Why write longer articles about kayak tournament fishing? You fished, you placed (or didn’t), you went home. If you placed maybe your friends expected you to buy dinner. But you didn’t. Will you buy dinner, or won’t you? What if you compromise, and offer to get breakfast? Is that fulfilling the deal, or ducking the issue? That is the question.

And who needs journalism? After all, we have social media where everyone can post whatever they want. Who needs an event recap when we have the standings?  Post whatever you want. That’s your news. Social media companies will harvest meta data and sell it to advertisers. Why pay for the written news? Why trust a journalist?

If you follow these questions to their logical conclusion, you reach this one: who needs the First Amendment or a free press? But if you actually reach that point, you won’t be allowed to ask the question anyway, so don’t worry about it.

These were the some of the things on my mind as I drive to and from the KBF Trail on the Potomac River. I’d be within sight of the capital city of the republic of the United States of America. That’s where the rules that govern our self-determination are enshrined as law, including the one that permits me to type these words. There’s also a lot of fishing, scientific and environmental history here. It’s where Rachel Carson started her career at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s where the Smithsonian Institution houses scientific samples of native fishes harvested by our first scientists and its’ where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – proprietor of so many waters you and I fish – has its headquarters. It’s the nerve center of modern fishing in our country and also the guarantee that I can write about it freely. I had better bring my A game. Ask the tough questions.

Washington D.C. is also where I visited, in early July of 1976, for the Bicentennial celebration of our independence. That’s when I had one of my first encounters with “nature.” As I stared down from Roosevelt Island into the Potomac River,  some blind, sickly carp rooted around in the mud and garbage. The Environmental Protection Agency was recently authorized by Richard Nixon to address the pollution I was looking at through my five-year old eyes. the agency was younger than I was, so we had a long way to go.

I started fishing in the meantime, caught my first fish a couple of years later after that Bicentennial expedition. It was a bluegill from a clean lake in upstate New York. I always promised myself that if the Potomac River was ever cleaned up, I would return to fish it. I wanted to balance that ugly memory with a good one, to even the scales.When kayak fishing tournaments started to visit the area a few years ago, the memories came back, as did the urge. So in 2023 I made time to go back, as a middle-aged citizen, seasoned tournament angler and young sports journalist, to finally fish the Potomac River.

You may be thinking “Get to the fishing, Hank. What’s wrong with you?”

I wonder that sometimes as well. But not today.

As you can tell by now, this is going to be a different sort of recap. Normally, I would don the cloak of journalistic invisibility and step out of the way so as to prioritize facts, events, eyewitness accounts, etc. There are only a few of us doing the job of writing about our sport, so why should we all follow the same blueprint? Be independent – that’s the point of it all, right?

So, here is my friggin’ chance, and I’m rolling with it. I owe it to Ben Franklin, to myself, and those poor carp.

Hank interviewing Jake Angulas about dinner plans for Ryan and Nick, KBF Trail, Potomac River, 2023. Photo by Nick Audi.

The road to this article started a few years back, in 2020, when Chad Hoover asked me to write long-form content for the Kayak Bass Fishing website. The idea was to start doing for our sport what journalists do for other competitive sports – tell the stories of anglers and events, review products and write the first draft of history.

But KBF is a small company with a tight budget, and I’m just a sub-contractor with a full-time job elsewhere. “It would be nice to travel more and write about kayak fishing.”That’s what I told myself when I started writing for KBF.

In early 2023 I acted on the impulse. I did it because my old man was a journalist. I also like to travel and meet people and see our great country, so I pay my own way. No free entries, no comped hotels. It’s on my dime.

That also means that I am free to be creative with it. If a bit of New Journalism pops up here and there, or I get a bit gonzo, so be it. And if I want to fish and write about the event, good luck trying to stop me. You may as well call the Pentagon and ask for General Pershing. I’m going to ask the difficult questions. The ones that really matter.

So, here we are: you, me and the Potomac River, flowing by the nation’s capital out to the Atlantic Ocean. Jeff Little is out there somewhere, catching Striped Bass (seriously, that’s what he did while we were fishing the river).

I hadn’t competed on the KBF Trail more than one time since 2019, so I chose three KBF Trail events in the 2023 season, made my travel plans and signed up to fish. At Lake Murray, I paid Christopher Decker from Bassmaster magazine out of my own pocket to cover the event, so I could ease back into competition. Christopher did a great job (and I did write about Murray, only it’s in my personal notebooks).

For the Potomac, I would take a different approach. Why pretend I wasn’t there? Ditch the cloak of invisibility and here I am, Jackson Kayak hat, wet shoes and everything in between, the old guy who writes up the recaps. Hunter S. Thompson, eat your heart out (your “pal” Richard Nixon would have loved to see that, you know). Maybe that’s what’s for dinner, anyway.

Trail I: Saturday, April 29

Sometimes you walk right into it. It turns out that Jake Angulas, the angler who swept the tournament, was staying in the hotel where I booked a room. I didn’t know that until Saturday when I was already leaving for home, after Trail I.

Loading my car to beat the weather and drive home early, I crossed the lot with a fistful of rods. That’s when I saw Nick Audi and Ryan Matylewicz talking shop near Ryan’s truck. I went over to say hello and ask if they knew who had won, and one of them said “Jake, and he’s buying dinner.” The sun had come out after a grim few days, and here comes Jake, right on cue, backlit across the lot, the champ wearing an evening crown of light. “Here comes dinner…” someone says.

I grab my notebook from the car and prepare to ask Jake some questions. The problem is that fatigue is arguing with my flight response, and they are both yelling.  I am tired, the Potomac is a weird fishery and the approaching weather stresses me out……And I am hungry, too.

It started on the way into town. Excited to check the Potomac from my bucket list, I loaded up fast and hit the road. I expected to have at least the afternoon to fish a spot I wanted to scout. I-95 VA had other plans. Seven hours into a three hour-long drive and I’ve seen more wrecks than a scuba diver. The cut off for pre-fishing has passed, and I just passed a tackle shop. I turn around, park and head in. Moments later, a vehicle outside hydroplanes while going up hill (how is that even possible?) and nearly hits a police car.

Route 1 in Virginia is part suburb, part colonial highway, and all traffic. I love driving along it and stopping at random places, and today it’s going to be Occoquan Tackle. Why not? I browse the merchandise, find two things I want and chat with the man at the register. Two kids are playing video games down the counter, and he’s clearly over it. “Maybe they’ll be on top,” he says, after seeing my lures, “they do that when the water is high.”

“Maybe” they will be. And maybe they won’t.

I’m about to find out. My fishing destination for Trail I is the Occoquan river. I’ve decided to fish upstream. After looking at the rules for license reciprocity along the rest of the river, I realize I hadn’t seen that many rules since a friend persuaded me to play Dungeons and Dragons one time in high school. I am near Washington, D.C., after all. Would it be ironic, or appropriate, if I were written a ticket while on a bucket list fishing trip?

It seems other anglers found the Occoquan area easier to figure out. When I reach the park gate, there are already a dozen vehicles. Rich Biggie from Hudson Valley Kayak Bass Fishing yells “That you, Hank?” I go over and run into Jimmy McClurkan. “What are you doing this far north?” I ask. I spend most of the wait discussing Snakehead versus Bowfin with Joe Moschetti while Jimmy counts vehicles and Rich plays traffic cop to get everyone organized for an orderly entry.

Jimmy, Joe and Rich at the entrance to the launch site, KBF Trail, Potomac River 2023. Photo by Hank Veggian.

The line doubled in length by the time the gate opened, but you never saw so many kayaks launch as quickly as they do here. It’s the most efficient launch I have ever seen. Fifteen minutes later everyone else is gone, downstream to the left.

One guy is paddling near the ramp when I hit the water. We are only a few minutes before lines in. I say “either we are the smartest guys in that lot, or we made the wrong turn.” Moments later, he realizes he is facing the wrong way. I am hoping I am still the smartest guy in the lot.

The river is, greedy, I soon learn. It has a few of my lures in no time. A floating dock floats by. It takes me a few hours to land my first Potomac Largemouth Bass, but I eventually do. The bass is plump and green, and I admire it for a moment while I prepare to take the photo. The fish was waiting in ambush behind a massive truck tire. The tire is pinned to a pylon. The pylon used to hold a grated metal walkway; the river has that now, too.

It takes me a few more hours to land my second bass. I lose a third a bit later, and I’m done. I am not the smartest angler in the lot.

Back at the ramp, a kayak angler named Olivier is talking to every angler who walks by. He tells me he is French, been in the U.S. for four years. He just landed on a plane from Europe last night. Jet lagged kayak fishing. I wonder if KBF or the French embassy can issue an award for that sort of commitment.

Back at the hotel, I fall asleep and dream I’m home. I’m not too old for this, but I’m getting there. After checking the weather, I decide to leave. I wake up and decide to leave.

That’s when I see Jake in the lot, as I am loading my car. We talk about his win. First, I assure him nothing will be published until after the event has ended (see journalism, above).

“I caught them on a Texas-rigged Senko. It was from an old bag with the color wiped off, but it’s a shad color. I had 17 lb test on my Shimano reel, and a Dobyns Champion Extreme rod. I caught hem shallow in stained water, mostly, but also around docks. I would start deep and work my way in.“

Ryan and Nick come back over and we chat. We discuss KBF’s recent financial troubles, the state of the national tournament circuit, the work I do. I’m looking at these young men and thinking “our sport is in good hands with them.” Ryan’s dad walks over. He’s placed tenth on the day, and we congratulate him. “let’s go eat,” someone says.

Trail I, Top 10

  1. Jake Angulas 90″
  2. Josh Mah 89.75″
  3. Justin Largen 88″
  4. Wyatt Hammond 87.5″
  5. Greg Oaks 86″
  6. Jake Coucoules 85.75
  7. Ryan Nye 85.5″
  8. Max DiPace 85″
  9. Matthew Campbell 84.75″
  10. Francis Matylewicz 83.5″

Dakota Lithium Big Bass (Tie): Michael Musgrove 20.75″, Jake Angulas 20.75″

Trail II: Sunday, April 30

With that out of my system, let’s discuss Trail II [dons cloak of journalistic invisibility, then removes it].

I’m back in North Carolina. It was an easy drive – clear skies, clear roads, no wrecks. Not to be outdone by the French angler’s effort, I head out and fish on Sunday at a local lake. Do I regret leaving the Potomac? Not when I look at the radar.

So I follow the standings and think about the variables. Early Sunday, Justin Largen jumped out to the early lead with 72”, just as I was getting out of my bed around 8 am. This is the old routine – work from home. Take notes, screenshot standings, drink coffee. Sneak out and fish a local lake. I go back and check the previous day’s screenshots, and see Justin also had the lead around 9 a.m. during Trail I. He clearly has a good spot and a reliable pattern. Will it hold up? We know it won’t, but that’s the question I normally ask at that time. And guess what – sometimes it actually does hold up.

Rich Biggie at the KBF Trail II, Potomac River, 2023

Jump ahead to mid-day and Rich Biggie has the lead. I wonder if he directed traffic at the gate again that morning. He would deserve a win, or at least to place in the money, for the effort. And he’s got the lead now with a solid 88.5” limit. It’s the kind of limit that cashes checks, and almost the exact number that had Justin Largen in contention late on Saturday.…..Rich is also tied on the Dakota Lithium Big bass Leaderboard. He’s tied with Jake Angulas; both have a 19.25” Largemouth Bass. Josh Evans will have something to say about that later on……

In the meantime, the rain is getting worse, and the leaderboard is getting tighter. Eric Nelson briefly has second place. I realize I owe him dinner, and he owes me for the hotel room. Hopefully he wins a check.

He does, and so does Jake Angulas. In fact, Angulas sweeps the two Trails and wins the Dakota Lithium Double Up. I decide to to search his name on the KBF website. We’ve all seen his name before, but had he ever won like this?

I tend to tag anglers in posts even when they haven’t won. Jake Angulas is tagged in recaps of tournaments on Champlain and Winnipesaukee, and also from Dee Zee KBF The Ten in 2023, which he qualified for. He’s a northeast angler, as I used to be, and part of a core of young hammers that includes his aforementioned dinner guests.

I call Angulas on Monday to follow up on our conversation in the lot.

“What’s up, bud?”

“How you doing? How was your drive?” he asks.

“Good. Hey, before we start, I have a question. Did you really buy dinner for Ryan and Nick?”

“No,” he replies. He pauses, then laughs. “They said I had to bring them breakfast sandwiches at Lake Cayuga [next week].”

“Will you?” I ask.

“No.” Another pause. “Maybe.”

Jake Angulas proceeds to talk about his victory on Trail II.

“I took all of my electronics off. I knew I’ d go up shallow, and the offshore grass bite would be dead. The water was high from the rain, and it looked like high tide even though it was low tide. My day started out slow, and when I noticed the stained water, I switched from a Senko to my punching rig. It’s a Dobyns 805 rod with a Shimano reel, and 65 pound test Power Pro line. I use a Strike King Hack Attack jig with a Missile Baits D Bomb trailer.”

I ask him how it feels to finally win, and he replies:

“I cashed checks at Champlain and Messalonskee, and also at Nationals at Kentucky Lake. I’m really a Smallmouth fisherman. I put work into Largemouth Bass fishing, so it feels good to win.”

I have the feeling he is going to buy them breakfast sandwiches, after all.

Trail II, Top 10

  1. Jake Angulas 92″
  2. Jake Coucoules 88.75″
  3. Joshua Evans 88.5″
  4. Rich Biggie 88.5″
  5. Eric Nelson 88.25″
  6. Greg Oaks 87.5″
  7. Hunter Hernandez 86.25″
  8. Glenn Landstrom 84.75″
  9. Ryan Nye 84.25″
  10. Ryan Matylewicz 82.75″

Dakota Lithium Big Bass: Joshua Evans 21.25″

Post Script

Writing is a messy business. So is life – but it isn’t a business. I don’t trust people who think it is. If you have a “business plan” for life, you’re probably looking to empty my bank account, too. I just want to fish, collect my thoughts and write it down. It’s my duty as a citizen.

After I call Jake on Monday, I decide to wait. This recap takes a bit longer. Tournament fishing and travel are difficult, tiring business. I could rush it, just blurt out the basic event facts. Why bother? Computers could do that now, sort of.  And you don’t have to talk with them in a parking lot. They just listen to you through your phone and your fridge.

And since I’m a writer, I want the extra time to proofread, revise, etc. When I do this work for KBF, it goes like this from end to end: it begins with the press release, then the event preview (which sometimes involves getting quotes from local club directors or officials). next, I set up promotional posts on social media, as well as event day announcements. In phase three, I write the recap, a process that usually requires several hours of work. In all, each KBF Trail event involves ten to fifteen hours of work spread out over several weeks. For a bigger, longer event like a national championship, double the amount of work.

It’s work, and I love to work. I love to fish, too, so having the chance to do both together brings special satisfaction. Grinding out long kayak tournaments is exhausting. Like most things in life, if it doesn’t make you tired then it isn’t worth doing. I mean, it took more than a decade from the time the Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence until the U.S. Constitution was ratified. If it takes me an extra day to write a tournament recap for a kayak fishing event, or if I go off the rails for a bit, will the government stop working? No. Will it still be worth it?

I’ll answer that question with another question: will Jake bring the breakfast sandwiches for Ryan and Nick next week?

Up Next

Lake George, NY will be the next stop on the 2023 Realtree Fishing KBF Trail Powered by Dakota Lithium. Click here to register.

Additional Info

Jake Angulas is sponsored by Dobyns Rods, NuCanoe, Enduro Power Lithium and Sniper Marine.

Click here to watch the complete awards ceremony from Stafford, VA.

The Realtree Fishing KBF Trail on the Potomac River was hosted by TourStaffordVA.

For complete standings: https://app.fishingchaos.com/tournament/kbf-trail-series-or-potomac-river-or-2023

KBF partnered with NVKBA and MAKBF for the event, and thanks both organizations for  their great work as AmBASSador programs.

About the KBF Trail: Realtree Fishing KBF Trail events are a 5-fish, CPR, members only tournament. KBF weekends comprise two single day Trail tournaments and the Dakota Lithium Double Up Program which spans both days.

For the 2023 KBF Trail events schedule: https://www.kayakbassfishing.com/schedule/


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REALTREEFISHING  KBF TRAIL Series Tournaments are Powered by Dakota Lithium Batteries

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First Published May 1, 2023. A previous version of this article was allegorical in nature. It was revised on May 2, 2023, so as not to offend anyone by making them think too hard about it.

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