The B.A.S.S. Nation jumped into kayak tournaments in 2020, organizing five contests from Alabama to California and averaging 144 anglers per competition, despite ongoing COVID-19 concerns.
Photo: Mark Cisneros
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Logan Martin Lake
The Huk Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series powered by TourneyX presented by Abu Garcia got off to a soaker of a start on March 5 on Alabama’s Logan Martin Lake. The tournament took place on a rainy Thursday, which coincided with the last day of practice for contestants in the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville, with the weigh-in and Classic Outdoors Expo being held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in downtown Birmingham. All of this led to special recognition for the top kayakers.
After 222 fished the one-day contest, the Top 10 finishers — in no particular order — were announced at tournament headquarters in Pell City. Neither contestants nor the general public would find out who won until Friday afternoon on the Classic stage, where the Top 10 kayakers got a taste of big-time bass tournament fanfare.
Photo: Thomas Allen
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Ultimately, Jim Davis of Knoxville, Tenn., was announced the winner and received his trophy in front of thousands of cheering Classic fans. He won $10,000.
This suspense was made possible by the B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series’ “catch-photograph-release” method of recording the catch. Anglers use their phone to take a picture of their bass on an approved measuring board and submit it to TourneyX.com, which tallies all the catches and standings. Anglers and the general public can view the standings in real time — typically until an hour before the fishing period ends and the standings go offline.
While many anglers struggled (55 anglers submitted no fish, while 58 anglers posted five-fish limits), Davis said he caught around 40 fish. His five biggest (three largemouth and two spots) totaled 87.5 inches, providing a comfortable margin over second-place Mark Edwards of West Virginia, with 84.75 inches. Third-place finisher Jonathan Lessman of Alabama caught 84.75 inches on a white spinnerbait, but Edwards had a bigger bass in his virtual livewell to break the tie.
Davis caught his fish on a Storm Arashi Spinbait, a spybait and a lure type usually associated with deeper, suspended fish. Yet Davis used it in shallow water along a rocky section of Logan Martin’s Clear Creek.
“I’m a one-hook guy and usually throw a Senko,” said Davis, who fished from an Old Town Predator PDL. “The spybait was the only kind of lure I had that was the size of the baitfish the bass were eating.”
The tournament was hosted by the Pell City Chamber of Commerce.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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Less than two weeks later, kayak anglers gathered in Alba, Texas, on storied Lake Fork, where Arkansas angler Cody Milton bested the 145-angler field with an impressive catch of 100.5 inches.
“I caught them off beds in a situation that was ideal for a kayak,” Milton said. “I’d found beds in places that I had to go through really shallow water to get to — water too shallow for bass boats — and there were some guys in a boat tournament who watched me catch a couple. If it weren’t for my NuCanoe Pursuit, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the day I did.”
He had a MotorGuide Xi3 trolling motor rigged on the front of his kayak, and a Power-Pole Micro Anchor on the stern.
Photo: Mark Cisneros
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“The Power-Pole was critical so I could stay on the fish. I stood on my seat and fished out the back of the boat, pitching a Texas-rigged Strike King Rage Bug in black and blue on a 4/0 Owner Jungle flippin’ hook beneath a 1/8-ounce bullet weight,” Milton said. “The water was pretty dirty and the bass were superfinicky, so I had to make a perfect flip, then swim it into the bed for the fish to even consider eating it.”
Milton’s top five bass measured 22.75, 20.25, 20, 19.25 and 18.25 inches, winning him $6,500.
Dan Krispinsky of Augusta, Ga., also sight fishing, took second with 97.75 inches, working beds with a Chasebaits Mudbug, a realistic crawfish lure. Third-place Chad Dagley of Scurry, Texas, fished shallow rocks and riprap with a Rat-L-Trap and a bladed jig, likely encountering spawners he couldn’t see. He totaled 95 inches.
The tournament was hosted by Lake Fork Marina.
Photo: Mark Cisneros
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Caution about COVID-19 moved the next scheduled tournament, on Tennessee’s Chickamauga Lake, from May to November, so the next stop came on Aug. 15 on the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wis., with 123 anglers.
Here, Barry Davis found water flowing into a bayou that reminded him of his favorite small rivers around his home in Startex, S.C., and took first place, worth $5,553, with 88 inches.
While pre-fishing from his Bonafide SS127, he found sloughs with downed timber that “just felt like home” to him. He said on tournament day, his recently installed Torqeedo 1103 Utralight electric motor helped him beat other competitors to his spot. He had his limit within the first 30 minutes and made his last cull just past an hour into the contest.
Photo: Kara Wattunen
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Davis caught his fish on a 1/16- or 3/16-ounce shaky head and a Victory Tackleworks Clutch Craw in watermelon green.
Joey Vanyo of Lakeville, Minn., placed second with 87 inches and a bigger bass than third-place finisher Brady Storr of Gibbon, Neb., who also totaled 87 inches. Vanyo focused on current breaks and sunken islands with a Storm Arashi squarebill, a 3/8-ounce Warbird spinnerbait and a Carolina-rigged black/blue Zoom Brush Hog. Storr fished a leopard color Spro popping frog over mats.
The tournament was hosted by Explore La Crosse.
Photo: Kara Wattunen
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Touring kayak pros and local Californians gathered two weeks later at the Huk Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series at Clear Lake powered by TourneyX presented by Abu Garcia. Here, Rus Snyders of Nashville, Tenn., won with a five-fish limit measuring 100 inches. With California’s tough COVID-19 restrictions, only 61 anglers entered the contest, but most found the kind of fishing for which Clear Lake is known. Forty-three contestants tallied five-fish limits.
Snyders was no stranger to Clear Lake, having grown up in northern California — he considers it his home lake. He fished from a Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. 120 with a Torqeedo 403 Ultralight electric motor. He told Bassmaster writer David A. Brown that he had a two-stage plan.
“In the morning, I was fishing an area with a combination of grass and rock in 4 feet or less and caught several fish on a black and red buzzbait with a gold blade,” Snyders said. “As the morning wore on, I started fishing some offshore grass.”
Photo: Jody Only
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In the offshore grass, 8 to 10 feet deep, Snyders covered water with the buzzbait and a Keitech swimbait. He also flipped specific grass targets about 100 yards from shore with a watermelon red or watermelon candy Strike King Rage Craw Texas-rigged on a 4/0 hook with a 1/2-ounce tungsten weight and a punch skirt in the sprayed grass color.
“I’d look for the boils and the busts, and then I’d go over there and try to get them to bite,” he said. “I just kept hitting targets and flipping or casting to some of the ambush points in the grass clumps. Eventually, I’d pick one off here and there.”
Snyders caught two fish that measured 20.5 inches, two that went 19.75 and one that was 19.5.
Tas Moua of Fresno, Calif., placed second with 94.5 inches. He caught two 20-inchers early around docks on a white Jackall Gavacho frog. At midmorning, he moved offshore to a spot with a rock and grass mix, flipping a black and blue Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver and throwing the frog.
Will Doud-Martin of Fremont, Calif., finished third with 93.25 inches, fishing a topwater FishLab Rattle Toad in natural green over rock and grass.
Clear Lake Outdoors served as the tournament headquarters.
Photo: Jody Only
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At the series finale Nov. 21 on Tennessee’s Chickamauga Lake, Tyler Cole of Hopkinton, Iowa, unwittingly saved the best for last to top the 143-angler field with 89.5 inches of largemouth.
Committed to tossing a bullfrog pattern Booyah frog in shallow grass, Cole was stuck on 68.5 inches with just four largemouth. With 15 minutes left, a 21-incher succumbed to the frog and earned Cole the win, worth $6,907. He told Bassmaster.com’s Christopher Decker that frogging is his forte on his home waters of the Mississippi, “so I stuck with something I know.”
Photo: Kyle Jessie
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Cole targeted grasslines in 2 to 3 feet of water on The Chick’s southern end.
Tennessee angler Brandon Strock fished the same area as Cole, accruing 87 inches of largemouth to take second place and $3,207. Strock crawled a Z-Man JackHammer ChatterBait over rock around grasslines. Like Cole, a last-minute, 21-inch kicker boosted him in the standings — he caught it with five minutes to go.
Minnesota angler Scott Stuhlmann caught 81.5 inches of smallmouth to finish third. Stuhlmann cranked rocky shelves with a Rapala DT16 and a DT10 on the north end of the lake.
The tournament was hosted by the Rhea County Economic Development & Tourism Council.
The top anglers from these five tournaments are among the approximately 270 who have qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series Championship, scheduled to run in conjunction with the Bassmaster Classic in Fort Worth, Texas in June.