KBF National Championship: The Tournament

On Saturday, March 23, 2019, I left Cleveland, Ohio on an adventure that would take me to Shreveport, Louisiana. I had never participated in the KBF National Championship, and honestly, it had never been a goal of mine. I qualified through my participation in River Bassin events first, and later in the year, I found out that I also had qualified through my local fishing trail, Buckeye Kayak Fishing Trail. I didn’t really think twice about it until my phone rang.

None other than Drew Gregory was on the other end of that call. He asked me if I had any interest in making the trip to Louisiana to participate in the NC. I was a little on the fence, but he had a plan to explore some wild waters and wanted to know if I was interested. The seed had been planted. After a short discussion with my usual partner in crime, Clayton Haske, I could not stop thinking about it. I finally sold myself on the experience, opportunity, and soaking in the inevitable chaos that follows Drew.

 

I would consider our pre-fishing an educational experience at minimum. We started our search on Lake Bistineau. We desperately wanted to find a spot that was off the beaten path that could produce a solid pattern and numbers to make a hearty attempt at the tournament. So off the beaten path we went; we covered an estimated 10 miles on the first day of pre-fishing. We went to some beautiful hidden bayous and trudged through swamps to find these hidden waters. At first glance, they looked amazing but ultimately fell short of our expectations. I think they could have been really nice spots but were not in the correct stage to produce enough fish for everyone to find a limit for 2-3 days. At the end of the day, it was a rough practice with only three fish or so between everyone.

On day 2 of practice, we decided to go to a different section of Lake Bistineau. This was another dreadful day that ended with more frustration. Worry began to set in, and we had not found a solid pattern by this point. Drew landed a nice fish, and I had missed a few smaller bites. None of this was enough to grow confidence in our group, and the outcome of the tournament was looking bleak at this point. At the end of the day, despite our attempts to do otherwise, all information was telling us to go to Caddo.

Day 3 of practice was extra important. It was our last chance to try and learn anything about a bite, and we were limited on time. Being the day before the tournament, we had to be finished with our pre-fishing by 3:00 pm. Sticking to our game plan as much as possible, we launched in a remote spot on Caddo. I decided to run up this cut out of a main channel and explore a little. There was not much going on, and I was met with a lot of disappointment. Coming back out of that channel, I started pitching around a couple cypress trees, and boom–a 15” fish. Noting how the cypress tree looked and how it was different than anything I’d done to this point, I decided to push farther down the channel.

This was the real AH-HA moment when I made it to the next spot. I started to notice more cypress trees in a similar condition to that from which I caught the first fish. Working this spot a little harder, I was able to land two more fish and lose another. I finally felt I had something figured out. After returning to the launch and a short discussion, we all had come to the conclusion that this would be our best chance. We had grown some confidence, found some fish, and felt like it was the best showing out of all of our pre-fishing.

The morning of the tournament had an awkward feeling for me. I had competed in large tournaments before as well as large stage high school sports. The difference in this particular moment was a lack of nervousness. I was focused and knew exactly what I had to do to try to make the best of my trip. We launched and I got to my first spot with a few minutes to spare before lines in. This didn’t matter much because the technique I was using depended on precision and sight. The first thirty minutes or so of the tournament was spent making arrant casts, wasting time, and hoping for a bonus fish. Shortly after the sun came up, I knew I had made the right decision. I caught my first fish at 7:10 am. This was a great sign for the day.

I kept working the cypress trees and was able to fill my limit right before noon that day. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders and allowed me to relax. Now I could focus on upgrading my fish and trying to set myself up as best I could for day 2. Shortly afterwards, around 12:35, I was able to land a 18.25” fish. This ended up being my biggest fish of the day. I wasn’t finished for the day but was extremely happy with my production, considering I had extreme doubts I would be able to fill a limit based on pre-fishing earlier that week. Fishing until the end of the clock was huge for this tournament. I caught my last fish on day 1 at 2:20 pm and was able to cull a smaller fish off the board. Tip: Always fish until the end of the day; you might get a surprise. I finished the day with 82.5” and was content with what I had done. Sitting in 51st place out of 461 anglers, I was completely awestruck and surprised with the final results of day 1. I had no expectation of finishing that well, and all of a sudden, I put myself in a serious position to make a run at cashing a check.

Day 2 immediately brought back the nerves and anxiety of competition. I went from not sure what would happen with next to zero confidence to being a real threat in finishing in a respectable position. I decided to go to my original spot from day 1 and see if I could squeeze another limit from the area. This proved to be a questionable call, as I tried to work the same pattern. The weather had changed, and the sun went away. I was able to catch a 13.5” fish around 7:30 am, but the bite had definitely slowed down or changed. Fear and anxiety started to set in as I knew I needed to get a limit to keep my head above water in this thing.

Around 8:30 I was becoming frustrated and panicked. I could not get out of my own head, and nothing seemed to be going right. My lines were tangling, and everything was going wrong. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As one of my lures, not the technique I was focused on, was askew, I pitched it out a few feet so that I could bring it up to myself to adjust it. As I was bringing it to the front of my kayak and starting to lift it out of the water, BAM, a fish slammed it topwater, and I procured my second fish of the day. Startled from the experience, a light bulb went off in my head. I needed to try this technique to see if something had changed for the fish. Within ten minutes, I had a 12.5” fish on the board. It wasn’t a change but brought me closer to a limit.

I continued to work this new technique for the remainder of the day. By 11:35 I pieced together a small limit. I knew that I needed to keep fishing and try to extend my limit. I didn’t have much, but at least I didn’t blank. Hours passed, and the new bite had completely shut down too. I was happy that I found a limit but started to become distracted. I was floating by some turtles and decided to snap a quick pic and sent them to my bud Jeremy Crowe. Immediately he thanked me for the turtle pic but promptly scolded me to get back to fishing. Re-focusing and remembering the last minute fish from day 1, I proceeded to put my head down and grind out the rest of the day. In true last minute fashion, I was able to find two more fish at 2:00 and 2:20. Both of these fish culled some smaller ones on my stringer. They weren’t record breaks, but in a 3-day tournament, every inch counts. The last fish at 2:20 was by biggest of the day at 16.5”.

I finished day 2 with 73.75”. I was exhilarated that I was able to adjust my plan and find a limit of fish; however, I knew I left a lot on the lake by dropping 10” from my previous day’s score. The big worry was if it was enough to make the cut. On day 3, only the top 100 would be competing to try and win or place in the money. I was very worried that I had not done enough to keep my spot in the top 100. There was an immense amount of anticipation and the check-in presentation that evening seemed to take forever. They randomly read the names of the top 100 who made the cut, and it seemed like the list went on forever. Finally, like waiting awkwardly for your food to be ready at the walk up counter in a restaurant, I heard my name across the loudspeaker. I had dropped 20 spots in the standings, sliding from 51st to 71st. This is based on adding day 1 and day 2 together. I wasn’t pleased that I had lost ground, 47 spots paid, but I knew I was still within striking distance if I could go to work on day 3. Ultimately making it do day 3 was amazing, but I couldn’t let myself enjoy it just yet–there was more work to do.

 

On day 3, I knew I had to change my spot. The weather was taking a turn for the worse throughout the day, and the bite could potentially be the hardest. I decided to push past my original spot and work some brand new areas. I knew it was a risky play, but I didn’t feel like my first spot had regenerated after taking a beating from the first two days plus some random bass boats. I also changed up my technique to see if I could trigger a bigger bite. At 7:20 in morning, this seemed to be a brilliant idea. I caught a 17.25” shortly after starting to fish. Within another 15-20 minutes, I lost a 13-14” grade fish at the side of the kayak. After that, the bite shut off for my newfound technique. Almost three hours later, frustrated and again letting panic grow inside, I went back to the accident technique. Within a 10 minute period, immediately going back to this technique, back to back 15” and 17.5” fish. This was a major rejuvenation.

By 11:40, I had filled my limit of 5 fish and 15 for the tournament total. This was an overwhelming feeling of relief and accomplishment. No matter how it shook out, I had filled a limit each day, made the cut for day 3, and I left everything out on the water. I was able to calm down and search for some fish to cull. Normally this would be stuff of nightmares–que the missed fish story: I had a huge swirl on my bait. The pause, reel down, hook set, giant pull, and glance down in the water, and all I saw is a giant mouth open and my bait pop out. Emotionally crushing and very discouraging, that was the tank I needed to secure my position in the money. I shook it off and kept fishing. Based on the past two days, I had one more bite left in the day.

At this point, I had worked my new area over pretty well. I decided to run back to my original spot. I wanted to fish it one more time in hopes to catch something that culled, enjoy the spot that got me to the top 100, and say goodbye to the area that led me to the position I was in. The area was pleased to see me and immediately produced a 17.25” around 1:45. I was on cloud nine. At that point, I felt like I did everything I could do, and we would have to see where the chips fell. I ended the day with 82.25”.

After doing everything I could for the day, all I could do was go back to check-in and wait for the results. Walking around and chatting with everyone, trying to gauge if everyone had good days or bad, there was a lot of anticipation leading up to the results. I had no idea where I stood, and I kept flip flopping on being confident or getting the sinking feeling that I was just outside of the money. I was chatting with Peejay Deluca when they started the results announcements. Chad Hoover was on the speaker system, and all I heard was, “In 47th place with two hundred thirty something inches…..” Peejay looked at me and asked if I was in. I had no idea; I never added my three day total together. I could only remember what I had that day. Peejay stared at me in disbelief because I usually have all the numbers and scenarios worked out ahead of time. My heart started pounding, and then I heard my name called. I had finished in the money in the highest level of competition in Kayak Bass Fishing.

After it was all said and done, I finished 45th out of 461 anglers with 238.5” for the 3-day grind. I was astounded and extremely proud of my accomplishment. I didn’t win the big show, but after our pre-fishing, I was going to be happy catching just one fish, but instead I was able to turn a limit into two limits and participate in the top 100 on day 3. A 45th place finish put me in the top 9% of the anglers who fished this tournament–A National Championship that you have to qualify for. This is not a feat I will take lightly, and I will remember it for a long time. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of my first KBF National Championship.

– Kenneth Morris

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