kayak fishing tips

Kayak Fishing Tips | 5 Tips to Help a New Kayak Tournament Angler

These 5 tips, or what I call “lessons I learned the hard way”, are geared toward the newer kayak tournament anglers.  I think it is important that you take a few minutes to understand not only what you are getting into, but to know about a couple of tiny little errors that we see happen all too often among those new to the sport.    

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Matt  Spencer after a less than great day on the water.

Now, I am going to suggest upfront that you do not do it. Do not get into kayak tournaments and chase them across the trails. Don’t do it! You will eventually find yourself sleeping in parking lots, on ramps, in the driveways of friend’s houses or on the floor of a VRBO that has one too many people in it. 

You will eat bad, not eat, run out of gas… have flats or car trouble… not sleep… hit a deer… not catch fish, hate yourself for doing it some days. 

But since like me, you will not listen, there are many benefits of becoming a part of the community too. You will make friends who will consider you family. You will find this is one of the most sharing and giving groups of people; even with the competitive spirit of it all, they will give you tips and advice, lures, food and water… maybe not exact GPS coordinates on tournament day – but some will give you their third or fourth spots if you are struggling to find fish at a venue. And while you will still hate yourself for doing it some days, you will also love it more than anything you have ever tried. Well… maybe.

Let’s get to the tips to help you do a bit better.

Kayak Fishing Tips | Tip #1

Find a local club, sign up with them and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This is invaluable. There is most likely one within reach of your location that will welcome you, and teach you. My adventures started with a casual conversation on a ramp; a local club angler saw me and asked if I had ever fished a kayak tournament. I said no, then he gave me their contact info. Look on Facebook, use Google… ask another person in a kayak… ask me for help.  

My local group taught me the ropes; rules, how to measure fish, how to watch for other boats, how to check for weather and conditions before launching. They quickly brought me into the fold and even took me to locations I would have never fished and taught me the true value of kayak fishing.  

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CAKFG check-in

And they are now my friends. My family… and that grows with each year. Even though some move away, we still meet up at events in their new home town or at larger national events.

Kayak Fishing Tips | Tip #2

Get a net – and use it.

On the good days, you are going to catch a lot of fish. On the bad days, none. On a lot of days, you will get only three or five bites; you do not want to lose them. I have watched the game changing fish drop off as I tried to boat flip it. No more… I do not care if the fish looks like he may only be 12 inches, he is getting netted. Man, I hate to keep whining along on this one, but I lost a match during the winter before last because it was cold and I didn’t want to net a 13-inch fish; I knew it was safe. I lost it as I raised the line out of the water… and lost the match (by a fish) to a guy who I knew everyone would give me a hard time for losing to when it was over!  

And after you catch that fish, use the net to help keep him in the kayak when taking pictures.  More on that in a minute.

Kayak nets are a topic filled with opinions. But I will tell you what I told someone recently; don’t overthink it, and don’t over spend. My only real suggestion is that you get a rubberized net, it will save you cutting hooks out of the net (trust me)… and last you a much longer time. The Frabill nets at Walmart are my choice for these reasons – cheap, functional, available everywhere (I did lose one and was in Alabama) and built with rubber.  

Kayak Fishing Tips | Tip #3

Get a Ketch Board.

Invest in your last board upfront. I was not a fan of them, not going to lie. After using a Hawg Trough, they felt like a motor block. But if you plan to do this whole tournament thing, they are durable. They are not flexible, will not crack if you set it in the wrong place and seem to be the new standard as we move forward. 

It also removes doubt about any possible board manipulation during tournament measurement.  

The expense of a couple of broken Hawg Trough boards (I had three) will quickly make the Ketch board cost effective. It really is a better piece of equipment in the long run. I would strongly suggest you pick up a tether like those offered by Rogue Fishing just in case it goes overboard; it will not float.

Kayak Fishing Tips | Tip #4

Practice taking pics.

Alright, so you are the best angler the world has seen. You can flat catch ‘em on any day, in any conditions. But unless you can get a solid picture of those catches on tournament day, you might as well be on the couch.  

There are very finite rules about the fish placement; orientation, hand location, mouth position, identifiers, etc. that must be followed on all trails. Read them (KBF rules here see #9) and learn them… then practice it, over and over. Learn “your” technique. Some guys use fish grips to calm the fish, some guys wet the board ahead of trying to place the fish on the board and some (myself) just take the picture and get it done.

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I have a routine I want to share, but again, you will develop your own.  

I catch the fish, netting him. I hold the fish in the net while removing the hook. Then I set the net on the left side of the kayak as a wall to keep the fish in should it try to escape; they will with a motion you will soon learn (why I use the net). Then still holding the fish, I tilt the board and put the bump end of the board against that net… get out my phone, lay the fish on the board and get a quick picture. Then I see if I can reposition the fish and eek out another quarter of an inch.  

Practice, and then practice; and realize that you are still going to lose one or ten along the way.  

And before you let go of that fish, verify the mouth is closed and the identifier is visible.  

Kayak Fishing Tips | Tip #5

Be realistic.

Harsh realities are a part of the human experience. Be prepared for that when you start kayak fishing.  

You are not going to win every time you sign up. You are going to lose some really good fish at the worst possible time… and not everyone gets a trophy here. There is a winner and most tournaments do not pay deep into the field; so, there are many others who fund the winner’s trips. Sometimes, you’re on the right end of that equation; more often, it is just a long ride home with the memory of time with friends.

The sport is not to a point that I can make a living that accommodates the lifestyle that my day job as an engineer affords me, and most likely is not going to in the next couple of years. If you are looking to make a solid living doing just tournaments, well you better catch every fish and get perfect pictures… and then beat all of the others who in spite of the reality (like me) still hold out for the dream of greatness and recognition.

I could talk to you for hours on all that I have learned in the past years fishing kayak tournaments against the best there is on the water. I would welcome the opportunity to share the experiences and help you to be better, but there are hundreds more who can also help you to enjoy our sport.  

If you are considering it, sign up for a local tournament. If you have no idea where to start, Facebook and Google will help you to find local anglers. I can promise you that there is someone who can walk you through your first event, someone who will show you how to measure fish, someone who will be (if nothing more) a new friend for life.


This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

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Mike Cheatham

ABOUT Mike

May 2016, sat in my first kayak. October 2016, skunked in my first tournament. Spring of 2017, placed 11th in the KBF Open and have chased the addiction since. Fishing is the one place my mind gets quiet, the place I have always found peace. To do it competitively with a great bunch of folks is just a bonus. To have an opportunity to combine my love for fishing with writing...I feel like I have finally found a place in this world! I do have the support of a wonderful woman who understands my need to be on the water; she supports my dreams fully....life is truly good.

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