So the last few years have been quite crazy in the tournament fishing world. It all started in the fall of 2018 with the announcement of the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. Many professionals had to decide; stay with BASS and FLW or switch to the new MLF? It was a major divisive issue in the sport that had people reeling (and not the kind attaching to a fishing rod). Then just a few months ago, the major announcement came down that Major League Fishing had purchased FLW. FLW is now undergoing a whole new reconstruction that has many professionals leaving to pursue qualifying for the BASS Elite Series. You have a Gerald Swindle and Brandon Palaniuk who are leaving the MLF and returning to the Elites under the Legends Exemption rule. A new batch of anglers will be trying their hand at the MLF BPT this season. Everyone must decide where to fish and there’s no right or wrong answer. Each league has their merits and not one angler who fishes on any of them could be considered a scrub! They’re all the top anglers in the business, and deserve nothing but praise.
But that’s just the upheaval in the bass boat side of things. Tournament kayak fishing has been going through its own major growth spurt the past two years. 2019 brought the first iteration of the KBF Pro Tour. This included two events in conjunction with the FLW. With the changes on the bass boat side, 2020 will be bringing a new and revised Pro Tour which will be a standalone series on some of the top water bodies in the country. 2019 also kicked off the new and expanded Hobie BOS series. This was another elite level series which is returning in 2020 pitting the top anglers in the country against each other in hopes of qualifying for the Tournament of Champions or for a chance at representing the USA at the Hobie Worlds. Then the big news dropped last fall that BASS was also diving into the Kayak realm and introduced their BASS Nation Kayak Series. This series of Opens will tie into their established BASS Nation system and provide anglers opportunities to qualify for a championship that will part of the renowned Bassmaster Classic! All of this and with membership numbers at the club level skyrocketing all over the country, it’s a great time to be in the kayak fishing world.
That leads me into the heart of this blog. Where and what should I fish in 2020? How should I decide what events to do and how do I best allocate my resources? Obviously this is all a personal decision. Your situation will be different than mine, so you may be forced to make different decisions and sacrifices.
I am in a pretty good situation when it comes to being able to pursue kayak fishing at the highest level. One thing (for better or worse), is that I am in a position where I am free to travel basically whenever I want. I don’t have kids or other family obligations. The only thing stopping me from taking off on a moments notice is my dog. And I am lucky enough to have family, friends, and neighbors that are available to help out with her if needed.
I also work for a great company, Sterling Environmental. I work as an environmental engineer. This position affords me a lot of freedom in my schedule to work extra hours in the week and leave early on a friday to drive to an event, or just take an afternoon off when the weather is right and make up those hours later. I also have the option to work remotely a little while I’m on the road for events, saving more of my vacation time to do more events. That is very important this year as I still only have three weeks of allotted vacation. In 2021, this will go up to four weeks which will be a huge benefit.
Lastly, there’s the financials. This is the hardest of the topics to talk about, and the hardest issue for most people to figure out what’s best. Again, I have a good job that gives me a little financial freedom to pursue this dream. But even so, resources are still very limited. I am not sponsored at this time. I have some pro-staff deals, but those don’t pay entry fees. This means I need to itemize every tournament. Determine what my expenses will be for entry fees, fuel, food, lodging, etc. And then you can’t forget the need for new tackle and gear throughout the season. One thing you can’t take into consideration when determining you season is earnings. I learned right away, winnings do not come easy and you cannot rely on them. It’s a gamble, and you have to be willing to lose everything.
The ultimate goal for most tournament anglers is to fish full time and earn a living doing it. This is a lofty goal, but it’s important to understand that because your decisions on how to schedule your season must be in support of that or whatever your goals may be. Being located in the capital region of NY, there are a multitude of local series that I could compete in. The obvious one is my local club, Adirondack KBF. But there are other nearby clubs that I could compete in such as Kayak Anglers of Central NY, NYKBF, Hudson Valley KBF, MA Kayak Bassin, or even Granite State Kayak Anglers. There are enough events nearby that I could easily fill a schedule completely with club events. But how does that tie in to the ultimate goal?
I had a great season with Adirondack KBF last year. I won two events, and finished second in three others so I cashed a few good checks. The great thing about club events is that the investment is low. They are at local lakes I’m familiar with, the travel is low cost, and I’m usually home in time for dinner. But with the low investment, the return is also low. Obviously the payout for a $35 tournament will be lower than that of a $200 tournament. But more importantly, you don’t gain the experience that comes with traveling to new places. You also aren’t able to get your name out there when you just fish locally. There are some stud anglers on my club and some of the neighboring clubs, but outside of the local community nobody would know them. Like it or not, self marketing is an important part of the industry so the more you compete at a higher level, the more you can build your name and brand recognition. Fishing the local trail is always great when you have a free weekend, but I feel this year it will not be a priority.
That leads us to the next level of tournaments which is the Northeast KBF Trail. Luckily most local clubs do their best to deconflict with the Trail so it’s pretty easy to incorporate them into my schedule. The investment in these events is also pretty moderate. The furthest event for me is about an 8 hour drive band the closest one is only an hour away. The entry fees to these events are only $100; which while a lot more than a club event, is still very reasonable. Individual KBF Trail events may not be elite events, but this series should be considered the most important. It is through these events that anglers qualify for the trail championship and ultimately qualify for the Ten. The Ten is by far the most elite of kayak tournaments right now. Only the top 10-12 kayak anglers in the country get to compete in it. This no entry fee/ guaranteed payout event is how any serious competitor will want to finish their season and will certainly be tops on my goals for 2020.
As I mentioned at the start, there are also three premier level series this season. I use the term premier instead of elite because at this time, these series are all open events. It will be interesting to see where they lead and how they potentially eventually transform into elite series that an angler needs to qualify for. The problem with all these series for anglers who live in the northeast is that there are very few options within a reasonable driving distance. This means traveling takes more time (vacation from work), more fuel cost, and when you add in the higher entry fee ($235-250) these events have a very large commitment of resources. But the potential return from these events is vast. You gain massive amounts of experience fishing some of the top fisheries in the country. You gain contacts and can network with industry professionals. If you have a good event, you can gain name recognition. And there’s always the potential higher payouts associated with these events.
Taking all of this into account, I sat down with all the schedules in front of me, a big calendar, and began laying out my season. I blocked out the KBF National Championship since I had qualified and already paid my entry fee, and then went ahead with planning the season. The first thing I put down were the Northeast Trail events. Obviously the Ten is the most elite event and to qualify for that will take a lot of dedication to the Trail series. Next I entered my local club events. I had success with the Adirondack KBF and it would be foolish to abandon that. Next I broke down the premier series. When comparing the three, its difficult to prioritize any one over the other. I decided to spread myself out and attempt all three. This may turn out to be a bad idea with my resources spread (potentially too thin) between all of them, but I feel at this stage, it’s important to explore them all.
I started by selecting the two closest events of each series which immediately led to making concessions because when trying to merge that many series there was bound to be conflicts. The first was that the closest of the BASS events (on Chickamauga) conflicted with the Northeast Trail event on Lake George so I replaced it with the inaugural BASS event on Logan Martin. This is likely a better event to attend anyway being held in conjunction with the 50th Bassmaster Classic. Additionally it has the benefit of being back to back with the Hobie BOS event on Lake Norman. By combining trips, I save fuel driving back and forth and I can spend time in North Carolina visiting family which is an even bigger benefit. The BASS event on the Mississippi River was one I could not pass up. I traveled out there in 2018 for a KBF Open event. I struggled there, but I have learned so much since then so I want redemption. That would be my second BASS event and it fit perfectly into my schedule.
The next conflicts that I had to reconcile were that the closest KBF Pro event is on Lake Keowee which conflicts with the first Adirondack Club event on Saratoga Lake and the closest Hobie BOS event is at Lake Erie and that is the same day as the second Adirondack club event at the Fulton chain of lakes. That also happens to be one of the club events I won last year. These were very tough decisions, but I ultimately went with the KBF Pro and Hobie BOS events. I know this decision will likely mean I have no chance at competing for angler of the year in my club, but the opportunities that can come from placing high at these premier events are too great to pass up.
The only issue that remained was finding a second KBF Pro tour event. Florida was too early in the season and would be too much to drive for just a single event and Lake Conway conflicted with the Hobie BOS event on Erie. The Wisconsin event doesn’t have any conflicts, but the drive would be over 16 hours each way. This would be an entire day of travel each direction plus time off to prefish. Unfortunately, the vacation hours aren’t there for that. The only other option would be Pickwick. This would be the weekend after Lake Norman, and 2 weeks prior to the KBF National Championship on Guntersville.
This was where a dream trip took form, but then was immediately dashed when I realize I just can’t commit to it. It would have been a perfect way to start the season. Travel to Alabama for Logan Martin, then over to North Carolina for Lake Norman, back to Alabama for Pickwick, then stay there for two weeks to prepare for and fish in the KBF National Championship. The only issue, I would be gone from work for a month, and would need to figure out how to take care of my dog for that extended period of time. So close, but it just wasn’t meant to be. So as of the writing of this, I only have one KBF Pro Tour event on my schedule. The Pro Tour Championship happens to fit the schedule perfectly. There are some Pro Tour Opens yet to be announced which I may attempt to add in, but at this time it will just be the one so the pressure will be on at Lake Keowee.
Still, for 2020, I am not backing down on my goals. I could remain satisfied with the success at home, remain a bigger fish in a small pond. Or I can jump in the ocean with the sharks. Maybe I’ll get torn to shreds, I may fail and lose it all. But I am going to pour every hour of vacation, every cent, and every spec of energy I can muster into it because beneath it all I am a competitor; and until I succeed, I’m not done fighting!!
To find my complete schedule, go over to my schedule page.