Tennessee Kayak State Championship

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.

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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 

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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

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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 

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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

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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

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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.”

This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

Become an ANGLR Expert and apply here.

Mike Cheatham


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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2 replies
  1. Chris Conder
    Chris Conder says:

    Good stuff as always Mike. Love reading your event breakdowns. Whether it is from your experience or from others, it’s always a unique perspective that I hope anglers appreciate. Thank you, Conder


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