By Robert Field
The competitive kayak fishing scene has exploded in recent years, and with paydays beginning to reach six figures, that trend will only continue. That means many of you reading this are either already fishing tournaments or looking to start competition kayaking and are ready to score kayak cash!
Between competing in, organizing and filming dozens of tournaments around the country, I've learned my fair share of strategies for success both from experience and from interviewing winners. While some are specific to certain species or bodies of water, there are some tried-and-true tactics that will help you get more fish in the boat on tournament day no matter where or what you're fishing for.
Here are four tournament tips that I try to keep in mind whenever I'm fishing competitively:
1. Scout Before You Arrive: We don't always have the ability to scout the area before a tournament. Taking off work to prefish can be a tough one to explain to the boss, but there are ways to do some research before you get to the tournament location. I use the Fishbrain app to gather intel from the locals whenever I'm traveling to a new body of water to fish, especially for a tournament. Using the Explore function, you can look at a satellite map of the area and browse dozens or even hundreds of recent catches by other anglers. Most of the time they'll tell you what they caught it on and other details, so you can start formulating a game plan long before you get there. Best of all, Fishbrain is free.
2. Get One on the Board: While big fish are obviously ideal on tournament day, I try to put that thought out of my mind for the first few hours. A small fish is infinitely better than no fish, so focus on getting your fish or your limit on the board. I've been to multiple tournaments where only one or two limits were caught, so your collection of small bass or redfish could even be enough to take home the glory. I start off the day with small search baits to cover water and get a few bites. Then, once I have my limit, I'll start throwing bigger baits to try and upgrade.
3. Don't Leave Fish to Find Fish: My buddy Russ told me this at the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship a few years back, and I really took it to heart. If you've got your limit and are catching small fish after small fish in an area, don't be too quick to abandon it and move on in search of big ones. There's often bigger fish mixed in, but they're typically smarter and trickier to hook. If there's small fish in an area, there's a reason, and you very well may leave a tournament winning fish only to find your Plan B spot is a ghost town. Try switching up your baits and presentation, and that may mean going a bit more finesse by downsizing. Big baits don't always equal big fish; I've caught some monsters on tiny lures. But resist the urge to leave fish to find fish, at least until you've exhausted everything you can think of. If you do decide to move, use your GPS or Navionics app to find an area with similar structure or contours.
4. Just Go Fishing: A good friend of mine Christina Weber writes the words "Just Go Fishing" on her hand the morning of a tournament. It's her reminder to not stress or overthink things, but to just go fishing. While it sounds simple and maybe even a bit silly, you'd be surprised how much it helps. Ever feel like things never go right on tournament day? That might be because you fish and think differently on tournament days. Stop that! Just go fishing, and you might be surprised how smoothly tournament day will go.