An angler can find his way into a kayak from many different avenues. For some, transitioning from the bank to a kayak gives them the ability to explore a little farther out than shore fishing will allow. Others make the move from bigger fiberglass boats into a kayak to tap back into a purer form of fishing.
For 2021 Bassmaster Kayak Series Champion Mark Pendergraf, his route was a little more indirect than others.
“I’ve always fished,” said Pendergraf. “But I didn’t start targeting bass until my mid 20s.”
As a child, Pendergraf’s dad would take him on guided striper trips and up to Colorado to go trout fishing. But it wasn’t until he bought his first kayak around the age of 26 that Pendergraf really fell in love with fishing for bass. He pretty much started fishing kayak tournaments right away.
His decision paid off big time about seven years later — in 2021 — when he entered and won the inaugural Bassmaster Kayak Series Championship powered by TourneyX on Possum Kingdom Lake, a fishery about an hour and a half from his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.
Pendergraf, an Old Town pro, put together a two-day total of 209.25 inches for the win, the largest two-day stringer ever registered on TourneyX. But his tournament didn’t seem to have that positive outlook towards the end of Day 1.
“Pre-fishing, I didn’t really have a lot going on,” said Pendergraf. “I found fish scattered off bluff walls, so that was my game plan Day 1.”
But after a tough morning with only four keepers to show for his efforts Pendergraf was feeling fairly certain his chances in the tournament were all but over. Around 1 o’clock he decided to make his way back to the ramp.
“I headed back towards the boat ramp. There was a bluff wall over there that held some good fish so I was going to fish it. But by the time I got there, there was another angler on it.”
With his backup plan a bust as well, he turned his eyes towards the ramp where he had launched his boat and saw something promising.
“I saw fish popping on the boat ramp so I decided to just go over there and fish, end out the tournament and load up and go home.”
On his first cast he caught a 7-pound striped bass, and on his second cast towards the schooling fish he caught a smaller sand bass.
“Then I made a cast to the left side of the ramp and caught about a 6-pounder. Then for about the next 30 minutes I culled out all four of my fish and moved from about 58 inches on four fish to 97 inches on five.”
The stars had certainly aligned for Pendergraf, and he couldn’t wait to start the next day right where he had left off.
“Day 2, I went back to the boat ramp, launched, went out about 25 yards, turned around and started fishing.”
Pendergraf found that there was a ledge right behind the ramp, and the bass were loaded up there. They would annihilate a deep diving crankbait.
“I was in an Old Town AutoPilot 120. The AutoPilot comes with Spotlock so I was able to just lock the boat down and sit there and fish all day.”
Sitting basically in the exact same spot on Day 2, Pendergraf was able to add another stellar five-fish limit to his creel. He brought his total catch up to 209.25 inches for the two days. His nearly 21-inch average edged out second-place finisher Joe McElroy of Alabama by merely a 1/2 inch.
As to how much weight he thought he had, Pendergraf stated it was somewhere between 70 and 80 pounds for two days.
“My biggest was right at 24 inches, and I weighed it on the boat. It came in at 9-3 or 9-4.”
A fantastic tournament and an impressive catch netted Pendergraf the inaugural title as well as $20,000. But for Pendergraf, there’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing his son, who was there to see him win that day, start to take an interest in the sport as well.
“I have two boys, Spencer is 8 and Gavin is 2. Spencer is into fishing. He likes for me to take him crappie fishing because it’s more catching than fishing.”
But Spencer, like his dad, already has a bit of a draw to kayak tournament fishing as well, with his very own kayak setup.
“He fishes the Trinity River tournaments with me because I can keep him close. He loves going out in the kayak.”
Like with Mark Pendergraf’s father before him, the passion for fishing is being passed down again. And who knows, perhaps 8-year-old Spencer will be the next Pendergraf to hoist a blue trophy on the Bassmaster stage.
Dad has set the bar high, but he’s also given Spencer a bit of a head start on where he was at that age. Time will tell, and in the meantime, a lot of great memories are sure to be made on the water.