When Old Town Kayaks came out with the Sportsman Autopilot kayaks, featuring a Minn Kota trolling motor with spotlock capabilities, Marcus Villanueva knew this was the kayak that would help him improve his game.
Now as a member of Team Old Town for three years, the Texan made strides as a bass angler and is on the verge of qualifying for the 2023 Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series National Championship powered by TourneyX.
With a 61st-place finish at a tough Lake Fork and a 16th-place finish at Grand Lake, Villanueva is sitting in 38th in the Old Town Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year standings. A solid finish at the final event at Pickwick Lake Oct. 8-9, and he should qualify himself for the National Championship which will be held in conjunction with the Bassmaster Classic.
Compared to many anglers, Villanueva is relatively new to bass fishing, really only starting to focus on the species about 12 years ago when he learned about kayak fishing. Villanueva’s fishing career began with his dad, who would target catfish and crappie from a Bass Tracker in lakes around his hometown of Austin.
His grandfather and uncle would also join in on the fishing trips, and Villanueva’s family would engage in some friendly wagering.
“As I got older my dad would let me run the trolling motor and drive the boat,” Villanueva said. “My uncle and grandpa would go too, and we would make our own competitions like who would catch the biggest fish. We would make a bet for who would clean the fish or clean the boat.”
Competition has been a big part of Villanueva’s life, from the little bets with his family to playing football and basketball in school. So when he learned more about bass fishing tournaments, he was intrigued by the possibilities.
“Bass fishing is a faster pace and there was a big learning curve,” Villanueva said. “It’s not just sitting there with a bobber and worm on the end of your hook. I enjoy that aspect of it where you are actively moving around and trying to learn things and figure out patterns. There was a huge learning curve, and I got lucky that I had a couple guys around me who took me under their wing and chopped that learning curve down pretty quickly.”
Along with the learning curve of bass fishing, Villanueva also learned how to fish out of a kayak at the same time. An online forum focused on the local area pointed him to the kayak fishing community.
“Twelve years ago, kayaks weren’t what they are today,” he said. “The stability wasn’t great, and that made it interesting. Some current or even the slightest breeze would move you all over the place, and a big enough crankbait would pull you around. I was learning how to do all that stuff and also learning how to bass fish and figure out what I was looking for. It was a lot to take in all at once, but it was enjoyable.”
Soon, Villanueva began fishing the Kayak Angler Tournament Series, a series in Texas that drew 130 boats at its peak. Fishing those events taught Villanueva a lot about tournament fishing and also allowed him to bounce ideas off some of the top anglers in the state.
“There are a lot of good fishermen in this state, and it wasn’t an easy series to do well in,” Villanueva said. “I have learned to fish slower. You can’t cover as much water or cover it quickly. Early on I was trying to paddle all over the place and power fish everywhere I went. Talking to the guys who were doing well in that trail, they would sometimes stop and sit in one little area for the whole day and wait for the bite to turn on.”
Taking some of the skills he learned crappie and catfishing, the offshore bass game became his biggest strength.
“Fishing offshore is my strength,” he said. “I’m way better at that. I enjoy being deeper, finding ledges or brush piles or dropoffs. I can fish shallow when I have to, but it isn’t the same type of challenge. I get a better feeling about the offshore stuff, when I find a brushpile and start pulling fish off of it.”
Although that tournament series has gone away, Villanueva has shifted his attention to the national trails, B.A.S.S. and the Hobie BOS series in particular. The Bassmaster Kayak Series allows him to utilize his trolling motor at all times.
As he moves forward in his fishing adventures, Villanueva said he would like to notch more top 10s and top 20s as he continues to grow as an angler. Part of that will be simplifying his prefishing strategy.
“I go out with these plans that I have, and then I start doing all kinds of other things I know I shouldn’t be doing,” he said. “I overcomplicate what I am doing. I need to slow down and think a little more and not spin myself out.”