Getting Started in Kayak Tournament Fishing

You’ve got a kayak and your favorite fishing gear.  Part of the reason you chose to start kayak fishing is the simplicity and the ease of getting on the water and finding your favorite target species.  But sometimes you look for some competition (and camaraderie), a test of your skills versus other kayak anglers.  Maybe you’ve fished tournaments before from a motorized boat, but how does it work from a kayak?

Kayak tournaments use a different method for measuring than standard motorized boat bass tournaments. Rather than keep fish in a livewell for a live weigh-in, kayak tournaments utilize a system known as Catch-Photo-Release (CPR).  With this method, a photo is taken of the fish that displays the fish, a token for tournament day, and the measuring board that demonstrates the length of the fish.  The fish is immediately returned to the water and the photo is turned in to the tournament director for judging and scoring, where lengths are determined and recorded rather than weights.

In order to keep consistency in judging, most kayak tournaments (including all Indiana Kayak Anglers events) require the use of the measuring board known as the Hawg Trough.  Once you acquire your first Hawg Trough, it is necessary to mark the measurement ridges so that they’re easily visible in the photos you submit for scoring.  Using a wide-tipped Sharpie seems to be the best method for doing so.  Additionally, these boards do NOT float, so many people choose to add some sort of flotations to keep from losing them.  This can be done by applying foam strips or spray foam to the channels that run the length of the underside of the board.  I’ve also seen some people glue in wooden dowel rods to add both flotation and rigidity.  If you haven’t yet purchased one, you should consider buying from Fishing Online, who sells Hawg Troughs that are pre-marked and already have flotation added for a very reasonable price.

As you can guess, with CPR events you’re going to need some type of digital camera, whether it be a standalone digital camera or your smartphone.  Regardless of the solution you choose to use, it’s always a good idea to consider using some sort of waterproofing and flotation solution to avoid destroying your camera/phone or watching it sink into 30 foot of water.  I personally use my smartphone with a DiCaPac floating waterproof smartphone pack.  Photos can be taken while the phone is still in the pack without negatively affecting the quality of the photo.

An example of a valid CPR photo

Different events you fish will have different requirements for the photos you submit for scoring.  Make sure you’re aware of those requirements before you set out on the water.  Photos that don’t meet the requirements will not count towards your tournament total length.  In most events, you’ll have the fish facing to the left of the photo, belly towards you, dorsal fin away from you.  The mouth must be touching the bump part of the board and the fish laying flat.  Where rules will often differ amongst events is the state of the mouth and the lay of the tail.  Some events will require the mouth to be closed (like all Indiana Kayak Anglers events) while other events will not specify.  Some events will require the tail to be laying naturally on the board (like all Indiana Kayak Anglers events) while other will allow you to manipulate the tail for best results.  In the photo, the entire fish must be visible so that the judge can see the mouth to verify it’s touching the bump as well as the tail to determine length.  In addition, your tournament token must be visible to verify that the fish was caught during the event.  It’s also necessary to see your kayak in the photo.

I have a few recommendations for CPR.  One, practice practice practice.  It doesn’t seem difficult on the surface, but you’ll be surprised at how crazy it can be to go through all of the steps necessary to get a good photo of your fish.  Practicing this when a tournament is not on the line is your best bet to learn what works best for you.  Two, take multiple pictures of the fish.  I’ll take three to four photos of each fish in order to ensure that I have a photo worthy of turning in for judging.  Once those photos are taken, I’ll take a random shot of whatever is around me to indicate on my camera that the next fish picture is a different fish.  This helps me identify each of the fish I’ve caught throughout the day while I’m “culling” pictures to turn in.  Another tip is to find a way to attach your tournament token to either your Hawg Trough or yourself.  This will essentially allow you to eliminate the step of getting your token into the photo.  For Indiana Kayak Anglers events, we utilize bracelets to assist with this.  For events that use card-type token, I’ve attached a Gear Tie to my Hawg Trough, then fasten the other end to the token, which holds it above the fish for photos.

In addition to the items you’ll need for judging and scoring in a kayak fishing tournament, the majority of events (again including all Indiana Kayak Anglers events) will require a Personal Flotation Device to be worn at all times during the event, regardless of local laws and regulations.  This is to mitigate risk against injury and to promote safety on the water.

Finally, you’ll need to have all licenses and permits required by the state you’re fishing in and the body of water you’re on.  If you get a ticket for breaking the law, you’re likely going to be disqualified from the event you’re fishing.

Finding fun when the pressure builds

I’m a very competitive person.  If I show up on tournament day, I’m going to do everything I can to win.  Sometimes, though, I have to understand that my everything just isn’t enough.

Years ago, in what seems like another life, I played competitive golf.  One summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend a junior golf camp at the University of North Carolina, and part of this camp was working with a sports psychologist.  Perhaps the biggest lesson I took away from this camp was moving on from a bad shot.  I learned that nothing good comes from dwelling on the previous mishit, misread, or other bad execution.  No amount of anger or disgust will change what just occurred, and the only way to recover is to focus on future execution.

Much of this same advice applies to fishing, especially in a tournament setting.  Dwelling on the missed hooksets, the lost fish, or the misplaced casts will not put fish in the livewell or on the measuring board.  We must learn from it, build on it, and move on.

Looking for some schools on Kentucky Lake

Looking for some schools on Kentucky Lake

At the end of May, I was blessed to be able to fish the 2nd Hobie Bass Open on Kentucky Lake, an amazing event with the opportunity to represent Team USA in China at the Hobie World Championships on the line.  Common knowledge is that the big bass on Kentucky Lake stack up on deep ledges this time of year.  This is a method of fishing I know very little about, but advice and research had me ready to give it a shot.  Practice had me pedaling a lot, staring at the screen of my Lowrance Elite-5, following these ledges and looking for schools of bass.  I marked many smaller schools, and even fished enough to find some solid fish.

I found a few in practice, including this solid fish.

I found a few in practice, including this solid fish.

Day One fish on the Hawg Trough

Day One fish on the Hawg Trough

As it often goes in ledge fishing, come game day, these schools were gone.  Hitting all of my waypoints showed no fish, just a blank screen or empty shell beds.  I panicked a bit, and fished hard trying to find fish wandering through in those areas.  Day 1 was a scramble for me, scrapping hard to find a small limit of 40.25″.

As I learned from my days of golf, I knew that I had to move on from the first day.  Not dwell on what I did wrong, or if I spent too much time trying to make something happen that couldn’t.  Looking at the numbers, it was pretty obvious that a top finish in the event wasn’t within reach, so I chose to take the next best path:  HAVE FUN!  Before the sun broke into the sky, I had decided that I was going to beat the bank in new water, fishing topwater, my favorite way to catch fish.

Fish on the board on day 2

Fish on the board on day 2

I ended up fishing a buzzbait the entire day, covering tons of water that I’d never seen before, and had an absolute blast.  I lost track of the numbers of fish I caught throughout the day, but for the most part it was a day-long flurry of fish, most of which were bigger than I’d caught the previous day.  At no point throughout Day 2 did I regret forgetting about Day 1 or moving away from the trend of fishing the ledges for big bass.  I finished Day 2 with a 45″ limit, moving me up to a respectable 27th of 73 anglers for the weekend.  I suspect that much of this was due to others failing at finding big fish on the ledges but not giving up on that pattern, but I’ll take it.  There’s no indicator that shows this, but I’d venture a guess that I may have had more fun than anyone else there that weekend.  All because I chose to not dwell on my mishits and poor execution.

First event of the year, a lesson in adaptation

This past weekend I was finally able to participate in my first tournament of the year.  This event, put on by Yak Freaks, was on Tucker Lake (aka Springs Valley Lake), located inside the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana.  The lake is 110 acres and electric motor only.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  Very little information could be located about the lake and I had no topographical map available.

An early 3 AM start to the day

An early 3 AM start to the day

I was thankful that the tournament director, Chad Brock, met with me at a gas station on the way so that I could follow him the rest of the way to the lake, as this lake is buried pretty deep in the forest via winding roads and huge hills.  My central Indiana Trailblazer wasn’t sure what all those hills were!

Once we got on the water, I had decided to pedal my Hobie Pro Angler to the dam.  History has taught me that I can bang a squarebill off the chunk rock of a dam and put a few in the boat, so I figured this was a good way to get my day started.  As I approached the dam, though, I was disappointed to see that it was a completely earthen dam with no rip rap in sight!  Another note I made en route to the dam was the seemingly steep drop offs along the shore, almost like bluff walls.  This would prove to be interesting!

I made my way along the dam, throwing a buzz bait parallel to the exposed vegetation along the shore, but couldn’t scrounge up a bite.  Not far from the dam, though, I spotted some rocky shore line (again, bluff walls, but this time made of rock).  There were some large chunks of stone in the water, so it was finally time to throw the squarebill.  In a short stretch of this bank and in short time I had 4 small fish on the board.

The gorgeous Tucker Lake

The gorgeous Tucker Lake

Moving on from the rock I started finding a lot of brush and wood in water and noticing on my electronics that the vegetation grew deep, indicating the water is normally clearer than it was that day.  Due to the quick drops and the deeper structure, I decided to throw an 1/8 oz D’s Baits shakey head with a Zoom Baby Brush Hog.  I wanted the slow drop along the breaks.  It paid off, as I caught most of my fish for the day with this presentation. I would throw it up along shore or exposed vegetation, then slowly drag it out and let it fall.

I had two other patterns that worked out for me:  weightless Senko when I found shallow water laydowns and a buzz bait on the one flat I found, which was a silty bottom at a creek inlet, spotted with rock and wood.

My big fish for the day

My big fish for the day

While I went in blind and the only small plan I had didn’t pan out, I was still able to put together 72.5″ in 5 fish, with an 18″ kicker.  This was good enough for first place for the day.  I wish there would have been a better turnout, but tournament kayak fishing is still in its infancy around here and I believe many were leery of the predicted rainfall.  It definitely fell, but the beauty of this lake and the fantastic fishing made up for getting soaked to the bone.

The Hobie Pro Angler once again shined, allowing me to move and fish constantly and quickly, and position myself well when I needed to fish an area more.  Moving along the shoreline and using my electronics, I was able to ascertain that there were very few points and flats on this lake, at least in the significant amount of water I was able to cover.  For 2015, Hobie has added the H-Rail, a long dodecahedron rail on which to mount a plethora of accessories.  I think my favorite accessory offered is the Tackle Bin.  I position it on my right side, hanging off the outside of the boat, and it’s been amazing for keeping my camera, pliers, fish grip, and the plastics I’m currently using easily accessible and organized. I need to find a way to add one of these to my Ranger!

A busy September

The first Friday in September had me heading to southern Indiana to join the Evansville Kayak Anglers at a small lake known as Lynnville Lake.  I knew nothing about the lake prior to arrival late Friday night, other than hearing that it was very clear water and had an abundance of small fish.

My plan was to start out early in the morning fishing topwater.  I rigged up a Lake Fork Tackle Magic Popper the night before.  As daylight broke and we headed out onto the water, I didn’t peddle far before I just couldn’t pass up water I was passing.  So I stopped near a point full of vegetation and began working the popper over top of the submerged vegetation along the lines where the weeds were exposed.  A few casts in and I was on the board with one of the infamous 9-10″ bass loaded up in this lake.  I was excited that this pattern was working, as we all know that there’s not much more exciting time on the water than when the fish are attacking topwater.  And attacking they were.  Over the course of the day, I caught 30+ fish on this Magic Popper.  When the bite would slow down on top, it didn’t take long with a Yamamoto Double Tail Hula Grub to find more fish.  I even caught a few on a wacky-rigged Senko.

What I didn’t catch, though, were any keeper fish.  “Keeper” is relative in a CPR event, so I was still “culling” up, but after reeling in what was easily over 50 fish (I stopped keeping count), it was amazing to see how similar in size these fish were.  Except for the two that I caught that hovered around the 13″ mark, every single one of them was 9-10″.  This fishery has a lot of potential, but it seems like it could use some management in order grow the bigger fish.

10653484_10152389307591819_4863569508899224651_nDespite the small fish, my total length was enough to secure a victory in the small field of anglers.  But beyond the win, it was great hanging out with more sportsmen and women.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but the kayak fishing community is an amazing world to be a part of.  I hope we can all work hard to keep it that way and not let poor sportsmen and poor attitudes take over.

I have two more events this month!  Next up is Portside Marine’s Fall Kayak Fishing Tournament on Morse Reservoir Saturday, September 20.  We’ll be launching at Morse Beach (at the Park), with registration beginning at 7:00 AM.  In addition to the tournament, Portside Marine will be hosting a Hobie demo day at the beach from 8:00 AM until noon, allowing any interested parties to come check out the amazing Hobie kayak selection.  Another demo after the tournament, from about 1:00 PM until 2:00 PM has me more excited, though.  During that time, any kayak anglers, or those interested in kayak fishing, can come to the beach and spend 10-20 minutes on the water in my fully rigged Pro Angler and actually DO some fishing from it.  This is the PERFECT opportunity for me to share my love of these kayaks with those who have been wanting to see what they’re all about.

On Saturday, September 27, Indiana Kayak Anglers will be hosting the 2014 September Shootout.  This event will be held on Geist Reservoir and is a benefit event for the Indiana Chapter of Heroes on the Water.  All entry fees and half of the launch fees will be donated to HOW, with prizes for the participants being provided by many amazing sponsors.  This is going to be an incredible event on a fishery that is known for producing big bass.  The feedback we’re getting right now says that there will be a great turnout with anglers travelling considerable distances to participate.  Additionally, some of the sponsors will be on hand with products for browsing and purchasing.  The marina is providing spectators the opportunity to get out on the water in pontoons to enjoy the lake and even watch their favorite kayak angler in action.  Heroes on the Water will be bringing their fleet of kayaks, offering low cost rentals for those anglers that want to try out kayak fishing before spending the money to buy their own gear.  Keep up with updates and information regarding this event at the Indiana Kayak Anglers Facebook Page.

GoPro on-the-water battery solution

Many fishermen have really taken to using action cams to chronicle their adventures.  One look at my YouTube channel and you’ll see that I sit squarely in that category and rarely go on an outing without my GoPro Hero2.

I’ve been doing it since I began this kayak fishing adventure I’m on and have convinced many of my fishing friends to acquire their own GoPros.  One concern that always comes to the surface is the battery life.  For many who use these action cams, an hour and a half of battery life is generally sufficient.  However, for us fishermen, we need more.  We need to start the camera and let it run throughout the day.  Sure, remotes and apps are great, but if you’re waiting for the right time to turn the camera on, you’re going to be too late and miss that fish catch.  Additionally, enabling the wifi/bluetooth radios on these cameras will decrease the battery life.

Most of the time, we spend 5-8 hours at a time on the water.  When comparing the battery life of many of the action cams on the market right now, none of them will last that long on a single charge.  So, regardless of which camera you choose, you’re going to be changing the battery at some point, or devising an on-the-water charging solution.  The point is that battery life for a camera for this purpose should not really be a consideration unless purchasing additional batteries for a particular model is cost-prohibitive.

GoPro batteries on the waterHere’s the solution I use.  I use a small Plano waterproof box to store 4 spare batteries, a second memory card, and extra fog free inserts.  I’ve filled the box with a piece of foam that’s been plucked to hold all items snuggly.  You’ll also notice that I’ve placed a green dot on one side of each battery and a red dot on the other.  This is to visually indicate to me which batteries are charged and which aren’t.  When I pull a dead battery from the camera, I place it red dot up in the case.  Then when I’m at home and charging each battery, I’ll replace it in the case with the green dot up when completely charged.

More information

Gizmodo’s Spring 2014 Action Cam Review

Wasabi GoPro Battery Kits on Amazon


Portside Marine’s Hobie Fishing Tournament Wrapup

Rules meeting

Rules meeting

When setting out for this event, I was concerned with how tough the bite would be.  A cold front had just moved through, and most of us figured it would be quite a grind to find some fish.  16 anglers were pre-registered for this event on Morse Reservoir near Noblesville, IN and 13 showed up to battle it out for this second event hosted by Portside Marine and Hobie Fishing.  The morning was chilly and breezy with a slight threat of rain showers, so we were all bundled up before the launch but ready to take on the day.

Special thanks to for the awesome video from launch.  Man, I need a Phantom drone for my GoPro!

I started out throwing a spinnerbait for a while with no luck.  I slowed it down and threw my standard plastics trying to entice a bite, also with no luck.  I moved to throwing a squarebill crankbait, banging it off of the scattered rock, and that seemed to be the ticket.  Soon I had 3 on the board, though nothing of size.  I covered a lot of water, lost my original crankbait when it got stuck under a rock and wouldn’t come loose, and found fish scattered through most of my travels.  I made my way north to the bridge, the boundary of our off-limits area, and worked some of that rip-rap with no luck.  However, one of my friends sure had some luck, and in doing so made my day!

My buddy Rob also made the trip up to the bridge and made his way around the area in the opposite direction that I did.  Soon he was out of sight as I made my way into a nearby cove.  Coming back out of the cove, I decided to work the shoreline again where I’d just caught a few fish, catching a few more, but nothing to upgrade my current 3 fish.  It wasn’t long before I thought I heard my name across the lake.  As I turned around, I saw Rob paddling at me across the lake and looking like there may have been something wrong.  I put my rod down and pedaled towards him to make sure everything was alright.

Rob Evans and his 20" big bass.  She was a CHUNK!

Rob Evans and his 20″ big bass. She was a CHUNK!

“Hey, man.  I had to come over because nobody is going to believe me.”  He lifts a giant out of the water with his jig still in this fish’s lip.  HOLY COW.  This thing was FAT.  So then Rob tells me the story.  As he was photographing the fish on his Hawg Trough, the fish flopped and kicked his iPhone, tossing it into the waters of Morse Reservoir, complete with his photos of other fish he’d caught throughout the day.  Originally he just wanted to show someone before he released it, but I wasn’t about to let a little phone release taint his day.  You see, I carry my phone with me in a waterproof and floating case, but use my waterproof Fuji XP 60 for CPR duties.  So, I took a few pics, then handed him my Fuji to use for this fish and the remainder of the tournament, since I could use my phone for any more fish I caught.  This fish went 20″ long and nearly 6 pounds on his scale, a hog for sure!  The big bass pot helped soften the blow of having to replace the drowned iPhone.

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful.  A few more fish, still nothing to upgrade with.  It seemed like everyone was catching them from the on-the-water reports, so I was anxious to see how the day played out for everyone.

Justin Long finished in first place with 3 fish totaling 48.75″, with a big fish of 19.75″.  Two young anglers rounded out the top three, both with 45″.  Using the “biggest fish” method of tie-breaking, Zane Bollinger landed in second place due to his 18.5″ bass, and his buddy Christian Brandt slid into third.  In all, 27 fish were checked in, considerably higher than I anticipated at the start of the day.  I finished in fifth place with 38.75″ behind my Hobie Fishing teammate Keenan Chamberlain’s 41.25″.  It was another great tournament meeting a few new anglers (including some up-and-comers with a fantastic showing in their first event), discussing the day with friends, and participating in another event filled with nothing but love for the sport and sportsmanship all around.

Full Tournament Results





Cold water, pike, and a 2nd place finish, oh my!

This past weekend I headed north to MIchigan to compete in my third tournament of the season in as many states.  You may recall my first tournament of the year was in Kentucky at the Bluegrass Yakmasters Open on Cedar Creek Lake.  My second tournament was the Central Indiana Kayak Anglers/Heroes on the Water Crossroads Kayak Clash on Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis, Indiana, in which I did check in a single 13.75″ fish on a very tough day of fishing.

This particular tournament was hosted by Gull Lake Marine, a Hobie dealer on Gull Lake near Richland, Michigan.  This was a slam-style tournament with 2 biggest pike, 2 biggest bass, and 2 biggest panfish counting towards the total inches, though not all groups were required.  I’m almost exclusively a bass fisherman, so I was nervous about placing well in this format, but I figured inches would be built up by pike and figured that if I could find them I could catch them with traditional bass lures that imitate baitfish.

I did my normal preliminary planning, analyzing topographical maps and gathering as much knowledge about the lake as I could without being there. Figuring that the fish would be transitioning to the spawn soon I tried to identify certain areas that had significant amounts of shallow flats with deep water nearby. This led me to the area of an island and the surrounding coves and cutbacks. I was setup to throw spinnerbaits, hoping to capitalize by finding pike and bass with it, and also tubes and soft plastic jigs.

Upon launch, I set out to my planned destination, but two things really stuck out to me as I pedaled my way there: the water was cold and the water was very very clear. Early in the morning the water temperatures were reading right around 47 degrees. I could see bottom in 13 feet of water. As of yet I did not let this change my plan for the day.

A few other guys apparently liked the same area I did but initially it seemed they were doing more trolling than casting and retrieving. I worked a particular cutback with the spinnerbait and tube jig for a while with nary a bite. I worked from shallow out to the deep drops. Even working in shallower I wasn’t seeing many signs of life in the clear water. Then it just hit me…

Hero shot of my first pike

Hero shot of my first pike

Cold, clear water. A bit of a breeze to ripple the water and cloudy skies. Why shouldn’t I throw a jerkbait? I had a spinnerbait bait tied on to the rod I use for jerkbait fishing, so I cut it off and tied on the crack black Lucky Craft Flash Pointer I decided would be a good choice to start with. Starting in the cutback, I made my way along the edge of the long point. It wasn’t very long until my first fish was on the line, a pike that barely made the 20 inch tournament minimum. My blood was pumping as I was not only on the board but had done so with the species I knew it would take to win and the species I was least sure of catching.

My day on the water according to Navionics

My day on the water according to Navionics

I spent the next few hours working this large flat, positioning myself in 3-5 feet of water and casting out over the break and to the large dark spots marking grass beds speckling the gravel bottom. The wind was blowing me across the flat in the exact direction I wanted it to. So I’d make a pass, then sit down and pedal upwind, stand, and work it again. After catching four pike and three bass, I felt it was time to move on. Using the Navionics app to locate similar bottom contour nearby I moved only a short distance to the island and repeated the same drift and jerkbait pattern. I had similar success here, upgrading my pike and catching a second bass that met the 12 inch tournament minimum.

Rough Waters

Rough Waters

By the time I decided to move on from this next area, the wind had picked up considerably to around 15-20 mph. I also had just over 72 inches of fish to turn in. I pedaled north a bit and hit another point but only momentarily, as this area was completely unprotected from the heavy winds. It was nearing time to make my way back towards check in. I was determined not to be late, so I gave myself ample time to return and even do a little fishing on the way in the protected cove where the marina was located.

Check in time is usually an exciting part of any tournament. It’s the easiest time to strike up conversation with those I don’t yet know. This tournament did not disappoint, as I made many new acquaintances and put a few faces to names from forums and Facebook groups. I met a few guys that made the journey from Chicago, a couple of Hobie teammates from Canada and Michigan, and plenty of other awesome kayak fishermen.

The tournament went silky smooth. Gull Lake Marine, Rodney, and Dave Mull put on a great event with nary a hitch, at least from my perspective. It was announced that they’ll have a second tournament October 18th, and I’m certain I will do everything in my power to return for it. I don’t have the complete results but my 72.5″ was good for second place behind over 90 inches from Lucian Gizel from Michigan. Another big gap separated me from third place, an indication of the tough bite of the day. Big bass was Lucian’s 20 3/4″ smallmouth pig and a fisherman from Chicago took big pike at 34″, his only fish of the day.

Setting the hook

Setting the hook

This tournament was also a big milestone for me in the Hobie Pro Angler. I spent the majority of the time standing and fishing the jerkbait on the flats, allowing myself to become a rather large sail in the increasing winds throughout the day. This was also the first time I’ve actually caught fish while standing up. I can officially say that there is little that this boat can’t handle even with a large fellow such as myself inside. This tournament solidified my confidence fishing from this boat and I’m excited about the opportunities coming up to put some of this new confidence to work.

Next up is the Portside Marine event on Morse Reservoir May 17, followed closely by the Hobie Bass Open on Kentucky Lake. It’s a busy May, but I’m having an amazing time.

First Impressions: Hobie Pro Angler 14

For 2014, I’m honored to be a part of the Hobie Fishing Team representing Hobie and Portside Marine Sales in Westfield, Indiana.  Hobie practices grassroots marketing, encouraging its dealers to have staff anglers to promote the sport of kayak fishing and Hobie’s amazing line of fishing kayaks.  To say I’m excited about this season and this opportunity would be a tremendous understatement. Many many thanks to Portside Marine and to Hobie.

As I mentioned in my previous article, I finally got to sink my teeth into a Hobie kayak, a Mirage Pro Angler 14 provided as my demo boat for the season.  I was certainly not disappointed in this kayak despite my inability to locate any fish during the tournament.  In an effort to explain to my family how great this kayak was, I used the analogy that it’s like going from a rusty old bicycle to a Ferrari for daily commuting duties.  I’ll try to break down the reasons I feel this way.


As kayak anglers, we’re constantly making modifications to our boats to add accessories for use while on the water. Even with purpose-built items such as track systems from companies like YakAttack, we still have to drill holes in our kayaks.  For me, this was very nerve-wracking the first few times, especially when concerned with sealing all holes to make them water-tight.

Fish finder on kayakIn the location where most of would mount accessories, Hobie has provided replaceable mounting boards.  With these boards you can mount all of your accessories without ever having to modify the integrity of the kayak itself and replace them if needed.  To provide the ultimate flexibility for me, I chose 12″ YakAttack GearTrac SL-90.  This should allow me to mount any of my camera mounts, rod holders, and fish finder in a wide variety of locations on either side of the kayak.

Many anglers also choose to install fish-finding electronics onto their kayaks.  The options for mounting the transducer are many, ranging from shooting through-hull with glue or putty, to utilizing a transducer arm setup, to mounting the transducer into an existing scupper.  Hobie took this last option to the next level with their Lowrance-Ready setup.  An oversized scupper located underneath the seating area is designed specifically for mounting a Lowrance transducer (an adapter for Humminbird transducers is available through the Hobie Accessory Catalog).  A plate with 3 screws holds and protects the transducer in the water for the best signal and accurate water temperature readings.  Hobie has also provided pre-drilled holes that all seal up water-tight with provided plugs.  Installing my Lowrance X-4 took roughly 30 minutes…in the dark.


Perhaps the most convenient aspect of the Mirage Pro Angler is the rigging you DON’T have to do.  Many of us build crates with rod holders to carry our tackle boxes and unused rods while on the water.  I will admit to strapping down my YakAttack BlackPak during the Cedar Creek Lake tournament, but it only carried my cooler, snacks, and Ziploc bags of plastics.  What it DIDN’T have to do was hold my tackle boxes or my spare rods.

The Mirage Pro Anglers provide horizontal rod storage located along either side of the boat and extending (via full-length tubes) to the very tip of the bow.  The 12 foot version has 4 rod holders (2 per side) and the 14 foot version has 6 (3 per side).  This provides the kayak angler with the same advantages that big boat fishermen have had for ages: quick access to your rigs when you need them.  No more twisting awkwardly to reach for another rod.  No more getting rods tangled in overhanging limbs.  No more snagging the vertical rods during casting.

The tackle management system also nearly replaces the need for a crate.  2 Plano 3600-sized tackle boxes stow completely out of the way, under the deck, located inside the twist and lock hatch directly in front of the seat.  2 Plano 3700-sized tackle boxes stow away nicely onto a molded tray underneath the seat.  There are additional pockets and trays located on both sides of the seat that worked out perfect for holding bags of plastics and tools needed throughout the day.

Mirage Drive

The feature of the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler that I was most looking forward to using was the Mirage Drive.  This somewhat controversial pedal-driven propulsion system did not disappoint one bit.  Being able to move from spot-to-spot, reposition the boat, or maintain location in wind and current while leaving both hands free for fishing, snacking, drinking, and utilizing electronics takes kayak fishing to a whole new level. Despite the fact that the Pro Angler 14 is a hefty boat and I’m a hefty man, the Mirage Drive pushes this boat at surprising speeds.  During one of my cross lake moves at the Cedar Creek Lake event, I used an app on my phone to discover that I was traveling at 6 mph.


For the Mirage Pro Angler kayaks, Hobie has developed their Vantage Seating system.  This seat is more comfortable than any office chair I’ve had the privilege of using.  Nearly everything imaginable is adjustable on this seat: the bottom, the recline of the back, and the lumbar portion of the back.  A few twists of the arms of the seat are all that are needed to get the seat into the most supportive and comfortable position.   A simple cable pull and lean forward can also lower the base of the seat into a lower position to provide additional stability by moving the angler closer to the kayak.  I mentioned in my previous article that this first tournament was the longest I’d participated in to date, yet due to the Vantage Seat, I was not sore in any way.

The pedals of the Mirage Drive are also adjustable to make pedaling safe and comfortable for nearly any angler.  I found myself trying out a few different positions of the pedals until I found the spot that seemed to keep my knees from extending too far and the Turbo Fins from slapping the bottom of the kayak on aggressive pedaling.

Learning to Fly

The learning curve for moving from my Future Beach Angler 144 to the Pro Angler 14 seemed steep until I got into the PA.  It took very little time to get used to the ins and outs of this kayak.  In short time I was relatively comfortable fishing from a standing position, thanks to the outstanding stability of the hull and the sheer amount of standing area available on the kayak.  I plan to work on this some more, as many fishing techniques are easier to do from a standing position.  One other thing I need to continue to practice is boat position and not getting myself into certain positions that are difficult to get out of.  This was particularly obvious fishing the thick flooded timber at Cedar Creek Lake, where many times I made my way back into the trees until I was forced to paddle backwards to get out.

The next opportunity to get this fantastic kayak onto the water can’t come soon enough!

One down, many to go

TokenThis past weekend, April 4th through the 6th, I was able to open up the 2014 kayak fishing tournament season by travelling south with my buddy Aaron to Cedar Creek Lake Kentucky for the first tournament in the Bluegrass Yakmasters Tournament Series.  It’s difficult to explain how amazing this experience was.  It was definitely full of “ests”.


Loaded at the Lake

All loaded up and ready to leave the lake to head to early registration.

This was the farthest I’ve traveled for the sole purpose of fishing.  From home, to Indianapolis to pick up Aaron, to Danville Kentucky where the host hotel was located was just over 250 miles each way.  I was very nervous about how my Harbor Freight trailer would handle it, but it performed flawlessly hauling my Hobie Pro Angler 14 the entire weekend.


As part of the 2014 Hobie Fishing Team, Portside Marine Sales in Westfield provided me with a Hobie Pro Angler 14.  I was able to pick this up on Wednesday, April 2, just a few short days prior to leaving for the Cedar Creek Lake event.  This, along with all of the other packing and planning I had to do for the trip, made this the quickest rigging and setup job I’ve done.  Much of this was made possible by the outstanding engineering of the Pro Angler, requiring me to have to do very little to be tournament ready.  I mounted some YakAttack GearTrac for accessory duties onto the replaceable mounting boards on the Hobie.  I also mounted the transducer and ran the cables for the fish finder, which only took about 30 minutes in the dark.  This was also the quickest I had to learn the ins and outs of a kayak, having only about an hour and a half on the water Friday before the tournament.


A map approximating my path of travel during the tournament.

A map approximating my path of travel during the tournament.

The tournament day began at 7 AM and check-in was at 4 PM, making this event the longest duration kayak tournament I’ve fished to date.  While I would have undoubtedly been uncomfortable by the end of the day in my previous kayak, the Vantage Seating and Mirage Drive made the long day not only comfortable, but enjoyable.  Also fitting under the longest category is the distance I covered on the water thanks to the Mirage Drive.


It was 38 degrees when we launched in the morning.  Enough said there, I think.


The Bluegrass Yakmasters group definitely have their stuff together.  Everything about this tournament was well-run and seemed, to me at least, to move along like a well-oiled machine.


To date, this is by far the greatest time I’ve had at a tournament.  When fishing a lake the caliber of Cedar Creek Lake, nobody likes to walk away without a fish, but for me this tournament was much more than putting fish on the board.   There were many successes for me outside of this.  I made many new friends in the kayak fishing community, discovered a tournament series that’s not horribly far away, and fell in love with the Hobie Pro Angler (more on that later).  This was a very successful trip and I’m looking forward to more of them this year.

I’d like to extend hearty thanks to my buddy Aaron for joining me on this excursion, Bluegrass Yakmasters for the event, and all of the event’s sponsors for sweetening the deal on an already sweet event.  I can’t wait to do it again!

Quick look back and 2014 Fish-olutions

2013 was an amazing year for me.

Some early November cold weather smallmouth action from Northern Indiana.

Some early November cold weather smallmouth action from Northern Indiana.

I grew a tremendous amount as a kayak angler.   The “angler” part of this is likely the most important, and I certainly feel like I’ve improved my technique and tactics when it comes to finding and catching fish.  I finally added jerkbaits to my repertoire, gaining confidence by catching new personal best smallmouth twice in the same day.

The “kayak” part of this, though, is a bigger source of the feeling of accomplishment for me.  I’ve gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my ability to handle my 12 foot long plastic boat in many different situations.  I’ve tackled big reservoirs with heavy boat traffic and survived near misses with boaters (and even a helicopter) on a river.   All of these situations had me very nervous in playing out the scenarios in my head, but I’ve proven to myself that I am capable of handling them safely without my day of fishing being ruined.  Additionally, my confidence in boat control and positioning has grown, making me feel certain I can get to where I think I need to be in order to catch fish.  Part of this is learning to utilize tools like Navionics for Android and my Lowrance X-4 on the water and Google Maps and Earth before I get there.

All of this, however, pales in comparison to my biggest accomplishment in 2013:  Making great friendships.  Through this great sport of kayak fishing, I’ve gained many friendships in the past year.  From tournaments to Facebook to online forums, I’ve met so many great people that I’m proud to call my friends and even humbled to be considered theirs.  This community makes everyone feel so welcome, and I hope that my contributions to the community also help it grow in this manner.

There has been a lot of discussion on forums and Facebook groups lately about goals and resolutions for the new year.  I dub these “Fish-olutions”.

In a broad sense, I really just want the momentum I gained, described above, to continue to push myself and the sport of kayak fishing forward.  More confidence, better technique, and more friendships.

To facilitate this broader goal, I wish to:

  • Learn more techniques to catch bass, including learning to fly fish
  • Spend more time catching other species of fish (bluegill, crappie, trout)
  • Travel to new waters, or at least familiar waters that I haven’t ventured onto with my kayak
  • Complete at least one multi-day river float
  • Compete in every kayak tournament that I can, including at least one multiple day, out-of-state tournament
  • Increase my participation online, including forums and publication of videos to promote the sport

What are your 2014 Fish-olutions?

Christmas loot, handpicked by my 5 year old daughter

Christmas loot, handpicked by my 5 year old daughter