Excited to Get Yak At It! By Justin Largen
I can’t wait for the 2022 tournament season to begin! 2021 was my first year competing in kayak tournaments, and I decided to jump straight to the big leagues: B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series, Hobie Bass Open Series (BOS), and the Kayak Bass Fishing Trail (KBF). I’m not sure if it was arrogance, naivety or a bit of both, but I wanted to see how I compared to the top kayak fisherman on the planet.
As you might’ve guessed, 2021 served me a healthy dose of humble pie...and then seconds. There were a few tournaments where I stumbled across the right fish and managed high finishes, but there were a lot more where I struggled.
I made the decision to enter my first big tournament, the KBF Trail event on the Kissimmee Chain, at the last minute, with just enough time to drive from Virginia to Florida the day before the event. That meant no practice time. Not smart! To make matters worse, I overslept and cost myself valuable fishing time on the first day. It shouldn’t be a shock that I only managed 4 fish in two days of competition and finished near the bottom of the standings. I left Florida second guessing myself and wondering whether I could compete at the highest level.
My second tournament was completely different. I had three and a half days of practice for the B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series event at Lake Fork. I spent some time throwing moving baits and flipping shallow grass and wood but abandoned that approach after an unproductive first day of practice. With water temps approaching 60 degrees in the shallows, I suspected that some fish would be moving up to spawn. So, I spent the next two and a half days looking for them on beds. By the end of practice, I had located some bedding fish, but they were spooky.
Fortunately, the bass were more aggressive once the tournament started. By the afternoon I managed to catch most of the quality fish I’d found, and I even lucked across a 7 pounder that hadn’t been there in practice. I couldn’t have scripted the day any better. I finished with a limit that measured 97.75 inches, good enough for second place! The drive home from Texas was a blur. I was on cloud nine and busting with confidence for the next event.
These first two tournaments set the stage for a roller coaster of a season that was to follow. I had a few good showings, but they were overshadowed by poor to mediocre performances. I even had two days where I zeroed, and on great fisheries no less. Talk about hurt feelings!
Along the way I made plenty of rookie mistakes, some of them costly. If you’ve ever competed from a kayak, you may be able to sympathize. At one event I came in short of a limit after a keeper fish flopped off the measuring board before I could snap its picture. At another tournament, I got in a hurry and didn’t get my identifier in the photo of a solid 17-inch largemouth. That bass would’ve added 4 inches to my total and put me inside the money, but no identifier meant it didn’t count. Ouch! Worst of all, I used the wrong identifier in one tournament, forfeiting my entire catch for the 2-day event!
I made other mistakes like hooking too many fish in practice, not adjusting with changing conditions, overestimating the quantity of fish in an area, and underestimating the size of fish it would take to be competitive on a particular lake. And like everyone else who has ever wet a line, I’ve got stories of the big one that got away.
One of my biggest takeaways from 2021 is that failure is an inevitable part of the game. I learned that I’m going to have to shake off the lost fish, backlashes, and every other hiccup that manifests throughout the day. My best performances came when I was able to maintain an interior peace throughout the day, when I didn’t let a bad moment or two rattle me. When I was more successful in blocking out negativity and doubt, I fished better and had more fun. Gerald Swindle told us right; positive mental attitude makes a big difference.
So why am I so excited for the upcoming year? There’s that renewed optimism that boils every January. New year, clean slate, and seemingly limitless possibilities. But aside from that, I’m excited about some of the changes that are being made on the national kayak trails.
Before I go any further, I’m a fan of all three organizations, B.A.S.S., Hobie BOS, and KBF. Each is a little different, but each puts on great tournament. I will be taking part in multiple events with each trail in 2022.
I’m excited first for KBF’s Pro Series that debuts on the Kissimmee Chain in January. This new trail will function like Hobie BOS events, where the winner is determined by the highest two-day total. In my opinion, this multi-day format is the truest test of skill. Don’t get me wrong, winning any tournament is a big deal; it’s never easy. But anyone can run into the right group of fish and post a big one-day total. I’m living proof! It’s much more difficult to put together solid limits over multiple days of competition.
What is particularly appealing about the KBF Pro Series is that the events will run concurrently with the KBF Trail events, one-day tournaments that take place on consecutive days. This means that qualified anglers can compete in simultaneous events with separate payouts! At the end of the season, the Pro Series will recognize its own Angler of the Year. This will be separate from the esteemed Trail Series AOY race, meaning that anglers have a chance at multiple awards within KBF. This is a great opportunity for the kayak fisherman!
Not to be outdone, B.A.S.S. has enhanced its Kayak Series. Like last year, B.A.S.S. will host five regular season tournaments in 2022, but two of these events will be multi-day tournaments! Also in 2022, B.A.S.S. will crown its inaugural Kayak Series Angler of the Year! Points will be awarded at each of the five regional events based on a competitor’s finish. The angler’s top four tournament scores will be counted to determine their AOY rank. This format puts a lot of weight on each event. To have a shot at AOY, anglers will have to bring their A-game in every tournament.
Another exciting change for B.A.S.S. is the implementation of an off-limits period. Each lake will be off-limits for competitors from Saturday through Tuesday prior to the tournament. Anglers will then have three days of official practice, Wednesday through Friday. This rule has been the norm for national-level, bass boat tournaments, and it prevents locals or anglers with more flexible schedules from gaining an advantage over their competitors. Adding this rule to the Kayak Series is a great move for B.A.S.S., ensuring a level playing field and adding even greater credibility to our growing sport.
There is a lot for the kayak angler to look forward to in 2022! Good luck to everyone in the new year. I hope it brings limits, lunkers, and good times on the water. See you out there.