by Henry Veggian
On the evening of October 8th, 2020, competitors were listening to music outside the Lodge at Lake Guntersville State Park, eating food and admiring the view. Some who didn’t make the cut for day 3 of the YakAttack KBF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP presented by Torqeedo were taking a last look at the lake. Others who made the cut were picking up their custom Ketch boards for the final day of competition.
Others still were waiting for results from the Realtree Fishing KBF TRAIL Series Championship presented by Dee Zee. A lot was at stake – Angler of the Year points, Rookie of the Year points and a place among DeeZee KBF The TEN. As the results came in, Massachusetts angler Matthew Conant learned he had won both the KBF TRAIL Series Championship and the KBF Rookie of the Year title. He had also qualified for KBF The TEN. But he had no time to rest or enjoy the titles he won at the end of day 2 – he had a chance to win the KBFNC on day 3.
Consider the great single-season accomplishments in modern tournament fishing. Kevin Van Dam’s 2001 season when he won both the FLW and Bassmasters AOY titles as well as the Bassmaster Classic, comes closest to a Triple Crown. For perspective, Roland Martin never won the Bassmaster Classic but won multiple AOY titles, and Rick Clunn never won the Classic and the AOY in the same year.
In 2020, the 2019 KBF Angler of the Year Rus Snyders won 1st place at least once in each of the National Trail series held by Kayak Bass Fishing, Hobie B.O.S. and B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series, respectively. But when the records are written, it’s likely that what Matthew Conant accomplished on Guntersville Lake in October of 2020 will rank alongside that “Triple Crown” as one of the greatest of all seasonal victories in our sport.*
But when the records are written, it’s likely that what Matthew Conant accomplished on Guntersville Lake in October of 2020 will stand alongside the greatest of all seasonal victories in our sport.
As noted above, Conant claimed 1st place in the KBF TRAIL Series Championship and he also clinched a Rookie of the Year title, placed 7th in the 2020 Angler of the Year race and qualified for KBF The TEN.
Some might say those accomplishments were already historically significant. And they were.
Others might say Conant’s accomplishment would have made the victories more significant if he had won the AOY title; others would say that for a Rookie to have done it is even more impressive. Regardless, most anglers would be fortunate to achieve one of those victories, let alone all of them, in a single career. But Matthew Conant didn’t stop there.
Day 3 of the KBFNC was an overcast, blustery Friday. The outer bands of Hurricane Delta were upon Guntersville. By the end of the day, Conant had sealed a single, legendary week with a KBFNC victory on day 3.
Additionally, Conant accomplished his feat on Southern waters. Hailing from Massachusetts, his experience with warm, vegetation-rich TVA lakes was limited. When it was over, Conant joined an elite group of kayak anglers from the U.S. Northeast. As angler and journalist Mike Cheatham noted recently, they have earned national recognition through KBF competition and put the Northeast on the kayak fishing map. Among them are 2018 KBF Rookie of the year Joseph D’Addeo (VT), 2019 KBF Rookie of the Year Derek Brundle (MA) and multi-Trail Champion and Northeast region AOY Ken Wood, to name a few.
They now count a KBF National Champion in their ranks – Matthew Conant.
We recently caught up with Conant and asked him some questions about the techniques, strategy and gear that contributed to his amazing run at Guntersville.
- First, What’s your base set-up for kayak fishing? (list kayak, electronics, paddles, PFD, motor, here, as well as fishing rods, reels, nets, etc. also, name sponsors here).
Here is my rig:
- NuCanoe Pursuit
- Lowrance 12” Elite ti
- MotorGuide Xi3
- Xotic, Bass Pro, Saint Croix rods
- Daiwa and Shimano reels
The stability of the NuCanoe is important. I don’t sit when I fish, so I don’t even have a seat for it. I use my cooler for storage. Sometimes I even stand on the cooler.
- Tell us about where you are from and how you got started in fishing, and also kayak fishing.
I’m from Cape Cod, MA and like most of us I got into fishing as a young kid. Started out messing around on a small local river with neighborhood friends and the passion grew from there. I was introduced to kayak fishing in 2019 from good friend Derek Brundle and I fish with the NE Bassin’ Club. I was fishing from a jon boat against kayaks.
- You were a rookie on the KBF Tournament Trail in 2020. Describe your experience on it leading up to Nationals. Did anything in that experience prepare you for Guntersville?
My rookie year was filled with highs and lows. I’ve probably learned more about fishing this last year than I have in the previous 10! Most of all I learned how focused you need to stay when things get tough out there. One day one at Guntersville, I got a good morning bite, and then it died. Mentally, I started wondering where I should be. I took a two hour journey to the main river. I took 4 casts, then asked myself “What are you doing leaving fish to find fish?” When I got back, I landed a 19” bass to fill out my bag. That’s what mean by focus.
- Now, for the National Championship, Trail Championship and ROY race. Let’s start with ROY. When did you think you might have a chance at the title, and did that affect your approach to Guntersville?
I didn’t know where I stood in the ROY race till late in the season when the standings were updated for the first time. It didn’t affect my approach to Guntersville but I feel it took away the pressure. I had to beat Adam Petrone and Mike Marcone, and it took my mind off the National Championship.
- Describe your approach to the lake during Nationals week. How much time did you spend pre-fishing? Did you do any map study? What was your approach to reading the lake, and then how did that translate to success on the water?
I started out eliminating water before I even got to Guntersville. I planned on staying off the main river and away from the popular areas that I felt would get the most pressure. I came to Guntersville expecting to be throwing a frog and punching all week and that bite was non existent. After 6 days of pre-fishing I was able to dial in on where I needed to be along with what I needed to be throwing. My early morning bite was topwater on a walking bait, and for the rest of the day I would throw a square bill or a chatterbait. As soon as the topwater bite died, I transitioned to the other lures.
- It’s the first morning of the KBF National Championship and Trail Championship. What’s going through your mind in the minutes before you launched.
I was excited with what I had found and was feeling confident in getting a 85”+ day 1 limit.
- Now it’s Day 2. Did you make any adjustments from Day 1?
The only adjustment I made on day 2 was my starting point on the rotation I had going on. I started on Day 1 by fishing the mouth of an area and I figured out a sweet spot, so I started there at the sweet spot on Day 2. I caught my kicker each day out of that same area, which was about 100 square yards.
- It’s Day 3. You made the cut, and you have won the Trail Championship. But now the National Championship is within reach. What’s going through your mind when you launch and while you fish?
I just kept telling myself focus focus focus! I felt I was on winning fish and it didn’t take long to find out nothing had changed, they were still there and biting.
- At the end of it all, you bring 3 major trophies home. You are KBF Rookie of the Year, KBF TRAIL Series Champion and the new KBF National Champion. Describe the feeling.
The feeling is incredible, I set out this year to prove to myself that I could compete with this talented group of anglers and possibly win R.O.Y. It’s a great feeling when all the hard work pays off and this has all been a good confidence booster for me.
- What’s next?
What’s next? Honestly I’m just gonna go out there and have fun. I’ll focus on KBF and a couple NE trails primarily and maybe throw a couple of Hobie or BASS events in there if possible. I’m excited to head south to Florida in January and get the 2021 season started at THE TEN.
*[Erratum: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that no angler had won a Triple Crown of KBF, Hobie and B.A.S.S. trophies in a single season. 2020 KBF Angler of the Year Rus Snyders had in fact won all three in 2020. This article was corrected. The previous version stated: “To date, no one has won a KBF, B.A.S.S. and Hobie major event in a single season or all three championships (Barry Davis came close to the former, with a KBF Trail win and a B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series win in 2020). Yes, the major trails have only existed for a few years together. It may still happen that an angler sweeps them all. Our sport is young and the records are still being written.”]
© Kayak Bass Fishing 2020