Kayak Bass Fishing’s RealTree Fishing KBF TRAIL Series presented by Dee Zee Truck Accessories began one week in late February. At Folsom Lake in California and at Santee Cooper in South Carolina, nearly 200 combined anglers made their first casts in competition. Seven months later, it ended with the regional SuperTrails at lakes like Lanier, Ouachita and Smith Mountain, where hundreds more descended to compete for AOY points, qualifying opportunities, prizes and more. For everyone, it was the end of a KBF TRAIL season that defied the odds and conditions. It was the story of a season that almost never happened. For an elite few – six, to be exact – it ended with Angler of the Year titles.
KBF expanded to 6 regions in 2020. The realigned geographical format offers thousands of KBF members the opportunity to compete in large events hosted by local partner clubs. Anglers could compete in their own regions and in others, creating enhanced competition for anglers who wanted to test their skill on new waters against the top talent in other areas. The competition was fierce. To win a Regional Angler of the Year [RAOY] title is not merely a stepping stone to other achievements – it is to earn a jewel from the KBF crown.
To win a RAOY title means you won against competitors and the road. You won it on your turf, against anglers who had every advantage of familiarity and access you had. You drove together, pre fished together, camped together and got up and competed the next day together. The obstacles were also many – weather and increased recreation on the water, limited dining options, the grind of the tournament life. And you still won.
The 2020 class of KBF RAOY’s includes:
- North Carolina’s Eric Nelson, who won a KBF TRAIL event (by a tie-breaker!) in the new Mid-Atlantic Region sponsored by Ketch Products, on his way to a Regional title
- South Carolina’s Barry Davis, who won the title outside of his Mid-Atlantic region, fishing in the Southeast region sponsored by Feelfree
- Indiana’s Mike Elsea, the 2019 KBF National Champion, who won the North Central Division sponsored by Bonafide Kayaks
- California’s Damian Thao, who finished in 1st, 2nd and 4th places on his way to the Western regional title sponsored by Columbia Sportswear
- Massachusetts’ Ken Wood, who won 3 TRAIL events on his way to the Northeast title sponsored by Dakota Lithium
- Louisiana’s Adam Petrone, a rookie to the TRAIL Series, who won the South Central region sponsored by Native Watercraft
KBF will honor the TRAIL Region Anglers of the Year on Thursday, October 8th at Lake Guntersville, when they stand to be recognized and receive their trophies.
And now, in their own words, the 2020 KBF Regional Anglers of the Year:
How They Did It
Adam Petrone: How did I become AOY? Honestly I’m not sure how I managed to compete and win the title against so many great anglers. The thought never entered my mind going into this season. My goal was to fish as many tournaments as possible and learn as much as I could.
After finishing 1st and 2nd at Caddo lake (my best event) I realized I had a shot with a good standing during the Super trail event. I almost missed the super trail due to work and the hurricane in Louisiana. Stars aligned and I went to event and fished as hard as I could. Day one was a disaster only boating 4 fish. Day two I changed up locations and baits and it payed of with 5 fish for 3rd place finish earning me the RAOY. I learned that day the importance of not being afraid of only 5 bites and to set a goal, a plan, and go for it. Make changes as needed adjust to surrounding and fish your strengths.
Damian Thao: I fished 3 out of the 4 events. I placed 2nd at Folsom, 1st at McClure and 4th for Clear Lake. I just kept grinding it out, whether I prefished or not, I went to the events with confidence. My best event was at Lake McClure. I ended up landing my longest bass in a live event going 24”. My worst event was Clear Lake. I was sitting good on day 1 sitting in second place. On day 2 I ended up making some mistakes that set me back and overall placing in 4th for the tournament.
Ken Wood: I was having a pretty bad year, to be honest. Dealing with a lot of family issues, with my father‘s health and all of that, and it was harming me mentally, and that was showing in my performance on the water. I would get frustrated easily, angry, want to quit, and so forth. So it took me a while to recognize that and then I started to perform better.
And I had some good fortune in that the New Jersey event was canceled and moved to the Charles River, which I know fairly well, so I didn’t have to worry about learning a new body of water. So that was a bit of luck right there. And of course I won one of those events, placed second in the other. I fished a spot that I’ve never fished on the river before, knowing that the spots that I didn’t know well would be packed with people. So I gambled and it paid off. And then I won the super trail, and that secured my spot at the top.
My worst? Easily the Susquehanna events that one was just a disaster, both days. No pre-fishing, just picked a spot that I had fished previously, but when I fished it before the water was like 6 feet deep in the spot. This year it was like 6 inches deep, so it was pretty awful.
Mike Elsea: I won the North Central Region AOY by fishing all of the events, and finishing in the top 5 in all of them. I had a 3rd place finish, and two 5th place finishes.
Barry Davis: I tried to fish both the SE and Mid Atlantic this year but couldn’t swing the expense of hitting all the events. I had to pick and choose what I thought would work for just getting to fish a few. The Knoxville event on day one I struggled a bit but it helped me make better decisions for day 2 and take the win. Same basic thing at Lanier: day 1 I went to where I had finished 3rd last year and tried to make it work and it was a mistake. Day 2 I switched water and salvages a good finish. Wheeler was totally different. I found fish and made it work both days. I was 6th on day 1 but on day 2 the bite totally changed. I adapted in late morning and ended up with the best day 2 total and came in 4th overall.
Eric Nelson: Coming into the beginning of the 2020 season, I had confidence in most of the lakes on our list, with the only wildcard at the time being the Potomac. I opted to skip the Potomac event, and put my efforts into the closer Santee Cooper, High Rock/Randleman and Keowee/Hartwell events. A decision I would later regret!
The best event of the season was for sure the High Rock / Randleman event where I was able to pull off an event win on Saturday, besting Jody Queen by a second biggest bass tie breaker. I was in disbelief of the win, even after I received the phone call from Joe [Haubenreich]! The next event would be the most cruel of events for the season for me. The Keowee/Hartwell event had me a little concerned initially because I had never fished a blue herring lake before. I had a decent practice result with an area I felt would give me a limit. Saturday’s event turned into a struggle, leaving me way down in the field. Sunday’s event looked promising; however, I skunked, and felt my chance at Mid-Atlantic Angler of the Year had disappeared.
Coming into the Smith Mountain Lake SuperTrail event I was looking for a good showing and hopefully I could finish well and cash a check to cover the expenses. When my last upgrade on day 2 jumped me to 2nd place and knowing that I had just secured the title, adrenaline kicked in for the last half hour of the event when it hit me that if this stands, I just won Angler of the Year!
How it Felt
Eric Nelson: When the call came from Joe [Haubenreich] congratulating me on the Mid-Atlantic AOY victory, I immediately felt a load come off my shoulders. I have been competitively fishing for many years, and have always wanted to land a title simply for personal gratification. This year I invested more time and effort into improving my skills than ever before, and having it pay off in such a major way has been simply amazing!
Barry Davis: When Joe [Haubenreich] called me, I had no idea that I had finished good enough at Lanier to take it. I knew it would be close between 3-4 of us but wasn’t sure where I would end up. The feeling was awesome, especially with the caliber of people in that region. The first thought that went through my mind was holy smokes I’ve actually shown I can do this. My wife told me in February when we decided I was going to do this full time this year that “this was going to be my year” I took that kind of lightly, (she is my biggest supporter) but dang she knew I had something in me for this year.
Ken Wood: It felt great. I don’t really acknowledge pride so much. I feel uncomfortable with that, but I am proud of that win. After the year I had, to be able to turn it around, that feels pretty good. Especially winning it the way I did.
Damian Thao: The feeling of being Regional champ is pretty crazy because honestly, it wasn’t a goal for me at the beginning of the year. It seemed like it was too far out of reach for me. When I first found out I was tied for 1st for Regional Champ and there was only one event left, that’s when the pressure was really on and it had finally hit me, that I may actually win this.
Mike Elsea: I felt very blessed for finishing at the top of that region. My first thought was two-fold: “God is good”, and “now for the national AOY! Let’s GO!”
Adam Petrone: I still don’t think it’s set in that I won the title. Don’t get me wrong I am excited and still can’t believe it to this day. The first thought that entered my mind was I can do this. I can compete with the best. That’s really all I want to do. The competition is what I love about this sport. And the great people you meet along the way. p.s. I’m writing this on Guntersville. AOY and ROY is my goal now.
KBF Thanks the following regional sponsors. Click on the links to browse and shop!
The Mid-Atlantic Region was sponsored by Ketch Products
The North Central region was sponsored by Bonafide Kayaks
The North East region was sponsored by Dakota Lithium
The West region was sponsored by Columbia Sportswear
The South Central region was sponsored by Native Watercraft
The South East region was sponsored by Feelfree
[editor’s note: For a longer article about Eric Nelson’s season, see his article on basstrail.com]
Eric Nelson is sponsored by Basstrail.com, Dakota Lithium, TRC Covers.
Mike Elsea is sponsored by Titan Tungsten, Native Watercraft, Dakota Lithium, YakAttack, Nines, YakPower, Fitzgerald Fishing, BFH, SinkeRSwim Tackle, Power-Pole, Rogue Fishing.
Barry Davis is sponsored by: alxrods, tourneytag, bonafide, yakattack, paddlesouthoutfitters, bassproshops, cabelas, victorytackleworks, titantungsten, lews, Dakota lithium, Powerpole