How kayak bass tournaments work

“So, where’s your livewell?” asked the ol’ boy from the front platform of his bass boat upon learning that I was in a kayak bass tournament with my plastic 13-footer. He was fishing the same ledge as I was on Kentucky Lake.

“Don’t have one,” I replied. “Right after we catch a bass, we put it on this Hawg Trough ruler, take its picture with our phone and put the fish back in the lake. Then we upload the picture to a tournament website. The website tallies everybody’s catch and puts the standings up on a live leaderboard. We can actually check and see who’s winning and what place we’re in while we’re on the water.”

“Well ain’t that cool!” the bass man said as he juiced his bowmount trolling motor and eased on down the rocky shelf.

Measuring and photographing the catch and scorekeeping in cyberspace are just a couple of places where kayak contests diverge from traditional bass boat tournaments. With the inaugural Huk Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series powered by TourneyX presented by Abu Garcia tournaments set to begin in March, here are some of the kayak contests’ aspects that are unique, and some skills kayak bass anglers can acquire to stay competitive.

Measure and photo

Most tournaments allow anglers to use their choice of three different measuring devices: The Hawg Trough ($19.99), a YakGear Fish Stick ($33.99) and the Ketch Board ($59.99) from Ketch Products. The first two are plastic and usually require the angler to mark the measurement lines with a Sharpie. The Ketch Board is metal with a plastic cradle and comes with measurement lines and numbers engraved in the metal.

Taking a picture of a freshly caught bass on their lap in a narrow kayak is something that anglers need to practice. It’s not all that easy and fish sometimes scoot to freedom before the angler can snap a picture. Upon catching a keeper bass, most experienced anglers unhook it and leave it in the landing net at boat-side or attach it to Fish Grips on a length of cord and leave the fish in the water. The angler then readies his phone, ruler and — highly important — the tournament identifier. That last item is usually a card with the angler’s name and “code” of three or four letters and numbers released the night prior to the tournament. The unique identifier code helps ensure anglers caught the fish they submit on tournament day. The identifier must be in the photo for the fish to be accepted.

Anglers then wet the board, hold the fish on the board with one hand, making sure the pectoral is pointed back towards the fish’s tail, which helps the fish relax. Then they take the picture, phone in the other hand.

Rules specific to different tournaments allow the fish’s mouth to be open or require it be closed. A common rookie mistake is to only take one picture of the fish and not check it for focus and that the whole fish and identifier was in the frame. Experienced anglers often take several pictures and put the fish back in the net or on the tether and in the water to make sure they have a picture the judges will find easy to judge. Then they let the fish go.

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