DiPalma dazzles in first kayak event, takes win at Guntersville

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — Greg DiPalma has spent four days total fishing out of his Old Town Sportsman Autopilot 136 kayak.

That did not stop the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from winning the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX at Lake Guntersville with a two-day total of 189.75 inches.

It was the first event of the Kayak Series season and the first victory the New Jersey pro has secured in Bassmaster competition. He is the second Elite Series pro to win a Kayak Series event after Mike Iaconelli won at Chesapeake Bay in 2021.

“I just like bass fishing. I burn to fish tournaments and this is why I do it,” DiPalma said. “I’m super excited. We all want to win, but I wasn’t expecting to just come out here and win the very first one.

“I’m going to take my kayak back home and rub it against my bass boat for good luck.”

After landing in fifth with 93.75 inches after the first day, DiPalma caught 96 inches on Sunday to jump into the top spot.

Since qualifying for the Elite Series, DiPalma had supplemented his Elite schedule with at least one division of the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens — until this year, when he decided to try something new with the Kayak Series.

Although new to kayaking specifically, DiPalma has fished out of other smaller boats before.

He now has four career tournaments under his belt at Guntersville, including a 23rd-place finish during the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota, an event he firmly believes he would have had a chance to win if a strong storm system not muddied his primary area.

When a powerful cold front brought severe storms and wind to northern Alabama the final day of practice, DiPalma thought the same thing might happen this time around. Fortunately for him, the water in his area wasn’t drastically affected.

Not only did DiPalma win his first-ever kayak event, he won using a bait he designed that just hit the market. That was the new Nomad Swimtrex MAX lipless crankbait, which has been in the making for two years.

“It is like you are reeling a ChatterBait. It is a very hard-thumping lipless crankbait,” he said. “Years ago, when it was lipless season in South Jersey, I always struggled to catch fish on it. It was a bait I could never catch them on. Now, if it is a lipless tournament, I always feel like I have a chance to win.”

Focusing on prespawners, DiPalma fished four little ditches where bass were staging that led into a spawning flat. Those ditches had a mixture of hydrilla, coontail and milfoil on the edges.

On Day 1, the bass were in less than a foot of water and each cast he was either getting caught in the grass or getting bit. On the second day, with an assist from an east wind, the bass moved out toward the ends of those ditches in 5 or 6 feet of water.

With the full moon the night before, DiPalma said more fish moved in too.

“If you had asked me after yesterday, I would have said I was on the winning fish,” he said. “But a whole new batch of fish moved in last night with the full moon and that re-amped my whole day pretty much. I lost a big one, but thought there were new ones coming because I was catching a bunch of fresh males too.”

Not only were more bass moving in, but anglers were moving out. On Day 1, several other kayakers and about 20 bass boats fished around DiPalma. On Day 2, however, he found he had the area mostly to himself and that made a huge difference in his mind.

“I truly think I outfished every person that was in there,” he said. “Today was a blessing, for some odd reason, there were two boats all day in that big stretch. I had it all to myself. At the end of the day, that allowed me to win the tournament.”

South Carolina’s Ryan Thompson finished second with a two-day total of 187.5 inches. He followed his 93.5-inch Day 1 performance with 94 inches on Day 2, jumping him from sixth to runner-up.

With the volatile weather pattern ahead of the tournament, he elected not to practice. Instead, he drove around and checked out all of the eligible ramps on Thursday and then in the small window of calmer weather Friday, he launched by his hotel but did not see anything promising.

Using his Garmin, Thompson decided to focus on two offshore “shoals.” After a frustrating morning, Thompson caught a 22.25-incher on a Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer.

“When the sun got to its highest point, I pulled up on the shoal where I caught (her),” he said. “I was creeping the JackHammer back up the drop from 15 feet of water and she was in about 13 feet. I swung back around to the other spot and sat on top of the shoal and was fan casting off the drop. It was back to back.”

On Day 2, Thompson returned to the area and had another productive mid-morning and afternoon period. While he was catching good quality and numbers on his best spot, his biggest fish on the final day (a 19.75 largemouth) came off his secondary area.

“It was pretty much nonstop until lines out,” he added.

Keying in on spawners and bass migrating to spawn, former Kayak Series champion Rus Snyders claimed third place with 184.5 inches followed by Dylan Smith in fourth 179.25 and Joshua Diehl in fifth with 177.25.

Jay Muller earned $500 for the Big Bass of the Tournament, a 23-inch largemouth he caught on Day 2.

The record field of 234 anglers earned points toward the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year race. The full standings will be published on Bassmaster.com this week. The second event of the season is scheduled for Lake Hartwell on April 15-16.

This tournament was hosted by the Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce.