“It was the biggest stage at any kayak fishing tournament,” marveled Clint Henderson, winner of the 2019 Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) world championship.
The stage at the award show was extra-large because KBF was sharing it with the winners of Fishing League Worldwide’s (FLW) bass boat world championship. The FLW pros brought TV cameras, spotlights, drama and the glitz accompanying an elite tournament award ceremony. The KBF participants brought energy and
enthusiasm. It was the first time the two world championships were held in conjunction.
Kayak anglers competed on Lake Ouachita and the bass boat pros fished Lake Hamilton. Afterward both sides gathered in front of thousands of fishing fans for an awards blowout at the Hot Springs Convention Center.
“Standing on the same stage as the FLW pros, it was pretty neat,” Henderson remembers. The Rome, Georgia, angler was shell shocked, “The lights and smoke were cool.” Henderson estimates he held 10 media interviews after his big win.
To win the big event, Henderson caught, photographed and released more than 157 combined inches of largemouth bass to beat out 71 other anglers. He was followed by second-place finisher Dwain Batey from Arkansas, who was in awe to be part of the FLW pageantry he sees on TV.
Batey admitted he had to distract himself to avoid getting too nervous before going on stage. “It was pretty awesome,” he says. “On top of the championship, the tournament was a really big deal because it was our first cup with FLW so the pressure was on.”
KBF founder Chad Hoover worked long hours with FLW counterparts to make the joint championship a reality. He described the awards show feeling like a rock concert.
Hoover admitted, “It was pretty cool for me, too. I’m a fan of FLW. Standing on stage with guys I grew up watching on TV was pretty sick.”
The win gave Clint Henderson his biggest payday ever: $12,100 in cash and $7,000 in online store credit for truck accessories from sponsor Dee Zee. Dwain Batey took home $5,300 and $2,000 in truck accessories.
A 19-inch largemouth Henderson landed just an hour before the end of the tournament pushed him over the top. After landing the bass, he sent a photo to judges and momentarily saw himself on the top of the leader board. But then the board went blank to build suspense for the award ceremony, and Henderson had to wait until he was on stage to find out he had won.
The whole time he thought he would end up in second place at best, but the angler who was leading the first day caught only three fish on the second, giving Henderson, who limited out both days, the big check. Winning on his seventeenth wedding anniversary may have gotten him out of the doghouse, too.
Henderson attributes his success to hours of Internet study. He closely reviewed maps of Lake Ouachita and watched videos of past tournaments. During practice, Henderson discovered a big school of bass near a ledge. Lucky for him, the largemouth stayed in roughly the same spot for the whole tournament.
On the water, Henderson says his new Humminbird side-imaging fish finder allowed him to spot bass along a ledge. “I can distinguish different speciesfrom the shadows they cast on the display,” says Henderson. “I got really good at reading the side imaging sonar on my home waters, which gave me the confidence to see a mark on my screen and know what I was looking at.”
Back at home, Henderson celebrated his win with a fish fry for family and friends. Now, he is looking forward to next year’s KBF national championship, especially after narrowly missing out on winning it in 2016.
But how did the hosts feel about the new kids crashing the party? FLW director of public relations, Joe Opager, was pleased, “We started with two events to see how it would go.” The results out paced expectations; boat and kayak competitors can get along. Opager says, “It was extremely positive and we’re already starting to work on expanding the schedule for 2020.”
“The lights and smoke were cool,” says Clint Henderson, first FLW/KBF Champion | Featured photo: Courtesy FLW