Wow, what a year. 2017 was my rookie year fishing the Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) tournament series and what a year it was. I was fortunate enough to land a spot on the Vibe Kayaks Pro Fishing Team and I gave my SeaGhost 130 a workout this season. The kayak performed perfectly in conditions ranging from 10 acre lakes to some of the biggest reservoirs in North America. My season started during the frigid temperatures of March at Barren River Lake and ended in November at Pickwick fighting one of the most stubborn currents I’d seen all season. In all, I participated in 41 events placing 27th overall in KBF Angler of the Year and 7th in the race for the Rookie of the Year. I was nominated for Yak Angler’s Kayak Angler of the Year and was awarded Master Angler Status in Missouri. Icing on the cake was being one of the 1% of eligible anglers to qualify for the 2018 KBF National Championship. So how did this happen and what did I learn? Read on.
My interest in kayak bass fishing was actually sparked by my wife Lisa. She wanted to buy a kayak purely for fitness reasons but she was also well aware of my love of bass fishing. So what’s a good wife to do? Yep, she insisted that I turn my dreams into reality and get out on the water first. In all honesty, it is highly unlikely that I would have made the jump without her urging me to do so. But isn’t that what a good relationship is all about, supporting each other? And boy did she have a lot of supporting to do. As the season progressed, so did my ranking, which meant around August, there was no turning back. I had to dig in my heels and ride out the season. It was tough, it was frustrating, and it wasn’t exactly cheap travelling state to state. Way too many weekends away from home when I really would have preferred to kick back with my wife and nephew Connor, but I felt like I owed her the best finish I could muster. There were several times when she literally could sense my frustration during a tournament and she would send me an encouraging text, or make a phone call to me and tell me to suck it up and go find some fish. It was tough love at times, but support from friends and family is crucial. I owe a lot to her and my nephew Connor for being two of my biggest fans.
The support of friends and family didn’t stop there though. One of my favorite moments of the season was when I flew my son Ben in from Colorado to fish a tournament with me on Lake Taneycomo. Ben had never been in a kayak and unlike my daughter Shelby, wasn’t really into fishing. However, Ben fished four days straight with me catching dozens of bass and creating an awesome father/son memory for both of us.
Another tremendous family moment was the wedding of my daughter Shelby. I already had a tournament on my schedule for the day of her wedding on September 30 and by late September, it had become a pretty critical tournament in regards to AoY points. So what did I do? I did the right thing, cancelled the tournament and gave my full attention to Shelby’s wedding. In reality, once I learned the date of the wedding, there was no chance at all that I was going to fish, but it was a pivotal mental point for me. I learned that it was OK to shut it down. I didn’t NEED to be Rookie of the Year, but I always want to be viewed as Father of the Year.
I’ve made tons of friends along the way. Far too many to list, but a few stick out. One is my tournament partner Steve Leaman. Steve and I spent much of the season travelling together, sleeping in the car together, and enjoying the ups and downs of the season. We also met Rebecca Golden together which gave us the ultimate target for jokes and teasing. (Sorry about all of that, but not really. Haha) Rebecca is quite an angler as well with several years of tournament experience which she was more than willing to share.
Will Son, Hans Bentz, Matt Ball, David Kittrell, Jason Brink, Scott Shaw, Jim Harding…..all of these names and more come up whenever I think of anglers who helped push me during the season. One of my favorite moments of the season was just hanging with David Kittrell on Toledo Bend. Although we were in competition, it was the back and forth pushing of each other to catch one more fish that really made the day fun.
It wasn’t all competition. Aside from taking Connor out on my kayak with me on a regular basis, I also had an opportunity to fish with young Grant Merritt on a trip to Florida. It was so encouraging to see the enthusiasm that this young man had for kayak fishing. We spent nearly eight hours on the water in the July Florida heat, during a rain storm, and surrounded by alligators and he was all smiles the entire time. How cool is it to be able to fish right next to the future of the sport? I hope this season that I can bring him to a tournament with me. I’d love to see him win it….as long as I take second.
Here’s what I learned. I don’t care how good you are, someone is always better. I don’t care how much better they are, someone else always has luck on their side. Preparation is the key. You can never know too much about the body of water you are fishing. Fishermen don’t always tell the truth. If it can break, it will, but a savvy angler will always adapt and overcome. Safety is critical. 99% of the kayak anglers in the world will give you the shirt off of their back if you need it. The fish own the water. The right thing to do isn’t always the easy thing to do, but it is still always the right thing. You will rarely see an awesome pre-fishing day turn into an awesome tournament day.
My Vibe SeaGhost 130 has been bulletproof all season. Vibe has always done their best to make sure I have been ready to go and compete at the highest level, whether it has been the corporate office or the support of my fellow Vibe teammates. I can’t say enough good things about my Fitzgerald Rods. They simply don’t quit and have some unique features that I just can’t find anywhere else. Skirmish Baits have been my go-to hardbaits and have helped me search out some awesome bass all year long. When I’m using plastics, my Swagger Tackle tungsten weights have always done the trick as well. Finally, the support of my employer, Jan-Pro of St. Louis, has been instrumental in my success this year. Bob and Janet Mann have provided me with the flexibility that was needed to compete and I’ll forever be grateful for that.
I’ve included a list of lakes that I fished this season. I guess blessed is the only word I can think of when I look at that list. For many, there are a whole lot of bucket list lakes on here and I fished them all in one season. Again, what a blessing to be able to do so. Chad and Kristie Hoover, Joe Haubenreich, Richard Wohlwend-Penny, and the rest of the crew should also be thanked for providing the arena that made all of this possible.
Hopefully this post has provided some insight into my season and will encourage others to follow in my footsteps. It’s not an easy path, but with the right mindset, and the support of others, hopefully someone reading this will be making a similar post in the future.