Kayak practice report from Harris Chain

a kayak angler casts
The Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX will visit the Harris Chain March 19.

I’ve been wanting to fish a high-level kayak tournament for a while. Over the years I’ve had some success as a boater in regional trails, as a co-angler in the Bassmaster Opens and the FLW Tour.

I do a lot of fun fishing from my kayak these days, so it seems a natural next step. Here I am, competing in my first Bassmaster Kayak Series event on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes and bringing y’all along for the ride.

A glutton for adventure, I’m camping in a wilderness area for $11 per night. No water. So, I just scrubbed up in Lake Griffin. Did I mention I’m lodging for $11 a night? Part of my motivation for fishing this tournament is to demonstrate how affordable a quality competitive tournament experience can be.

Now I know a top-of-the-line fishing kayak can sell for four-grand before you add electronics, and an electric motor. But again, I wanted to do this as affordably as possible so I’m paddling, not pedaling. Given the shallow, hydrilla-choked area I’m fishing, I don’t consider myself to be at much of a disadvantage.

Some prepared meals, stashed in a cooler, and I’m all set to have a great time.

A great time it has been too. I made a new friend before I launched for my first practice day. Seth Taylor is leading the points race in the Kayak Anglers of Florida club. His story sounds familiar. “I used to do alright fishing tournaments from a boat. I have three young kids now so the expense of owning and maintaining that boat, well, that’s when I got into kayak fishing.

“One thing I’ve learned is to fish what’s in front of me,” said Taylor. “You can’t just say ‘well, they’re not here so I’m going to blast off and run to that point across the lake. You settle down and fish. And what I’ve learned is that there are some fish nearby just about anywhere you stop.”

Taylor enjoys the competition same as ever and as he is among the last to leave the water that day, I can tell you his drive is strong. The same applies to most anglers at this level.

Speaking of the competition, Jim Davis who won the Inaugural Bassmaster Kayak Classic on Logan Martin Lake showed up at the same boat ramp. Is that a good sign?

“Strong field,” notes Tournament Director Jon Stewart. “We have the defending National Champion. We have anglers here from Alabama to Canada.”

Joe McElroy is a reformed bass-boater from Alabama. “I fished the Alabama Bass Trail up until last year. I wanted to pursue this Bassmaster Kayak trail full time this season. I used to fish from a big boat, but I enjoy this a lot. One of the biggest differences is, especially in a one-day tourney, wherever you start, that’s where you’re going to fish.”

McElroy hit on a major question this week. On a chain of 10 lakes, how does one go about picking one? A number of lakes have produced in big national tournaments lately as well as for our kayak pros in the practice rounds.

Rules do allow an angler to load the rig back on the truck and re-launch from other locations during a tournament day, but that eats up time much as a long run and negotiating a lock does for big-boat anglers.

Most anglers, including myself, tread lightly during practice. McElroy bemoans a big fish he accidentally stuck. Taylor fished with a dummy lure today because his fish would not turn loose yesterday, and he caught a 4-pounder. I just paddled and looked, made a few casts and got fish to attack a few different lures. Okay, so I hooked a couple. It’s hard not to swing when you see the sheer mass of big bass in the canals and on the flats of the Harris Chain.

The weather has been hot. Temperatures have flirted with the 90-degree mark and are expected to exceed that tomorrow. A south wind will cool the air a tad and it should keep the gnats at bay.

The heat has the fish cycling through their spawning rites faster than usual. While I’ve seen five fish over 8 pounds, or 22 inches in kayak vernacular, most have not stayed put more than a day. If the winner gets it done by sight fishing, they will likely have to find fresh fish on game day.

Topwater action can be had. Flipping various types of vegetation is a strong choice too. Then there are loads of bass in offshore hydrilla beds, some on shell bars. These anglers use all the modern electronics so some will find these groups of fish.

The consensus seems to hover around the 100-inch mark for the win. Taylor is the most optimistic at 110. It could happen. I’ve seen the fish in practice to do it.

Russ Kennedy is a semi-local angler who fishes with the Kayak Anglers of Florida. He believes 98 total inches would give him a chance to win. A slim chance, “There are a lot of good anglers here for this one. Somebody could very well have over 100.”

If I have 100 inches, or 12, Kennedy gets an assist. He gave me a Ketch measuring board. My old boards are not up to the newest standards. Making friends again.

The competition will be great. The camaraderie already is.