Kayak anglers outmuscle wind, waves on Champlain

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - There was never any doubt that an elite fleet of kayak anglers would pull their weight at the Hobie Bass Open Series (B.O.S.) Anchored By Power-Pole Lake Champlain event last weekend. After all, the big lake is a bassin’ haven sporting 587 miles of shoreline and 435 sq. miles of surface water, a solid population of largemouth bass, and one of the top smallmouth fisheries in the entire USA. As the first and only Northeast stop on the B.O.S. trail this year, anglers couldn’t wait to go on the attack.

But then the wind started to blow, gusting between 15 and 20 knots at times and pushing up waves that crested over four feet high in some open water areas. “It certainly did get a little dicey out there,” chuckled Travis Von Neumann, 29, of Columbus, Ohio, “but we all went out and did what we needed to do. That’s kayak bass fishing. Some days, you’ve got to battle the elements as much as the fish, so you just dig in and get the job done.”

That’s exactly what most of the 73 anglers did, submitting 620 fish in the two-day, catch, photograph and release (CPR) event while racking up 13 90-inch limits on day one and eight more on day two.

“These guys and gals just did an amazing job out there,” said tournament director A.J. McWhorter. “They battled Mother Nature and came out on top recording a mix of quality largemouths and smallmouths in tough conditions. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from competitors in the Hobie Bass Open Series (B.O.S.) Anchored By Power-Pole. The competition is tough but fun, the anglers are sharp and supportive, and the results usually end up speaking for themselves."

It was Von Neumann, with the words “Smallies Rule” stenciled on his forearm, who led the charge. Fishing mostly in rough, open water, he powered his way to the win with 97.25 inches of bronzebacks on day one and 98.75 inches on day two, for a two-day limit of 196 inches worth $4,350. Hobie B.O.S. regular, and reigning FarWide Angler of The Year (A.O.Y.), Drew Gregory, of Kent, Ohio, took the $2,450 second slot check with 93.75 inches each day for a 187.5-inch total. Finishing third was Katherine Field of Ivins, UT, with her first tournament top-three finish. Katherine recorded 91.75 inches on day one and 94 inches on day two for 185.75 total inches and a $1,750 check.

Von Neumann also took home the Bassin’ Big Bass $400 prize for a 21.25-inch tank of a smallmouth caught on day two while Alan Bender of Sewell, NJ. jumped from 58th place on day one to 43rd on day two to claim the Dakota Lithium Power Move award and take home a Dakota Power Box with a 10-amp lithium battery. Each of the first three finishers also punched their tickets to the 50-angler Hobie Tournament of Champions (T.O.C.) at Lake Eufaula, Alabama, Nov. 12-14.

To be sure, Von Neumann didn’t take the easy path to victory. Working a surface pattern in shallow but wide-open water, he was fishing from a kayak designed for river action. With no foot pedals or electronics, he battled four-foot waves, flipping once each day, to persevere. “I was pretty lucky, overall,” he admitted. “I didn’t lose any gear when I flipped, and I only broke one rod. I had caught a couple nice bass early the first day using a Molix Nano Jig in green pumpkin, but then I spotted seagulls diving further off the beach. With no fish-finder, I keyed on the birds and realized that big smallies were blowing up on baitfish in the swells between the waves. At that point I switched to a Berkley Bucktoothed Choppo Beaver in brown and the move really paid off. I stayed on those fish, working the nastiest, most chaotic water I could find, almost to the end of the second day before the wind began to die and the bite finally faded.”