Anglers from 21 different states paid their entry fees, packed up kayaks, fishing gear and in some cases camping gear and headed to Paris, Tennessee last week. All 158 of them sought the same thing, a chance at over $50,000 in cash and prizes at the Kayak Bass Fishing Open.
The four day event kicked off with an optional Big Bass qualification day on Thursday. This also served as a great way for the judges to get the feel of the new Tourney X system (an online fish submission process for tournaments) before over 150 people started submitting fish on Friday. At least that was the thought. Thursday was also used as a setup day for the many vendors who filled the Conference Center at the Quality Inn in Paris, the headquarters for the event.
Surprisingly 96 anglers decided to take advantage of the opportunity and Cody Black ended up winning a $500 HOOK 1 gift card for the biggest fish on Thursday. His 20.5 inch fish wouldn’t carry over to the actual tournament but would put him at the top of the Big Bass Board for a chance at the Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. kayak prize package worth over $6,000.
The Captain’s Meeting started around 7 PM Thursday evening where anglers could ask questions and some clarification could be given. Identifiers for Day One of the KBF Open were handed out and the meeting dismissed around 8:30 PM. The vibe of anticipation and excitement filled the parking lot. Most anglers would get only a few hours of sleep doing last minute preparations well into the night.
Friday morning saw the first cast at 6 AM as the 2015 KBF Open was now in full swing. Day One participants started registering fish before 7 AM and the two fish limit for Friday started being filled by 8 AM. Chad Hoover reminded the participants to be wary of Friday. The format allowed your best two fish to be counted on Day One and your best three on Day Two to make a total best five fish. Fish from Day One could not be culled on Day Two. As Hoover said, “You can’t win the tournament on Friday but you sure can lose it!” How true this scenario would prove to be no one could have guessed.
Throughout the day Friday anglers continued to submit good catches. While the judges were finishing lunch Robert Lauber submitted a beastly 22.25 inch bass that caught all of our attention. It drew quite the reaction in the South Side Café too. We spent the next 20 minutes explaining to diners the sport of kayak fishing and the nuance of a kayak bass tournament. Time well spent.
At 4 PM all the anglers had to be back to check in at headquarters. Check in times determined the tie breakers so earlier was better. Utilizing Tourney X, all but 19 anglers had already submitted their fish for Day One. The first round of announcements and prizes didn’t start Thursday night until 7 PM but judging was done by 4:45PM. Many anglers chose to enjoy some of the locally catered barbecue and desserts while perusing vendor booths.
At 7 PM we kicked off the Captain’s Meeting and awards for Day One. Robert Lauber’s fish held the Big Bass spot and won him a $500 HOOK 1 gift card. His second fish wasn’t enough to put him in the leader’s spot for the overall tournament. The man everyone would be chasing Day Two was CJ Espey who turned in two fish for 40 inches. That length won Espey a fishing retreat package at Ray Scott’s Trophy Bass Retreat, gift cards from HOOK 1 and Power Team Lures and a whole lot of envy. The Top 10 anglers were separated by only five inches after Day One. 40 anglers were within 10 inches of the lead. It was truly anyone’s game after Friday.
Unfortunately several anglers didn’t register a fish Day One. The rain and moving water had thwarted a lot of game plans. Columbia and HOOK 1 wanted them to keep their chin up and offered the Columbia Comeback Challenge. Each skunked angler got a new Columbia PFG hat and had to post a video that they were coming back on Day Two. The angler who placed highest in the final standings after a zero on Day One would win $500 in Columbia Gear and HOOK 1 would pony up another $500. The down spirits of the defeated were lifted again as identifiers for Day Two were handed out. Would CJ Espey be able to hold the top spot? Would someone creep up and steal victory? Even less sleep occurred leading into Day Two.
Saturday morning greeted anglers with more rain. Day Two saw a lot of go for broke attitudes and some warmer water helped with results. Needing three fish for a limit Saturday many of the participants found schooling fish early and registered what became known as “Pet Shop” fish. Pet Shop is any bass under 12 inches that looks like it came from a, well, Pet Shop. Most of these were culled later in the day but one (un)lucky angler, Troy Meyerhoeffer, was left holding the smallest registered bass of the tournament. For his Pet Shop bass, Meyerhoeffer was given a gift certificate to Power Team Lures.
As check in time loomed closer the judges started noticing some sand bagging. Pictures of anglers with large fish caught Saturday were showing up in social media but had not yet been registered. A little gamesmanship was afoot. Standings on Tourney X were available for everyone to see until the last couple of hours so they wanted to keep their catches more secretive. Clever.
In the last half hour all the fish made it into the system or on a card at check in and we knew in the judges room the potential of a Top Ten shake up was looking more like a reality. This was about to be crazy!
While we were tabulating final results and triple checking everything the public and competitors were treated to a concert featuring three up and coming Nashville artists. Odiss Kohn lead things off, followed by Danica Honeycutt. Markus Fox brought the night to a close after the awards ceremony.
Just a hair after 7 PM Tournament Director Nik Brown and HOOK 1’s Chad Hoover made their way to the front and a buzz filled the air. The weekend’s treasure was about to be awarded and only the judges and Hoover knew where it would be distributed.
5th Place through 15th Place were announced with the amounts they had won ranging from $300 to $1,400.
The top four competitors were all brought up front. Knowing they were in a good spot the smiles broadened quite a bit at this point. Amongst the four was CJ Espey, the Day One leader. Had he done it?
Fourth Place was announced as Michael Chaney who took home $1,500 for his finish.
The two remaining competitors stood in silence waiting to hear the name called for Second Place. The tension was thicker than a wading boot.
As Tyson Peterson’s name was announced for Second, Nick Lester covered his face in shock. He had done it. A long way from home in Pennsylvania, Lester had bested a field of more than 150.
He was called to the front and asked to sit in the Hot Seat to see what other Manufacturers’ Money bonuses he qualified for. His tournament winnings started at $7,000. They were about to go up.
Seated on the Wilderness Systems ATAK, Lester was asked by Hoover in almost Let’s Make a Deal fashion, “Do you have a Bending Branches paddle? Did you use a Doomsday Turtle? Do you have a Fish Grip? Do you have Ram products on your kayak? How about HOOK 1 and ConSeal?”
Lester was able to produce proof of all of those products and because of it took home an additional $9,000 from manufacturers making his total winnings $16,000, a custom YakAttack BlackPak and Fish Grip. He was not able to capitalize on some other Manufacturers’ Money so he had to step off of the hot seat and Peterson, next in line, was able to claim some of the money.
The Wilderness Systems bonus was still in play. CJ Espey doesn’t fish from a Wildy and immediately Michael Chaney started dancing. He knew he got to claim an additional $3,000 bonus for the top placing Wilderness Systems paddler. Chaney now was taking home $4,500.
In an interesting twist, Calloway Rabb had the best three fish stringer of the day at 61.5 inches but only managed one fish on Day One. The Hoover warning had played out but Rabb got a sweet revenge of his own. He had landed the big bass for the day, which to that point was also the biggest of the tournament. To end Saturday, Rabb was in First and Third in the Big Bass competition with only six hours left to fish on Sunday. He could call it good and hope it held or try to best his catch and guarantee himself the ATAK package valued over $6,000.
Rabb decided to fish Sunday.
During his morning on the water he was able to catch another big fish. While it wouldn’t beat out the 23.25 inch monster from the previous day it would upgrade his third ranked fish to second. On Sunday at noon Rabb completed a huge comeback and won First AND Second Place in the Big Bass competition. Not only did he win the ATAK package but also another $1,000 for Second, a $1,000 HOOK 1 gift card, a custom YakAttack Black Pak and a Fish Grip. And, it goes worth noting that after it was all said and done, Calloway Rabb caught the first, second and fourth largest fish in the entire tournament. Had that streak started a day early he might have swept the whole thing. As they say though, that’s fishing.
The one final winner was Larry Schuster. Schuster drove all the way from New Jersey and blanked on Day One and Day Two. For his trials and tribulations in Tennessee, the folks at Kayak Kaddy awarded him a new Kayak Kaddy to take home to New Jersey. Not bad for a double barrel skunk.
The Top 20 finishers in the 2015 KBF Open have automatically qualified for the 2016 Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship to be held in Paris, Tennessee. Trails across the country will send their top finishers and anglers have the chance to qualify at additional KBF Opens held throughout 2015 and 2016 with the final event being March 24, 2016, the day before the National Championship.
One final shout out to my fellow judges, coordinators and the boss man. Thank you so much for your tremendous support last week. Sarah Meier, Adam Harbuck and Joe Haubenreich, you guys are the gold star example of selfless workers. Nik Brown, you ran this tournament like a boss. I hope it’s the first of many. And to you Chad Hoover, that sir is how it’s done. Bravo! Let’s do it bigger and better for next year!