How to Get Started in Kayak Bass Fishing Tournaments

Want to try something new with your fishing? Fishing Expert Christian Nelson shares everything you need to know about joining kayak bass fishing tournaments.

A man sits in a yellow kayak low to the water and fiddles with some piece of gear. His fishing rod points out of the boat behind him and his paddle is next to him in the boat.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten

There comes a point in your time as a kayak bass fisherman, whether it be for large or smallmouth bass, where you truly feel like you could fish for bass anywhere, at any time, and be successful. You’ve put time into the craft and mastered your presentations, you’ve honed your knowledge and learned to read the situation perfectly, and you’ve caught countless bass. Now what?

Some people are content to keep bass fishing a hobby, but it can be so much more. With tons of local groups and clubs scattered all over the country, any skilled individual has plenty of opportunities to participate in kayak bass tournaments. This can seem overwhelming to begin with, but all in all, there isn’t much to it!

Starting Local

The best way to get accustomed to a tournament style of fishing is to fish local tournaments in your area. These are surprisingly more common than you’d think, and normally, they’re pretty easy to get into! The first place to check is Facebook, where you’ll be able to find the kayak fishing groups in your area. Some examples of what you’re looking for as you search are groups like Alabama Kayak Anglers, Washington Kayak Bass Fishing (WKBF), Idaho Kayak Bass Fishing (IKBF), Oregon Kayak Bass Fishing (OKBF), and so on. It should be pretty easy to find a match!

From there, look through the groups for any mentions of kayak fishing tournaments. If you find one that has a tournament, drop a comment and ask someone when the next one is and how to get in. These groups are often full of super friendly folks and someone won’t mind giving you details!

These groups will often have a newsletter that gives you access to kayak fishing news and keeps you up to date about upcoming tournaments and scheduled events. Some towns even have dedicated standalone clubs that offer tournaments; there are quite a few of them that fish less than an hour away from me! Often, these aren’t big groups but you can expect 10 to 50 people, depending on your area.

Even searching something along the lines of “fishing clubs near me” on Google can yield a few results. A little more research and you’ll probably realize there are some nearby that you never knew existed! Often you’ll find that any club like this is on the larger end, just because they’re easier to find online. These are great because they have tournaments frequently and will help you get a real feel of what a tournament is like!

These clubs often have a small annual due they take, but this is most frequently used as payouts for tournament winners. You get tournament experience against a bunch of other participants, and you usually make your money back — and then some — if you can manage first place, second place, or third place in any tournament!

Getting Ready To Fish

Someone holds a bass by the mouth while sitting in a yellow kayak.

Photo by zygplater0

Once you’ve done your research and found a group near you, it’s time to start preparing for that tournament! I recommend looking through your gear and making sure it’s all in working order and that you’re stocked with all the baits you plan on throwing. It never hurts to have a few extra packs! If you’ve been catching bass with something and then run out, it can be extremely frustrating and demoralizing, so make sure you stock up.

You’ll also need to make sure you have a few essentials that kayak tournaments require. Grab a tournament-authorized measuring board; a Ketch Board is a good one that you can use almost anywhere. You also might need to make use of your phone’s digital camera for some tournaments, as some are judged exclusively by taking a measured catch photo that you submit with your phone. This will allow you to fish online tournaments if there aren’t many in your area right now as well!

Next, take into consideration the time of year and make a decision on where the fish will be. You’re probably fishing an inland lake, so in the summer, for example, look for fish in areas where the water transitions from shallow to deep very quickly. These steep drop-offs are great because bass feed in the shallows when it’s cool at night and into the early daylight hours. When the sun comes up though, the temperature of shallow water rises very quickly, whereas deeper water does not. Bass move to deeper water around midday to avoid the heat, so they prefer to find a spot where deep water is close to the shallows so they don’t have to travel far to be comfortable.

Identifying and understanding patterns like this is crucial to determining where you will find a productive fishing spot on the lake. A month like October would be completely different and require you to find different types of spots. Ask yourself what kind of spot bass would want to be in right now, and come up with a checklist of criteria you would want to find in a spot. Once you have an idea of what kind of spot you’re searching for, scour your lake on Google Earth for areas that meet that criteria. I recommend finding at least a dozen spots to start with. Drop a pin on these spots so you can find them when you’re out on the lake!

I also recommend doing some deeper research on the lake you’re going to be fishing. If you’re on a laptop or desktop computer, you can look at Google Earth images from years prior. You can flip through them, which takes time, but here’s a pro tip. Look up the city that your lake is in or nearest to, and find the rainfall for that area over the previous years. What we’re looking for is a drought or a year with significantly below-average rainfall. When you find one, note the year and dates and hop back over to Google Earth. Find satellite images from that year and go check your pins on the map. Due to lessened rainfall that year, the lake’s water level most likely fell significantly.

Sometimes I can find images where a lake is practically empty, which allows me to see a lot more of what’s on the bottom. Even a 10-foot drop in depth can reveal all sorts of sunken trees and other structures, so go back to the pins you dropped and check for any structure that would now be submerged near the areas you wanted to fish. This gives you a huge edge and allows you to dial in exactly where some high-chance areas are.

The author holds up two bass while standing on a lawn.

The author after his first kayak tournament. Photo by Christian Nelson

Now that you have a handful of spots that you think are going to be productive, it’s time to do some pre-fishing! As soon as you’re able, you need to be out on the lake testing those spots. Sometimes you find some awesome places that look perfect on paper, but when you go out there you just don’t catch fish. To be honest, sometimes it just happens. It’s called fishing, not catching, after all. But other times, your first guess will be right on the money.

Whether your game plan just needs a slight tweak or a total rework, all pre-fishing does is better prepare you. In a sense, you’re testing a hypothesis, and if you go into it with that mindset you’ll learn a lot. You won’t be mad that you didn’t catch fish, you’ll be confused because you really thought you had it figured out. That drives me to learn more and get better. Think about and assess what you see on the water, brainstorm a different approach, and try again!

Beyond tournament fishing experience, use these tournaments as a social gathering; don’t be shy! Meet the tournament hosts or host club, make friends, and really try to become part of the community and establish a long-term relationship! Chances are that if you’re new to tournaments, you’re going to be meeting a lot of kayak anglers that are better than you, so ask questions!

Making friends here is a surefire way to improve quickly and being liked is a great way to pick up sponsors in the long run if you stick with it. Pick up on whatever you can and work to implement new things into your fishing game. Be curious and don’t be scared to mix things up and try new approaches! Over time you will learn more, understand tournaments, and really develop as a kayak bass angler. Even the pros have tough days, so don’t be discouraged, all you can do is get better!

If you have any questions or want to get geared up to give it a go, reach out to Fishing Expert here on Curated!

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Written By
Christian Nelson
Christian Nelson
Conventional Fishing Expert
I have been fishing for pleasure for over 10 years, fishing tournaments and doing some guiding as a side gig along the way. ​ I have caught 50+ species of fish, from rainbow trout to giant sharks, and from bass to monster bull redfish. ​ I have a wide array of knowledge to put you on fish, no matter...
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