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2017 Arkansas State Kayak Fishing Championship Recap

The Arkansas State Kayak Fishing Championship featured three very different weather scenarios over the two day period – challenging anglers to make adjustments along the way to keep catching bass. Over tournament weekend, 67 of Arkansas’ top kayak anglers scrambled across the varied waters of the largest lake on the Arkansas river system. Growing up I used to hear the expression, “If you don’t like the weather in Arkansas, just wait a bit and it will change.”  That definitely was true at the Championship.

I really struggle at Lake Dardanelle because of the dirty water and the long stretches of grass – which I am not very good with in catching fish. However, the size of the boundary area made it possible for us to spread out which was a positive, and the pavilion at Dardanelle State Park is a venue which is second to none for captain’s meetings and weigh-in. Tournament Directors Jeff Malott and Garett VanWie did an excellent job preparing and executing the event. But would the fish cooperate?

Day One – The Heat is On

Weather on opening day was going to be a pretty straightforward proposition. Mostly sunny with a high near 90 degrees made for a long, hot day on the water. Despite the heat and a crowded Saturday on the lake for kayak and boat angles alike, more than 300 bass were caught and submitted. The majority of day one competitors (91%) carded a keeper, and a really strong 35 anglers (52%) turned in a full limit. Terry Brown hooked a 21.75″ toad on a big Texas-rig worm for the biggest bass of the day. The top three after day one were Eli Powers (84.25″), Kyle Fields (80.75″), and Cole Sikes (78.25″). I was sitting in 9th place with 72.5″ and felt OK with that, because I was in a large group of anglers within striking distance for day two.

Terry Brown’s 21.75″ tank took home Big Bass for the weekend. This was a bruiser!
Day Two – Weathergeddon

Loading up to head to my spot on day two, I was rolling the dice and heading to a new spot from day one where I thought some big fish might be found because of incoming rain. And boy did it rain. Starting about 6:00 a.m. it rained off and on for the next three hours or so. At 6:45 with first cast it was raining so hard where I was that it was like being in the shower, and so dark I could hardly function for the first 30 minutes. As the rain started to move out mid-morning the temperature dropped significantly and bluebird skies took over. The weather changes definitely hurt the bite, as there were around 100 less total keepers caught on day two than day one. Only 73% (49) turned in a keeper, while the number of those turning in a limit dropped to 43% (29).

Eli Powers led the way again on day two with 84.50″ while Shane Oakes made a big move with 82.00″ and Toby Bogart turned in the third highest total for the day with 81.75″.  My day was strange, as I didn’t catch anything during the rain (weird), got into a bit of an altercation with a bass boat local, and then caught my limit post-cold front and bluebird skies. Go figure.

Final Results

If you read the info above, you probably have figured out that Eli Powers is your 2017 Arkansas State Champion with a two-day total of 168.75″. Congrats to Eli on his achievement of dominating both days! The rest of the top five shook out like this:

  1. Eli Powers – 168.75″
  2. Toby Bogart – 156.50″
  3.  Kyle Fields – 155.25″
  4.  Shane Oakes – 151.25″
  5. Garrett Morgan – 150.00″

See the full results here on TourneyX. Terry Brown’s 21.75″ toad held up to take the Big Bass side pot for the weekend! I finished with 138.00″ and 12th for the tourney which was outside my goal of the top ten, but all things considered it was a good weekend.

Angler Recaps

Some of the top anglers of the event shared their experiences from the big weekend – Eli Powers, Toby Bogart, Kyle Fields and Shane Oakes shared a recap of their tournament weekend. As usual, these anglers all did things a bit differently and figured out how to make the fish bite. Each angler also had some key moments where they overcame a negative situation or prepared themselves mentally for success.  Thank you to them for some great stories from the tournament:

Shane Oakes – 4th Place 151.25″

Dardanelle is so large and so diverse that many different methods can be effective on the same day as long as you are targeting [and finding] the shad population that hasn’t already been cherry picked by the big boats.  With this in mind I didn’t want to over think it.  Most of us have a comfort zone, and while I am all about change and learning new things I didn’t figure the state championship was the time to get outside of my comfort zone and try to learn something new.  So I went with what I am comfortable with….creek fishing.  I chased the shad up into the creeks.

I didn’t really change strategy or technique from Saturday to Sunday.  However, I did make a different type of change.  Finishing 20th on Saturday wasn’t as “consistent” as I had hoped.  I thought I had to have a strong showing on Sunday to even be close to the top 10.  Having finished in the top ten the last two Championships I set this as a goal for myself this year.  Saturday was mental mistake after mistake which I let get to me when I should have just let it go, relaxed and had fun catching fish because I caught a lot of fish Saturday…..just not the size I wanted.  I spent Saturday over-thinking and second guessing everything, simply not relaxing, not doing what I was comfortable with, and not enjoying the moment.  Early Sunday morning at the hotel I ran into another competitor whom I have fished around several different times, but have not taken the time to get to know on any level.  As we stood watching the rain and looking out into the darkness we had a lengthy, enjoyable [and turns out insightful] conversation which I hope is the start of new friendship.  Thinking more about our conversation on the drive to the launch point it became very evident what I was going to change for Sunday.  I changed my attitude.  I reminded myself at every mistake or setback that I simply needed to relax, continue to do what I know to be successful on creeks, and most importantly enjoy the moment.

As I said earlier Dardanelle is a very diverse lake, but one thing I believe is a key element to a successful day is finding the shad population throughout the lake.  You can be very successful with a wide range of techniques and baits…..as long as you find the shad on a spot that hasn’t been cherry picked by the big boats. Find the shad and I believe you can do well on just about any day.

When fishing a big tournament or a two-day event, definitely have a plan that accounts for where you are fishing and the weather conditions.  While there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing up and beating up a bank that “looks good” for 2 days you have to take into account the other anglers in the field.  This field was 67 of the state’s top kayak anglers.  If you are going to beat them all over a 2 day tournament you are going to have to do your homework, research, pre-fish, and be on your game with a solid plan.

Kyle Fields –  3rd Place 155.25″

I have never fished this lake leading up to this tournament and knew there wasn’t a day I could pre-fish, so I started with the map and the last few years of fishing reports for this time of year. I could see it was a nice sized lake and knew I had to find a creek to fit my style of fishing. I narrowed down a few tributaries and got with a guy local to me but who used to reside down on the lake. He told me about a spot and it happened to have a hotel near the put in.

This photo cut off the nose of Kyle’s fish, costing him a good 16.75″ bass.

I got on the water 25 minutes early and it was the longest 25 of my life since all I could hear is bait fish flickering and the bass feeding on them. I set a reminder on my phone for game time and waited. My second cast with the Loon Whopper Plopper landed me a 18 incher. I continued to fish the Plopper and collected my limit in under a hour. Being that I have struggled in getting limits this season, my heart was pounding. I knew I was in a good spot. I rode that topwater bite as long as I could, only to cull up a few inches. So then I picked up a War Eagle spinnerbait and on the first cast caught a 10″ and I thought “I am on them.”  A couple casts later landed me a 16.25″. I put it on the board and took the pic and he flopped back in the water. Giving it no thought I continued to fish. I finally pulled over and uploaded it only to find the photo of the 16.25″ was not accepted. The tip of his lip touching the board was cropped out. I didn’t let it get me down too much – just kept grinding. A few minutes later a bass boat pulled up about 60 yards from me about the time I casted and caught the rod behind me and the war eagle wend sailing into the woods. I hurried to dig for another one, only the find a size was a little smaller. Threw it a while but nothing. I then paddled my way out into the mouth of the creek, with bait fish skipping everywhere. I picked up a 18.5″ and a 16″ on a X-calibur square-bill crank. With the leaderboard being turned off on Day 1, I just knew everyone had to be on them. With my hopes high but not cocky I scrambled to the weigh-in spot about a hour early to learn I was sitting in 2nd going into day two.

Toby Bogart – 2nd Place 156.60″

Toby’s main fishing locations for the 2017 Arkansas Kayak Fishing State Championship.

I’d never fished Lake Dardanelle before the tournament. So basically I just looked at the map of the lake and figured out a spot with lots of points and shade that I’d like to fish that was also fairly close to home. for me I’ve had better luck in the past just showing up and fishing rather than pre-fishing. On day one I started out at Cane Creek close to Scranton and I figured they’d be chasing shad so I chose to throw a square bill shad pattern at every piece of cover and point I could find. I caught my first fish about 30 minutes in. I then continued to work the cover and found around 10 bass total for the day. Unfortunately, I managed to lose a rod and reel and new sunglasses around the time the sun came out, then missed a nice fish at the boat which made things worse. I pressed on and finished 7th on day 1.

The white squarebill that did the trick for 2nd place.

I decided to take a chance at Spadra creek on day 2 which started badly. When I got to the ramp it was raining pretty hard and  I backed my truck down to the water and was untying the kayak and let go of it for just a second and my kayak slid out of the truck so without thinking I jumped in the water after it. So as day 2 I started out soaked from the waist down – I was cold and miserable. I was cheered up when on my second cast I caught my first fish of the day. It was a bit of a struggle to take photos in the rain and had to renew my identifier once. I fished a long bluff close to the railroad bridge casting as close to the bluff as possible and worked the bluff all the way down and trolled back and went past the ramp where I launched. I continued down the bank stopping to fish what little shade I could find and any cover. I caught my last fish of the day around noon and was also my biggest of the tourney. I ended up quitting fishing around 2:00 and then got on Facebook to see if i could get any info on who was in what place. I saw a post from earlier that morning that showed me in second and I had caught fish since it was posted so i had a good feeling about my position. Then I dropped my yak off at home and headed to the final weigh in. My goal was to finish in the top half of the field. I never thought I’d even finish top 10, let alone second place. All of my keepers on day 1 and 2 came from the same square bill. Had a great time competing against some of the best in the state.

Eli Powers – 1st Place 168.75″

Coming into this event, I was piggybacking off of my last year finish and technique. I was confident enough with my technique from last year, that I went ahead and ordered the main bait that I would throw about two months in advance. I chose to fish the Illinois Bayou due to my experience in the area. I lived in Russellville for 4 years while attending ATU, and spent an awful amount of time on the water in this area. I knew from past experience and seasonal patterns, that October can be lights out in the water willow that surrounds the lake shorelines. I have always concentrated my efforts in the shallow portions of the lake, and I felt no different about this event.

Each morning, I knew I had to take advantage of the aggressive bite in the scattered grass before the sun got up, and try to get as many keepers as I could with fast moving baits. Once the sun gets up, those fish that are feeding in the scattered grass either move to thicker cover or slide back to deeper water. After the sun came out, that’s when I looked for the “thickets” or the thickest grass I could find. If I could see open water in between the grass, then that was too thin, and I wouldn’t even stop to fish it. Sunday threw a little curve ball in the morning bite, with the rain and wind, and allowed me to stay shallower longer, but again, after the sun came out, it was time to head to the thickets!

Saturday morning, I started out throwing an Underbite Custom Tackle ¼ oz white swim jig, and a white Texas-rigged Zoom Z-craw with a ¼ oz tungsten bullet weight through the scattered grass. With both baits, I would swim it just under the surface through and around the scattered grass patches. I fished both baits on a 7’ MH action Favorite Summit rod with a Lews reel spooled with 20lb fluorocarbon.  I was able to pick up 4 keepers this way, before the sun got too high, and the fish in the scattered grass quit biting. As soon as this happened, approximately 9:30am, I headed for the thickets, where I would punch the white Z-craw with a 1 oz tungsten punch weight into the thick stuff. I fished this rig on a 7’6” heavy action Favorite Big Sexy rod, with a Lews reel spooled with 20lb fluorocarbon. This stuff was so thick in places; I had to shake the bait in tiny openings for up to 15 seconds before it would finally slip through the thick mat. Once the bait broke through, I would snap the bait up two or three times before I would move on to the next opening. I preferred mats of grass that had water depths under them of about 2 – 4 feet. I would essentially cover an entire mat from end to end, and top to bottom with that bait and make as many pitches and flips needed to saturate the entire grass mat. This process would often take up to an hour to cover one grass mat, and typically, I would only catch one fish per mat. I went from mat to mat until the end of the day looking for just a few more good bites from each, and this was good enough to make some really good culls.

Sunday morning was blessed with storms, wind, and rain, and the opportunity to throw a big spinnerbait! I threw a ½ oz Underbite Custom Tackle spinnerbait with double large gold Colorado blades and a white and chartreuse skirt. I was able to get 5 keepers, including my 19.25 inch big bass, on this bait before the sky lightened up a little, and the bite shut off. From there, I went back to flipping and pitching the mats with the Z-craw, and was able to make a few more upgrades.

Eli’s Underbite Custom Tackle spinnerbait was key to day two’s best catches, securing 1st place for the Championship.

All in all, it was important to get the aggressive bite early, and take advantage of the nasty weather early Sunday morning, and then settle in and pick off a few more good fish once the sun got high. Having confidence that the fish were buried in that thick stuff, and having the right equipment was critical to getting them out. I fished high percentage areas, and stayed in areas, where I knew fish were. If I find any vegetation in a body of water, I always check it first, and then adjust accordingly. Dardanelle is one of those lakes that has productive grassy areas all summer and fall, and finding those critical areas will provide enough fish for several days. The water temperature was ideal, and the shad were in the same locations, so there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to fish the shallow grass.

Final Thoughts

Sounds like we won’t be back on Dardanelle for a while for the State Championship – next year heading to north Arkansas for a site hosted by Twin Lakes Kayak Anglers. It was a good venue for sure, with a healthy but challenging fish population. I’ll miss being able to recover at CJ’s Burger Boy with some other anglers after a long day on the water. Qualifying for the Championship is something kayak anglers should strive for in 2018, it is definitely a fun experience.

All of those who qualified and participated should be proud of their accomplishments! Looking forward to 2018.

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NSKA River Run Preview

The scenic rivers of NW Arkansas will be the site for the June 10 NSKA River Road Runner tournament. Paddlers will be choosing their fishing location from moving bodies of water within a 50 mile radius of Cabela’s. Originally scheduled for May, the heavy spring rains moved this event to June.

As anglers choose their water, the key is understanding the “scenic river” requirement. There are some important boundary rules you need to know.  Beavertown (and below Beaver Dam) is out of play. On the White River, only above (south of) Twin Bridges is in play, and on War Eagle, only above (south of) the War Eagle Mill is in play. Several other rivers mentioned below are also options for the NSKA River Road Runner.

River Run Roundtable

I don’t have much data for use in trying to determine how this will go down so I asked a couple of local kayak river rats to help with the preview – Sam Philip and Jason Cossey.

With a 50 mile radius and “scenic river” waters, what are the main rivers you think will be used by anglers?

  • Jason – The Elk, Illinois and Kings will probably be the best, but you can’t rule our the White and War Eagle.
  • Sam – Elk River, Illinois River, Kings River, War Eagle and Indian Creek.

How will river fishing affect the number of limits and the size of the fish in the limits?

  • Jason – Rivers can have big fish, but I think a 14″ limit with a 18-19″ kicker will take the top spot.
  • Sam – In general you average fish length will be smaller, however, there are several locations on the rivers mentioned where “lake” sized limits can be caught.

What is your prediction on winning limit length and big bass?

  • Jason – 72-74″ is my prediction but could go bigger.
  • Sam – I think 84-85 inches will be a good number for this event. Big bass being 20.50.

How do you think rains over the last month will affect the event?

  • Jason – Rains will bring up the levels and make them muddy, but they clear pretty fast. It will hurt smaller waters because of the muddy conditions.
  • Sam – The rains of late haven’t been enough to really affect the smaller rivers. Unless we see a large amount of rain on Thursday or Friday I don’t see it being an issue at all. The smaller rivers can clear up and level out within 24 hours.

Sam also added that he always looks forward to river events and that he’s curious to see who fishes actual scenic rivers, and who seeks out the slower, deeper waters in a few of the larger ones. Overall I’m also curious how this will play out. For me, as primarily a lake angler, I’m completely out of my element in a river event. I’ll happy if I can just get a limit.

I’m thinking some of the same things as Jason and Sam for the weekend. I’ve always fished Beavertown in river events, so will have to try somewhere else. I have a feeling War Eagle or the Illinois just into Oklahoma will produce the top limit. This year, every tournament has over-performed previous trends on winning length, but I think this time we’ll be looking to top out around 75″ for first place, partly because with a big turnout, there will be a lot of yaks in the water on these small tributaries.

NSKA Tournament Director Jeff Malott has larger expectations for the weekend. He’s predicting a 90+” limit with a 20″ big bass based on folks he’s been talking to who have been pre-fishing.

A few important reminders:

  • Captains meeting will be online Friday night, must view this! Jeff will also be doing a FB Live rules update tonight (Wed, June 7) that you should view as well.
  • For NSKA, you CANNOT fish from outside your kayak at any time. You can get out to stretch, drag your boat, etc., but casts must be made from inside your kayak.
  • 50 mile radius is as the crow flies, not by road.

Good luck to all, wear your PDF and have fun!

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2017 NWA Natural State Kayak Anglers Season Preview

One of the largest kayak bass fishing tournament tNatural State Kayak Anglers (NSKA)rails in the country, Natural State Kayak Anglers, is about to start for 2017 and we contacted some veteran NSKA anglers for their take on the upcoming season schedule. The Natural State Kayak Anglers (NSKA) tournament series is a great way to improve your fishing skills, meet other anglers and most importantly to have a lot of fun on the water.

The 2017 NSKA Tournament Schedule

Jeff Malott is the tournament director for NSKA events this year, we asked him some general questions about the upcoming season:

What’s the best change you made this year to the NSKA tournament trail?

Jeff – Changing tourney management over to 100% use of tourneyX.com will be a real game changer. No more long waits at weigh in and the ability to follow a live leaderboard should take our events to another level.

Knowing you are not fishing the tournaments this year, what’s the one event you will miss fishing in the most?  

Jeff – To ensure the NSKA events go smoothly I won’t participate locally this season. The one event I’ll miss most will probably be the NWA Road Runner, only because I historically do really well, lol.

Which event will have the most impact on the AOY race?

Jeff – With there being only 1 drop this season (best 5 of 6 count towards AOY), all events are going to have a huge impact, but a good start is essential so probably Swepco in NWA and Spadra in the River Valley.

Roundtable – NSKA Angler Season Preview

Natural State Kayak Anglers Taylor Frizzell, Justin Phillips, Rob Barnica and myself shared predictions and thoughts on the upcoming schedule for 2017:

Which NSKA event will produce the longest length? 

Jeff – The longest string should come from the road runner event, folks can really tune in on the handful of big bass lakes around NWA and the River Valley.

Taylor – I think the NWA road runner will produce the the longest length. Only because there will be so many bodies of water in play that you won’t have 60+ anglers on the same lake. I feel like someone will end up with a area pretty much to themselves and be able to really work the body of water.

Jason – To me it is clearly the online event, anglers will have multiple days to put a limit together.

What’s the key in getting off to a fast start for the season?

Rob –  For myself it simply placing top 10 in a tournament. This is my first year fishing kayak tournaments.

Justin – For me it comes down to preparation, practice and homework. All of these have one thing in common. Trying to maximize control over known variables. In short, take care of what you can and when hiccups come you’ll be less inclined to get rattled and more inclined to formulate a solid Plan B.

Jason – I’ll be happy if I can get any sleep the night before tournaments. It’s hard for me to do because I’m excited and ready to go.

Which event do you have circled where you want to do the best?

Rob – The first one at Swepco Lake. It’s a huge confidence booster to know you can compete in your first year with so many great anglers.

Taylor – I’m looking forward to the KBF/NSKA event the most only because I feel like turn out will be amazing and it will give a lot of competitive NWA guys a chance to prove themselves on a larger scale. It’s going to be a lot of fun to have that opportunity to fish a big event and not have to travel hours to do so.

Jason – Probably the NWA Road Runner…there is so much strategy involved on where to go it is interesting to see where anglers wind up fishing.

Swepco Lake is notorious for being a wind tunnel in March. How might this impact how anglers attack the lake? What’s the winning length going to be?

Justin – It really depends on how much wind and what anglers are willing to put up with. Wind can be great in some circumstances but if it’s white capping not many will want to deal with that. The protected pockets may become so packed a guy will be able to walk across the water and not get his feet wet.  If it’s not too bad it may keep everyone more dispersed. I predict 84 inches will win.

Rob – The wind is simply a mindset. Between anchors and pedals I don’t feel it’s a huge obstacle. Winning length on Swepco will be 90+ inches.

Taylor – The wind tunnel in March is always interesting. It makes you really be on your toes and you have to be able to adapt to this on a whim. I think the paddlers will hug the banks and try to attack the coves and the peddlers will have more of an opportunity to fish where they want. It will also make the finesse guys figure out a strategy to put fish in the boat. I know last year I had to change tactics several times based on the wind. It tends to make it really hard to keep your position when Texas rigging or Jig fishing. I used a Ned rig a lot last year but when the wind picked up I had to change my plan of attack. I think for the winning length at Swepco will be over 90 inches because of the size of fish that are in that lake.

The NSKA/KBF event is on Beaver Lake in April. Last year the lake was high and muddy, so far this year it is low and very clear. How do you expect this change to affect this event?

Justin – If it stays as it is the low water will keep the fish pooled in tighter areas. With the decent year on Beaver Lake last season that may prove to provide great regardless of your style. However, I wouldn’t get overly excited just yet. The spring rains may flood and upset the apple cart. If that happens the water would probably become muddy and power fishing techniques will come more into play. 

Rob – Hopefully it keeps the big boats away from several spots. Obviously the lake and all structure has changed. Let’s pray we don’t have a torrential downpour the week before our tournament.

Jason – Should benefit the finesse anglers mid-lake to the dam. A lot of others may run up closer to the river looking for some stained water. I’m happy we’ll get a shot at Beaver Lake before the FLW pros do. Last couple of years they hammered the lake right before our event.

With the NWA River Road Runner focused on river fishing, where do you think the hotspots for anglers will be for this event?

Rob – Illinois, Kings and White would be my best guess.

Justin – I’d like to look at War Eagle, could be a solid choice.

Jason – There are some great river fishermen in NSKA and I’m not one of them. Have heard great things in the past about the Illinois and Kings. Might be that there’s a honey hole on a little known creek or river that may be the secret to victory.

For the NWA Road Runner, strategy comes into play big time for this event – big bass lakes can pay off or burn you. What’s the best high risk high reward destination for this event?

Taylor – The NWA roadrunner high risk high reward destination is Swepco Lake. The fact that there are so many large fish in that lake makes it a go to option but the time of year makes that lake a coin flip. If that water is hot the angler who knows how to fish deep and entice the fish to bite could have a winning outcome, but at the same time it could set them up for failure.

Jason – When I think about the biggest bass in NWA I tend to think Lincoln Lake. That place has the ability to provide a good limit with two to three 20s in it, but it can be fickle sometimes. I’d say Lincoln is the best home run chance.

There is a weekend online tournament in July, that is obviously a different type of deal than a one day event. How should anglers approach this differently than a normal tournament?

Rob – Due to being my first year, I really don’t know the answer. I’m still learning myself.

Taylor – The summer slam online is going to be an interesting event. I feel like Anglers should stick with what they’re comfortable with but at the same time it might take stepping out of that comfort zone to win. I personally won’t run to the “go to” lakes that we normally would in the spring. It’s going to be a hot summer I think and I feel like the rivers are going to have an advantage over the lakes for this particular event but with fishing you honestly never know where the money stringer is going to be.

Jason – Those who fish the most over the weekend won’t necessarily win, I think it will be the angler that picks the right spots at the right time.

Get Ready – It’s Go Time!

Check out the Razoryak Tournament Trail website for info about NSKA as well as the River Valley, Central Arkansas, and NE/North Central trails. If this is your first tournament season, read this article on Five Catch Photo Release (CPR) Protips and the one on a Kayak Fishing Tournament Packing List for helpful information.

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