Prize money helps with capsized kayak losses

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.

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. I reckon my butt must have been a little too far off the side, my hip on the kayak’s seat.

Kayaks turn over with the thrilling speed of a mousetrap. I was quite shocked when the deck of my Old Town Predator PDL slapped the surface and I suddenly was eyebrow deep in 52-degree water at Kentucky Lake. Sure, that’s 20 degrees above turning to ice, but that water was c-o-l-d.

I was only about 300 yards from shore, but in 14 feet of water and hypothermia seemed possible. I considered that my 61-year-old heart might attack, too.


Stingy 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, and not just because I lost three of my six rods and a bunch of tackle at the start of the second day. The first day was pretty poor, too.


First day kayak luck

Since I hadn’t had much time prepare and hadn’t even fished open water since last November, it took me awhile to put things together at the ramp. 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 in more than four hours.

But then luck kicked in. I decided to fish the outside of the big, manmade  rock wall that protects KenLake Marina and at 1:10 I caught my first keeper. At 1:30, I caught my second, measured it and took its 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. For some reason, instead of grabbing the rod and reeling my lure up, 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 1/2-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. Which I did, the last one with about 15 minutes of fishing time left. All came on the shortened mudbug-colored Big TRD, a two-tone gray pattern with gold flake.

Next morning I towed my yak back to KenLake Marina across the state line in Kentucky. I’d decided upon KenLake because I’d finished seventh in a much smaller kayak contest up there three years earlier. I kind of knew the lay of the land, but had no reason to believe fishing would be good there in March–the first tournament had been in June. However, I hadn’t heard other kayakers mention that access, so I thought maybe I wouldn’t have much competition from other competitors.

That was a lucky assumption – just six or so other kayakers were there the first day.


Good Day 2 start

So, second morning I 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.

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.

The replacement cost of those rods and reels is $700. Ouch.


Miracles happen

Somehow, three rods remained in the tackle crate’s rod holders when I righted my kayak, and 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 laws of physics, particularly 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 and 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. Other items of flotsam included my noise-maker airhorn and my Hawg Trough measuring board customized with dowel rods to float. Three oranges I’d brought for snacks also bobbed in the water. Another blessing was that the wind blew everything that didn’t sink to the rocky beach where Matt had towed me. I’d had my iPhone in a waterproof, padded bag on a lanyard around my neck and it was fine. However, the tournament identifier I’d put in a sandwich bag got soaked and was falling apart. My backup was in my wallet and even wetter. The one in the bag stayed together just well enough for the tournament photos.

Dripping wet and shivering, I considered pedaling back to my SUV and sitting in it with the heater running for awhile. But the air temperature was about 60 with little wind, so I decided to keep fishing.

Being cold might have helped me catch the rest of my fish.

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 had occasional, minor fits of shivering, and had been watching a line of bassboats 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.

The last bass Mull caught in the contest barely made it to the 12-inch line and he almost didn’t submit it. The judges accepted it, though, so he’s glad he did.

An earlier MWO blog covered how Texan Dwayne Taff won the $100,000 prize, thanks to lucky Cheetos in his kayak. His tale was a good one (read it here).

I would have been tickled to win that top prize, but I was thrilled to win anything. I came away with a pretty good story, too.

My tournament story even has a double-barrelled moral: Stay vigilant and cognizant that 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.

MWO Digital Editor Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw, Michigan. Write to him at [email protected]