Look at the numbers. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s participation report, kayak fishing continues to grow, gaining another percent of the population in 2018. And the easy-access sport has proven to be one of the strongest segments of both fishing and paddlesports businesses. The numbers have caught the eye of big-name professional bass tournaments. Last year, Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) joined the Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) to host two events and a co-championship. This year, the world’s largest tournament network, Bass Angler Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) is jumping into kayak fishing.
Despite glowing reviews of FLW’s 2019 partnership with KBF, the nation’s prime-time bass tournament is pumping the brakes on their kayak-fishing aspirations. Joseph Opager, FLW’s director of public relations, admits, “Our 2019 partnership with KBF was extremely successful.” After merging with Major League Fishing, FLW will focus on their core tournament circuits. Still, Opager is hopeful for future partnerships. “We definitely believe in the potential of kayak tournaments,” he says.
In the meantime, Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) will pick up the torch. Tournament directors recently announced their 2020 schedule, which consists of five kayak fishing events and a championship.
B.A.S.S. is a nationwide network of tournaments from local B.A.S.S. Nation events to the Bassmaster Classic, considered the Super Bowl of fishing. The organization boasts 515,000 members and sponsors local, regional and championship bass tournaments across the country.
With the focus on powerboat events, B.A.S.S. Nation tournament director Jon Stewart admits a good portion of their members are anglers who don’t have a boat. “We haven’t really been taking care of those anglers as well as we thought we could have.”
In order to better serve their membership, B.A.S.S. saw the kayak trail as an opportunity to tap into a new demographic and ease some of the tensions between the big boat anglers and the kayakers.
“There’s an us against them mentality on both sides,” Stewart says. He hopes the partnership will bring all their members together. “B.A.S.S. wants to treat everyone like members,” he says, regardless of how they get to the fish.
Stewart also stressed B.A.S.S. isn’t looking to “reinvent the wheel.” Instead, B.A.S.S. has signed up tournament directors who are already familiar with kayak tournaments and the organization is incorporating the existing catch photograph and release format.
So far, response from anglers has been positive. With more full-time pros and plenty of up-and-comers, kayak fishing has plenty of room for big-time, big-money events.
Full-time pro kayak tournament angler Jody Queen is excited for the B.A.S.S. trail. “KBF took the brunt of the growing pains by laying out a format for kayak tournament trails,” Queen says, pointing out B.A.S.S. consulted with existing tournaments before jumping into the game. “I think that is going to play out in their favor,” he says.
B.A.S.S. hopes to expand their network after the first season. They see the kayak trail as an extension of the entry-level B.A.S.S. Nation and hope to eventually host or sanction state championships. Tournament director, Jon Stewart explains, “If there’s already a group that holds a state championship in your state, we just want to work with that group to basically sanction it.” In addition to designating established tournaments as qualifying events, B.A.S.S. is inviting their partners to join the board of directors.
Stewart sees the local-level events leading to state championships and an eventual B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Trail National Championship. With the number of kayak anglers growing and disparate tournament networks looking for a leader, chances are, we’ll be watching a kayak-fishing national championship on television someday.
The future looks bright. | Featured photo: Scott Beutjer