In 2016, over 200 anglers travelled to Paris, Tennessee for the first ever Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship presented by Torqeedo on Kentucky Lake. KBF commemorated that event in 2021. The feedback to the article was so good that we decided to make it an annual tradition – just like KBF anglers who return to the National Championship every year.
This year, we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 2018 event. The 2018 KBF National Championship was a landmark event for its payouts, the new products that were showcased and the number of anglers in attendance.
In the first place, Kayak Bass Fishing offered a guaranteed payout of $100,000 to the champion. To this day, that payout remains unmatched in a kayak bass fishing tournament. And the champion won that payout fishing with the Z-Man Jackhammer, a lure that would transform the fishing industry. It was one of two pieces of fishing technology that play a big role in this article.
The other technology was a new brand of measuring board. Manufactured by Ketch Products, U.S.A., the original Ketch board was a sleek piece of milled aluminum that would soon become the industry standard and one of the most beloved products in the history of the sport. The story of that product and company is as important to the 2018 National Championship as the story of the fishing, the payouts and the crowd.
About that crowd….the final tally was 749 participants. Again, another landmark, and another number that remains unmatched in the history of the sport of kayak tournament fishing.
All told, the 2018 KBF Bass Fishing National Championship set new standards for payouts and attendance. It was also the start of a new era. In 2019, both Hobie and Bassmaster announced they would enter the national kayak bass fishing scene, and in the span of one year the number of high-profile series would expand from one to three. Additionally, mainstream attention to kayak fishing would also expand in 2019. In particular, Kayak Bass Fishing would collaborate with FLW, introducing kayak fishing to the big stage for the first time at the 2019 Dee Zee FLW/ KBF Cup. As Duke says of Ketch in the interview, in 2018 it became a “real business.” The same could be said for competitive kayak fishing over the course of the following year.
In that way, the 2018 KBF National Championship also opened a new chapter for the sport of kayak fishing. The tournament introduced our sport to the mainstream and established its popularity in a manner that allowed for expansion across new tournament series, brands and products.
For previous National Championship recaps, we interviewed many competitors and contributors, but for this edition, Duke Weskamp and Dwayne Taff gave us such great answers that we let them have the entire spotlight. It seemed fitting given the magnitude of the changes taking place at the event to have two people represent it all.
Here it is as told from the perspective of the two of the main protagonists, in their own words: Mr. Duke Weskamp of Ketch Products, Inc. tells us about the birth, life and recent phasing out of the original Ketch board, while the 2018 Kayak Bass Fishing National Champion, Mr. Dwayne Taff of Texas, tells us about his historic victory and the little new lure that earned it for him [we didn’t ask him about the Cheetos, because you’ve probably heard it before….].
Duke: “We had been building Musky and Walleye boards for four to five years (prior to the first kayak model in 2017). I had fished out of a kayak, and also fished CPR, ironically, but it was musky fishing. Just by happenstance, a friend mentioned to me “Oh they do CPR out of kayaks.” I was totally unaware of the competitive aspect. I said “I’ll take the bump board out on the kayak” but the first thing you realize with a 3” wide board with powder-coated aluminum is the fish wants to slip right off it. To take the first few pictures was really, really difficult.”
“I reached out to Chad [Hoover] and sent him a board. I had found the KBF online stuff after 2016 and I thought the judges would appreciate the accuracy of our boards, and that kind of started the dialogue. Chad said “This is what we need, we just need something so it [the fish] stays on the board.” So we designed a cradle extrusion, and it’s expensive to build an extrusion tool for plastics. So I think it was about one thousand dollars each to 3-D print the first cradles. I kept one for myself and sent one to Chad. He told me he was gonna approve the board and officially make it news at The Ten [in early 2018].”
“Chad called me two weeks before The Ten and said “hey, can you send me up [some boards].” I didn’t know what the Ten was, I didn’t know what the National Championship was, I didn’t know what the competitive landscape of kayak fishing looked like at all. All I knew was there was this guy named Chad who ran these events.”
“He was like “I’d really like to give each of these anglers [at the Ten] a board].” So, he said the boards were legal [at the event]. We had just opened our website like 3 days previously, and all of our inventory sold out overnight.”
Dwayne: “On the way [to Kentucky lake] I had stopped at Bass Pro Shop in Memphis (the big Pyramid) because I had forgot my rain gear and knew it was supposed to be crappy weather most of the time (it was snowing a little that Tuesday). While I was shopping around I saw they had the new Jackhammer on display and I had heard the hype from the elite guys on YouTube. So at $18 each I only bought one to try out. I picked the BHite Delight in 3/8 oz.”
Dwayne: “Pre fishing was no help. I prefished Kentucky Lake and never caught a fish in 3 days of fishing except an Asian Carp upside the head…literally. Spooked one and it jumped up right into my face. I covered a ton of water, deep, shallow, middle but never figured it out. That Thursday evening (the night before day 1) I went to dinner with some of the guys from Texas I normally fish the local trail with, and was staying with there.”
“While we were there at the restaurant, we all started looking a Navionics, and Google Earth and sharing horror stories on how prefishing went. My friend Dave “The Thunder Midget” Newman showed me a spot at the south end of Barkley that he drove to the launch and looked around and said “it looked fishy.” However he had a little luck at another location and wasn’t going there. So I asked if he minded if I went and gave it a shot and he was good with it. So another friend (Jeff Tyson) and I went there on Day 1. Knowing it was pre-spawn I looked on Navionics for those first stop type staging areas and picked a point close to the launch, partly because it looked right but mostly because I was paddling.”
Duke: “ [In January] Chad said “You gotta come to the National Championship. Bring five or six hundred boards and you’re gonna be able to sell them all there.”
“I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations. I had been to local kayak events but I was definitely surprised by how many people were there [at Paris, TN]….I was surprised by the production level. There were food trucks and a huge auditorium and vendors giving away free beer. The vendors at the expo were in a shed area. It was cool.”
The National Championship: Day 1
Dwayne: “The event was only 2 days then. They didn’t have any Zako trailers at Bass Pro Shops, so during prefishing I stopped by a local bait shop on the lake and found them. So I tied on that Jackhammer with 7 other lures for day 1. I started with a jig for about 30 minutes but no bites. Decided to pick up the Jackhammer because I had seen a little bait flicker close to the bank. First cast I caught a fish. Then it was non-stop action from that point on. I went up and down a 100 yard bank all day and it kept reloading with fish. All I threw was the Jackhammer. At the end of day one I was sitting in 5th place overall with 87.5”
Duke: “It was insane. We ended up selling 500 boards in addition to pre-sales. It was a deluge of people in front of our booth, buying boards and picking up orders on the first day of the Expo.”
“I remember we got back to the Air BnB and me and my dad had done thirty eight thousand dollars in cash business that day.”
“We finally saw the potential for the business. We still operate a machine shop, so we had put boards in the background, but the National Championship was where we saw the potential.”
“I qualified for the tournament through my local club. I was planning on fishing the tournament but we had stayed up night and day for two weeks to get a bunch of boards done for the championship. So I went to drive to the ramp, fell asleep in my truck and almost drove off the road.”
“I thought, “I’m gonna go back and catch another five or six hours of sleep, go to the Expo and hear some stories.” By day 2 the expo was quiet. Chad always had a production going, filming stuff for the event, so it was more about ‘go to have some beers, converse and see what’s going on.”
The National Championship: Day 2
Duke: “I was like “I’ll go try and put up a limit on day two.” I’m a hopeless troller. If the tournament allows trolling, I’ll go out on a lake with a crankbait or something to troll. I found this little cove. It was all the way up north, almost by the Barkley dam. I thought “I’m just gonna troll to my spot….”
“Right off the ramp, I ended up…..I don’t know, I never weighed it, I tried to get it but didn’t have a net big enough, but it was like a sixty-five or seventy pound flathead catfish. I’m not a bass fisherman, so it would have been cooler landing that fish.”
“I had gotten it next to the boat. I thought the only chance I had was to get him up on the rocks kick him up to the bank. I beached the boat and then the fish eventually wrapped me around a tree stump. It broke me off. I only had twelve pound fluorocarbon….I didn’t get to land him. I was so tuckered out. That was an hour and fifteen minutes. It took me about 30 minutes just to get him next to the boat.”
“I sat there on the bank in my boat and snoozed for a couple of hours.”
Dwayne: “I didn’t really have a strategy as far as saving fish for day 2. At least not in that area. I had 3 other areas in the area that set up the same way so I was hoping it would produce the same. Day two I started on the same point as I did on day one. There was some small bushes and stick ups on that bank, so first cast I threw at the first one I could see (still a little dark) and landed on the stick up and my jackhammer hung up in it. I tugged a few times trying not to scare off the fish but couldn’t get it loose. I started to paddle towards the bank trying to shake it loose. As I got about 10ft from the tree it popped loose and fell into the water. So I started to reel the slack up when I realized my line was almost under my boat, and steady moving I set the hook. It was a 22.50″ fish. At that point I knew I had a shot at a good finish.”
“I continued with the same plan buy only had 2 other bites. Starting to spin out a bit at that point and it continued to fall apart for me. I refused to look at the leader board because I knew it would get in my head. Mid-morning I made a bad cast and landed my jackhammer about 10ft up in a tree. With that being the magic bait I had to go get it. So I beached the kayak, and climbed a tree. I was able to reach the line with scissors and cut it to let the jackhammer fall into to seat of the kayak. A few casts after tying it back on the skirt came off. Luckily I had my jig box with me. So I took apart 3 jigs to recreate the BHite Delight color as close as possible. Got back up and running and decided to check another one of those areas I had scoped out. A few minutes after getting there I caught a 19” fish but never got another bite there. Only having 4 fish, I decided to paddle back to my original spot. As I arrived I noticed the camera man and Gene “Flukemaster” Jensen pulling up to my point. After a quick interview I noticed 3 of my friends from Texas had shown up also just to show support.”
“So I knew I was still sitting okay on the leader board. I moved around to a couple other areas for about an hour hoping my area would reload. Threw a wacky rig at a pile of rocks close by and landed a 12.5″ to fill my limit. After a bit I made my way back to my original area. Not another bite until about 20 minutes before lines out and the same stick up I started on I caught a 14.50″ for a 2″ upgrade. (I won by 1.75” over Josh Stewart). After getting back to the launch, Gene asked to take a picture with me, and said “the 2018 National Champion” as he pointed at me. I asked did he really think I won? He said he believed so. The leader board was off so no knowing until the awards. The problem was the awards weren’t until the next day, so I had to sit and think about it all night.”
Dwayne: “I have had a long career in oil and gas so tournament fishing for me has always been something I do for fun. I never planned to make a job out it. I love fishing and I love to compete so this brings it together for me. [Winning the championship in 2018] provided a lot of opportunity for me in the industry that I would have never had before. If anything has changed is has fueled my addiction to the sport even more than before. I’m addicted to the entire experience of kayak fishing tournaments. From the competition, the camaraderie, fishing new waters, the anticipation before the first cast on tournament day…I absolutely love it!”
Duke: “I am glad KBF is going back to having the National Championship as the kick off for the year [in 2024]. That’s what it felt like in 2018. It was the culmination of the last year and the start of a new year.”
“I sold almost everything at Kentucky Lake, and came home with only a few of the black boards. Basically, for the next year and a half, the entire game was not about moving the business forward it was meeting the demand of the market. I never really thought you could sell five or ten thousand bump boards in a year.”
“The National Championship in 2018 is where our business went from a hobby business to a real business My biggest takeaway was the entrepreneurial take: there is a cool movement here that gravitated toward our product, and we should lean into that.”
“I may still have that original cradle. I have some nostalgia pieces we saved. We have board number 0000001. But the original ketch board became unsustainable during COVID. Powder coat became really expensive, aluminum quadrupled in price. The margins were always razor thin. In my view the Ketch X is better anyhow, it’s a one-piece design that doesn’t have that secondary cradle, so it was just time to kill it.”
Dwayne Taff is sponsored by Jackson Kayaks, YakAttack, Yamamoto Baits, Torqeedo, FishingOnline
Ketch Products, Neverlost Gear.
Chad Hoover is the founder of Kayak Bass Fishing.
For videos and articles about past KBF National Championships, click here.
Hank Veggian’s 2016 article in the now defunct Pacific Standard magazine about the first KBF National Championship was the first to cover the event in a national magazine. You can read a copy of it here.
First Published March 23, 2023
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