Central VA provided some of the prettiest scenery of the entire trail
The day before, Mary May and I loaded up the Escape and headed for Virginia. I wanted to take a look at a few different rivers, because only a few days before most flows looked like chocolate milk and were running at unsafe levels. However, they were dropping nicely and some rivers looked pretty good. With a little help (special thanks to Appalachian Bronzeback), we settled on a tributary to the James River. Mary May and I met up with Bill and his girlfriend Misty at the pre-tournament meeting. The Roanoke Rec. Center was a great location and all sorts of folks were there. As usual, Drew Gregory headed up the meeting. Chad Hoover, the head honcho for KayakBassFishing.com, HOOK1, Wilderness Systems, etc., was there to talk and hand out goodies. Coincidentally, I got my card pulled in the very first door prize raffle and was hoping that it didn't use up all my luck for fishing the next day. The crowd was a mix of locals, regional anglers, and the usual suspects.
After the meeting the 4 of us headed to get some food and check-in at our hotel, which was about an hour away. It wasn't the fanciest place (in fact I am sure Mary May and Misty had a few very different adjectives), but it did the trick for the night. Bill and I went through the usual routine - check our lines, sharpen hooks, tie on new baits, and prep gear for the next day. Then we hit the sack. I probably got 2 hours of total sleep, which is about average for me the night before tournaments. It didn't take long before we were headed for the river. We got to our launch spot, loaded the yaks, and were on our way.
These start of the day pictures always look darker than it really is.
We started with topwater baits and both landed fish within the first 10 minutes of the day. However, they were both small and we were immediately worried about the quality of fish in this river. After landing a few more small fish in the first major rapid, I had a nicer fish (13"-14") swing and miss a Lucky Craft Gunfish. We started working downstream through an area I would rather have fished in the afternoon, but since we were doing a 5 mile float, we didn't have much of a choice. Small fish were abundant to say the least. Finally we came upon an eddy that looked unbelievable. But even there, we could only manage a couple short fish and one 12.5" smallie. This hole also stole my sunglasses, which was not the way I wanted to start the day.
We kept fishing through water that looked productive and indeed it was loaded with fish under 11". I just kept thinking that with the cooler temperatures it was a better afternoon spot, but that thought also gave me hope that the bite would pick up as the day went on. But, my luck was not changing. I had a 13" smallie come unbuttoned just as I lifted him from the water and another over 12" flop out of my hand and get lodged head first in one of my scupper holes. As I tried to grab his tail he got startled and squirmed his way through the hole and back into the river. At this point I was in partial disbelief and was just hoping I could catch a break.
We were getting tired of catching fish this size.
We floated a long way, admiring some gorgeous scenery and fishing some nice looking areas. However, we just couldn't buy a bite from bigger fish. Finally, we kind of started to put together the pattern. The better fish were in the channel. They weren't in the usual holes such as eddies, rock ledges, downed logs, etc. These fished were camped out in the channel chowing. However, this made them tough to target, because they were spread out and not pegged to visible structure.
Finally, I threw my plastic worm toward a stump in the middle of the river. I worked it off the stump and then just let it sit for about 20 seconds. As I moved it, a big smallie inhaled it and it was game on! The fish fought like crazy - jumping, spinning my kayak, and just generally putting up a battle. Finally, the 17.25" brute came to hand and my Gamakatsu worm hook was squarely lodged in his mouth. It was a nice upgrade - now I just needed two more!
Finally - a big gal decided to bite!
We worked the lower stretches of the river and its confluence with the James, but still couldn't manage any larger fish. So, we decided to roll the dice and try to find a spot or two on the James to fish. We found an area with very difficult access, but made our way down the bank. As we saw the water, we immediately looked at each other in disbelief. It was a spot where a tournament could have been won. In fact, it was a spot that might have produced a few really big fish, but it was impossible to fish thoroughly without the yaks, which we had left behind.
On my first cast I threw my Spro Little John MD crankbait in an eddy along some rocks. I saw the line get hung up on one of the hooks and was about ready to retrieve it when suddenly, a big smallie jetted from the depths and swiped at the bait. But the fish never actually hit it and immediately went back down. I reeled in the bait, fixed the line, and threw it back out. Two cranks later I felt a bite and was initially very exicted, but after a few more cranks I realized the fish was not the big smallie. However, the 12" fish would help my limit. I landed one more small fish in this spot before we decided to call it a day. I think both of us felt a little regret that we hadn't fished that area initially, but there is always next year!
This was a gorgeous, dark smallie
I had 40.5" of bass with my biggest being 17.25". As a team, Bill and I had 54.5". We knew we would need some serious luck to finish on top. We got to the weigh in and got to visit with a lot of the competitors. We also got some sweet baits and a DVD from kayak fishing pro Jeff Little and his company Confidence Baits.
When it was all said and done, my total was good enough for 3rd on the day. Tim Perkins of Alabama took home first place with a total of 49.25". His brother Greg was second and Bill finished in 4th. As a team, the Perkins brothers also took 1st, Bill and I took 2nd, and the local duo of Metheny and Davis were 3rd. Tim also happened to be in 1st place in the AOY competition coming into the event so his top finish secured his win as RiverBasser of the Year. I got to talk to Tim quite a bit in Roanoke and came away very impressed - he was a very deserving winner. He is a great competitor, angler, and individual. In fact, we both have a focus on promoting the sport we love and getting kids involved, which was great to talk about. I hope to get on the water with Tim sometime in the fairly near future.
My finish helped me secure the runner-up position in the AOY competition, ahead of a group of incredibly talented anglers. I was really happy to come away with that finish in one of the top kayak fishing tournament trails in the country. But, even more excitement was on the way - our team finish helped us secure 1st place as the RiverBassin Team of the Year. Our main goal was to win team of the year and we did it - never finishing lower than 2nd place. Bill and I have become great friends this year and I can't thank him enough for joining me on the water. Check out the RiverBassin Recap here and final AOY & TOY standings here. There should also be an article out soon in Kayak Fishing Magazine.
Overall, the trail had 12 tournaments in 10 states. It brought in 183 anglers from 21 different states, 68 teams, and over 6000 inches of caught and released river bass. Not only was this group of anglers extremely talented on the water, the RiverBassin community is hands down the nicest group of guys and gals I have ever met. If you love to bass fish on rivers, streams, creeks, and other flowing bodies of water, check out RiverBassin.com and I guarantee you will love it!
This tournament will almost wrap up my tournament calendar for the year. I was able to meet a lot of my goals this year and over the past two years I have shown I can compete with anyone in rivers and lakes across the country. However, this year also got me thinking about why I love to fish and it is making me consider an early retirement from tournament angling. However, I don't want to pull an MJ and try to go out on top only to come back time and time again. But, next year I think I have another goal that only 1 person (to the best of my knowledge) has been able to complete from a kayak. I am going to keep you in the dark on that one.
Before I forget, a huge thanks to Mary May, Bill, Brett Hinson, Drew Gregory, the RiverBassin Trail crew, my parents, and everyone else who helped make everything possible for me this year. I couldn't ask for a better girlfriend, who has supported me through some serious ups and downs this year. When it seemed like the walls were caving in on my dreams you helped motivate me and rise above it - I love you so much! Bill you already know how much I appreciate you joining me this year. Getting on the water with you is always fun and I think we learn a lot from each other - definitely a life long friendship. Brett, you make some incredible rods and it is an honor to be on the Carolina Custom Rods pro-staff. Again - thanks to everyone!
So, I did mention "almost" wraps up my tournament season. I have two events left - one of which I am fishing and one of which I am hosting. On October 1st I am returning the favor to Bill and joining him for the Southern Open Championship Trail event on High Rock Lake....yes, this is an event I will be fishing from a bass boat. However, I think I am going to where my Jackson Kayak shirt to the weigh-in! Actually, I am really looking forward to it as it should be a fun day and good test, since a number of BASS Elite Series Pros, FLW Pros, BFL Pros, and others will be competing.
The second event is the Froggy Waters Outdoors Freshwater Slam to be held October 15th in Bahama, NC. This event is aimed at getting youth involved in the outdoors and also providing a friendly competition. Proceeds benefit the Schoolhouse of Wonder - an awesome non-profit who does wonders for getting youth involved outdoors. The grand prize is a Jackson Coosa Elite kayak and the prize list is unbelievable for this event (check it out at www.froggywaters.com). It also includes guided kayak fishing trips with some of the top guides for musky, stripers, and trophy bass! Best of all, Get:Outdoors is allowing us to provide free kayak or canoe rentals to anyone who needs one! If you have any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Well, I'll either be chasing giant bass or working on my dance moves.
In the mean time, it is time to try and put a few more 5+ lb fish in the yak...and in Mary May's yak too. I also have a couple more exciting things happening in the near future, which I will unveil shortly. Until then...tight lines!