Tournament kayak fishing is absolutely incredible. The fishing, the comradery, and (of course) the competition. The problem is that 95% of the field won’t cash a check—most events only pay five to ten percent of the field. Admittedly, I have had a little success tournament kayak fishing, but I have way more experience reviewing my results on the long drive home and asking, “what happened?” So, what’s the best way to assess your results when you fall outside the money winners?
How to Be Happy With Your Tournament Results
Recently, I fished a Hobie Bass Open Series event at Lake Fork and although I didn’t finish anywhere near the money, I felt really good about my overall finish. As I sat on the water with only three fish on the end of the second day (five fish limit per day) with six minutes left to fish, I realized something surprising. I realized I was content and proud of how I fished. I fished the last six minutes as hard as the first six minutes. One minute after the tourney ended, my fish finder flickered and shut off as if to declare “Game over!” just like arcade games as a kid.
I spent the next day driving from Lake Fork, Texas to Taos, New Mexico thinking about why. Why was I happy? I came up with a list of reasons that I felt good about this event and how I fished, versus other events where I wanted to drive my car off a cliff on the way home. Then I started to analyze the events that had left me feeling angry or frustrated, and I wondered what about my results had led to that anger and frustration.
Ultimately I realized that I was disappointed and found blame in myself when a few simple boxes were not checked. I knew I didn’t do my best; I knew I was a huge part of the problem. On the other hand, when I made sure to check the boxes below I knew I had done my best and had nothing to regret! Read on to see if the same technique will work for you.
5 Ways to Assess Your Kayak Fishing Tournament Results
1 Were your expectations realistic?
Rank 1-5: 1 being unrealistic, 5 being completely realistic.
If you are new to kayak fishing or tournament kayak fishing you should answer this with a 5 and have zero expectations for a while.
Even for more experienced anglers it’s hard to cash a check at the best of times—be humble and patient and it will come. Also, if you have zero pre-fishing time, or the field is huge and stacked with top anglers your expectations need to be tempered.
If you are new, the correct answer is “I have no expectations.” On the other hand, I view high expectations as a parallel to high confidence. Confidence is the most important part of fishing, period.
2 Did you make good decisions?
Rank 1-5: 1 being bad decision, 5 being good decision.
There is a huge difference between good decisions and ones that merely turn out to be right. Right is easy to grade, good is a lot more complicated.
Good decisions take a lot of data and reflection to judge. Good decisions will always give you the most potential for productive results. For example, choosing three B-level spots in close proximity on a tough bite versus a single A-level spot could be a great decision. On the other hand, choosing one A-level spot versus three B-level spots on a very solid bite situation could be a great decision.
Choosing to pack up and relocate to get your kicker fish might be a great decision. Choosing to wait a spot out because you know the bite will turn on and being patient might be the winning decision.
3 Did you fish clean?
Rank 1-5: 1 being very dirty and 5 being very clean.
Fishing clean is fishing smooth—fishing without gear malfunctions and fishing in the strike zone. Fishing clean is a Zen state, a place where you are putting the bait where you want it without issue. Casting accurately and often. No drama.
Losing or forgetting your identifier or phone is dirty. Constant birds’ nests are dirty. Missing eyelets on your primary rod is dirty. A cluttered deck that causes you to lose a fish is dirty. Anything that is not your best fishing environment is fishing dirty.
4 Did you fish hard?
Rank 1-5: 1 being weak and 5 being hard.
Fishing hard is paddling or pedaling hard to every spot on tournament day. Fishing hard is making as many effective casts as possible until the last possible second.
My good friend Matt Ramey has a Hawg Trough measuring board with the mottos “Keep fishing, never stop” and “Out-fish them all” emblazoned on it. Matt is a rock-solid angler who is almost always in the money or sniffing the top of the leader board. If an angler like Matt needs to remind himself of the importance of not quitting, we all need to pay extra attention to fishing all the way to the end.
Every tournament angler has caught fish with seconds to spare, reeling it in right before we got off the water. If your name is Champion or Fischer, Wallen or Gonzalez you fish hard! And you never give up, just ask them.
5 Did you learn anything?
Rank 1-5: 1 being you learned nothing and 5 being an inspirational, mind-expanding experience.
At the end of the day we are doing something we love. Not many of us are doing this to earn a living, so enjoyment and growth are essential. Did you learn or refine a technique? Did you make new friends? Did you catch a personal best, or a new species? Are you better now than you were before that first cast?
Look Beyond the Money at Your Tournament Results
That Hobie Open on Lake Fork was a powerful experience for me. I made new friends from the great state of Louisiana. I fished clean and hard every second of the event. I made solid decisions that got me a solid limit on day one, when some of the best in the game got skunked. I caught my personal best at 23.25 inches. I really dialed a technique that was not my strong suit (frog fishing), and I had fun!
Since that kayak fishing tournament I have used these categories to assess my results and make me a better angler. A calm has come over me as a result—at least while I’m fishing—maybe making me a better person, too.
Fishing on Lake Havasu in Arizona. | Feature photo: Jackson Caven