The 2010’s: A Kayak Fishing Decade in Review

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When you are young, the world is your private pond. It’s stocked with fat fish and they bite every lure you throw.  You can sit on the bank and eat chips, sleep and dream of adventures you had and will never have. You can wake up and dive in the pond or chase your friends around the banks until the wind gets winded. Youth is a fork and the world is your mussel.

Before you know it, you are tired, stressed and it’s all gone. If you are lucky, you have a job and your health. If you are really fortunate you still sneak out to fish sometimes and forget your troubles. The mussels aren’t quite as abundant and they cost more, but they still taste really good.

We are closing a historic decade in the artful sport of fishing. It will forever be known as the decade during which kayak tournament fishing went from a local hobby to national and international stature. The sport’s business side has blossomed, the media have portrayed us in a good light and there are more tournament options than one can count. There are kayaks on every lake, many with rods sticking out of them and looking like antennae farms floating on some extra-terrestrial settlement. In only a few short years, it appears a viable model for the sport has emerged: the technology has improved, state wildlife agencies have noticed us, competition formats have settled into some degree of normalcy and people are out there fishing and having fun, whether in tournaments or otherwise. Hell, even the venerated B.A.S.S. organization has adopted us. Who saw that coming?

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Following the Arrowhead: Fishing the 2019 FLW-KBF Cup on Lake Ouachita

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I will speak more directly for a change. No quotes from great poets or philosophers. The Professor will step aside, and the angler will be alone. I’m going to discuss teamwork, I’m going to discuss the current state of the sport of kayak bass fishing and I am going to talk, most importantly, how I changed my approach tournament fishing this season. I’m going to discuss it because I have placed in the money in 10 of the last 14 events I fished. In one of the other 4 I won 1st place in a charity tournament, and in the other 3 I was in 4th, 3rd and 13th place respectively.* It is the best winning streak of my 8 year career in kayak tournament fishing, so I obviously did something right, and I want to share it because some of it runs against logic of what we are “supposed” to do.

But first, Rick Clunn. When Rick Clunn talks, I listen. I don’t listen to imitate but to interpret what he says. Why? Because experience contains wisdom and that guy has experience spilling out of his pockets. But his experience does not apply to me directly. He fishes boats, I fish from kayaks. I will never win what he has won, or fish how or when or where he has fished. So when I listen, I ask, “How does this translate to me, if at all?”

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Human Patterns: The Kitchen Mystery of Lake Chickamauga

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If you can find the pantry, you will find the hungry bass. Think about the first hour of your day. At some point, you went into the kitchen and ate some food. And you followed the same hallway to reach the kitchen, and ate at your favorite chair, drinking coffee from your favorite mug, etc. Now, if you were a bass on a big lake like Lake Chickamauga, you would know that, at this time of year, that bay has frogs and bugs in it, and that point has a ball of shad on it, or that lay down is a good ambush point to wait for a meal to swim by it. Wind, thermocline, pressure and light are other factors, not to mention moon phase, water temperature,  and water levels. They are the basic ingredients of fishing.

Most anglers know this as “pattern fishing.” Roland Martin famously defined a “pattern” as follows:

“[a pattern is] the exact set of water conditions such as depth, cover, structure, temperature, clarity, currents, etc. which attracts fish to that specific spot and other similar spots all over the same body of water.”

A pattern in this sense is a web of changing phenomena. Understand the pattern, and you will find hungry fish. Why? Because fish are creatures of habit. But we are too. And one thing Mr. Martin left out of his puzzle is the human element of the pattern, and the things we learn from other anglers. Here is the story of the puzzle I figured out on Lake Chickamauga prior to the KBF Trail and Pro Series tournaments held there last week. Continue reading

“Seasonal Heat”: Temperature, Strategy and Tactics at the 2019 KBF National Championship

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A big storm is rolling in as I write this. There is thunder in the distance, so the yard work I neglected for fishing is out of the question. The sky is darker than a crow feather, the air is yellow with pollen and only a fool would venture outside. It’s the sort of dramatic weather that makes us paddle hard and fast to reach safe harbor.

Experienced anglers know that weather plays a large role in influencing how fish feed. To some, it is equal to or even more important than moon phase, or the animal’s biological clock, or even bait selection. But where can we draw the line? How subtle can it be? Does the sky have to look like a Hollywood special effect to make us think how weather impacts a bite? No – Sometimes the smallest margins make the biggest difference. Continue reading

The Big Picture: Behind the Scenes at a Fishing Photo Shoot

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One day last summer, at the height of the best topwater and deepwater bites of the year, I received the call asking me to attend a photo shoot and to be a representative kayak angler for an article in Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. My first thought was “I’m gonna stick a state record at the shoot.” It was a selfish impulse, but an honest one. Who wouldn’t have it? I could lie and tell you I smashed ’em, or that I lost a big one, or that as soon as it was over I went to another spot and landed a biggun. All anglers are liars, anyway, but there are witnesses in this case. Here’s what really happened at the big photo shoot: I caught a skunk. Zero bites. Not even a wayward Bluegill.

Maybe I’ve been fishing for too long and the sun’s worn through my skull, but I just don’t care if I don’t catch fish. I’m just grateful to be alive and that’s usually enough to make my day. But the article attached to the cover shot in this post represents our sport so well that it made me grateful for something far more important, something much bigger than the little thrill of seeing my grizzled mug on a magazine cover or the disappointment one might assume when looking at a cover that is, in some way, a reminder of a bad day of fishing. I’ll come back to that point…

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Recent Product Reviews

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I struggle writing in  this genre, but I enjoy it, too. Here is a sample of recent product reviews I wrote. Let me know what you think!

  1. The Wilderness Systems Kayak Krate

https://shopgetoutdoors.com/blogs/get-outdoors-blog/review-of-the-wilderness-systems-kayak-krate

2. The Yak Attack Leverage Net

https://shopgetoutdoors.com/blogs/get-outdoors-blog/from-kentucky-lake-to-toledo-bend-fishing-overtime-with-yak-attack-s-leverage-net

 

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Memory, Fishing and Stalled Fronts: The May 2018 KBF Armed Forces Challenge

I’m writing this while sitting on a bench in downtown Raleigh waiting to meet up with a friend after a concert. It’s 11 pm and I am barely awake, having fished from sunrise nearly to sunset today, as well as the previous 2 days. This is a post about fishing and exhaustion and memory. There’s a little video evidence of what I discuss in the last paragraphs:

I should write this down before I forget. And when I say forget, I mean I am “wipe the memory slate clean, MIB gadget” tired. I fished for something like 30 hours this weekend and I feel like a tray of lasagna that’s been heated up one too many times. But there is something about exhaustion that can sharpen your focus, narrow down the world. That’s how I managed to jump back into 1st place late on Sunday. It didn’t hold, but that isn’t the important part.

First, congratulations to “Florida” Jerry Burdine and Matt Kasparek for besting me in the KBF Armed Forces Challenge this weekend. I also want to thank Jonathan Lessman and Richard McMichael, as we exchanged leads in a great dog fight over all 3 event days. I saw Jerry’s name high on the leader board every day, too, so he had to grind it out like I did. It was a battle, and he made the “leap” as I call it, with a great final day that put him ahead of the leaders.

This three-day event was not on my schedule because I had other plans. So I buckled down to improvise, adapt to a constantly shifting bite and fish through some bad weather. In the end, I landed fish on three different patterns, using a variety of lures. Day 1 was dominated by swimbaits and crankbaits, a chatterbait produced my best fish on Day 2, and day 3, well, you’ll see…

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Lead into Gold: A Review of Kenn Oberrecht’s “The Angler’s Guide to Jigs and Jigging”(1982)

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Lead into Gold: A Review of Kenn Oberrecht’s “The Angler’s Guide to Jigs and Jigging”(1982)

 

People sometimes ask me “Hank, why do you read these old fishing books?” My answer is “Shakespeare.” Awkward silence generally follows, or someone accuses me of being a professor.

Let me explain (that’s what professors do, after all). First, there is no such thing as an “old book.” Every book is new the first time we read it. And just like any other book, we ease into it, fit our mind to its author’s style in the early pages, slip into ideas and characters that it presents, etc. We all remember the first time we read Hamlet in high school. It was like learning a new language. If you stuck it out you were rewarded with a mighty drama about choice and regret.

Second, there is no such thing as a “fishing book.“ That’s just a phrase we use to describe writings composed by people who spend a lot of time holding fishing tackle around water. What we call “fishing books” are really just books that explain how a person thinks through a specific type of problem. The central premise of every fishing book is basically “How can I trick and catch a living animal that cannot directly be seen (most of the time).” As such, fishing books are really books about the art of tricking an aquatic animal. Or, if you prefer, books written by people who think too much about fishing.

Does thinking ever get “old?” I hope not. And what would life be without choices, or regrets? I wouldn’t want to know. For one, the fishing stories would be few and far between.

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