Contributed by Drew Haerer
The 2015 KBF Open is right around the corner and is shaping up to be one of the biggest freshwater tournaments in the history of kayak fishing. Chad Hoover, Nick Brown, and the rest of their team are working hard to make this the premier event for kayak bass anglers. Formerly held on the historic Santee Cooper Reservoir of South Carolina, the event is moving to the massive Kentucky Lake system, which is situated on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. Although the venue is changing, many of the same strategies may still apply. At least, that is what some of the top finishers from last year’s event are hoping, including the reigning champion Jeffrey Hall, and big bass winner Ron Champion.
Jeff, Ron, and many of the other top finishers from last year admit to doing their homework well before they arrived to pre-fish. They spent hours scouring lake maps, utilizing Navionics, and analyzing Google satellite imagery to find key spots where they thought bass would situate as they moved from pre-spawn to spawning phases. Of course, they also note that it is important to consider how weather patterns affect fish, and to establish a Plan B based on weather changes. They also emphasized staying focused, being patient, and avoiding dock talk. And although these anglers scouted many of the same areas, and may have had similar plans, they ended up with very different strategies come tourney time.
Ron, who admits to being a frog fishing fanatic, wanted to focus on frogging shallow vegetation. However, the combination of an early cold front and numerous FLW bass boats in his main area forced him deeper, where he put together a solid day 1 limit on a Carolina-rig. From there, he knew he could focus solely on getting a big fish. He eventually moved shallow to an area he had caught a 7 lber during his 3 day practice period. Shortly after, the water exploded as he worked his frog back to the kayak and the fight was on! The 24 ¼” bass was the largest he has ever caught, and still has him smiling. The giant helped put him in 2nd place after day 1. Although, day 2 ended up being less productive for the big man from Tennessee, he easily took home the big bass title. This year, he is focused on excelling a little closer to home.
Jeff found a key area, about the size of a football field, where the water temperatures were warmer than anywhere else he had scouted. It also had a mix of vegetation and stumps. He found a pattern ripping and killing a lipless crankbait, which was effective around grass and catching transitional fish in open water. His strategy was to continuously rotate around his area, fishing each section methodically, and then letting it rest. It paid off, as he had a 40.75” limit by noon on day 1, which was good enough to make him the day 1 leader. His pattern remained the same on day 2, and he continued to catch good fish, resulting in a 5 fish total of 100” – an impressive 20” average. That was good enough to give him the victory by 9”. The family man from Georgia used some of his $6100 winnings on new electronics and kayak gear, but admits that most went directly into a savings account. Jeff is eager to prove that he can repeat on the Tennessee River system this year.
Andy Thompson Sr. used a big day 2 to move up to 2nd after sitting in 9th place on day 1. Andy was methodically fishing shallow stumps with plastics and crankbaits. I was fortunate enough to take 3rd place, after sitting in 5th at the end of day 1. My fish were all fairly shallow and were caught on finesse plastics and swimbaits in fairly warm water. I was also the only angler in the top-3 who fished on the upper lake, and although I had a couple key areas, I made multiple moves throughout the tournament – including packing up and driving to different launches. Tim Perkins, who finished in 4th, a couple nice fish from beds on day 2 then used his river fishing background to catch a third quality fish in an area with current on the upper lake.
While talking to all of these great anglers, I realized four important things that are relevant on any body of water. The first is to do your homework. Be prepared before you get to the lake and take a day or two to properly scout after you get there. The second is to stick to your guns, meaning to do what you are most confident in, whether that is frogging, cranking, finesse fishing, or something else altogether. The third is to surround yourself with a good support system, which may include friends, family, and other competitors. The fourth is to not be afraid to take some risks. Paddle a little further, explore those hard to reach spots, sell out for that giant bite, throw a bait that no-one is using, or make a major move.
There is no doubt that this year’s event will shake out differently and various anglers will develop different strategies, but with some planning, skill, and a little luck, you just might become the 2015 KBF Open champ! Good luck to all the competitors, and please stay safe on the water.