In the ancient history of kayak fishing (about 10 years ago) a new species of hominid climbed out of the primordial ooze: the kayak tournament pro. As soon as the first modern paddle anglers hit the water they started to compete in meet-up tournaments.

Local events evolved into huge regional festivals and eventually online and multiple-tournament series emerged to fuel their competitive nature. Always at the forefront, kayak anglers were first to embrace catch-photo-release and app-based competitions.

Today, events are popping up from coast to coast and the biggest tournaments are growing faster than ever. Still, the growth spurt hasn’t spoiled the fun. Kayak fishing tournaments usually favor comradery over competition and the average pro is just a regular Joe or Jane taking a long weekend from work.

Kayak Angler Magazine’s Tournament Anglers Of The Year

We asked fans of some of the biggest tournament series to nominate an outstanding competitor with an impressive resume and an unbelievable fish story. In the next five pages, you’ll meet Kayak Angler magazine’s tournament anglers of the year.

San Diego, California

Chang Gang

On the SoCal scene, Derwin Chang and sons dominate the leaderboard

Derwin Chang started fishing as a kid in Hawaii. “I would use a cane pole and fish from the bank,” he remembers. When Chang moved to Southern California in the early 1980s, he took advantage of every pier, jetty and party boat. The same time he discovered kayak fishing, he discovered kayak fishing tournaments. “I bought my first kayak and fished a tournament the next weekend,” he laughs.

Since then, Chang has become a legend in local events. Kayak Angler contributor Paul Lebowitz nominated Chang for this profile. “Derwin is super competitive and the friendliest guy you will meet,” Lebowitz starts. He points out Chang fishes both freshwater and salt, often accompanied by his sons. “It isn’t unusual for more than one of the Chang gang to place in a tournament.”

Chang’s First Year Of Competition

Chang won the San Diego Bay Bass Open kayak division. “Everything came together,” he recalls. During pre-fishing, he found quality bay bass, but the spot was far from the launch.

“I checked tide and wind and the conditions were in my favor” he says. On game day, Chang made the paddle and caught the winning fish. “I realized my hard work was paying off.”

His biggest victory was the Battle of the Bays in Mission Bay. Once again, he committed to going the distance to find the biggest bass. “I knew I would have to leave the harbor and fish the outer reef,” he recalls.

With Neptune in his corner, he found the fish in 100 feet of water. “I took first place and won a Hobie i11 in the raffle,” he says.

Chang has often had skill and luck on his side. Lebowitz winks, “Derwin’s so nice, when he wins your money, you’ll thank him for it. Then he’ll buy a bunch of raffle tickets and make off like a bandit,” Lebowitz laughs, “He’s lucky and good.”

Chang’s Pet Peeve

In his time on the tournament trail, one thing still disappoints Chang, “I can’t believe how many anglers don’t wear PFDs.” Chang once saw a kayaker tossed into the Mission Bay jetty by a huge roller. “Harbor patrol had to rescue him, luckily he was wearing a PFD.” Chang would like to see PFD use mandated by law. “I know the benefit of wearing one,” he testifies.

Chang has also seen his share of controversy. Currently, he’s concerned with anglers using live wells to cull fish. “It’s hard on the fish and the angler,” he points out. Not only does the angler have to paddle or pedal with gallons of water on the boat, but the fish will inevitably suffer during captivity. “I’m all for CPR with phone-based tournament apps,” he says.

What Does Chang See For The Future Of Kayak Fishing?

As the sport develops, Chang expects more anglers to turn to motorized kayaks. The advantage is undeniable; Chang expects tournaments will have to create separate divisions or spin off motorized kayak events. “I see a push for motorized-only tournaments or divisions.”

For first time tournament hopefuls, Chang stresses the value of preparation. “Prefish, prefish, prefish,” he urges. Reminding anglers to try new baits or locations prior to tournament day, he adds, “And check weather and tide conditions before heading out.”

Chang encourages his closest competitors to share knowledge with the next generation. He explains, “You’ll make new fishing friendships and be respected by your peers.”

Career Highlights

2019 SCKA Opener Lower Otay Lakes, 1st

2018 Hookup Baits fishing tournament, kayak division, 1st

2018 Tidelands Toys for Tots, 1st

2018 CCAC Battle of the Bays, Santa Monica, 3rd

2017 CCAC Battle of the Bays, Mission Bay, 1st

2017 CCAC Battle of the Bays, Santa Monica Bay, 2nd

2011 KFA X-Mas Toy Drive, 1st

2010 Chula Vista Yacht club kayak fishing tournament, 1st

2010 MBA #4 Mission Bay, 1st

2010 MBA #5 Dana Point, 1st

2008 San Diego Open Bay Bass Tournament, kayak division, 1st

Pekin, Illinois

Girl Power

Nothing can keep Susie Roloff off the water or the leaderboard

Susie Roloff grew up covered in mid-western mud and creek water. “I would have been considered a Tom boy, but it never bothered me,” she laughs. In her teen years, a struggle with asthma kept Susie off the water, but once she got the condition under control, she jumped into fishing with both feet.

After taking a job at an outdoor education facility in Maine, Roloff became immersed in the outdoors. Then spinal problems made it impossible to work outdoors and she was sidelined, again. In 2011, a friend gave Roloff a small sit-inside kayak allowing her to return to fishing. “I didn’t know kayaking was going to affect the rest of my life,” she marvels.

Love At First Fish

When Roloff met her future husband, Adam, it was fishing love at first sight. Roloff says, “If it wasn’t for Adam, I wouldn’t have my addiction, passion and tournament career.” The couple went to a local outdoors show and saw a Hobie MirageDrive for the first time. “I knew I had to have one immediately.” In a few months, Roloff purchased a new pedal kayak.

While she was picking up her new kayak, Roloff also grabbed a flier for a local Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Series tournament. Intrigued with the social aspect of the sport, she fished the event. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she laughs. Roloff only caught one fish, but her first taste had her hungry for more. “What I remember most is how I was treated, with respect, not criticized.”

Joining GLKFS

After her first event, Roloff joined GLKFS. “The tournaments weren’t overly competitive, GLKFS is aimed at bringing new anglers to the sport,” she remembers. During one of the GLKFS event, an angler was killed when rough weather threw him into the 50-degree water. “The experience was a valuable lesson on preparing for an emergency,” she recalls.

After a season on the GLKFS, Roloff decided to up the ante by joining the more competitive Kayak Bass League. “I was hooked on the community, comradery and passion everyone shared,” she says.

Then adds, “Working as a volunteer helping organize KBL and GLKFS events, I sometimes have to deal with controversy, criticism and some very negative and rude people.”

Moving On Up

Roloff’s KBL experience led her to the big leagues. “I qualified for the 2017 Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship, so of course I said yes.”

Roloff placed eleventh on the strength of her personal-best bass, a solid 22-incher. “I had beaten some of the best anglers in the nation,” she celebrates. The confidence Roloff gained from her first KBFNC set her on a path to becoming a tournament pro.

Alan Wiedmeyer, Kayak Bass League president, nominated Roloff for this feature. “She has been with KBL since we started,” he says. But it’s Roloff’s eleventh-place finish in the KBF National Championship that garners the most respect among her peers. “No other woman has placed as high,” Wiedmeyer points out.

In 2018, Roloff again fished the trail, had great success and qualified for the KBFNC. Facing tough conditions and twice as many of the nation’s best competitors, Roloff was happy to finish solidly in the middle of the pack.

After her early success, Roloff took a look at her mission in the sport. “I want more women of any shape, size or race to get involved,” she says. Roloff has struggled with her own self-image. “Fish don’t care what you look like,” she laughs.

This year, Roloff will travel to more tournaments and compete in more series. “I’ll continue to put my skills and knowledge to the test,” she insists, adding, “The idea is to learn more and become a better angler.”

Sponsors

Excalibur Seasonings and Kistler Rods Ladies Team Member.

Career Highlights

KBFNC, 11th

KBL April Midwest Bass Battle, 7th

KBF IL State Challenge April, 10th

KBF IL State Challenge July, 3rd

KBL Banner Marsh, 3rd

Fish like a girl May, 5th

KBF IL State Challenge May, 10th

KBL Midwest Bass Battle July, 5th

Fish like a Girl July, 2nd

KBF IL State Challenge July, 4th

KBL Southern Open, 8th

GLKFS Madison, 9th

SIKC Sangchris, 6th

GLKFS Round Lake, 10th

man holding redfish from his kayak
Dave Jaskiewicz has figured out how to turn redfish into gold. |Photo: Josh Yeater
Dave Jaskiewicz (right).

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

JERSEY BOY

Garden State native Dave Jaskiewicz finds redfish glory south of the border

Growing up in South Jersey, Dave Jaskiewicz spent his youth chasing striped bass, weakfish and fluke in the dark, saline waters of Delaware Bay. He adds, “In between, I fished golf course ponds with my friends”.

Moving to Charleston, South Carolina to pursue a career as a construction engineer was like dropping a duck in water. He remembers, “Fishing the back water in my kayak was perfect stress relief.”

A self-described competitive person, Jaskiewicz soon fell under the spell of the tournament wizard. His first event was a club tournament targeting land-locked striped bass. “I was so excited, I had never fished for striper before.”

Jaskiewicz built a live well and loaded it with blue back herring. “When I got to the lake my bait was dead,” he cries. Even though Jaskiewicz only caught one bass and placed low in the standings, he was hooked on tournament fishing.

Jaskiewicz’ Fishing Career

Jaskiewicz’ has been fishing competitively for 20 years, 13 years from a kayak, but his first big win came at the Charleston stop of the 2010 Inshore Fishing Association tournament series. “It was the first year the tournament opened to kayak anglers,” Jaskiewicz adds.

He was excited to fish his home waters against some of the best anglers in the country, but there was one problem, Jaskiewicz’s wife was pregnant with his first daughter. “My amazing wife gave me permission and I ended up winning the tournament,” he laughs.

He also won a Hobie Pro Angler. “I got my dream kayak and it’s been a great match ever since,” Jaskiewicz says. In addition to riding his PA to victories and Angler of the Year awards, Jaskiewicz has traveled to China to compete in the 2015 Hobie Worlds.

At the Worlds, only five guys caught qualifying fish, but Jaskiewicz makes the best of it. “I tell people I tied for sixth place,” he winks, then admits 43 anglers tied for sixth.

After 20 years of tournament experience, Jaskiewicz has seen the good, bad and ugly. While the number of tournaments has grown, he cites one problem, “It’s hard to choose which one to fish.”

Despite the rapid rise, Jaskiewicz points out technology keeps the competition fair. “It’s like golf, you have to call a stroke on yourself,” he admits.

He recommends new anglers stick to what they know then slow down and fish their own game. “And be ready to change with the conditions,” Jaskiewicz adds. His best advice, “Be careful what you eat at the captain’s meeting, some of the food should be left alone!”

For Jaskiewicz, the biggest win is sharing unforgettable experiences with friends. “One of my favorite memories came during a local club event,” he recalls. Jaskiewicz’ friend was fishing his last tournament before moving across the country. “We spent the day catching decent reds along the marsh.”

As the tournament clock ticked down, the guys spotted movement on a large flat. “We pedaled closer and saw two giant redfish cruising just under the surface.” Each angler cast and in seconds both were hooked up. The big reds landed Jaskiewicz in second place and his friend in first. “I couldn’t have been happier to share the experience on our last trip,” Jaskiewicz says.

Sponsors

Hobie and Time Out Sport and Ski

Career Highlights

Six-time IFA Kayak Tournament Winner

Three-time IFA Divisional Angler of the Year

Hobie Fishing Worlds Qualifier 2015

Low Country Kayak Angler – Angler of The Year

FT. Lauderdale, Florida

Call Him Junior

Screen name sticks as John McKroid sets tournament records

John McKroid’s path to fishing glory was interrupted by life. As a kid, McKroid started his professional career as a pinhead on a southern California headboat. “I got to fish for free if I helped wash the boat,” he looks back. McKroid recalls youthful afternoons in the backyard practice casting a conventional reel. “I didn’t want to look like a novice with a spinning rod,” he laughs.

Through his teenage years, McKroid quickly moved up the ranks to deckhand before dropping out of the charter business to go to college. He graduated as a merchant mariner eventually earning a captain’s license and traveling the world on cargo ships. Fishing took a back burner, reserved for special trips a few times a year.

When McKroid moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and his kids left for college, he bought a fishing kayak and pulled his old rods out of storage. “My Florida fishing experience was zero,” he jokes, admitting the last few years have been a rollercoaster ride on the learning curve.

Using Social Media

To learn more about local fishing, McKroid took to social media and message boards with a screen name John McKroid Jr. “McKroid Jr. is not my name,” he laughs. He picked up the nickname as a young buck on the SOCal headboat fleet. When McKroid returned to fishing he created social media profiles using the pseudonym. Now he avoids using his real name.

Not long after his rebirth, McKroid fell into the tournament scene. “In my first Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament I won the trashcan slam with a 25-pound barracuda,” he remembers.

It didn’t take long for McKroid to graduate from booby prize to winner’s circle. His biggest victory occurred during the 2017 EKFT Summer Slam 2. McKroid recalls the day started slow, with equipment failures burning hours of tournament time. He cringes to recall, “I listened on my VHF as other competitors caught blackfin, wahoo and king mackerel.”

It didn’t take long for McKroid to score a big king mackerel and reignite his confidence. “I knew I would need to weigh another fish to get on the podium,” he says. A few minutes later, he scored a chunky blackfin on his vertical jig.

Never Stop Working Hard

Now, comfortably in the running, McKroid turned on the heat. “I didn’t have time to explore another area, so I continued to beat the water hoping for another shot.” The fishfinder was alight with big marks, but he couldn’t buy a bite.

With time running out, McKroid got a strike on his deep bait. “It felt like a big shark,” he says. Sharks are not eligible in the tournament. “I leaned hard on the rod, hoping to feel the headshake of a wahoo or tuna, but it felt like I was hooked to the bottom.”

McKroid chased the beast from 240 to 340 feet of water, all the time slowly retrieving line. “When the fish was 60 feet below the boat, I saw stripes and got very emotional,” he chokes. Then the fish quit fighting and floated belly up. “What a feeling, it was the largest wahoo I’d ever seen.”

But the fight wasn’t over. After registering the fish with the help boat, McKroid started the 40-minute pedal back to the beach. “I would only have 10 minutes to spare,” he points out. On the way, his legs cramped. He resorted to pedaling with his hands until the cramps subsided. “I made it to the weigh-in just in time.”

McKroid’s 71-pound wahoo was the largest fish landed in EKFT. His three fish stringer of blackfin, king mackerel and wahoo totaled 101 pounds, the heaviest in tournament history.

EKFT director Joe Hector nominated McKroid for more than his record-setting catch. “He shattered the largest fish and largest stringer record,” Hector starts. But the director is also impressed with McKroid’s commitment to other anglers in the competition. Hector continues, “He is always willing to answer questions and even help other anglers surf launch.”

Hector points to John McKroid’s persistence as his most competitive quality. “The more events you fish, the better chance you have at winning,” Hector points out. McKroid’s experience over the past four years has pushed him to the head of the pack of offshore anglers, exactly where he left off as a teenager.

Career Highlights

First Place South Florida Kayak Fishing Club online tournament

Extreme Kayak Fishing Summer Slam Champion Ring

Three-time Kingfish Calcuttas

Largest wahoo record

Largest one-day weight record

Team

Proyaker, Berleypro, Leg Luggage, Adrenaline Custom Fishing Rods, Hobie Fishing Team, AFTCO, Nautical Ventures Super Store

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Curiosity Collector

Online tournament wizard Adam Castle specializes in strange fish

Adam Castle discovered kayak fishing by accident. “I rented a canoe and this guy paddles by on a well-outfitted fishing kayak,” he says. Never one to waste time, Castle went home and bought a fishing kayak. “The first year, I used the kayak more than my power-boat,” he laughs. So, he sold the stink pot and outfitted his whole family with fishing kayaks. “Never looked back,” Castle chuckles.

Castle’s first fishing tournament was in 2014 on Lake Conway in Arkansas. He laughs, “I didn’t catch anything.” Bad luck didn’t discourage Castle, he soon discovered a special talent. “Turns out I have a knack for catching odd fish.”

Like many anglers, Adam Castle started out targeting largemouth. “One summer, I figured out how to catch gar on a jerkbait,” he recalls.

Excited by the prospect of landing big fish on light tackle, he expanded his menu to include freshwater drum, pickerel and paddlefish. He admits, “Bowfin are my favorite, because they fight so hard.”

Starting A Trash Fish Tournament

Since he discovered the treasure trove of trash fish, Castle has spread the love. He’s even started an annual pickerel tournament. “People were slow to get on,” he admits, but this year the event grew to 25 hearty souls. “I can catch 100 pickerel in a day,” he brags. At the last tournament he scored 42 fish. “In the end, it’s all about the tug.”

On the online tournament trail, Castle’s diversity paid off with wins. Of the 25 species he checked off last year, 19 qualified for Kayak Wars. He’s scored a total of 27 different species in the online competition including regional records for freshwater drum, sauger, carp and hickory shad.

His penchant for the weird and ugly has thrown Castle into personal conflict. While fishing a local bass tournament, he hooked a giant gar on his light rod and jerk bait. The fight took 45 precious minutes, but Castle ended up landing a 57-inch gar, his personal best.

Tournament Winner

Not that Castle can’t catch a bass. He won that local tournament as well as a live tournament in the Little Maumell River, where he beat 27 anglers and scored the largest bass.

Castle has scored over 10,000 points in Kayak Wars to jump ahead of almost 400 anglers to win first place in the south-central region.

Castle has seen online competition grow. He worries about distrust among tournament anglers. “When one person gets caught cheating, everyone gets suspicious.” Still, he believes tournaments to be fair, “but we could do some fine tuning.”

For anglers interested in online competition, Castle says the biggest challenge is learning the technology. “Study the slight variations in the tournament rules,” he stresses, one mistake could cost victory. He suggests, “Find an experienced partner to show you the ropes.”

Online tournaments fit in between Castle’s busy work and family time. His penchant for unusual adversaries keeps Castle on the water on his terms. “I can fish when I want, and there’s always someone to fish against.”

Career Highlights

Kayak Wars all-time south-central record catches

Carp 45.00”

Crappie 16.25”

Freshwater Drum 34.00”

Sauger 18.00”

Hickory Shad 17.50”

Walleye 29.00”

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