The Revolution Is Coming!
As I sit here writing this article I have to admit I am confused! In recent months South African salt water kayakers have twice broken the magical 40kg mark for couta and only yesterday a kayaker landed two monster GT’s.
According to manufacturer’s the sales of fishing kayaks for saltwater use are constantly increasing and kayak only tournaments are popping up along the coast, and yet, we as freshwater kayak anglers remain woefully under represented.
If you are reading this magazine I think it’s safe to say that, like me, you are a bass angler first and boater or a bank angler second. As bass anglers, our ancestral home (at least in spirit and believe) is surely the USA. Everything we love and respect about our sport had its origin in the United States, which is why I find the fact that we are not embracing the sport of kayak fishing whole heartedly very perplexing.
In the last few months, several Elite and FLW pro’s like Mike Iaconelli and Randy Howell have signed deals with kayak manufacturers and started fishing kayak trials. Even the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, Gerald Swindle’s love of kayaks is well documented, yet our local market seems reluctant to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of these awesome fishing platforms.
To try to understand the appeal of kayak tournaments we should take an in-depth look at what’s happening. Working from the bottom up we will start with club tournaments.
Because kayaks are incredibly affordable compared to big boats, clubs have mushroomed up all over the world, with the USA, Canada, Mexico and Australia all showing strong membership figures. Club anglers are usually divided into two groups namely the paddlers and the motorized kayakers. At club level there is not really a difference between the
two since most tournaments happen in a social environment and there is no really difference in speed and range on smaller waters. The rules are generally very similar to regular bass tournaments with only two major differences. First is that there are no specific launch area. The anglers meet at a pre-arranged point for the captains meeting, sort out the formalities such as identifier tags and local regulations and then head off to launch at a site convenient to their fishing areas. At the end of the fishing day everyone meets again at the pre arranged point for the “weigh in” before the cut off time.
The second major difference is the “weigh in”. Kayak tournaments do not rely on weight to determine a winner but on total length. Since kayaks don’t have live-wells tournaments rely on a catch, photograph and release format.
Measurement takes place on a standardized measuring board and the angler is expected to take a picture of his or her fish showing the entire fish, a clear view of the measuring marks and a tournament identifier tag. Tournament tags are issued randomly before each competition and must show clearly in every photograph submitted to proof that the catch happened on the tournament day. Every angler can hand in photos up to the tournament limit and within tournament size limits. Once a photo is submitted the fish is considered “weighed” and cannot be “culled”. The weighmaster will calculate the total length of each angler’s bag and the longest length wins. From conservation viewpoint this format is very efficient as fish are only out of the water for a brief moment before being released right back where it was caught, greatly decreasing the risk of death or injury. Club tournaments are grassroots and are where most anglers get started.
The next level is regional and national level tournaments. These share the same basic rules except that in most cases the anglers are exclusively allowed to paddle their crafts. No motor or pedal drives. Recently the regional tournament also added a twist with online tournaments. It is indeed a strange concept but it has proven highly successful and very popular. In very broad strokes, an online tournament work as follows. You log onto a web site and select a tournament in your region. A tournament can run from one day to four weeks and you are only allowed to enter the bag limit for a certain number of days. In other words, over a four week period you can for instance enter five fish for consideration. They can however only be caught over four fishing days that fell within the four week period. The four days don’t have to be nominated and they don’t have to be consecutive and you are not limited to fishing only four days but at least two of you fish must come from the same day. Now this might seem strange when one is used to fishing regular tournaments but the format has brought thousands of new anglers to the sport by being incredibly flexible and user friendly.
The top of the pyramid is obviously international tournaments. While these are still in their early days and bass fishing do not have a dedicated Kayak World Championship, it is only a matter of time before it happens. The two major world championships at the moment are the Hobie World Champions and The Adventure Fishing World Championship. The Hobie tournament has been around for six years and last year saw several entries with only 48 anglers from 27 countries qualifying, making it one of the toughest tournament entries in the world to make. The Adventure Fishing World Championship on the other hand is fairly easy to enter but is a team event that will require a 30km plus paddle everyday with checkpoints, time trials and fishing thrown in the mix to make it probably the all round toughest fishing tournament on earth!
The days of kayaks being the poor cousin of fishing in general, are numbered. Our boats are faster, lighter, stronger and cheaper than the alternatives and kayakers are breaking fishing frontiers everywhere. It is only a matter of time before we will be paddling for bass all over Southern Africa! The revolution is coming! Resistance is futile!
The Hobie World Champions is well organised