UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Clear Lake

A High School Kayak Tournament Experience 

A High School Kayak Tournament Experience 

As the new school year settles in for high school students across the nation, so does the start of the fall fishing season. Newly established and longstanding high school fishing teams are signing up new anglers, recruiting adult boat captains and setting tournament schedules for the 2019-2020 school year. 

It’s a busy time. Along with the growth in participation at the high school fishing level, we’re seeing more opportunities to compete. Many school teams have found themselves running their own events and competing in various trails conducted in their states. The opportunities are great for young anglers, but not without some barriers. One of the biggest remains finding adult boat captains. 

As the National Youth Director at FLW I hear about the trouble of finding boat captains from teams across the country, and I see it as a new coach myself. These essential volunteers are the key to getting students out on the water and providing a safe environment for competition. 

The Graves County High School Fishing Team that I help coach in western Kentucky came up with a way to make it easier to get students out to compete. Last weekend we hosted a kayak tournament, and it proved to be a great option. Kayak events are not the only solution for getting more students out on the water, but certainly this is a great option when the conditions are right. Based on our club’s recent experience, I can see kayak fishing fitting into the high school fishing landscape. 

 

Small water provides big opportunity

Our team hosted a total of 30 anglers – students and adults – on a private 80-acre lake in its home community. The body of water was perfect for a high school kayak event due to its size, which allowed for a controlled environment where everyone could be in view. Plus, there was the added bonus of the lake being full of fish. A Ranger bass boat was on patrol to help with any issues that came up, and parents were able to be in on the action by watching from the bank with binoculars. 

As a coach and tournament director I would not envision running a high school kayak tournament on a larger body of water – like where traditional boat tournaments are held. Taking advantage of smaller bodies of water that cannot be accessed easily by boat or where the terrain prevents bank fishing is one of the great benefits of kayaks that anglers find so appealing. The fish often are much less pressured, and everyone can remain close together.

 

Safety first

Safety is a top priority in tournament fishing, and even more so with youth events, so everyone was required to wear a life jacket in our tournament. Life jackets are required in our high school fishing tournaments conducted in bass boats – and all bass boat fishing tournaments, for that matter – when the big motor is running. Due to the solitary nature of fishing in a kayak, it made sense to require life jackets to be worn at all times. We were also sure to hold the event during a warmer time of year to avoid inevitable kayak flips into frigid waters. 

 

Fishing on a budget

We saw a very wide variety of kayaks in use at this event. One angler fished from a higher-end Blue Sky Angler 360. There were a few models from Jackson Kayak, Hobie and Wilderness Systems. We also saw some very basic entry-level kayaks from Lifetime, Pelican and Sun Dolphin, which can be bought at places such as Walmart for a few hundred dollars. We even had a student paddle a johnboat, and another in an inflatable pontoon row boat made for fishing. 

The low cost of a kayak compared to a bass boat is definitely one of the positives of kayak fishing for high school anglers. Kayaks offer up a much easier way for new anglers to hit the water if they can’t afford a bass boat. There are many options ranging from $200 to $2,000 that are designed for fishing, with more becoming available as the sport continues to grow. 

One dad from our team told me this past weekend about his son’s request to buy a bass boat for them to use. When the dad told his son this wasn’t in the cards for them at the time, the son saved enough money to buy his own kayak to help satisfy his fishing passion. I’ve heard of some high school teams that have a boat or two for their team to use. That certainly isn’t the norm, but I could see it being feasible for school teams to buy a dozen kayaks to use for team practices or special events. 

 

Getting kayaks

As we prepared for the tournament, the team was still faced with not having enough kayaks. We started asking around to see who had kayaks they would be willing to let us borrow, and it turns out people are much more willing to lend a kayak than a more expensive bass boat. We were able to round up nearly a dozen loaner kayaks to bring out to the event for the anglers to use and for parents to paddle around to watch and take photos. We even invited a local kayak dealer to bring demos. 

 

Scoring

We used the TourneyX app to score the tournament based on the longest five-bass limit. TourneyX is an app that allows anglers to photograph their fish on an approved measuring board, release the fish and then upload the photo for scoring. It’s commonly used in kayak tournaments and doesn’t require any equipment other than a phone and enough bump boards to go around. 

We had more than 100 scorable bass submitted on the app. The top angler ended up with 66.75 inches for five fish. 

 

A great season kickoff

The event served as a great start-of-the-year fundraiser for our team and provided an excellent introduction into tournament preparation and competition for our young anglers. With our team approaching the completion of its first year in operation, we look forward to seeing it continue to grow and to recruiting additional adult volunteer boat captains to put more of our anglers in competitions on nearby Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Yet, with the success of this first kayak event, we plan on continuing to keep kayaks as part of our tournament portfolio. 

 

More photos

Here's a collection of some of the photos taken at the recent Graves County High School Fishing Team kayak event in western Kentucky.

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