Lessons from the Kayak Bass Fishing championship

Lessons from the Kayak Bass Fishing championship

Apr 4, 2018

Lessons learned at the 2018 KBF National Championship

By Mike Pehanich

As Dwayne Taff held up his $100,000 winner’s check after the 2018 KBF National Championship, the world had proof that kayak bass fishing had hit the big time. But attentive anglers were taking notes and filing other messages away to serve them in the coming season and beyond. Here are a few key takeaways!

Just how big was the 2018 Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship, “powered” by title sponsor Torqeedo?

If money is the measure, consider that Dwayne Taff’s $100,000 winner’s take for the Kentucky Lake victory matches the first place award of the nine Bassmaster Elite and seven FLW events scheduled for 2018. What’s more, the winnings of second place KBF finisher Joshua Stewart ($20,000) and third place angler Tim Perkins ($15,000 plus $9,800 in Bonus Bucks for a $24,800 total) would fall within the Top Five payouts in most Bassmaster Elite and FLW Tour events.

Dwayne Taff, winner of the $100,000 first place prize at the historic 2018 KBF National Championship in Paris, TN, receives congratulations from Torqeedo’s Jeff Little (left) and Steve Trkla.

“It was a roller coaster ride,” said Tim Perkins, the Day One leader who seemed to speak for many. His hopes for a $100K payday rode up and down with the week’s weather and the highs and lows of fish caught and lost. “It started with pre-fishing. I had two fish in four days, and I was dreading Day One.”

The big money and huge 752-angler field at the KBF National Championship generated unprecedented excitement and attention for the tournament. But after the adrenaline rush had settled and participants were headed home from Paris, Tennessee, the week’s lessons began to fall into place. Here are a few.

1) Did you ever feel like you needed to get away? – The vast field of fishermen made launch and fishing area decisions critical. Add Kentucky Lake’s usual fleet of spring bass- and crappie-fishing vacationers to KBF’s 752 kayaks, and even the vast acreage of Kentucky Lake (168,000 acres) and Lake Barkley (58,000 acres) starts to feel crowded.

“The whole lake was getting pounded…My plan was to go somewhere where the other 750 weren’t,” said runner-up Joshua Stewart, a native of New Johnsonville, Tennessee, who boasts an impressive record of kayak tournament success on the two lakes upon which KBF staged this year’s national championship. “I fished a small creek arm that you can hardly see on a map…’Getting away’ was the same strategy I took at the Hobie Open on Kentucky Lake in which I also placed second.”

“I think most of the anglers who did well fished Lake Barkley,” surmised Tim Perkins, who worked Barkley waters both days of the event following frustrating practice days on Kentucky Lake. “My (main) area was a 35-minute ride with a Torqeedo motor. It would have been about an hour and a half paddle to get to that remote area. But with 750 guys, you’ve got to get away. Part of my strategy was to get away from a boat ramp… I couldn’t have made it without the Torqeedo. I probably covered 10-12 miles of water a day.”

Many of the 75 anglers who cashed checks down to $800 adopted either Stewart’s strategy of finding an inconspicuous area with strong fish-holding potential or hopping a series of promising areas in hopes of hitting a hot bite or piecing together a sizable limit.

“I cashed a check ($800) but lost a few key fish that would have helped me out,” said 71st place finisher Ron Champion, a perennial contender for top honors. “But I had to cover a lot of water. Conditions were constantly changing on this lake, and I knew the only chance I had was to fish as many spots as possible. I was fishing back and forth across the mouth of one cove five or six times a day, and that cove was probably ¾ of a mile wide. I ran the heck out of my Evolve motor with the new (Torqeedo) 915 battery. I ran fast. I ran wide open across that lake. Covering water was key.”

Tim Perkins, Day One leader, credited his Torqeedo Ultralight 403 for extending his fishing time during two hectic tournament days.

2) Spring transition strategies can be critical – For many of the 752 anglers competing in Paris, Tenn., at the 2018 KBF National Championship, Mother Nature provided the toughest competition. She raised Kentucky Lake water levels three to five feet during March before the Tennessee Valley Authority joined in the Tug-o’-War, dropping those levels dramatically during the days leading up to the March 23-24 championship. Nature complicated the drawdown conditions with an extended cold front the week of the tourney.

Pre-spawn bass movements had been underway at the two lakes before the strong early spring cold front dumped cold water on the love longings of Kentucky Lake’s bass.

Bass that had moved into newly flooded shoreline cover during high water conditions were forced to change their bedding plans. Anglers who were able to connect the dots between spawning areas and “retreat” locations made the most of a generally shy bite.

3) Motors matter – Permitting motors in kayak bass fishing competition has been a subject of debate and powerful opinion for years. Discussion – much of it heated – continues today, but the weight of the debate clearly has shifted due to the proven value of lightweight, efficient kayak motors to anglers, not to mention the enormous prize money that the German manufacturer of electric outboard motors brought to the event. Torqeedo’s investment in the national championship raised the bar for other sponsors as well.

Motors have become increasingly important factors in each of the three KBF National Championship events. Tough fishing at this year’s tournament magnified the value of motor-generated speed and mobility. Torqeedo users captured three of the Top 20 leaderboard positions.

“I covered so much water in four days,” said Perkins. “The key to fishing a big lake is to eliminate the most water you can and concentrate on areas that give you the best shot at good fish. What a tool that Torqeedo motor has been, and I can’t say enough about the company’s new 915 battery. The motor is valuable in tournaments that only permit motors in pre-fishing.”

The motor’s value in maintaining boat control while fishing in current and wind and working deep structure remains vastly underappreciated, but that, too, is changing.

Bladed jigs are becoming go-to search baits for many tournament anglers. Winner Dwayne Taff caught all his fish on the Z-Man/Evergreen Jack Hammer, premium entry in the Chatterbait line-up.

Bladed jig may be the new reigning searchbait — Dwayne Taff is $100,000 and 1,200 Facebook friends richer following his win at the KBF National Championship. He has a new “favorite” lure as well.

“The Chatterbait Jack Hammer was a totally new addition to my tackle, and I hit the jackpot with it, too,” he said.

Taff had followed the magazine coverage and You Tube videos tracking Brett Hite’s FLW and Bassmaster success with the Jack Hammer, a high-end Chatterbait variation that Hite himself had co-designed with Japanese lure designer Morizo Shimizu. It is marketed in the U.S. through a joint venture between Z-Man and EverGreen International of Japan.

Taff and his angling cohorts went through a frustrating odyssey trying to find the lure. He finally found the Jack Hammer in a Dick’s store in Houston and bought one.

One.

A la Hite, he added a Yamamoto Zako trailer to this premium-priced bladed jig. He had tracked the soft plastic trailer down in a tackle store in Paducah, Kentucky, just prior to the tournament.

Chad Hoover of Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) interviews big money winner Dwayne Taff at the awards presentation in Paris, TN.

Taff failed to find fish “doing the Kentucky Lake thing” on deep ledges during pre-fish days, so he decided to turn to tactics he knew best. “I didn’t have any confidence in what I was doing so I told my buddies, ’I’m fishing shallow. I’m going Texas!,’” Taff recalled. “We rarely fish deeper than 10 feet in Texas.”

Crediting “pure luck,” he tied on the Chatterbait Jack Hammer.

“I planned to used it as a search bait, thinking I could cover a lot of water with it,” he said. “Unlike other bladed jigs, it doesn’t come up to the surface on you or stop vibrating. You don’t have to jerk it or pop it to get started again in the middle of your retrieve. When the Jack Hammer hits the water it starts pulsing right away, and it doesn’t stop. I don’t care how fast or slow you retrieve it. It outperforms every bait in the category.”

Third place finisher Tim Perkins took Barkley Lake bass and the tournament field by surprise by taking some of his biggest fish on a Zara Spook topwater lure.

Taff had a five-fish limit by 9:00 A.M. on Day One. He fished a 100-yard stretch of bank only 1- to 2-feet deep with an adjacent ditch 4- to 6-feet deep.

“In the early morning, the bass were on the ledge, tight to the bank,” he explained. “But they dropped into the ditch when the sun came up.”

Nearly all his fish came from the relatively sparse hard cover in the area, primarily fallen trees and stick-ups.

He left the area early on Day One, knowing he was in contention for the big prize. He hoped that he had not spooked all the bass there and that the area would replenish itself with new fish as well.

He was right.

But Day Two was not without suspense. Taff hung up his lone Jack Hammer on his very first cast! Heartsick that he might lose his $100K bait, he jerked on it, and prepared to jiggle and jerk some more.

“Then I saw my line move to the left, and I set the hook!” he laughed. “The fish had grabbed it out of the tree. It was 22.5 inches long, and it was the big fish of the hour. A few casts later, I caught a 19.75 incher, then another 15-incher.”

The tackle that brought him to his $100,000 payday consisted of a strong medium power rod from the McCain kayak series, an Abu Garcia Revo reel with 5:1 gear ratio, and 12-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon line.

“I used mostly a straight retrieve. The 5:1 gear ratio enabled me to keep the retrieve slow in that 51-degree water,” assessed Taff. “You need a rod that enables you to get a good hookset. When I felt the bait had stopped chattering, I knew a fish had hit and was coming toward me. With that McCain rod, I could still get a good hookset.”

The Jack Hammer he used was the BHite Delight with a green pumpkin Zako trailer.

Don’t overlook topwater baits — Several years ago, I asked topwater guru Zell Rowland what he thought were best conditions for using topwater lures.

“The best time to throw a topwater lure is when you’re not!” said Zell with a devilish grin.

Tim Perkins might agree. Perkins, who hails from Heflin, Alabama, caught key fish – including one that he estimated at 7 pounds — walking a Zara Spook in cold water conditions that had few anglers considering such a bait.

“While I was measuring the 7-pounder, it flipped and broke my measuring board,” added Perkins who needed the boost from his Torqeedo Ultralight 403 to travel the 35-minute ride back to his truck to get a new board.

With a camera crew and armada of competitors hovering near him on Day Two, it seemed Tim would be unable to resurrect his Day One magic. But just as he was preparing to leave the area, the Zara Spook drew a blow-up from a big fish. Chad Hoover and the camera crew caught the action – and Perkins’ frustration — on film.

It made for fine drama, but Tim took the missed strike as sign that it was time to leave and go with a different game plan. He “junk fished” his way to a limit. He came away short of a winning total but with a third place check and nearly $10,000 in Bonus Bucks.

 

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