The Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship was established as a springtime tournament to celebrate the previous season’s qualifying grind and to start the new season with a bang. And for four legendary events from 2016-2019, KBF’s biggest championship event announced a new year of fishing and competition. Champions were crowned and kayak fishing careers were born. Each champion was the monarch of a new season.

After a five-year stretch when the event was moved to the autumn for four years (and then skipped in 2023), the YakAttack Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship powered by Dakota Lithium Batteries has returned to the springtime in 2024. A new home in Huntsville, Alabama was unveiled and a new champion was crowned: Wyatt Hammond. The reigning Rogue Gear Company KBF Angler of the Year, Hammond became the eighth national champion in Kayak Bass Fishing history.

Hammond’s home state is a part of this story. North Carolina has long been a hotbed of kayak fishing talent. NCKFA, one of the country’s most historic (yet least mentioned) clubs, was founded there by Mark Patterson in the early 2000’s. Since then, two generations of Tar Heel kayak anglers who started with NCKFA or the clubs it spawned have found success across multiple series, trails and clubs. Some of those anglers came very close to winning the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship (Ricky Rowland’s 3rd place finish in 2017 was, until now, the high water mark). When Hammond won the crown at Huntsville this past week, he finally delivered a trophy from a major national kayak fishing event to the Old North State.

Hammond’s is one story of many. On each day of the championship, a different angler pushed Hammond for the top spot, and each day he replied with a strong performance. Big bass were caught, further confirming Alabama’s fertile fisheries as bucket-list destinations. Elsewhere, we tell the story of 6th place finisher Mark Fehner of Long Island. With an international field of competitors that included more than a dozen of Mexico’s Iron Kayakers and two previous KBF national champions in attendance, the 2024 Yak Attack KBF National Championship was a great new start for the tournament’s return to a springtime championship format.

Eric Jackson with Mexico’s Iron Kayakers. Photo courtesy of Eric Jackson.

Day 1: Wednesday, April 3

Wyatt Hammond and Jerry Spradling had a classic showdown on day one. It has happened before. Cody Milton and Guillermo Gonzalez had one for the ages at the 2021 National Championship, where they each averaged 100” or more per day. Brian Aliff and Jay Wallen also had a classic battle at a KBF Open event at Santee Cooper in 2017, too. It’s one of those things that raises the tension, and the excitement. To have it happen on day one tells you what sort of event it is going to be.

It started when Wyatt Hammond had the early lead, and then Spradling took it over by posting 93.50”. With both Hammond and Jimmy McClurkan on his heels, Spardling held the lead, but when Spradling and Hammond started trading culls it was clear that both anglers were locked into excellent bites. Spradling culled up to 95.50” only to have Hammond upgrade and tie with him. At the end of the day, Hammond found that extra cull that gave him the overall lead at 96.25”.

Spradling told KBF:

“Practice was a bust for me. I always stop at the river and I caught my first fish after three casts. I moved up to a marina, and there were hybrids everywhere. But then the wind picked up and it was white capping…. Finally, on day four, I caught a good limit.

I went back to that spot on day one of the tournament. At around eight o’clock, I started catching them on an underspin. It was an owner 3/0 hook rigged with a black Gambler EZ swimmer with blue flake. I was just bringing it through the shallow grass, and something would smoke it. I don’t watch the leaderboard when I fish, but I saw my name in first when I uploaded. You know you are having a good day when you see that.”

In the meantime, Hammond was putting together his own limit:

“I started on a spot where I caught my biggest fish in practice. It was a point with milfoil, outside of a spawning pocket. I saw a laydown before I left, and landed an 18” from it. I started going through my spots, and the fish were bigger than they had been in practice. Where before they had been 15” or 16” fish, now I was catching 18” and 19” fish. It was a mix of fish moving in, and waves of fish were going out.

Hammond was also watching the leaderboard, and he saw Spradling’s limit. Hammond said “I was shocked to be where I was, and I was also in scramble mode.”

Spradling’s day two and day three were not as abundant, but his day one was for the ages. Almost unnoticed, 2019 KBF National Champion Mike Elsea made a quiet statement late in the day to pull into third place with a 95.25” limit. He was just getting started, as we shall see……

Hammond, Sprading and Elsea were the only three anglers who broke the 90” mark, while Steve Leaman and Mark Fehner filled out the top five, with 88.5” and 88.25”, respectively. The early lesson on day one: if you didn’t average 18” per fish, you would not have a chance to keep pace.

Day 2: Wednesday, April 4

If you are going to fish in a multi-day championship event, you have to be prepared for the moment when a veteran angler catches fire and shakes up the standings. On day two of the championship, that angler was Virginia’s Casey Reed.

Reed managed to land the longest single-day limit of the tournament when he posted 97.75”, anchored by a 22.75” giant. The problem? Reed was in 34th place at the end of day one, when he posted 80.75”. But to his credit, the veteran angler made up the ground, and then some. By the end of day two, he was in contention, even if there was more ground to gain.

But Hammond held strong, finishing in fifth with a limit of 91.75”. And it started in a most unlikely way:

“On day 2 I landed a 22” bass that was a pre-spawn fish. I was going to start on the same point, but a boat was on it, so I went to the other side and fished a spot that I hadn’t fished, and that’s where I caught the 22”. I was glad that guy was there or I might not have fished it.”

Hammond also switched presentations:

“On day one, I fished a chatterbait and a Rat-L-Trap. On day two, I switched to a Texas rigged Senko or creature bait. I didn’t see too many people fishing off the bank, but I did fish there. Those fish were unpressured, and they weren’t picky. I also picked an area that was protected from that cold wind, for that reason. On day two the wind and boats kept me off some spots where I was getting some bigger bites in the 18” range.”

In all, eight anglers landed limits of 90” or better on day two, but Hammond was the only one who had bested the 90” mark on both days. The 18” average was holding true, as was Hammond. But the door was again open for others to make a charge. Mark Fehner, for example, finished in 14th place, with another limit of 88” inches or more. Jimmy McClurkan had also kept pace, albeit losing some ground on day two. Would Hammond slip on day three, and if so, would it be far enough for another angler to make up enough ground to overtake him?

Before we pivot to who that angler would be, it would be unfair not to mention the 24.50” bass that Scott Stuhlmann landed on day two. It was the biggest bass landed in KBF competition at the KBF National Championship, and bested only by the 25” that Long Island angler Luis Villegas landed in practice.

Long Island Kayak Bass Fishing [LIKBF] anglers at Diitto Landing, Huntsville.

Day 3 Friday, April 5

If you looked at the leaderboard at the 2024 YakAttack KBF National Championship, you might have noticed that two previous KBF National Champions were entered in competition. One was the defending champ Rus Snyders. He quietly made his case, stacking bass all competition long, and seemingly finding a groove with each passing day. In the end, Snyders would take third place in the final overall standings.

The second place angler, behind Hammond? It was the other defending champ, Indiana angler and Native Watercraft pro Mike Elsea.

Day three was Elsea’s turn to make a push for the win. If he had done so, he would become the first repeat-champion in the event’s history. He had seized the win on day three before, in 2019, with an absolutely epic final day in which he clinched his first KBF national championship victory – at his first ever in-person tournament.

Elsea had finished third on day one, but slipped on day two, finding himself in 43rd place overall. On day three, he recovered, posting the third longest limit of the championship, a monster 97.25” bag that pulled him back into contention. All he needed was for Hammond to finally slip.

And he did, but it wasn’t quite enough. That isn’t to say he didn’t feel the pressure. As he told KBF:

“On day three, I was checking the leaderboard every twenty minutes. The wheels were coming off. I lost a fish, and in order to win these things you can’t lose fish. I was thinking I would be the guy who had the bites, but still lost. But I had some areas where I landed some smaller fish, and that clamed me down to get fish on the board. So when I saw Mike [Elsea’s] fish, my mind started going, but the little fish settled me down. I hit one of my best spots three times: I would let it refresh, and each time I caught good fish. I am glad I stuck with my spots instead of leaving.”

Hammond finished the day in ninth place with a respectable 88.25” limit – just under the 18” average he had been keeping. But it was enough to keep his overall average above 18” per fish and his daily average amounted to 92” per day.

Post Script

Kayak Bass Fishing moved to Huntsville, Alabama in 2022 and began hosting tournaments there in 2023. Restoring the Yak Attack Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship to its springtime frame also reminded everyone that the KBF community can emerge stronger, after ups and downs, with successful events that look to the future of the organization. Whether you are from New York or North Carolina, Mexico or Indiana, springtime is a time of renewal and hope, and that’s the story of the 2024 Yak Attack KBF National Championship.

 

 

Looking Ahead

  • Qualifying is underway for the next Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship (to be held in the spring of 2025).
  • The 2024 Ketch KBF Challenge Series registration is open.
  • The KBF River Series and Smallmouth Series are concluding (and their championships tbd).
  • Fish Ops Catch-22 and Knuklhed Series are wide open – sign up!

About the Anglers

Jerry Spradling is sponsored by Feel Free Kayaks, BioEnnio Power Lithium Batteries, Cornerstone Barber Shop and Outfitters, Mountaineer RV, Venom Lures and Big Lake Baits.

Wyatt Hammond is on the Old Town Fishing team, and he is sponsored by Humminbird.

The previous Kayak Bass Fishing National Champions are

Additional Info

The 2024 YakAttack Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship Powered by Dakota Lithium was made possible by support from Visit North Alabama.

Click Here For Complete Standings

Click here for more KBF National Championship history.

Click here for a complete list of 2024 Kayak Bass Fishing tournaments

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First Published April 7, 2024. The author of this article was not assisted in any way by AI or machine learning in the composition of it.

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