This year, for the first time in history, someone will win $100,000 in a kayak fishing tournament. The Kayak Bass Fishing Championship’s staggering payout is just the tip of the iceberg, as more kayak fishing tournaments offer big money for big fish. It won’t be long before full-time tournament pros make a living fishing from kayaks.

For a look into the future, we asked four big-money pros for a peek inside the high-dollar tournament scene. Their advice? Don’t let fame and fortune go to your head.

Pro Tips on Kayak Fishing Tournaments

We asked the experts to answer four questions:

  1. How has money changed the kayak fishing tournament scene?
  2. What’s your strategy for entering and competing?
  3. What’s the future of kayak fishing tournaments?
  4. What are some words to fish by?

Eric Hensen // Old Town Kayaks

13 first place finishes, 23 top-three and 47 top-ten finishes

Eric Hensen holding a fish
His smile is as big as his fish. | Photo: Courtesy of Eric Hensen
  1. More events are offering cash prizes, but there isn’t enough money, yet, to quit your day job. As prizes grow, entry fees will also grow. Most anglers are still fishing tournaments for fun, but this will change.
  2. I’ll spend more effort traveling and more time pre-fishing a tournament with a big payout. I’m competitive, so I’ll still fish local tournaments and other events that only award prizes.
  1. There will be more tournaments offering cash payouts for pro anglers. I see separate classes: categories with low entry fees for casual anglers and more expensive tournaments with higher payouts for tournament pros.
  2. Don’t lose the mental game before you get on the water. Stick with what you do well and don’t worry about what other anglers are doing.

Kurt Smits // Hobie Fishing

2017 KBF Champion, Career earnings: $47,000

Kurt Smith
Who knew you could win awards for fishing? | Photo: Courtesy of Kurt Smits
  1. Anglers are more hush-hush. I’m one of them. We are getting more competitive, but we maintain a brotherhood. It’s a unique friendship among kayak anglers, even in competition, but I see this changing.
  2. I rank tournaments in order of importance to me. If I see my friends going to a tournament, I’ll drive extra hours to make it. Still, I’m going to hit as many big events as I can. The tournament trail scene requires anglers to win several events to qualify for the biggest payouts.
  1. Motorized kayaks will be the next big trend in tournaments. I see more motor-boaters looking for the convenience of a kayak without all the work. More tournaments will allow motors in competition.
  2. Take it one tournament at a time, don’t get so serious that you don’t have fun.

Jedediah Plunkert // Wilderness Systems

Jedediah Plunkert holding fishing tournament trophy
Living large. | Photo: Courtesy of Jedediah Plunkert

2016 River Bassin’ champion, three-time Mid-Atlantic Kayak Bass Fishing champion, Career earnings: $37,000

  1. It makes anglers work harder. Cash payouts also make losing more significant. I learn more when I lose and recognize the hard work it takes to win. As the prizes grow, the effort it takes to be successful will also grow.
  2. I’m naturally competitive. I’ll fish for a big payout or small. Tournament winnings are the goal, but the important thing is the work it takes to get there. I look for events that will challenge me to take my fishing to a higher level.
  1. More clubs and events are popping up as tournament directors find more sponsors to support big-money payouts. I’d like to see big tackle manufacturers and even companies outside the sport recognize the attention kayak fishing gets.
  2. Keep casting and set the hook on everything. Pre-fishing helps, but don’t burn out before tournament day.

Jon Venarchick // South Florida Kayak Guides

2017 Battle in the Bahamas first place, 2015 Sailfish Smackdown first place, Career earnings: $15,000

Jon Venarchick with his trophy fish
You’ll be eating well tonight if you follow these kayak fishing tournament tips. | Feature photo: Courtesy of Jon Vernarchick
  1. In addition to higher cash payouts, there are better prizes available. Also, cash and prizes are awarded to more places. Not only does this attract more anglers to the tournament, but it brings in better anglers. The level of competition has increased as more anglers fish harder and work harder to win.
  2. I have two approaches to a tournament. First, it has to be fun. No matter the payout, if it isn’t fun then I’m not going to fish. And, I fish hard even when I’m just competing against my friends. A tournament has to challenge me to bring my A-game.
  3. I’d like to see a nationwide series of offshore tournaments and more events overseas. I expect more specialized gear to hit the water as anglers look for every advantage.
  4. The kayak fishing community is full of great people, groups and events. Do your homework before fishing a tournament. There is always someone willing to help.

This article was first published in the Spring 2018 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

You’ll be eating well tonight if you follow these kayak fishing tournament tips. | Feature photo: Courtesy of Jon Vernarchick



  1. Thanks for sharing these tips from experience Anglers. Sharing this kind of information about kayak fishing is very handy for beginners like me. I found this article very helpful. Cheers!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here