It was Thursday, 4:30pm, my work week was done, and it was time to hit the road. The upcoming weekend was the first ever FLW-KBF event, Nickajack Lake, and I was going. I made the decision to go just two weeks prior, got my time off request approved, and it was on. I got home, finished loading the truck, and started off on the first leg of my journey. I rolled into my parents’ house about 7:30pm. Just in time for a home cooked meal only a mother can make. They were dog sitting for me while I was away, so I spent the night there before the 13 hour drive to Chattanooga.
Friday morning came and I was off. The drive down was pretty uneventful. The entire time I was contemplating what I was going to do the next day. Where would I fish? Would I target Largemouth or Smallmouth? What techniques would I throw? I didn’t have any time to prefish or explore so I was just going in totally blind. I had studied the maps, studied the charts, and done my research as best I could; but nothing can replace actual time on the water.
As I neared Nickajack Lake, I debated where I was going to hold up for the night. I only got a hotel for Saturday night so friday was sleeping in the truck. I decided on an Interstate rest area right on the lake, only 15 minutes from the launch. I pulled into a dark parking space and got some sleep.
I awoke plenty early without the need for any alarm. I was fired up, and quite nervous. There was an opportunity to walk across the big stage of the FLW, hear Chris Jones call out my name, maybe even get a signature WOW. This was big. I was the first one to arrive at the ramp and started unloading. One by one more anglers pulled up, including many names I’ve seen at the top of the leaderboards a time or two. I knew I was at least in a reasonable spot.
As we pushed away from the ramp, everyone went their own way. I took off under the bridge, turned east, and made my run. I was heading toward a flat area hoping to find some grass. Largemouth were my target with maybe a chance at some Spots. I figured some 8-foot deep flats with grass would be a great place to slam some hungry post-spawn bass. I made my way along and at 6:30AM started casting.
As I worked a chatterbait along the rip-rap heading toward the flat area, I approached a sandy point that extended out from a box culvert under the RR tracks. I noticed some baitfish breaking on the surface out over the point. Small birds were diving on them and I knew there was a good chance there was a school of bass under there as well. I was right. I turned around to see what I had tied on. A jerkbait? Why not? I started working it and it didn’t take long to put my first fish on the board. A few casts later and I had a second one. Nothing big, but I wasn’t skunked! I casted around a little more and after not getting another bite I focused back on the culvert.
Culverts are always a reliable target. I turned around again to see what I had tied on. No wacky rig, but a ned rig would work. It was still rigged with a bubblegum pink worm. Again I thought Why not? I skipped it back in there. I paused a second to let it sink then I started reeling in to take up any slack. As I reeled I was just getting slack, reel and more slack, reel, reel, I couldn’t feel the bait. Is there that much current coming out of there? No dummy, FISH! Set the Damn hook! And it was on. I wrestled a nice 18.50” Largemouth out of the pipe. I was stoked. The word on the street was 13-15” fish were plenty, but big ones were harder to come by. I had a good one on my board and I was rolling.
I noticed the birds had started diving again so I pedaled back out, switched back to the jerkbait, and quickly put another 14.25” on my board. That was four fish. One more and I had my limit. I worked the jerkbait around there a bit more but the school must have moved on so I continued along the riprap heading toward the flat. The only thing I caught there was a nice channel cat. Always my luck, I catch great eater fish in the middle of tourneys when I can’t take the time, and don’t have a spot to keep them. Oh well.
I pedaled around the flat area looking for grass but there was none. Nothing but sand bottom. This was no good. I was happy I had four fish, but my prime area was a bust so I needed a new plan fast. I moved back toward the shore and started working a Christy Critter in some laydowns and then Bang she thumped it. A nice 14.5” largemouth. And that was it. It was only 8:30AM and I had my limit. I uploaded the fish and decided to check the leaderboard. I was amazed. Two hours into the day and I was in 5th! I had another 5.5 hours to upgrade and hopefully hold my position.
I made the decision to work my way back toward the launch and see what I could find inside the bay area. On my way back I stopped again at the culvert. There were two chambers and I had pulled my good one from the left and busted off the ned rig in the right one. I decided to switch it up and tie on a wacky rig. I again skipped it back into the left chamber and quickly felt the jump of a bite. 14.75”! A small upgrade, but an upgrade none-the-less and it was still only 10:00.
As I uploaded the fish, the thunder I had been hearing off in the distance started getting louder. I looked up to see the lightning streak across the sky and a black wall of clouds and rain heading my way fast. Luckily there was a small beach right next to the culvert so I pulled the kayak up, hunkered under some trees, texted some of the others on the lake to make sure they were aware of the conditions, and waited out the storm.
After about a 30 minute delay, with 3.5 hours remaining, I worked my way back along the riprap I had skipped over making my run in the morning. I alternated between a chatterbait, the jerkbait, the wacky rig, and the Christy Critter. I made a long cast with the chatterbait and as I worked it back toward the boat the wind caught me just right and started turning me into the shore. I stopped cranking to reach down and turn my rudder back. As I started reeling again, the blade didn’t start right up and the bait felt funny. I gave it just a little tug to start the blade vibrating but then it tugged back! There was a fish on! I fought it up to the boat, and it was another good fish. As I reached for the net the fish dove straight down and Pop it was gone. Nothing I could have done, I just never had a hook set on it. I just hoped that one fish didn’t sink my chances. Bigger fish were rare, and that would have been two over 18” on my board.
I continued on without another bite along that entire shore. I got up to the bridge and decided to try my luck along the supports. I switched out the Christy Critter to a magnum ribbon tail worm in my favorite color, plum. I pitched it along the bridge supports but no bites. I then tossed it to the East inside bank under the bridge and bang a 13” bass. Not a cull, but a good sign. I moved the west corner. Boom, a 15.50” largemouth. A small cull, but still a cull. I worked that worm along the bank and laydowns landing a few more small fish but that was it. Day one was in the books and I put up 77.50”. I did all I could, hopefully it would be enough.
The evening meeting was fun. Getting to experience the FLW weigh-in. Seeing the Pros hoist the big bass they caught on neighboring Chickamauga, checking out the vendors, and just experiencing where KBF is going. It was great to part a part of. They brought the top 15 kayakers up on the stage and they got the full FLW live experience. That evening they also turned the leaderboard back on. I knew without another big cull, I had slipped further back and I was right. I was sitting in 39th, 15-inches off the lead. I wasn’t out of it, but it would take a big bag to win. The thing was the standings were close. The difference between 20th and 50th was a mere 6.50”. Anything could happen Sunday, a big bag and I would move up standings quick, a small bag and I would drop quickly. 24-hours and we would find out which way I moved.
I woke up in my hotel Sunday morning and loaded up the truck to go. The pavement was still wet and there was a light mist in the air. It had rained overnight, and was looking like rain again. The forecast was for a nice day, but maybe a lingering shower in the AM. As I checked out of the hotel I had a song playing in my head. I started down the road and that song almost immediately came on the radio. I took it as a sign of good things to come. As I drove to the launch the rain started coming down. My rain gear was still wet from the previous days rain and I really didn’t want to put it back on. I pulled into the launch just as the rain was stopping. It was perfect timing, and I was feeling great. Everything was just feeling right about the day. Things seemed to be going right, my mood was up, and I had a game plan. I would make the run back to culvert and fish around the sand point that I got the fish on the previous day with the jerkbait. I figured fish should be pulling up on that all day.
As we pushed off, we remarked that the water level was up over a foot from all the rain the previous day and overnight. We all took care to pull our rods down when passing under the bridge. It didn’t click in my head what that would mean for my culvert.
I made the run along the riprap toward the culvert. I didn’t quite make it all the way there and it was time to start fishing. I decided to throw the chatterbait I got the big bite on the day before along until I got to my spot. I only got one bite, and it just took the tail off my trailer so who knows what it was.
When I approached the culvert I realized my first mistake (but would not be my biggest of the day), the water level was so high there was only a tiny opening at the top. No room to skip a bait back in there. I still attempted to fish the opening and all I managed was a turtle chomping on my worm (luckily I shook him off). I swung out to the sand point and started throwing the jerkbait. Nothing! I switched up to chatterbait. Still Nothing! With the new weather patterns the fish must have moved around. Maybe they’ve moved up on the riprap more where I didn’t get them yesterday? I fished along and still nothing. I decided to make a big move and shot north across the main channel, stopping on any humps I found to slow pull the chatterbait across or throw 6XD crank down over them. But it was all in vain. They didn’t have the fish on them. I explored all kinds of areas on the north. I marked a few schools of fish deep, but I couldn’t get them to bite. I was getting very worried and time was running out.
I had heard the horn go off at the damn and knew that meant they were releasing water. Maybe my culvert was fishable now! I made my way back over there and sure enough, the 2-inch gap was now 8-inches. Easily enough to skip a worm back in there. But it didn’t pay off. Zero bites again.
A small rain storm had moved in. I swung back out again to the sand point and started pulling the chatterbait around and finally got my first fish! I managed to get the tail to swipe the 12” mark; a scorable bass and I was at least on the board. I kept throwing the chatterbait on the point and boom, another bass! This one slightly bigger. Maybe I got a school in here! I worked it some more but no more bites. I changed up the to jerkbait, threw a squarebill, a lipless, anything to try to find the school and get them fired up again, but the rain had moved on and so had my fish.
I was a distance from the launch so I decided I needed to get back and just fish closer to there. I worked the chatterbait along fast as I covered water getting back to the bridge. I got there with 45 minutes (so I thought) left to fish. Earlier in the day I had pulled off my Plum worm in exchange for a bubblegum pink worm. My biggest on Day 1 came on pink, so I rolled with it having little else to go on. When I got to the bridge I switched back to the Plum. Again nothing on the bridge supports, and this time nothing on the shore under the bridge. I judged my time and figured I could work the east bank around to the launch and that would be my day. Just a few casts later it was on. A 14.75” bass! Awesome and with only 15 minutes left. Two casts later BOOM! a 16.50” with only 10 minutes left. This never happens to me! I thought. I never get fish in the last minutes of a tourney. Turns out I was right.
I submitted the fish as I loaded up the truck and left to head to check-in. When I arrived at Tournament HQ I had two new emails. “Photo Denied” What? What did I do? I know my photos were solid. “Photo taken after competition period” I had forgot fishing ended 30 minutes earlier on Day 2! My last minute fish were actually 15 minutes AFTER the end of the event. They didn’t count, and all I had were the two small ones I got mid-day. That was just the icing on the cake that was my bad day of fishing. My day had started with so much hope, so much excitement, everything felt right, but then everything just went wrong.
But I bucked up, went to the captains meeting, and just enjoyed the experience of being at such a monumental event. They crowned the first ever FLW-KBF champion and it couldn’t have gone to a more deserving guy. A few anglers I knew got to have their name announced on FLW Live, walk up on the stage, and experience something great. One of my fellow anglers from my home club had a great weekend. She put up solid bags both days to qualify for the FLW-KBF cup AND have her entry fee covered.
While fishing didn’t go my way this time, I still had an amazing weekend. The lake was beautiful with so much scenery and wildlife. I got to see friends I only see at these big events. Enjoyed some good food. Got to visit some family. Most importantly, I got to see first hand just where this whole kayak bass fishing tournament thing is going and it is exciting. The future is coming and I just hope to continue to be a part of it.