Seventy-two anglers from twenty-two states arrived at the Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs, Arkansas on August 8th, 2019 to attend the first ever KBF/FLW Cup event on Lake Oauchita. It was an event long in the making; a collaboration between KBF and FLW that is sure to elevate the professional side of kayak fishing while exposing a larger audience to kayak bass fishing tournaments. With DeeZee and YakAttack continuing their support of the KBF events, even the dinner and captains meeting had a feel of something bigger than any of the anglers had experienced. FLW leadership started off the event with encouraging words followed by Matt Ball leading everyone in prayer; we knew things were different long before we entered the arena after day one.
Lake Oauchita is Arkansas’ largest lake with a little over 40,000 acres of water. We found it to be a beautiful lake with rivers, creeks, ledges, submerged timber; basically a little something for everyone’s style of fishing, but rumors were that the lake could be a challenge. Arkansas kayak angler, Garrett Morgan, lists it as his brother’s favorite lake, but one they “give (him) a hard time about” because he would rather fish anywhere else. The limits were expected to be tough, and the length of those limits to be on the short side.
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: Pre-fishing Lake Oauchita
At the dinner, pre-fishing reports were all over the place. Now everyone knows that anglers can withhold a bit of information, tell a “fish lie” or two if you will, but the looks on several of the anglers faces revealed what most of us had found; the bite was not easy for everyone. The patterns, if you had one, were all over the place and the fish seemed to be piled up in locations or scattered to non-existent in others.
Georgia angler Clint Henderson had found a school that he felt held hundreds of good size bass. He had visited the site several times during the three days he was on the water before the tournament to find the fish still there, and no other anglers except his traveling partner Jim Ware. The two had high hopes for the two days ahead.
Casey Reed had found the pair on a spot somewhere around the southwest end of the lake he was betting to be the one, but they told him they had other fish. We stood talking about the school they were sitting on offshore, he was watching and hoping they didn’t catch any; myself certain that I was just riding around and enjoying the lake by that point.
AJ Mcwhorter on the other hand was fishing out of the new Hobie 360 on the west end of the lake and had no idea what the tournament would bring. Using the 360’s added control, he was able to position the boat in new ways that allowed for more accurate presentations.
“That boat has me spoiled already. I was fishing in tight areas, and the fish I caught were holding in even tighter areas where making the perfect cast was critical…this boat allowed me to make subtle adjustments and stay put.”
But he also noted that the fish kept changing; he found them on topwater over wood, then plastic over the same wood, then no fish at all.
Dwain Batey, an Arkansas native who had never fished the lake, covered three areas looking for fish. He found them at his first launch and after moving through the other areas, decided that the first just felt better. He wasn’t sure it was as productive a spot as he needed, but it was the best he had found during the three days prior to the tournament.
“Sometimes you pick the lesser of two evils!”
Ohio angler George Nemeth, like myself, was on the northeast shores of the lake. We had found the fish eating about anything, about everywhere, but they were small. Seventy-five inches was our expectation after covering miles of water and while we felt confident that it would happen, there was not a real pattern to the fish. Shallow and deep, schooling for a bit, standing and submerged timber… all had fish, but ours were scattered.
Cory Dreyer said he had only found a few fish over his pre-fishing time, while fellow Carolina anglers Henry Veggian and Shelly Efird had found a school that held great promise. The pair returned to the spot on another day and searched the area hoping to find a backup spot, and it was there too. Arlie Minton, who was staying with the group felt he was in the same boat with George and myself; rolling the dice.
I met Josh Stewart out running from ramp to ramp as I tried to maximize the one day of practice I had and test the three ramps I had selected. He had found some fish on the main lake, but wasn’t sure it was going to be enough to win; a statement heard again and again on Oauchita. At the dinner table, a couple of guys admitted they were struggling too.
It seemed that this was going to be a tournament of limits. Anglers who could pull five fish on two days, regardless of size, were capable of bringing home the win.
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: Day One Kicks Off
The anglers who had found fish on previous days, caught their fish, but the top ten on day one had a few surprises. There were favorites who landed well out of the top, while some of the names familiar to those who follow KBF or kayak fishing in general were at the top… Matt Ball – the first National Champion, Mike Elsea – the reigning champ, Drew Gregory – a highly recognized angler who is always in the mix, and AJ Mcwhorter – tournament director for the Hobie BOS had crossed the line at the top.
Eric Jackson, FLW angler from Tennessee and owner of Jackson Kayaks in Sparta, was one of the names that wasn’t on the unofficial list of favorites, but he had been sight fishing in shallow water and turned in an incredibly impressive 97.25-inches to lead the tournament when the dust had settled. He covered a lot of water to get to his location, but it proved to be the ticket for the former world champion kayaker.
Dustin Murguia of Illinois was the second closest competitor while reporting the bite to be “ridiculously tough”.
In third, six inches behind Eric, Clint Henderson’s 81.25-inches was a pretty impressive showing. He had lost a 20 plus inch fish on topwater that would have pushed him very close to the lead but the majority of his bass had come dragging a creature bait in fifteen foot of water across a river ledge. When I asked him what brand, he repeated creature bait… I feel like there is something special that he didn’t want to share, but it was working for him and if it was me, I would be a bit quiet about it too since he is heading back to the lake for the Hobie TOC.
Garrett Morgan, in spite of his dislike for the lake had spent time on fish he had found a couple months prior. He knew the water was dropping fast, and had been for quite some time. He was fishing from a very remote ramp where he thought no one else would show up and targeting deep fish.
“The folks running the banks could do ok, but if you had seen this lake two months ago, you would know they had been pulled out into deeper pockets.”
He and Mark Pendergraf (someone did show up to the same ramp) found success throwing swimbaits with under spins into schooling fish. “If they stopped schooling, we kept throwing in the area…letting the bait fall into 20 or 30-foot of water, then twitch it.” There were even a few fish that came on Alabama rigs.
Shelly Efird and Henry Veggian hadn’t lost their fish either. Shelly had earned the final spot in the top ten and Henry had landed just outside with 75.25-inches fishing on the south side of the lake. The pair had read an article with Cody Milton talking about rivers and brush piles being the main targets for the event, but felt that picking fish out of brush piles was too inefficient.
Their pre-fishing had found what Henry described as an anomaly in the lake; “like Poe’s Purloined Letter… where you easily overlook the obvious; the answer is right in front of you.”
They primarily found success in 8 to 10-feet of water with white Bombers and a lure Henry tossed in the box at the last minute; a Rapala X-Rap in a purple shad color. “I just had a gut feeling and brought it with me.”
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: Day Two
The day two leaderboard had a few familiar names, but many had not found the same quality of fish from day one. It was also obvious that many who had crushed them on day one, had struggled on day two. Eric Jackson had fallen to the difficulty of Lake Oauchita and only recorded three fish, Mike Elsea, Larry Wood and many others had not been able to record a limit.
Dwain Batey, an Arkansas native, had turned it around with 84.25-inches and became the leader of day two after being 17th on day one. Dwain covered miles of water (followed by the Ketch film crew) fishing the backs of creeks pulling a Skirmish Baits Pendragon (which he had painted himself) and a buzzbait across sparse grass. He hadn’t found schooling fish, or spots with large stacks like Clint, but in a half mile spot he found three of the 6 keepers he caught on day two; his first five being the fish that moved him into the day two leader position.
Guillermo Gonzalez, a Texas angler whose name is always among the favorites for any event, was second. He had only recorded three fish on day one, so he figured something out on Oauchita that worked on Saturday. Arlie Minton was also one of the anglers who found them on day two after struggling on day one. He too had only found three fish, then turned it around with an impressive 77.5-inches after moving to shallower water and finding them on topwater. They were not the only ones who made adjustments. Jamie Dennison, a very familiar name to the KBF trails, had figured them out, as did Marc Coats who crushed schooling fish and literally had a limit in minutes.
Most anglers reported the same patterns and techniques were producing for them; with smaller limits and it was harder to get them to bite. The area I had been fishing was noticeably shallower for day two, so the anglers running the banks suffered a bit, and those who had not found large schools or back-up plans fell behind.
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: Two Day Totals
Day one leader and owner of Jackson kayaks, Eric Jackson had finished in fifth place. AJ Mcwhorter, an independent sales rep for Hobie and a fishing team member, had climbed to fourth.
Arkansas native Garrett Morgan, a manager at Profile by Sanford (a company that helps people to lose weight and achieve health goals), was in third.
The second Arkansas native, Dwain Batey, who spends some time custom painting for Skirmish Baits, had rocketed to second.
And Clint Henderson, an operator at Oglethorpe Power Corp, was standing on the stage with the first KBF/FLW cup trophy hoisted above his head; the champion on Lake Oauchita!
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: The Top Five
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: 5th Place
Fifth place angler Eric Jackson is no stranger to the kayak community. Each year I have the opportunity to talk with him a Caney Fork Outdoor’s Waterpalooza; an event where he spends hours teaching folks the basics of kayaking. The 4 time World Champion whitewater kayaker, Olympian, professional tournament fisherman, and Jackson Kayak president is always happy to show new kayakers how to roll and paddle at the event held on Center Hill Lake each year. He came to this event having placed a very respectable second place on Lake Champlain.
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: 4th Place
Fourth place angler, AJ Mcwhorter, was surprised that he as on the big stage after day two; “You don’t expect a limit of fifteen-inch fish to get a check.” As a matter of fact, the fish he found on the west end of the lake almost went untouched.
“I wasn’t planning on fishing the tournament. Kristine and I were just driving around the lake; the sun was setting and fish were popping… I just felt like I might catch fish.”
AJ not only credited Kristine for the motivation and support, but also fellow angler and friend Jay Wallen for the last minute decision.
“They reminded me that not only am I a tournament director for the Hobie BOS, I am a competitive angler. I really want to thank them for that, I really do appreciate them for doing that!”
The Hobie BOS “aims to provide a simplified ‘open- to- anyone’ format and an elite feel for kayak anglers across the country. This series is all about providing a platform for the anglers” and AJ feels that his time as an angler and tournament director for the Bluegrass Kayak Anglers is helping him to be successful. “I first got in a kayak from Dick’s for around 200 bucks, when I was 16. I was a creek wader until then. When I was 24, I bought a fishing kayak and have been actively fishing tournaments since.”
“We are just a couple of months away from our inaugural Tournament Of Champions back here on Lake Oauchita… I think we are doing well because I spend my time trying to earn the respect of our anglers. Being a tournament angler has helped me to understand what type of ‘experience’ anglers want, and expect.”
He is quick to credit Hobie, GLoomis, and Shimano for providing the tools he needs to be successful on the water.
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: 3rd Place
Third place was taken by the first of two Arkansas anglers, Garrett Morgan, who admits that he would rather fish other water in the state, but was happy with how the tournament went for him; calling it his “Achilles heel”.
“I felt that if anyone could catch two 16-inch limits, they could win…the likelihood of pulling 90-inches both days were very low.”
Garrett started his kayak career in kayak bass fishing just three years ago in a sit in kayak from Academy Sports with two Shakespeare rods on Lake Conway… and he won. Last year, he was ranked thirteen in KBF AOY points and second in rookie of the year.
“This year, I wanted to focus on qualifying for the big events… then focus on fishing them.” And he is achieving those goals. He qualified for the Hobie TOC with a fourth place finish on Lake Fork, is qualified for the KBF National Championship for next year; and this place in the KBF/FLW Cup is only going to help him. He credits the Natural State Kayakers with allowing many beginning anglers the same opportunities; “We get to prep some of the newer anglers, making them ready to fish the bigger events.”
He is no stranger to goals, working as a coach to help others achieve new lifestyles seems to be a passion for the young man.
“In my career, we take the time to find out about people and their lives, then help them to develop a plan to achieve new lifestyle goals… help people build confidence, then you get to watch them grow… you put up a framework, then help them work through barriers.”
Garrett spends a lot of time researching before events, studying something about fishing every single day. “I watch videos, read maps, study old tournaments… I try not to spend too much time getting caught up in social media.”
We had quite a long conversation about that topic after discussing his sponsors and pro staff; H2:4 outdoors, She Angler Custom Baits, Wicked Weights and JP Custom Jigs.
“These companies do not want to see me blasting off on social media. When you rep companies, even as promotional staff, they pay attention; Wicked Weights has been very good to me because of how I represent myself. Your portrayal of yourself is very important. These guys livelihood is based on their image and selling. They are looking for a return on investment, and who you are on social media is often all people know about you.”
Garrett wanted to make sure that he thanked some folks who support him too. “Ms. Morgan is an awesome mom and partner. I am very lucky to have her and our two girls in my life!”
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: 2nd Place
The second Arkansas angler, and second place winner Dwain Batey was shocked to find that he had gone from seventeenth to second.
“When they called the top ten back, I thought I was not even in the money – I had no idea I was in second. Didn’t look in the last half hour, was leading day two the last time I looked but assumed other people just didn’t have signal… when Garrett Morgan was called on stage for third, I was thrilled.”
Dwain has been fishing since he was barely old enough to hold a rod.
“I remember not being big enough to reel and just backing up to get the fish in, but took up kayak fishing in 2015 after fishing as a co-angler out of boats for a while. “I met some people on a ramp who were kayak fishing and they convinced me to get one… I am very grateful for that. I have become a much better fisherman from the kayak… not sure what the difference is… I don’t know if it is being forced to fish a smaller area, or just closer to the water… no way for me to pinpoint why.”
Not sure myself, but he just placed second in the KBF/FLW event, was ninth in the National Championship, has won a club tournament, two KBF Southeast region one night stands, is a member of the Ketch team, and is already qualified to fish in Lacrosse this fall; so there is no denying that there is something he has figured out. Arkansas being in the southeast region for 2019 has limited his ability to cover enough miles to participate in the events, but hopes he can work it out for 2020.
Like Garrett, he compliments the Natural State Kayakers for their efforts in the state and enjoys the kayak bass fishing community.
“The camaraderie is so different in the kayak community. When I fished boat tournaments, people might show up, take off and weigh-in without talking to each other. We also participate in ‘Fish it Forward’… we take rods and reels, clean them up (fix them), then give them to kids.”
Dwain has a bit of support too; Ketch, Hobie fishing team, Skirmish Baits, Taylor Man’s custom lures, and OMTC – Ozark Mountain Trading Company.
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: 1st Place
The first KBF/FLW DeeZee Champion is Clint Henderson of Rome, Georgia.
He had strung together solid limits for both days and was crowned on the biggest stage for KBF. He had covered the areas he found during map study, FLW videos, and by searching for areas that resembled what he fished back home; and it worked. He credits Hummingbird’s Mega imaging with his success on Lake Oauchita.
“I would float by looking for fish, then see the shadows with side imaging. I found an area of contour that caught my eye, then saw hundreds of fish and thought there is no way they are all bass. You see the bass as shadows with this equipment, not just a ‘rice noodle’.”
Clint had traveled from Georgia with fellow angler Jim Ware. The two, as is very common among tournament anglers, didn’t stay in a cabin, house or hotel. And while they didn’t just sleep on a ramp or in a Walmart parking lot, the two camped in hammocks. “We laid there and sweated until we fell asleep. It was very primitive. It was out of necessity to cut costs, but we were willing to make that sacrifice to be here.”
When asked if they fished the same area, he replied that they had, but that Jim is a very solid spoon angler and was fishing higher in the water column. “He caught a lot of fish, six different species on day one, but didn’t catch the same size.”
Since last August, Clint has worked with a power company which has limited his ability to fish as many tournaments as he would like. He had to create a deficit in his PTO (personal time off) to make this event and is already trying to figure out how to make more events next year. “The job has been a huge blessing for my family, but working a swing shift interferes with my ability to make all the tournaments.” But up until then, Clint had been quite successful on the trail.
Having started kayak fishing in 2014 on the Reel Krazy Tournament Fishing trail, entering his first tournament (then placing in them all that year) and winning angler of the year before placing second to Matt Ball as the first KBF National Champion and being a part of the inaugural Ten. He was ranked sixth in the nation that year.
While he is on the National Prostaff for NuCanoe, Bending Branches team and on the staff for Omega Custom Tackle, Netbait and Powell Rod Company… it is the work he does within the kayak community that deserves a mention.
As was evident on the stage when he was announced the champion, Clint credits his faith for the success he has enjoyed and for helping him to find a kayak “Fishers of Men” after the second place finish at the NC. “I was spoken to, so I keep him in the forefront in my life. I hope that the kayak version will get recognized by the larger organizations and go national.” He supports the Southeastern Youth Kayak Fishing that helps to get kids on the water and find gear for them to use (please check them out!).
Clint also works to keep his children Cale (13-years old) and Cade (11-years old) active in kayak fishing. They won their age divisions two years ago during the young guns on Kentucky Lake and Cale won the KBF July Young Guns online this year. Clint recognizes them and his wife for supporting him, and cheering him on along with the rest of his friends and family; including the social media family – “my stuff is just blowing up!”
As we talked, I was very happy to have had the opportunity to meet Mr. Henderson. He seemed to be very humbled and extremely grateful for it all… his final words to me as we ended the conversation just a day after the win… “now, I am going to sleep”.
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: And Finally – A Personal Mention
I really want to mention a couple of Carolina anglers. I try not to insert myself too deep in the recaps, but this is why the kayak community is so special to me… Henry Veggian, who has taken home a check in every event, and Shelly Efird had fished together during their time on Lake Oauchita; but on day two, Henry had caught his limit (7th place) while Shelly was struggling to fill his (17th place). In what may be considered an unthinkable move, Henry cut his crankbait off the line and passed it to Shelly. I would be shocked to see this in most circles, but having cut off a spinnerbait at a local trail and passed it to a fellow angler myself… I know that it is just how this community works. We want to win, there is no doubt we are competitors, but we want to see our fellow anglers succeed too.
When I spoke with the pair on their ride home, Shelly mentioned that his ten year old daughter Karmen was going to be disappointed that he hadn’t won. “She always encourages me to do well, wants daddy to do well because then I get to take her shopping. Her first words are how did you do, then, did we win any money!”
Man, I love this community!
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: TournyX Day One Results
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: TournyX Day Two Results
2019 FLW/KBF Cup: TournyX Final Results