It happens to all of us that compete. The ups and downs, or the highs and lows anyone experiences during a competition messes with our heads just a little. On the water during a kayak fishing tournament crazy things can happen. When a fish flops off the board, breaks you off, or comes off by the boat it can send your day into a tailspin if you are not mentally ready. Or maybe you just are not catching them that particular day, hours go by without the hint of a bite. Your mind starts to wander and come up with excuses about why you couldn't catch'em this time. Other times it can be exactly the opposite that messes with your head. An angler can get off to a hot start and "let off the gas" so to speak, losing focus on what is going and lose the tournament in the process. In my most recent event on the NWA Razoryak Tournament Trail (RTT), I got the chance to ride this roller coaster of emotions. Maybe my experience can help you stay sharp and keep grinding next time the going gets tough on tournament day.
The third event on the NWA RTT was a road runner style event taking place on Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas. In the week leading up to the event I pre-fished several locations and settled on the back end of a creek arm that would help me avoid the bass boats that were competing in a large tournament on the same day. The spot is known to many kayak anglers, but I hoped most would choose another location. The tourney director cut us loose right before sunrise to head to our spots and I was the first and only one to arrive at the end of the dirt road that stops at the back of the creek. I was over joyed at the thought of having this area to myself, but as I started unstrapping my kayak from the trailer, 10 more vehicles came barreling down the road one after the other. The little voice in my head said load up and head to your back up spot, but my gut said stay here and stick with your plan.
I unloaded my boat and pushed off, my plan was to fish a small area within sight of the launch the entire tournament. I sailed my topwater towards the flat across from the launch while all the other anglers were still trying to get unloaded. Boom, a fish exploded on it, 15.75" keeper on the first cast! It was on, my heart was beating fast and I knew I was about to limit out quick. Most of the other anglers took off and paddled out of my area leaving it for me to fish. I continued working the topwater, but no takers. My day might have started fast but came to a screeching halt, over the next seven hours I went through crankbaits, spinnerbaits, texas rigs, carolina rigs, shakey heads, dropshots, and jerkbaits and was only able to manage three more keepers.
My first thought was "It must be slow for everyone", but as I ran into other anglers I kept hearing stories of the big numbers they were catching. Several guys stating "man I had a limit by 830, trying to find a kicker." I was sunk, anyone who knows me is aware of my extreme competitive streak, so sitting on four keepers thinking everyone else is whacking them was really making my blood boil. I was questioning my decision making and found my mind wandering to the next event already, counting this one as a drop (our series counts the 5 best finishes out of 8 events).
I looked at my watch and it was 2 pm, I could see the parking area from where I was fishing and everyone else that launched there was off the water and loading up. The weigh in was at 3 pm and the location is about a 30 minute drive from where I was if traffic cooperates. Taking one last look at the back of the creek I decided to make another pass through the area I caught them pre-fishing rather than load up. Even one more dink keeper could help me with AOY points I thought. I pulled out my texas rig and flipped every piece of cover I came across, most of it had already been hammered all day. I looked down at my watch and it was 2:20 pm, everyone else was long gone, I was 20 yards from my car and in total angler depression. Almost out of frustration I made a long cast with the texas rig to the last laydown on the bank leading to my vehicle. As the lure settled I noticed my line move sideways, "No way" I thought, but I reeled down and set the hook hard anyway. That last cast turned out to be my best fish of the day and was 1/2 an inch shy of winning big bass of the tournament. Boating my fifth keeper immediately changed my attitude, I got a good pic and rushed to the vehicle to load up.
I made the weigh in with only minutes to spare. Just getting a limit made me feel pretty good and with that last fish I was confident I would make the top ten. When the tournament director started announcing the top finishers and their totals I quickly realized the total length I estimated for my stringer was larger than theirs! I ended up taking 2nd place in the tournament, missing the victory by just 3/4 of an inch. What a day; the fishing started fast, turned painfully slow, and then ended with a bang. In the end I taught myself a lesson that I already should have known: never give up, keep grinding and who knows what will happen. Tight lines everyone, see you on the water.