Fresh Water Sports

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No Bass Boat? No Problem

18 Dec, 2019

By: Chad Hoover
The Rise of Kayak Fishing is Getting More Anglers on the Water

Kayak fishing itself isn’t new; it has been around for a long time. Right now, though, it’s growing in popularity; in fact, we’re seeing plenty of fishing organizations exploring the possibility of starting kayak tournaments.

There are a number of reasons kayak fishing has gotten so popular lately. Here are a few:

There are low barriers to entry. There is a lot of media coverage of fishing tournaments and therefore, a lot of people have become interested in learning to fish. The average fishing boat – in this case, we’ll say a bass boat – is a significant investment. You have to be committed to the sport to put in the money, and if someone is just starting out, it’s unlikely they’re going to want to pay that much. But a kayak is relatively inexpensive – there are even inflatable models on the market – so there is not that much of an up-front cost. And unlike a boat, they’re easily stored and easily transported.

With kayaks, unlike a traditional boat, you rarely hear about buyer’s remorse. In fact, it’s the opposite. Once someone buys a kayak, we’ll often hear they’ve gone out and bought a bigger one, or one that has more features, or one for their kids or their spouse.

Kayaks are easy to use. It’s easy to get the hang of paddling (or pedaling, depending on your model) a kayak. We always say that once they get the kayak, anglers are locked and loaded. They also do not have to worry about the continued maintenance or fuel costs that come with owning a motorized boat.

Kayaks represent a growing fishing community. Something we’ve noticed is that once people have bought their first kayak, they find out that it’s almost like being a part of a brotherhood, like Harley-Davidson or Yamaha riders, maybe even the Corvette culture. There’s a lot of social media with people taking pictures of their kayaks or the fish they’ve caught, asking questions about different things – it really is a community. Our Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) Facebook page sees a lot of posts – and we’re just one organization. The fact that it is a family-oriented endeavor is great as well. Spending time together, outdoors, on the water, is a huge plus for families; it gets people out of the house and away from the TV or the computer.

Kayaks are healthier for the ecosystem. Fishing from a non-motorized watercraft means no pollution. It’s less noisy as well. (It’s also healthier for the individual because it takes physical effort to move the kayak around).

All ages can participate. You don’t need to be able to drive a motorized watercraft, so we’re seeing more kids participating at a younger age. In fact, we are launching a youth tournament series – and since bass fishing is an incredibly fast-growing sport at the high school and college level, we’re looking forward to seeing some good participation. Kids will be competing for prizes and scholarship money, as well as being able to make a name for themselves. We’ll be setting up our first tournaments for youth so that there can be online participation through a tournament management system called TourneyX; we’ll tell kids, “You take a picture of your fish with your phone and send it to that website.”

By the way, when we say kayak fishing appeals to all ages, we mean people on the high end of the scale, too. In fact, we have a 74-year-old who is aggressively competing in our tournaments. About 400 of the anglers who are active members of KBF are older than 65. We’ve had people compete with their children and grandchildren. It’s definitely a sport everyone can enjoy.

Kayaks give anglers more access to water. You can reach a lot of places much more easily than either someone fishing from the bank or even someone fishing from a motorized boat. You don’t necessarily need a boat ramp so you can go to smaller bodies of water that other anglers can’t.

With all those advantages, it’s no wonder we have seen kayak fishing growing so much. One place we’re not really getting traction is in saltwater fishing, but you have to consider the demographics. Middle America doesn’t have access to saltwater, which is why the most recent statistics showed there were 41 million freshwater anglers and only 12 million saltwater anglers. Inland freshwater fishing is much more accessible (it’s also much more affordable to those living in lower income or more rural areas) so it’s only fitting that it be disproportionately more popular.

We do know that kayak fishing isn’t relevant to every discipline, so we try not to chase waterfalls. However, kayak angling is a multi-species pursuit, and there are already people out there using their kayaks to fish for catfish and walleye as well.

Since bass tackle and gear are ideal for redfish and so many in the KBF community are already redfish anglers, that’s the first species outside of black bass that KBF is targeting in kayak competition. Redfish Challenge competitors fish for cash prizes and Redfish Challenge Points leading to a national Redfish Challenge Angler of the Year title.

There are a few more insights about kayak fishing we can share:

Kayak fishing is popular with both men and women. We have about 95 percent men and five percent women, which is actually very high in the fishing space. The sport is very welcoming toward everyone, regardless of gender. We don’t have one tour for men and one for women; everyone competes together. (And at the moment, so do kids; in fact, a 14-year-old won one of our recent tournaments.)

Our events have expanded as interest has grown. We now offer the KBF Trail Series, KBF Cup, KBF Team Cup Competition, KBF Regional Challenges, the KBF State Challenge Series and the KFB National Championship. Additionally, KBF members have access to events including KBF Dee Zee The TEN, KBF Dee Zee TENvitational, and other meet-up tournaments throughout the year.

Kayak fishing tournaments have certain needs. When you’re looking for a place to host a kayak tournament, you’re looking for many of the same things any other fishing tournament needs. We need a place with convenient hotel access and availability. People need to be able to drive in and park, and to unload everything prior to getting into the water. There has to be enough water to support the number of competitors; our guidelines for that are 200 acres per competitor. We need a good venue for the awards ceremony too.

Something we added this year was an expo. For our very first one, we had 38 vendors and we sold out every bit of space we had. We even had to add spaces outside for companies that wanted to be a part of it. We’ll be continuing to do expos moving forward. We definitely see them becoming a very substantial part of our events, particularly as the kayak fishing segment of the industry continues to grow.

Something people might not realize: Kayaks don’t generally have a live well to hold fish. Therefore, at tournaments, the angler weighs his or her fish and measures it on a bump board. The photos are then submitted to the tournament organizers. We have very specific rules regarding the placement of the fish, and of the angler’s hands, on the bump board, so that our tournament directors know they’re getting an accurate picture of each fish caught. Fish are released after weighing and measuring.

We’re already seeing more fishing organizations adding kayak tournaments to their schedules of events, and plenty more investigating it. In fact, there are now some new organizations dedicated solely to kayak angling popping up. It’s not surprising. With all the benefits kayak fishing tournaments offer, we can expect to see plenty of growth in this great discipline. SDM

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Chad Hoover

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