Is this the turning point for Kayak fishing?

Does anyone remember Bobby Murray? Murray won the inaugural Bassmaster Classic, which is seen now as the biggest stage in bass fishing. In hindsight, it could be looked upon as one of the most important tournament wins in the history of the sport. However, this year on June 11, I’ll suggest that an angler will hoist a trophy on the Classic stage that may rival the importance of Bobby Murray’s — and I’m not referring to the winner of the 2021 Bassmaster Classic who will hoist their trophy a few days later on June 13. 

I know ... I know. Surely, I’m biased because I’m a kayak angler, and how dare I suggest that the winner of the B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series Championship even remotely compares to the first — or even this year’s — Classic winner. First of all, look, I’m just a bass fisherman; we all are. Remember: B.A.S.S stands for Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, not Bass Boat Anglers Sportsman Society. It was founded on a basis of love for the fish, and the sport, regardless of the watercraft (or even lack thereof) we use to pursue them.

Many don’t know this because I am so synonymous with kayak fishing, but I do love power boats too. I’m actually considering getting a bass boat in the near future because it is 100% the best tool for many situations when my kayak isn’t the best. I’m also a huge fan of following the Bassmaster Elite Series and Opens, and I enjoy watching every moment of them. So, if I am biased, it sure isn’t by much. So, why do I feel the kayak champion will be so instrumental to the future of our sport?

As much as we may not like to admit it, bass boat tournament fishing (as great as it is) will always have a few barriers that put a ceiling on its ability to grow to the level of mainstream sports like soccer or basketball. I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of room to get better and grow because there is, but let’s take a quick look at the sport of golf for example. If golf sees an explosion in participants, it’s easy to meet the growth demand by building more courses. Bass fishing only has so many playing fields — lakes, rivers and tidal fisheries — that can handle the number of bass boats needed for our bigger “pro level” events. Our playing fields are set in a rotation of about 40 or 50 give or take. However, the kayak tournament scene has given the sport some additional room to get better and grow into some fisheries and areas that would never work for bass boats. It’s one reason B.A.S.S. saw an opportunity to jump into the kayak scene and develop the B.A.S.S Nation Kayak Series in 2020. 

The 2020 inaugural season of the B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series started with five one-day tournaments across the country. Events were held on Lake Logan Martin, Lake Fork, Clear Lake, the upper Mississippi River and Lake Chickamauga, with the top 20% of each event automatically qualifying for the 2021 Championship. Plus, the top 10% from each state’s B.A.S.S. Nation chapter’s championship earned a spot. Anglers who fished four of the five were also allowed to automatically qualify.

This totaled 270 anglers who qualified to fish the Championship, which is held in conjunction with this year’s Classic. The kayak anglers will be competing on nearby Possum Kingdom Lake, just to the west of Fort Worth. The entry fee is $400 for this two-day event held on June 9 and 10. There will be 147 anglers competing for a $20,000 grand prize. So, how is this possibly more significant than this year’s Classic champion who will win $300,000, or how can this even rival Bobby Murray’s inaugural win? 

Let’s start by taking a look at the sport of soccer. You don’t “need” to play soccer (or any sport), but since the cost is very low to get started, it’s no surprise that it is the biggest sport across the globe. At its core, if you just have a ball you can play. Even if you play in a league, it just takes some cleats, shin pads, socks and that’s about it. Golf isn’t as big as soccer because clubs are not as cheap as a soccer ball, plus each time you play there are additional costs. So, what about a bass boat? They can be somewhat inexpensive, but even at their absolute cheapest they are way more expensive than a soccer ball or a set of golf clubs. Plus, the lake and river playing fields are not as close as your nearest soccer field or golf course likely is. I think you’re seeing the point here. 

Fishing at a competitive level is actually an expensive sport to get started in when you compare it to other sports or hobbies, but this is where the age of the kayak has come about at the exact perfect time for the sport of bass fishing. The bass boat side of the sport was, or is, already close to pushing the limits of “fishing pressure” on our playing fields of water. The kayak not only opens up new playing fields to help alleviate pressure, but the cost of entry is much lower which helps the sport be financially viable to a greater percentage of the population. This is a huge win for the sport as a whole because kayak anglers sometimes turn into boat owners/anglers and vice versa.

One day, if not already, we will have a greater number of anglers fishing in kayaks than bass boats. Not because one is right or better, but simply because kayaking has a much lower cost of entry into the sport. And I think we can clearly all see that a sport that has more participants and fans will equate to more viewers, media exposure and therefore the national championship at the highest level will be correspondingly monumental. The good news for us is that B.A.S.S gives us the best of both worlds — competitive bass fishing from bass boats and from kayaks. We don’t have to choose one or the other to participate in or be a fan of — we can choose both. 

So, what do you think? Is this kayak championship as monumental as I feel it may be when we’re looking back 10, 15 or 30 years from now? Or, are there factors about kayak fishing that still prevent it from being as universally followed as it could be? Maybe the fact that we use length, not weight, in our catch-measure-photo-release format is an issue? Or, the fact that no live streams of the action currently help fans see and get to know the anglers to become invested? Maybe it’s the lower entry fees which equate to lower payouts in comparison to the Opens or Elites. Or, simply the fact that there is no “set” Kayak Elite Series field with the same anglers each time. No matter the reason, one day (I predict soon) some of these issues will be resolved when there is a Kayak Elite Series. Live streaming technology is getting easier and easier, higher payouts are simple to implement and length vs. weight will be more understandable over time. 

I’ve actually been given a largemouth bass length-to-weight conversion chart from a viewer of my YouTube live stream/podcast. Without getting into too much detail, just know that 85 inches is about to 14 pounds; 90 inches of bass is about 17 pounds, 95 inches is about 20 pounds and 100 inches is close to 25 pounds. Obviously add a little weight for prespawn events. Hopefully this helps some out there equate the weight of our best five to a format that we already understand. 

This year’s B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series has already begun, with two tournaments in the books — Lake Fork on March 13, and Lake Eufaula on May 1. The qualifying criteria has become even more stringent for the 2022 championship, with only the top 10% of each regular season tournament qualifying for the event which will be held alongside the Classic on Lake Hartwell. I fished my first B.A.S.S kayak event of the year on Eufaula and was fortunate to punch my ticket to the 2022 championship by placing seventh. Rus Snyders of Tennessee won the event with a solid 91.50 inches (about 18 pounds) to take the trophy and punch his ticket to the 2022 championship. The Lake Fork tournament was won by Nebraska angler Nate Gloria with 98 inches (24-25 pounds, prespawn). Other than the Championship, there are three additional open events that you can still be a part of — July 24 on Pickwick, August 7 on the upper Chesapeake, and September 25 on the upper Mississippi in Lacrosse, Wis.

So, this year, before the actual Bassmaster Classic begins, remember to check in on how the kayak championship is shaping up on Wednesday and Thursday. You can stay tuned to our “live scoring” to see real-time photos of all the fish via TourneyX.com

I’m looking forward to the challenge of fishing such a unique fishery and the opportunity to even be in the mix to hoist that B.A.S.S. Nation Championship trophy. More importantly, for the big picture, I’m excited to see what step this championship helps the sport take towards making our game better and more accessible to all, and what it may even do to help us get one step closer to that B.A.S.S Elite Kayak Series that we all would love to see.