On August 24, 2019, around 95 kayak anglers from six different states descended upon the Hoosier capital to battle it out for smallmouth glory on the White River. This was a doubleheader tournament with Indiana Kayak Anglers hosting their final trail event and a Hobie Bass Open Series Satellite event. 35 anglers (many fishing both events) would enter the Hobie event in hopes of winning the coveted Tournament of Champions paid entry. The TOC is arguably the most prestigious event in kayak bass fishing with the open series qualifying 50 of the best anglers in the country to duke it out for large cash purse and the final North American Hobie Fishing Worlds team spot.
White River Hobie BOS Satellite Event: Participation Skyrockets
This event has become Indiana’s must-attend kayak tournament. Growing in number every year and with the draw of the Hobie Satellite, tournament directors opened the boundaries to include more of the river than in years past, offering up new water to explore. The level of participation this year would set the record for a kayak tournament in the state, beating last season’s dink fest battle at West Boggs where 87 anglers caught well over 500 fish.
“The White River event has consistently been a top event for us, which is why we keep it on our schedule year after year. However, I never would have dreamed we would draw this kind of participation” states Jason Young, tournament director for IKA.
“From the directors’ perspective, it definitely makes us feel good about what we were able to put together this year and that so many people were willing to fish with us on this day. It’s also a little bittersweet knowing that our tournament season is almost over with only our Championship and the Crossroads Kayak Bass Team Classic left, both invitation-only events.”
White River Hobie BOS Satellite Event: Pre-Fishing
Tournament director Jason Young had been receiving numerous reports from anglers almost two weeks in advance of the tournament. The river was fishing great and the veterans of this ‘must not miss’ yearly event were anticipating 95-inches to win. One of those anglers, Cole Garland, opted for a last-minute approach, arriving at a section of the river on Friday night.
“I decided to check out a stretch of the river that I wasn’t planning on fishing on Saturday” he told me. “I just wanted to see what was going on. Fish some, note the conditions, and just kind of see how the fish were reacting to certain lures. I ended up finding a nice pattern quickly, and I think the best fish I caught was around 18”. My goal wasn’t to catch a giant or a lot of fish though so that 18″ was enough for me.”
Local smallmouth expert, Wilderness Systems fishing team member, and host of the Smallie Talk podcast, Josh Chrenko spent most of the month leading up to the event on the river, hoping to break down the river and dial in a pattern to defend his home waters.
“My main goal was to decide where I would spend the tournament fishing. Checking out stretches that I don’t fish near as often and eliminating them one by one” he explained. “Things like substrate, the average size of fish, and predicted traffic were my main concerns. I didn’t start trying to pattern fish until the week of the tournament. I fished twice that week, with varying success, but I had confidence heading into tournament day. My biggest fish while practicing capped out around 19-inches.”
Jason Robbins also found success during his tournament preparations from his Hobie Pro Angler.
“During pre-fishing, I struggled a bit for part of the day but when I found out what they wanted I knew I was fishing a good stretch of river. The biggest smallmouth I caught pre-fishing was 18 ¾-inches.”
That strategy of finding one good fish on a run was enough for most anglers that were able to get some fishing in ahead of time.
“Pre-fishing was honestly the best I’ve had in a long time. Aidan Darlington (float mate and 2017 winner of this event) and I want to take one test run on the stretch of river one week before the tournament” explains Nick Matthews. “It was a little bit of a fast walkthrough because we didn’t launch until 6:00 PM and it was a long stretch. All in all, I caught a 19-inch bass and that’s all that I needed to see to fish that stretch of river on tournament day.”
White River Hobie BOS Satellite Event: River Fishing Preparations
The river is a constant reminder that gear security is key, using tethers like those from Neverlost Gear. At the ramp I fished, one angler lost a rod and reel combo before even getting fully launched. Another angler, Lito Wulliman lost one during his pre-fishing. Cole Garland lost a combo as well during the tournament. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the end of Lito’s pre-tournament bad luck. While prepping his kayak tournament morning he would take a Whopper Plopper hook to the knuckle. Given the situation and the placement of the hook we deemed it best to just push the hook through the knuckle and clip that barb, yours truly had the honors of performing the “surgery”.
White River Hobie BOS Satellite Event: Tournament Breakdown
With over 52 miles of river in-play, anglers would need to be very strategic in their plans. In some areas, you could only run upstream or downstream about a mile, so hitting multiple spots was one strategy. Working with a float partner(s) was another way to tackle the longer runs. The last strategy was to put in just above a dam and head as far upstream as you could and float back down. Also playing into the strategy was ensuring ample time to return to tournament HQ at Sun Valley Sports, and with Indianapolis construction, giving yourself enough time was vital.
The leaderboard would almost immediately begin lighting up with many 16 to 18-inch fish caught within the first 20-minutes. Glenn Landstrom would submit one of the earliest fish coming just two minutes into the tournament, a very nice 18.25-incher. Glenn would be one of the first to fill a limit as well and set atop the leaderboard for most of the day.
Cole’s day started out with frustration, missing many quality fish.
“I started out catching fish right away, and my plan looked to be holding up. The pattern was what I expected, and I was feeling great about my chances. I started having a big issue though. I couldn’t keep a fish hooked! Little fish or big fish, they were spitting my lure out one after another. Several of them were nice keepers. I couldn’t figure out why though, everything should have been right, from the rod and reel to the line, to the hook and hook set. Everything. So, I decided to switch rods, switch hooks, and once I made that adjustment I didn’t have any problems. It just took me longer to adjust then it should have.”
It would be a bit of an early grind but he would eventually hook into the big bass of the day at 20.5-inches. Once he landed that fish, he started to feel pretty good about his pattern.
The big bass of the tournament, a beautiful Indiana smallmouth.
Chrenko, who has finished in the top 5 every year since this event started, was a favorite going into the event. His knowledge of this water and the smallmouth that inhabit it makes him a threat at any river tournament.
“I started out on tournament day fishing the middle of the water column with a fluke. My observations from practice on Friday had shown the topwater bite that I had been on seemed to have died due to a cold front moving in. I was on a semi-consistent bite with the fluke, but not the quality I was expecting. After a quick limit of 14-16-inch fish, I decided to try topwater out since that had been the predominant pattern before the front moved in. It wasn’t but about 5 casts in and I had a solid 16.25-inch smallmouth swallow my lure whole. A couple of casts later I had another nice fish, and that was about 10:00 AM.”
Josh would continue using that same topwater approach the rest of the day.
“The stretch I was on wasn’t known as a “trophy” stretch, but I knew there was a ton of quality fish with Alpha’s mixed in. I spent the rest of the day trying to cover as much new water as possible, targeting areas where the current was substantial, had good substrate, and specifically looked for mid-river boulders that were creating slack water behind them. I slowly but surely upgraded my limit to 87.25-inches with the last 16.5-incher being caught with about 30-minutes left, giving me a .25-inch upgrade.”
One key fish would be the difference between the win and second place though.
“All in all, I had a great showing. I caught around 60-65 fish with the only mistake being a 19 to 20-inch fish that was lost right at the boat. I had a clue this fish would be there as I had seen it in the area a few days prior. It ended up being a mistake that ultimately cost me first place.”
Nick Matthew’s also found success within the first few hours of the day but would need to make a key adjustment.
“Tournament day started off pretty well catching a 19-inch smallmouth within the first hour. However, that one fish led me down the wrong path” he attests. “I fished the with that bait until about 11:00 AM in which I didn’t have even a second fish. Then with one bait change the outcome of my tournament changed, I started to catch fish after fish and culled 2 times.”
Josh Robbins continued his pre-fishing success, picking up right where he left off.
“I caught all my keepers before noon. I struggled the rest of the day to make any upgrades.”
Josh would end up with 84.5-inches including a 15.75-incher that would have put him in contention for the win had he found that kicker fish.
Josh’s big fish was 18.25-inches.
White River Hobie BOS Satellite Event: Event Wrap-Up at Tournament HQ
Anglers were treated to loaded burritos, chips, and dips upon return to Sun Valley Sports. The food they provided for the anglers was a welcome respite after a hard day of fishing. Stories of the day began to circulate amongst anglers, and many caught up with old friends. The camaraderie of the kayak fishing community is unmatched in my opinion. The top anglers waited with anticipation for their names to be called and hoped to claim the top spot and the prestigious invite to the TOC. After a few door prize giveaways from Hobie, directors Jason and Jim Orr began to call out the Top 9 for the IKA Event.
With a final limit of 88.5-inches, Cole Garland would go on to win the IKA event. Josh Chrenko would take 2nd with Nick Matthews rounding out the Top 3. These 3 would nearly repeat for the Hobie satellite with one caveat. Nick Matthews opted not to enter the event leaving the door open for Josh Robbins to round out the top 3.
This double win checked off a lot of goals for Garland this season.
“This win was without a doubt as good of a win as I possibly could have had this year. With it being a Hobie BOS Satellite Event ran in parallel with the IKA, and having the ability to finally qualify for the Hobie TOC, the KBF National Championship, and the IKA Championship, it was the one circled on my list.”
Cole would take home around $3000 for his double win and big bass. He will join Jim and Jaxton Orr, representing Indiana, at the TOC in November on Lake Ouachita. His winning baits included a Rapala Shadow Rap and a Keitech Swing FAT impact swimbait.
White River Hobie BOS Satellite Event: The Winner’s Wild Day
After landing his 20.5-inches, the stretch of river Cole was fishing slowed way down.
“I couldn’t find any good fish. I could only catch dinks for a few hours and they absolutely destroyed the lure I was using. So much, that I ran out of the color that they were chewing on. Also, at that time I had two 12″ dinks as my short fish.”
If catching dink after dink for a couple of hours wasn’t frustrating enough, getting summoned to the bank by a conservation officer to check his license and losing out on at least twenty casts really set the mood. Cole would get right back to fishing and find more dinks. He made a key move late in the day that would pay off.
“I found a few spots that I knew had to hold fish. Fished the first spot, and nothing. By that time, it was 2:30, and that’s when the big “uh oh” feeling set in. Once I rolled up to the next spot though everything changed.”
The next 24-minutes would seal the deal for Cole, finally being able to cull out his two 12” fish.
“I flipped up into that next spot and BAM, a fish bit right away. It wasn’t the type of bass I wanted though… it was a white bass. But it got me a little excited. The next cast brought a smallmouth, but a small one. I flipped-up there again, and get another bite right away. This time, it was a nice fish. The size that I expected to be in there. This one ended up being a 17.5-inch fish and I snapped the pic with around 20-minutes to go. Ten minutes went by, and I had thought about pedaling down a little further as there were a few more decent areas, but I just held my spot. There had to be more fish.”
His instinct would pay off. The old saying is you don’t leave fish to find fish and sticking to that mentality would fill Cole’s wallet and punch his ticket to the TOC.
“I flipped back in there again and another one bit! I could tell this one was a better fish. My nerves started to kick, and I knew I needed this one just to be in contention. I ended up fighting that fish for such a long time, finally got him close, grabbed my net but it got caught up. The fish decided to take another run and peeled off some drag and then dug himself into some weeds where I couldn’t even see him. He was close to the yak, and I knew he was still on, but no dice.”
As mentioned early, using tethers to prevent lost gear is necessary on the rivers, however, sometimes it might just get in the way a bit.
“I hook up my net to a decently long rope and a carabiner to clip it to my kayak so I don’t lose it if it ever falls out. This was causing the net to get caught up” he explained. “I took my eyes off the line quickly and unhooked it. Switched the rod to my left hand and put the net in my right. Stood up, and at this point, I finally could see maybe a 1/4 of the fish. I just went for it and reached as far as I could. Scooped a bunch of grass and somehow the fish was in there too. Snapped the pic and submitted it with 6 minutes left.”
Those 2 upgrades would bump him up 11.25”, the difference between first and seventeenth.
This 18-inch smallmouth would give Cole his final cull, and a big one at that, upping his overall by six-inches.
Cole reflects, “running out of the lure of choice, getting checked by a C.O., losing a rod and reel, having a guide break on another rod, and splitting both Hobie fins made this win even more special.”
White River Hobie BOS Satellite Event: Final Thoughts
“Without a doubt, the key to our organization’s success is the anglers in Indiana. We put together the events, but without the regular anglers and their enthusiasm drawing in more and more people to the sport, growth would be non-existent” acknowledges Young. “It’s said so often that it’s almost a cliché, but these tournaments are about competition AND camaraderie, about the people as much as the fishing, and that’s what brings more people to each event.” When I asked if he would want to host another national exposure event like the Hobie satellite he did not hesitate. “We may not have world-class fisheries like Guntersville or St. Clair, but we’d love another opportunity to host a world-class event.”