Kayak Carelessness Costs Big at Kentucky Lake


Angling on the Down Low

The more you fish from a kayak, the more confident and less cautious you can become. Kayak anglers with experience can get in trouble when they focus more on fishing and less on safety. I did.


The second day of the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship at Kentucky Lake in March, the last thing on my mind was the possibility of capsizing my kayak. The first day I had ground out a 5-bass limit from a very selfish Kentucky Lake. My fish were not big ones, but just having five put me in 51st place out of 752 entries. Day 2, I came out of the gates fast and had already measured, photographed and released my first keeper a mere hour into the fishing time with 7 1/2 more hours to fish.

The tournament was paying down to 75th place, so I had a good chance to go home with some cash—the smallest amount to be awarded was $800. Although I probably would have needed to catch three state records to win the $100,000 top prize, I felt great to just be in line for any prize at all. More than half—396 anglers in the 751-kayak field—had caught one or zero fish the first day.


Confidence breeds carelessness


So, I was feeling confident that second morning as I turned around and rooted in the tackle crate behind my seat to put together an Alabama rig. My hip was on the kayak’s seat and my butt was way too far over the side.


Kayaks turn over with the thrilling speed of a mousetrap. I was quite shocked when the deck of my kayak slapped the surface and I suddenly was eyebrow deep in 52-degree water. That water was c-o-l-d.


I was only about a couple hundred yards from shore, but in 14 feet of water. Hypothermia seemed possible. I considered that my 61-year-old heart could go into arrest, too.


Fickle Kentucky Lake


The week leading up to the tournament, fishing had been so terrible for everyone that instead of driving down to Tennessee the Saturday before and fishing for five days before the competition, I stayed home and worked. I didn’t arrive until Thursday, the night before the tournament began.


“You’re gonna do better than any of us,” predicted my friend Ted Garneau when I met up with my Michigan homies at the cabin five of us had rented at Paris Landing State Park. None of my roomies had caught many bass—and they’d worked hard. Ted’s prediction turned out to be true, prize-wise, anyway.


Winning anything seemed impossible before the tournament and as the first day started, too.


First day luck


Since I hadn’t fished open water since last November, it took me a while to put things together at the ramp at Kenlake Marina the first day. I finally got on the water at 8:30 Friday morning, two hours after the tournament started.


It was a tough bite. The fishing time was to end at 3 p.m., and at 1 p.m. I still hadn’t caught a keeper. The 4-inch Big TRD worm I’d shortened to 3 1/2 inches and strung on a 1/16-ounce head (a Ned Rig) had caught just three small bass and two sheepshead.


Then luck kicked in. I decided to fish the outside of the big, manmade rock wall that protects Kenlake Marina. At 1:10, I caught a 15.75-inch largemouth. At 1:30, I caught my second, measured it and took the 13.75-incher’s picture with my phone, per kayak tournament protocol, and released it.


My spinning rod was in a rod holder, its bail open, and my line dangled in the water while I took the picture. I started pulling the line in by hand. Something pulled back. For a moment, I wondered if I’d thrown that second fish back with the jig still in its mouth. Nope, a 13.5-inch bass had sucked in the Ned Rig while it rested on the bottom.


Suddenly I had three fish with 90 minutes left to catch two more. I did! A 16.5-inch largie at 2 p.m. and a 12.5-incher a half hour later with 30 minutes of fishing time left. All came on the shortened mudbug-colored Big TRD, a two-tone gray pattern with gold flake.


Good day two start


Next morning, I towed my kayak back to Kenlake Marina and was back on the water at 6:30. With a sore shoulder from fishing the Ned Rig on a spinning rod right-handed all day, I Texas-rigged a 4-inch flat plastic Centipede on a baitcasting rod with a 1/16-ounce slip sinker and fished left-handed.


I caught my first keeper on that at 7:30, almost six hours sooner than my first fish the day before. I felt fantastically optimistic for about 30 minutes. Then I capsized.

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Of the three rods lost, one was the spinning rod and Ned Rig that had caught all five fish the first day. Another was the baitcaster and Centipede. I also lost all the jigheads that matched my Big TRD worm.


Miracles happen


Somehow, three rods remained in the tackle crate’s rod holders when I righted my kayak. That now seems a true Hand-of-God miracle.


They’d been sticking straight down at the bottom in loose rod holders for almost 10 seconds. I have asked divine forgiveness for the 19 consecutive F-bombs that flew from my lips when I flipped. Seriously, those rods remaining in the rod holders defies the law of gravity.


I clung to side of my yak, my lifejacket on, but was soaked to the skin through my rainsuit. My progress towards shore was super slow, and I was pretty sure no one saw me. After about 5 minutes of struggle, I started to hyperventilate from shock and cold water–uncontrolled short fast breaths. Then I heard a voice.


“Hey Brotha, ya need a hand?”


“I sure could use a tow to shore.”


It was another competitor who introduced himself as Matt Randolph, from Pittsburgh. He was perhaps a quarter mile away when he saw me go in. Matt calmly talked me into taking deep breaths. With his electric motor, he soon had me to where I could stand up.


I profusely thanked him. After he made sure I was OK, he went back to fishing. Water streaming from my rainsuit sleeves and pants cuffs, I walked the shoreline picking up Ziploc bags of tackle as they floated in. Dripping wet and shivering, I considered pedaling back to my SUV and sitting in it with the heater running for a while. However, the air temperature was about 60 with little wind. I decided to keep fishing.


Cold helps catch


I fished in the marina area and caught umpteen 11-inchers on the Finesse TubeZ I’d tied on my remaining spinning rod. Although I still had some Big TRDs, the little Plano box of jigheads with the slightly larger hook that matched up with that lure were part of the new Shimano-G.Loomis fish attractor dumped on the lake bottom. I tried the outer rock wall where I’d caught all my keepers the day before. No bites.


I still shivered occasionally, and had been watching a line of bass boats fish a shoreline on the other side of the bay. So, to warm up and because I couldn’t catch fewer keepers if I moved, I pedaled a half-mile across the creek mouth and worked that unfamiliar shore. Over the next couple of hours, four keeper bass including two smallmouths hit the teeny Finesse TubeZ as I swam it off a ledge and let it fall.


My final fish was so close to not making the 12-inch minimum that I almost didn’t submit its picture. The judges accepted it, though, so I’m glad I did. I took 31st place and won $900. So, my spill into Kentucky Lake only cost me about $600, as I lost $700 worth of rods, about $200 in tackle and ruined my Humminbird Helix 5, which cost $500 to replace.


I would have been tickled to win that top prize, but I was thrilled to win anything.


My tournament story’s moral: Realize you can capsize a kayak while fishing, no matter how much experience you have. Second, roll with those punches that can occur during a tournament and, as long as your situation isn’t life-threatening, don’t give up. You never know what good things might happen.


Author notes:


Dave Mull, of Paw Paw, Mich., has spent his career communicating the outdoors experience and currently serves as the Digital Editor for MidWest Outdoors magazine and Television. He enjoys kayaking and fishing for anything that swims in the lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes states and beyond.


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