Kayak Fishing: Beginners Guide To Kayak Tournaments

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Kayak Tournament Beginners Guide

So you want to try kayak tournament fishing? Good news, you're in the right spot!  Read "The Beginners Guide to Kayak Fishing Tournaments" below by Newport Vessels Ambassador and National Kayak Championship competitor,  William Pfingst. This guide will explain in detail; what to expect, how to prepare, and how to get the most fun out of the experience. A lot of guys imagine tournaments to be expensive, with everyone using the brand new gear,  trolling motors , depth finders, and the like. Fortunately, this isn't always the case. Enjoy the read and share it with other new kayak anglers!


Whether you are new to kayak fishing, or an experienced kayak angler looking to test your skills, kayak tournaments are a fun and inexpensive way to spend a weekend. This article will help new and experienced kayak anglers alike, who are contemplating entering their first kayak tournament. As a new competitor, it can be difficult to know what to expect when entering a new event, this article will provide an overview of what you can expect, how you can prepare, what the rules are, and where to start. Kayak angling is becoming more popular each year, as the community of kayak anglers expands, so do the local and national kayak tournaments. Nowadays, kayak tournaments cover freshwater and saltwater species of all kinds. If tournament fishing is something you want to try, do some research, there is probably an event for your preferred style of fishing. For this article, we will focus on Kayak Bass Tournaments.

Getting Started:

Whenever you enter a competition, the first thing you should ask yourself is: what are you trying to get out of it? Is this a fun activity to spice up your favorite hobby? Or something more serious? Setting expectations is essential to having a good first experience. Just a few years ago, I had no idea a kayak bass fishing tournament trail was happening right in my backyard, the Delta Region of Northern California. A buddy of mine invited me, so I went to check things out.

I wasn’t expecting to get hooked on tournament fishing, but thought it might be a good way to learn, and an opportunity to meet more like-minded anglers. When I first started, the tournaments were all about meeting up with the group, pooling some cash, then coming together at the end to see who had won with the best catch. Kayakers are a great community of people, and we’d end the day with an evening of laughs, stories and great food. Soon however, my goals changed, I wanted to compete in more tournaments, my goal was to qualify for the  KBF National Championship  (Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship). This past year, I competed in the 2018 KBF National Championship event in Paris, Tennessee for the grand prize of $100,000. 

Local Competition:

Kayak bass fishing tournaments are easy to find, with new ones popping up all over the country all the time. Look for local groups on Facebook and Instagram, though not all groups promote through social media, a simple Google search can quickly identify local and regional events in your area. If there is not tournament series in your area, an innovative company called KBF (Kayak Bass Fishing) holds online tournaments which allow people to compete against one another in online competitions. These competitions are usually limited to a certain state, but multi-state and overnight events are also held online. This opens up many opportunities, letting you compete and fish at your pleasure, while cutting down on traveling costs often associated with tournaments.

Virtual and in person tournaments alike often use apps for online photo submissions and judging, most groups use these, however some still reserve judging for after the tournament. Most, (if not all) kayak bass tournaments are catch, photo, and release competitions (CPR ); and for good reason, more fisherman means more fish are being taken each year, depleting the reproductive gene pool in our favorite waterways. Catch, photo, release tournaments ensure there will be larger schools and bigger fish year after year. The morning of the tournament, you will be given an identifier to place near your catch pictures, this allows judges to know that fish were caught for this specific event, and helps eliminate cheating. Rules vary from event to event and from state to state, new rules are coming out all the time to combat potential cheaters (kayak anglers are still a small community...don’t be that guy).

Required Equipment:

You may be wondering what to bring to your first tournament, this is an important part of minimizing the stress of your first event. The most important tools you will need while in a kayak tournament are a  PFD  (personal flotation device), your boat, and your rod. Next, you will need  Hawg Trough  to measure your catch. It is important that all raised lines are highlighted with a black felt tip pen for easier judging, as many events will disqualify fish entries without measurement lines clearly marked. I’ll talk more about these later.


Another important consideration for any tournament is what tackle to bring. For this, I recommend bringing what you are comfortable carrying on your boat, it’s all personal preference. Arriving at a location a day early will allow you to pre-fish the area, and can help limit the tackle you need to bring. Pre-fishing an area doesn’t always help as conditions can change drastically overnight, driving fish to deeper or shallower water. Bass are not creatures of habit and can change feeding habits quickly as seasons and available prey changes, so what worked a few days ago might not cut it the day of the event. One lesson I learned early is to come prepared, and limit your tackle the morning of. I would rather have more than needed than not enough, but you’ll only catch fish if your line is in the water, so the temptation to find the perfect lure may hurt your chances at success.

Rod Choice:

Your choice of rods, and number of rods all comes down to how you fish. I have fished tournaments with anywhere two rods all the way to eight. Although you may be laughing at the thought of this, asking yourself “EIGHT RODS! REALLY?” The answer is yes, it all goes back to preparing for the conditions. Some days you have no idea what you are going to do or how the fish will behave, on these days, bringing more gear is a way to cover all your bases. After a few tournaments, you will get comfortable and understand what works best for you and your style of fishing.

Optional Equipment:

for landing your catch. A net is not something everyone uses, however, it’s a good habit to get into. Many of tournaments have been lost by trying to grab the lip of a bass...the hook shakes and your biggest catch of the day disappears under your yak with a flick of its tail. As sportsmen and women, it is our responsibility to care for the waterways we use, this includes treating the flora and fauna with respect. This is another great reason to use a net, it puts a lot less stress on the fish; allowing the bass to rest in the water instead of flopping on the dry deck of your kayak while you get ready to take a photo of the fish. Letting your catch rest in the water allows the fish to continue to breathe, this will keep the fish calmer as you snap a picture of your trophy. I highly recommend a rubber coated net, these won’t waste your time trying to dig barbed hooks free of the nylon.

Another item which can improve your performance in tournaments is a trolling motor. This is a new rule change for kayak fishing tournaments, as motors have only been allowed very recently. Fortunately, this means there aren’t many competitors who have made the investment yet, making it a great way to gain an advantage. I find trolling motors useful by saving energy paddling, they save time changing lure setup while moving between fishing spots, let you correct your position without awkwardly juggling your paddle and rod, and let you hold your position in slight currents or winds. The shallow hull profile of kayaks allows us to reach shallow waters near shore, weeds, and other places bigger boats would never dare to venture, allowing us kayak anglers to get right on top of the fish. This means that every cast counts, and the more you cast, the more chances you have of reeling in a podium-worthy lunker. Trolling motors such as the Kayak Series that are specifically designed for use with kayaks, are ideal for this. The Newport Vessels Kayak Series is offered with 

While some items may be worth bringing, but others might be better left at home. A fish finder can be a helpful tool when used correctly, they work great for some anglers. These devices allow you to mark waypoints such as vegetation, holes, ledges, and holding structure for bass. But for some of us, fish finders can be a negative, you spend half your day just staring at the screen and not looking for the obvious clues above the water. Experienced anglers often would rather trust their instincts, and sometimes it’s best to leave the gadgets at home. Don’t become too obsessed on gaining a technical advantage, it can make you forget your years of experience as an angler! Whatever gear you select is entirely based on your personal preference and fishing style, however I recommend not making any big changes on tournament day, stay focused on what you know, and what you do well.

Hawg Trough Tips:

A few tips for using a Hawg Trough, practice, practice, practice... Just like the pros, you’ll have fish get free and flop back into the water, it’s frustrating but part of the game. Don’t let it ruin your day, focus on the next fish, and how to control it better the next time. One important thing to note is to ALWAYS dip your Hawg Trough in the water before placing the fish on it. The water will cool off the surface, so the fish doesn’t begin to panic and flop on the hot, sun soaked plastic. Keeping things comfortable for the bass, and your photo. There are some basic guidelines when first photographing fish on a Hawg Trough.

  1. The fish should have its mouth closed, points can and will be deducted in most cases.
  2. Keep hands free from gill plates.
  3. Make sure the fishes eye is visible.
  4. Make sure to have identifier clearly identifiable in picture. Do not place the identifier directly on top of fish. I like to keep the identifier on my left wrist so it’s near the fish when I’m holding it still. This is not necessary as long as the identifier is visible in the frame.

Check  here  for more tips and videos on using Hawg Troughs.

Personal Preparation:

When preparing for a tournament, don’t forget to take care of yourself. This may sound like common sense, but the excitement of an event makes it easy to forget your route. You won’t have fun if you end up getting sunburned, eaten alive by mosquitos, or have a grumbling stomach all day. Remember to stay hydrated, bring enough snacks, and a trash bag for opened wrappers. I always bring a water bottle, an electrolyte sports drink, and a jar of peanut butter to keep me fueled and whipping casts all day long. Getting a headache on the water from low blood sugar will quickly take the fun out of the experience.


Well there you have it, hopefully the idea of entering a 'yak tournament isn’t nearly so intimidating now! Have fun trying to sleep the night before, I still struggle to sleep even after years and numerous tournaments! I toss and turn all night before an event! Be sure to eat something the morning of, it helps calm your nerves and focus your energy on the day ahead. Always give yourself plenty of time to unload and setup your gear, check in at event registration, and find parking. Doing this is a simple way to make sure you are not rushed and distracted as you prepare your boat for a day long tournament. With most tournaments, you are permitted to start fishing at safe light, and allow you to fish for six to eight hours before you have to check in at the end of the day. If for any reason, you leave a tournament early, always notify tournament organizers! Otherwise a search party will be sent out fearing the worst!

Last, it’s important to note that if you don’t have the latest and greatest kayak or gear, that’s okay. The coolest looking stuff doesn’t help you catch fish, just enjoy yourself and remember why you are there, whether it’s to have fun, to learn, meet new people, or start a career! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get to know your fellow competitors, kayak anglers are a special breed and they love helping a new guy get hooked! Be humble, be curious, learn a lot, and have fun.

I hope this has been a helpful guide and if you have any questions please feel free to ask the Newport Vessels Ambassador Team

Tight lines,

William Pfingst



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