B.A.S.S. Nation’s First Kayak Fishing Season

When the venerable Bassmasters organization announced it would launch a kayak bass fishing tournament series in 2019, the kayak fishing world took notice. Fresh off Kayak Bass Fishing’s successful 2019 collaboration with F.L.W., it was apparent that the sponsors, leagues and professionals on the “boater side” had taken notice. And so when the B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series announced it would hold its inaugural event side by side with the Bassmaster Classic in Alabama in early March, competitors began signing up, and they continued to do so all season long.

That 1st season ended this past weekend on November 21st at Lake Chickaumauga, with headquarters in Dayton, Tennessee. B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series director Steve Owens is a veteran of the kayak fishing scene. He described the first season as follows:

“This season has taught me patience” in structuring the series. Owens has been satisfied with the result, and judging by tournament registration, he’s had good reason to be happy with the inaugural season’s events. That experience helped him to manage the B.A.S.S. tournament on Chickamauga. “During the weeks leading up to the event, I could help anglers with lodging, tackle shops, car repair and places to eat.” As with other series, these external impacts of the sport expand the economic footprint of kayak fishing, making it valuable to host venues.

The Tournament

While Owens is a familiar name to kayak anglers and tournament directors, another familiar name took the early lead on the tournament leaderboard. West Virginia’s Jody Queen is one of the most renowned and accomplished anglers in the sport, and early in the day it looked as though he might pull of the first ever Triple Kayak Fishing Crown and add a B.A.S.S. Nation trophy to his KBF and Hobie BOS collection of championship hardware. Queen was in 1st place after hour 1 of fishing with a 45.75” 3 fish bag, followed by Indiana’s Alan Reed and Virginia’s Greg Nosar in 2nd and 3rd place, respectively. Reed took the lead after hour 3 of competition, followed by Iowa’s Tim Gurley, with Queen having added a fish to remain in 3rd place at 10 am. At noon, Queen had clawed his way back into 2nd place with a 5 fish limit of 74.25”, only 1.50” behind the new leader, Minnesota’s Scott Stuhlmann.

Queen ultimately finished in 7th place by focusing on schooling fish. His strategy was to target schoolies and then search for bigger bites in the grass and around docks. He said “My last fish wasn’t a schoolie, because it came off a dock, and its coloration was different. It lived under that dock.”

The day would ultimately belong to Iowan Tyler Cole. Cole had been hanging around the top of leaderboards for some time. In 2019, he posted a 5th place finish at a KBf Trail event and placed 16th in a Hobie event earlier in 2020. He finally broke through at Chickamauga to earn a signature victory. In his words:

“I got into town on Wednesday night. I’d done a bunch of map study at home to get a starting point. [I] Fished an area Thursday and only caught 4 fish all day, came back to camp and regrouped and found some water that fished my strengths with frog fishing. It was a stretch of main lake that had grass in 2-3′ of water, with 10’+ close by. My hope was it would give the fish migrating a place to stop off and feed. I fished it for 2 hours on Friday and pulled out after catching 2 on a chatter bait and 2 on a frog. I knew I could grind out 5 bites, but I’d have to make them count.”

And make them count he did with a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Cole had been inching his way up the leaderboard all day, and as he told it to Christopher Decker in an interview, he landed his kicker fish in the final hour of competition, with only minutes to spare. It was a 21” fish that vaulted him to 1st place, and victory. Cole described those moments to KBF News as follows:

“The last 2 hours were nerve wracking. I was trying to stay in my head to keep grinding with the frog, or down size and just look for the 5th bite. I decided to take my lumps and stick with the frog. At 2:15, I stuck a blow up and ended up tearing its lips. I was deflated, but still had 45 minutes for 1 bite. I ran thru my grass patch, dodging the bobber brigade on the shore. I decided to focus on the area I had the last blow up for the final 30 minutes. Missed another fish at 2:30. But kept throwing. I finally got bit at 2:40, [with that fish] being my 21″ fish and filling my limit. I was pumped! I got the call to come to awards and was still nervous that a late limit came in. There were some true southern hammers signed up. When Steve finally called 2nd place, I was overwhelmed with emotion.

This year has been the year of 1 more fish and this tournament set up no different. But this event I got that 5th to put me up there. Having everyone following along all day means more than the world to me. I couldn’t be more proud to represent the Midwest and Iowa in the community.”

Looking Ahead

Reflecting on his performance at Chickamauga, Jody Queen said “I came here with one goal: to qualify for the B.A.S.S. event in Texas [at Lewisville Lake in March of 2021] and to compete for a chance to go onstage at the Bassmaster Classic.”

Steve Owens looked ahead, too: “For 2021, the plan after the championship is to have 5 events in the Series. B.A.S.S. understands the passion and is committed to building the series.”

As one season ends, another begins. Anglers are already reviewing 2021 schedules and making travel plans for January events, with the KBF Tenvitational and The TEN launching the new season in January at Kissimmee, and followed by KBF Trail and Hobie BOS events in February.

© KBF/Kayak Fishing News 2020

*Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 11.24.20 to include the phrase “Triple Kayak Fishing Crown.”