Late in the summer I decided to enter in my first kayak fishing tournament. I have kayak fished off and on for several years, mostly fly fishing, but have recently started fishing local lakes and at the coast in S. Carolina. For my first tournament, I chose the 2nd Annual Hardcore Invitational 2010 “Back in Black” tournament hosted by the fine folks from the Hardcore Kayak Fishing Team.  The tournament this year was the same as last year’s; the upper section of Lake Wylie near Mt. Holly, NC. Even though it’s part of Lake Wylie, this section of the lake is more river than lake; which makes sense since Lake Wylie is part of the Catawba River chain of lakes.

This year’s format was limited to 40 kayaks/canoes, no motors of any kind, and was a photo catch and release event where the biggest fish could win up to $500.00. Like most photo catch and release tournaments, anglers are kept honest by drawing a marker which must be included with every photo submitted for judging; the Hardcore boys keep it simple by using a deck of playing cards. In addition to the marker, anglers were required to use an approved measuring device to record their catch.

To prep for the tournament, I was able to pre-fish the area once a few weeks ago. Ideally I wanted to pre-fish the area a few more times, but a combination of scheduling and weather meant my on the water intel was limited. Combined with the fact that I’m more of a fly fisherman than a spinning angler, and I was concerned that I would only have a fair chance at best to even place in the top 10. Most of the folks fishing the tournament have been kayak fishing for years and I was venturing into their backyard for only the 2nd time.

I arrived at the launch just after 6 am, unloaded my truck, set up my gear and waited for the day’s event to start. At sign in, I drew the 3 of clubs from the deck of cards and Tim Stewart from Hardcore wrote my slot number (27) and my nickname “I’m a Dude” on the marker. The short version of why my nickname is “I’m a dude”, is that Tim initially thought I was female kayaker and he was pumped to have more than one woman kayaker enter the tourney; sorry to disappoint you there Tim. At just after 7am, 36 anglers hit the water and waited patiently for the blessing of the fleet and playing of the National Anthem before the start of the tournament. Once the last note of the anthem played, kayakers scattered everywhere with aspirations of boating a fish big enough to win the $500 grand prize.

I decided to try my luck downstream and headed towards Sadler Island about 2 miles away. Based on my research I hoped the winning fish would be somewhere in that region. The trip to the island was brisk with the sun rising over the trees and a cool mist on the water. As I made my way to the fishing grounds, I made a few casts here and there whenever I saw something on my fishfinder that looked promising, but the day was still early and the fish were not cooperating. As I made my way around Sadler Island, I had one or two promising bumps on my line, but still no hook ups. I was starting to question my tactics, research, and my gear selection just a bit.

Just before I rounded the bottom of Sadler Island, I switched lures from a larger white spinnerbait to a white chatterbait. Paddling back upstream, I worked the docks at the Tailrace Marina, but still no fish. Few things can be more frustrating or discouraging than not catching fish. This feeling was beginning to really get worse as I became worried that I wouldn’t even catch a fish during my first tournament. But, I still had at least 3 hours to make some magic happen and I kept plugging away. Just after 10 am, I decided what I needed was a scented lure to entice the fish to bite. So, I took a Gulp worm, cut it in half and replaced the trailer on my chatterbait.

Casting my newly modified rig, I worked the seam along a ledge in an area that where some fish showed on my fishfinder. A couple of missed takes boosted my hopes and let me know my lure selection and location might produce results. After about 15 to 20 minutes of working that area, I finally felt the rod load and I made sure I set the hook knowing this could be my only fish of the day. After a short fight, I got a decent sized bass to the boat. Nothing spectacular, but I was thrilled because it was my first tournament bass and I wasn’t going home now with a shutout. Not wanted to ruin the photo of my only fish of the day, I made sure I had a good grip on the fish’s lip, grabbed my marker, camera, and my fish ruler. Three quick photos later and a fast glance to make sure they were good quality, I slipped the bass back into the water. I was on the board with a small, but respectable 14.5” bass.

The rest of the day was even tougher than the first three hours. I only caught one more fish and because it was a catfish, I couldn’t count it. So, just after 1 pm I came in, loaded my gear back on the truck and turned my photo in for scoring. Early reports from anglers coming back to the launch indicated that fishing was tough for everyone. Based on these reports, I realized that at 14.5 inches my fish might easily be a top 10 fish. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the all the scoring so I had to wait until later to find out the final results. Later in the evening I got a voicemail from Tim Stewart informing me I tied for 5th place and earned $50 for my catch. For my first kayak fishing tournament I will gladly take fifth place, especially knowing the level of competition I faced.

Gwen works in our Charlotte store where he runs the Paddlesports department. In addition to kayak fishing, Gwen is a sea kayaker and a whitewater boater. Gwen’s boat of choice for this tournament was the Ocean Kayak Prowler Trident 13 Angler.