Get to know kayak angler Keith Gelhar

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Wisconsin's Keith Gelhar shows off a big bass.

Often times when anglers think about fishing from a kayak, the narrative is a kayak is a great tool to efficiently fish in small bodies of water. Although that is true, that’s not always how anglers begin fishing out of a kayak.

Keith Gelhar, who grew up in Wisconsin, got his start fishing out of a canoe with his siblings, but in the early 2000s he decided to try fishing out of a kayak on Lake Michigan. Yes, you read that correctly. Gelhar got his start fishing out of a kayak on Lake Michigan, the third largest freshwater body of water in the United States. 

After fishing out of a tricky to handle canoe for years, the Wisconsin native was instantly hooked on the amount of control he felt out of a kayak.

“I took the kayak out on Lake Michigan my very first time using it,” said Gelhar. “The wind was blowing 20-plus miles per hour, and I paddled straight across the harbor and came straight back and immediately said, ‘Alright I love this.'” 

Although Gelhar loved to bass fish, he actually began tournament fishing out of a kayak for salmon in the Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Series. For roughly 14 years he fished in local clubs and tournaments before branching out and fishing more nationally recognized events. In 2018, Gelhar qualified for the KBF Championship on Kentucky Lake and decided to make the leap of faith and fish it. Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way that he had planned, but it only motivated him to get better.

“I almost caught nothing down there,” he said. “That’s when I realized I have to figure out how to catch fish on different lakes ... really lakes that don’t have any grass on them. I felt completely lost down there.” 

Gelhar, who qualified for the 2021 B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series National Championship, has been amazed to see how far kayak fishing has come since he got into it.

“When we first started kayak fishing around Lake Michigan, there was really only a few of us doing it,” he said. “It’s really amazing how far it’s come.

“I used to throw stuff on my YouTube channel for fun back in the day, but now it’s gotten so big I feel like such a small fry. I tell people all the time that I used to do the YouTube thing before it became cool.”

Another thing that has come a long way since Gelhar started kayak fishing is how advanced the kayaks are. After starting in a relatively inexpensive kayak nearly two decades ago, he now owns three Old Town Kayaks — an Old Town Predator PDL, Sportsman 106 powered by Minn Kota and a Sportsman Discovery 119. Each kayak serves a specific purpose for Gelhar, but he tends to run his Predator PDL most often given the amount of time that he spends on larger bodies of water such as Lake Michigan.