on my body in the long run if I had to paddle every stroke of the way. In addition, competing in KBF events and other tournaments with just a paddle puts you at a massive disadvantage on some fisheries. For me, there needed to be some energy source for propulsion other than calories.

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Kayak Motors | Adding a Motor… DIY Style

So, I decided to add a trolling motor to the Bonafide SS127 I borrowed from my buddy Scott Beutjer. My uncle just happened to have an old Minn Kota hand controlled trolling motor that would barely slip through the hole in the SS127 where the pod usually is. 

Kayak Motors(1)

I needed some way of mounting the trolling motor, so I screwed a couple of pieces of wood together to help keep it upright and then I was ready to shove off and test it out. 

My biggest concern was not being able to steer the kayak well with the motor being towards the middle of the boat and not on the front or back where most motors are mounted.

I quickly found that, though the boat was harder to turn with the motor in the middle, I could still move it in the right direction by exaggerating the degree to which I turned it. 

Having a motor definitely made the fishing more enjoyable. I only fished a couple of hours but quickly found a few benefits.

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Kayak Motors | The Benefits of Having a Motor

Beating The Wind

I was able to combat the wind far better. Without a motor, I’d often have to stop fishing mid cast to pick up the paddle and turn or back the boat up to keep from getting on top of what I was trying to fish. 

Pulled By Fish

The motor solved a similar problem that would occur when I’d hook a fish and be pulled by that fish into the cover. With the motor, I was able turn it on, with one hand still on the rod, and quickly move the other hand back to the rod. 

Kayak Motors(2)

That way I was backing away from the cover while I brought the fish out of it. 

Better Mobility

I also found that I was able to move around a lot more, although that ability could be a hindrance from time to time. One of the things I have liked most so far about kayak fishing is that you’re forced to slow down and fish what’s in front of you. Still, having the ability to quickly motor into a pocket to get out of the wind or skip a shady bank in pursuit of a sunny one is a definite advantage. 

Kayak Motors | Some Final Thoughts

There were a couple of negatives that I also noticed. You lose a little bit of stealth due to the added noise, but you can always just pick the paddle back up in situations where you need to be a little quieter. You’re also not able to go quite as shallow due to the motor and prop below the boat and the added weight of the motor and battery.

But overall, I definitely enjoy having a motor on the kayak. I don’t see the need to take a motor with me on every outing, but having one in bigger water or windier conditions is a huge benefit.

Building a Kayak Tournament Schedule | Mike Cheatham Style

Not sure how everyone puts together their kayak tournament schedule. But with hundreds of local clubs, KBF, the Hobie BOS and now B.A.S.S. entering the arena, there are opportunities to fish on some body of water every weekend. So it’s getting harder to choose between them all. I have been doing this a few years, only missing tourneys because I had obligations I couldn’t ditch or was on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

Thought I might share how I am putting together next year’s kayak tournament schedule, and mention factors that I have always avoided. This is not a definitive guide on “how to spend your year away from home“, but it can help you plan miles (and miles) on the road… if you are up for it.

First, Let’s Get The Noise Out Of The Way

I see many conversations online discussing the merits of one kayak tournament trail over another. It can be exhausting trying to separate fact from fiction, emotion from reality or the benefits of one over the other if you get caught up in it all. Social media posts and the resulting comments can make it difficult to know which events are for you: the kayak angler.

So, from the beginning I will suggest you try them all for yourself instead of becoming involved in trail or series bashing; just do you. They are all awesome in one way or the other and offer different opportunities.

Then I hear conversations about “return on investment” being a consideration when choosing events. I will do that for projects at work to justify capital investments that have solid income potential based on markets, available resources, and annual operating plans — with a need to get a two year (or less) payback… because I can predict (with some margin of error) what that return will be for those two years.

Now. I will calculate the miles and the expenses before Joy and I decide whether to carry an extra vehicle with the camper instead of getting a VRBO or hotel. But to consider ROI for a tournament based on hope?  Your odds of winning everything you attend, well, I can promise you that 90% (an extremely conservative estimate – most likely way higher) of us are not breaking even and never will in the near future. But we can still live the dream, so we keep going.

If you are only purely concerned with making money… at this point in the evolution of kayak tournament fishing… focus on the day job.

Next comes the one question I never even thought about until I ran across a tournament bashing post: “Does the tournament have a 100% payback?” I will never think about it again. Unless you are fishing a tournament where you and ten of your best friends throw money in a pile with winner taking all on a Sunday afternoon, don’t expect it.

There are costs to running events. Coordinating, managing, building pots for championships as the year progresses, tournament management systems… as the events get larger it isn’t just that trail you and your bud started, it becomes a business with overhead. Most tournaments, I am happy if I get 100% of my entry fee back… or maybe enough to cover the lures I lost… or just afford a diet Pepsi. Joy and I consider the expenses as vacations where we see places we have never been, and eat food from different locales – we make it fun while spending our kid’s inheritance. (They can get their own job.)

Ignoring those thoughts in the order in which they were written, let’s break down a “No social media, ROI, payback influenced, I just love kayak fishing” method of planning your tournament year. 

Also known as: “Here’s how Mike does it.”

Building My Kayak Tournament Schedule


  1. Make a list of all the events you can find; local or out of state clubs, KBF (trails, pro), Hobie BOS, B.A.S.S., Ron Champion’s, Jaxton Orr’s, Fishing for Soldiers, Fishing for Blue… fishin’ to be fishin’… all of ‘em. 
  2. Put that list in a spreadsheet, this will become your kayak tournament schedule. This helps to see conflicts, add events or edit when one of them changes their schedule. It also allows you to track standings, miles, meals, etc..
  3. Pick the ones where there are no conflicts.  
  4. Look at those with conflicts, where more than one is on the same day.  Prioritize them, then choose. My method for 2020:
    1. BASS – since there seems to be little conflict.
    2. I want to go to Hobie World’s so I will pick Hobie events next (with hope!) unless there is a body of water I just love to fish, or have always wanted to visit that falls under KBF or BASS.
    3. KBF Southeast Region.  That is where I live.
    4. Enough local events to make the KAST state tourney.
    5. KBF, all other regions. Considering where I have fished, where I have collected data with the ANGLR app and the time of year.
    6. KBF Pro if there are no conflicts.
    7. Any other tourney I can find on a date that has none of the above; any local or out of state club’s event… or fishing with anyone at all!
    8. Compare this against the vacation days calendar I keep for work; getting creative to decide how many I get to pre-fish vs. how many I will drive down and sleep on a ramp vs. how many I may need to drop… who am I kidding, not drop, but how many I will have to call in sick to be able to attend.
    9. Now I go to my accountant, Joy, and to my sponsor (this is also Joy) and show her the plan. Not for permission, she is the most supportive person I have had in my life, but so we can start looking for things to see and do along the way. 

Building a Kayak Tournament Schedule: Final Thoughts

In the end… how little, or how much you fish (tournaments or not) is entirely up to you. I absolutely love being in a kayak.

I love fishing tournaments and have made money, spent money, I hope for more money …

But if I never win or place in the top ten again; I will see you at the check-in, no matter whose tournament it is, as long as I can dig the entry fee out of the couch cushions. I never base my decisions on payback. I know that historical data tells me there is no financial ROI that I can plan or put in a business case, and I am way too old to let social media posts drive my life.

I trust my gut and do what feels right for me. The only sure thing is the emotional health that comes from doing what I love with people I love even more. Hopefully this helps you when building your own kayak tournament schedule!