7 Tips for First Time Kayak Tournament Anglers

7 Tips for First Time Kayak Tournament Anglers

I fished my first kayak tournament a little over five years ago. While I learned a lot, I made so many mistakes. I’ve also run many tournaments over the years and seen a lot of stuff that could have been avoided. Hopefully these seven things I think every kayak tournament angler should know will help you in avoiding many of the mistakes.

1. Ruler Board/Hawg Trough

Most kayak tournaments use the Catch-Photograph-Release (CPR) technique to determine a winner. If you buy a Hawg Trough from one of the many retailers like Austin Canoe and Kayak, they come marked every inch. They do have ridges so you can measure up to 1/4 of an inch but they are the same color as the board. You quickly find out at “weigh-in” that those 1/4″ lines are very important and very hard to see in a picture. Take a sharpie and run over those ridges and the judges will never have to guess. But to even get a picture, you have to keep the fish on the board. This is a dexterity challenge while floating in a kayak with a paddle, a fish with hooks in him trying desperately to stab you with the hooks, a trough and camera, not to mention the required identifier that has to be in the picture. If you want to avoid the arts and crafts session, visit Fishing Online and order a premarked, floating Hawg Trough. You should also mark the end of the board, the “bump”, so that it can be seen whether the fish is appropriately touching it with no gap.

2. Confidence Baits and Techniques

You know them and use them. They are your go to baits and styles. These are usually the first thing you go to when a new method or bait is failing after the first 10 casts that you tried it. Mine is a drop shot rig with a F4 Hag’s Tornado. I can catch fish out of a dry sewer line with this setup and yet I didn’t catch but two fish total using everything else on my first tournament day until an hour before weigh in. Why? I over thought the lake. I had never fished the lake before except for pre-fishing the evening preceding the tournament. In that time I tried what people told me would work, different locations, depths I normally didn’t fish and it hurt. At 12:30 I had two fish out of five and I caught those in the first 30 minutes of the day. When push came to shove, I switched back to my confidence setup and was rewarded with the three fish I needed to round out my limit. They were not huge by any stretch of the imagination but five fish on tourney day is never a given. The lesson here? Don’t deviate. After talking to the winner my thoughts were reaffirmed. He said he stuck to his game plan and didn’t deviate. He also didn’t move spots all day. Sometimes you’ll have to move but often, if you have a pattern, sticking it out will be more rewarding than blind fishing spot to spot.

3. Planning and Homework

I spent the better part of two weeks planning for my first kayak tournament. I scoured what topographical maps I could find and used overlays from satellite maps to determine the most likely places I could catch fish. I prefished the day before and did okay but felt lack luster about it. At dinner that evening I got some tips on where some fish were. I spent the entire morning of the tournament chasing someone else’s plan. That did nothing for me. In the time I left my prep work and techniques at the door, only two small fish came into the boat. When I abandoned other plans and went back to my own, I caught the rest of my fish for the day. Lesson learned.

People may be helpful or they may appear to be helpful. If you want to really develop a plan that has a great chance of succeeding, prefish. Prefish several days before and as often as you can leading up to the event. Take lots of notes on time of day, water depth, water temps, baits, retrieve speeds and styles, and anything else that might help. You won’t lie to yourself about results. Others might though. As the saying goes, “In God We Trust, all others we monitor.”

4. Always Be Prepared

You just never know. It will creep up on you when you least expect it so pack accordingly. Not all of these things happened to me but some unexpected events at tournaments that have produced a bit of hilarity, some panic, some disgust and even some hunger:

Raccoons will steal your food. All of it.

Branches barely sticking out of the water get caught in scupper holes. Have a plan. And a saw.

The sun doesn’t rise until well after 6AM most of the year but tournaments start at least that early. Have what you need to be legal on the water. And a light to see the dangers.

You can get sunburned even when it’s raining.

Cameras fail. Have a backup plan. Cell phone signal sucks. Have a plan.


5. Read All The Rules

You sign a release before tournaments, sometimes digitally, sometimes on paper, but every one of them I have ever seen states that you have read all of the rules and agree to comply. You signed it! Very often however, I see people complaining about the rules after they get a DQ or a deduction taken for a rule not followed. They don’t complain to the Tournament Director though. They go to social media and blast it all over the place about how unjustified the whole ordeal is. Ultimately the TD has ultimate say. If you don’t like the rules, don’t enter. If you don’t like a judgement, place a formal protest with the TD. Appealing to the masses will not sway a Tournament Director’s decision in your favor. It can often end up in a DQ of all of your fish. In fact, Kayak Bass Fishing rules have even gone so far as to add them into their standards.

20. Public Comments
A. The favorable public reputation of KBF as a sanctioning organization in the sport of kayak bass fishing, the integrity of its officials, and the reputation of its media channels are valuable assets and tangible benefits for KBF. Accordingly, it is an obligation of Competitors to refrain from comments in public forums and social media or to the news media that unreasonably attack or disparage the integrity of Kayak Bass Fishing tournaments, tournament officials, sponsors, fellow members, fellow Competitors or the KBF organization. Competitors are encouraged to express themselves and have the right to question the rules officials. Responsible expressions of legitimate disagreement with KBF policies are encouraged, as opposed to attacks upon the integrity of the rules or officials. However, public comments that a Competitor knows, or should reasonably know, will harm the reputation of Kayak Bass Fishing LLC, KBF officials, KBF members or sponsors, may result in disciplinary action.

B. Sponsor contributions will not be devalued by disputes or disagreements in public forums or social media platforms.

C. Publicly disputing any judgment decisions by Kayak Bass Fishing Tournament Directors or judges will result in participants receiving one warning followed by permanent disqualification for repeated offenses. Any public dispute of final rulings, ongoing determination by judges or judging panel is grounds for immediate disqualification from the current event and termination of any eligibility for future events, even if previously qualified. This is not in place to prevent any disputes; it is done to ensure that a fair and unbiased approach is used and the approved challenge and appeals processes are followed in determining the best possible outcome.

Ride_the_Bull1_800 kayak tournament tips

6. Be Respectful of Space

Spot jumping and crowding is very common when lots of anglers are on a small body of water. If you are working the same bank as someone else and they are moving slower, either ask before you leap frog or move several hundred yards down. Or find a new spot. Many times, asking to also fish an area will result in a welcomed affirmation. Keep in mind that several rules sets have a minimum distance from angler to angler (back to reading rules) and you don’t want to get anyone disqualified. Being civil and a good sport on the water goes a long way. Being a mercenary on the water with a bad attitude can result in a lot of problems on and off the water. Be a good sport, be respectful, and be courteous.

7. Timing is Everything

If the cutoff time for submitting fish or being in line is at 4PM, at 4:01PM you are disqualified. This isn’t church where you can slide in late and no one notices. Squeezing out the last minute of fishing time will bite you. I have disqualified many an angler as a Tournament Director for cruising in a couple of minutes late. Don’t be that guy. It sucks for the TD and the angler. Plan on traffic, plan on a dead battery, plan on being in 30 minutes early if need be. Obviously road runner events need more planning than single launch tourneys but the planning has to be in place. If it took you 20 minutes to get to your spot first thing in the morning, plan on wind, fatigue, boat traffic and more as you are heading in. I’d almost double that time.

If you are in an online tournament and the cutoff is at 4PM, make sure you have cell signal at 3 and start submitting. Give yourself time to correct mistakes and get the right fish submitted. You will not be able to negotiate time.


Hopefully these tips will help. I could have made the list 30 things long but most people would stop reading. If you have thoughts on lessons for the new guys to the competitive side of kayak fishing, drop it in the comments and don’t forget to share with your clubs and friends.

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