As the Realtree Fishing KBF TRAIL Series Powered by Dakota Lithium Batteries ended on Lake Chickamauga, it looked like it would finish with one of those epic battles that make our sport so special. It has happened before. For example, when Brian Aliff defeated Jay Wallen in a savage back and forth on Santee Cooper in 2017, and when Guillermo Gonzalez and Cody Milton exchanged 100” bags for three consecutive days in Louisiana in 2021. My personal favorite: it was when close friends Brandon Bissell and Taher Ali exchanged big limits of Smallies over two days on Lake St. Clair in 2021.

I drove to Chickamauga hoping for a finish like the one that Deamen Henderson and Garrett Wade teased us with. Both anglers are experienced, with a track record of success, and both know how to fish the Tennessee River system. It would have been the sort of send-off for the KBF TRAIL’s regular season that I had driven here to witness. What I got was something even more memorable…..

After nine years and more than 150 tournaments, the Kayak Bass Fishing TRAIL Series held its final weekend of events prior to the 2024 TRAIL Series Championship in Huntsville, AL. Over its lifespan, the KBF TRAIL ushered in a new era of sustained kayak tournament fishing across the United States of America. The TRAIL Series tournaments that ran from coast to coast welcomed countless anglers to the sport. It launched careers,  introduced innovative products and set the standard for all the major series that followed. In short, it was a historic run, and while not without its flaws, it is impossible to imagine the sport as it is today without it.

It is fitting then that the 2024 Realtree Fishing KBF TRAIL Series Powered by Dakota Lithium Batteries held its final regular season event in Tennessee, the state where it all started. On an overcast weekend with occasional rain, KBF competitors enjoyed legendary Lake Chickamauga. When it was over, they gathered at the tournament headquarters at the new PB Lodge in downtown Dayton, TN, to accept awards, thank sponsors and reflect on the moment.

Maybe it wasn’t the epic battle one might have asked for, but it was one hell of a finish.

Trail I: Saturday, June 1, 2024

I didn’t drive to Dayton, Tennessee to bury the KBF TRAIL, but to praise it. When I first arrived in the lot of the PB Lodge, I found Eric Jackson loading his kayak into the Apex trailer. TRAIL I had just ended and he reflected on his day: “I caught a lot of fish, a lot of 15” and 16” bass” he said….and then he looked at the lake as if to say “just wait until tomorrow.”

Eric Jackson at the KBF TRAIL, Lake Chickamauga. Photo courtesy of Hank Veggian.

I’d seen that look before. You don’t fish Chickamauga without dreaming with your eyes open, your seat in a kayak and a rod in your hand. And I fished the KBF TRAIL at Chick in 2019, finishing third behind Cody Milton and Kristine Fischer in a field of around 125 anglers. Then, those two young anglers were the next wave in the sport (in fact, it was Kristine’s first victory at a major event). Today, Milton and Fischer are established veterans and renowned ambassadors. The place makes anglers.

No visit to Chick would be complete without a stop at the Reel Deal tackle store. I headed slightly out of town to see the new store. And who did I see when I walked in? Trail I leader Garrett Wade. Fresh from the lake, he was re-stocking (and then some). After browsing in the shop for a bit, he tried to leave but ended up making a second trip to the register. If that isn’t an angler, what is?

When we finally escaped, we stashed our goods and chatted in the lot. I asked him about his victory. Wade said:

“It was late in the day, and I had 94” and I was tied for big bass. I wanted to win big bass, so I headed back where I started. I landed a 20” there, and it culled a 17”.” Wade reaches into his truck and retrieves a rod to show me the rig: “This was the swimbait I caught them on later in the day….”

It didn’t start that well for Wade. In his words:

“I had no fish for the first two hours. It was a bad start. I landed a 20.50” at 8:30 on a fluke, and then left the spot and switched to a buzzbait. That was where I caught my limit, but I didn’t land my second fish until ten o’clock.”

At that time, South Carolina angler Larry Wood held the lead with a limit of 80”. As the weather warmed, however, the bite picked up. Approaching noon, two anglers (led by Justin Heckard) had passed Wood, and then Wade also posted to take the lead, with 89.25”. It was shortly thereafter that Wade put the event away.

“At about one o’clock I tied on that big swimbait and culled three times. That was also when I circled back to my starting spot looking to win big bass. I didn’t, but that was where I landed the 20” that gave me the win.”

Trail II: Sunday, June 2, 2024

The second frame of competition at Chickamauga was met with rainy weather. Anglers launched to a passing squall that eventually moved out of the area, but not before Justin Heckard opened the tournament up with the first good limit, posting 84.75” after two hours of competition. With a lead of 10”, he looked to be primed to repeat his Saturday performance with a strong day.

Deamen Henderson had other plans. In the third hour of competition, Henderson posted a limit of 91.50”, overtaking Heckard for the lead. Soon thereafter, he upgraded that number to 99”. But faster than you can say “Century Club,” Garrett Wade posted 96”.

That was when the suspense began. Would Wade sweep the weekend to take a commanding lead in the Rogue Gear Co. KBF Angler of the Year race? Would either angler reach the century mark? Would both?

It turns out that instead of an epic battle, we had a stalemate. Neither angler culled, and the front stalled.

Henderson earned the win fishing shallow in an area that had bank fisherman on it the previous day. In his words:

“I launched at Chester Frost, and fished a chatterbait, a shaky head and a Carolina rig all day. But there were a lot of anglers on the bank. I went back this morning and caught a 20” plus on my first cast. I stayed about twenty yards off the bank, and caught my fish all through the grass there, using a wacky rig.”

Henderson also took home the Dakota Lithium Batteries big bass, a whopping 22.75″ tank.

Deamen Henderson’s 22.75″ bass.

CODA

Throughout the weekend, anglers reflected on the end of the KBF TRAIL Series. In the parking lot of Reel Deal Tackle, Wade remarked “It’s sad that the KBF TRAIL is closing, but I think its time. I’ll keep fishing the [Ketch] KBF Challenge Series to see what comes next.”

Eric Jackson stepped up to the KBF tent at the awards, put an arm around Chad and offered the following: “This man brought us kayak bass fishing as we know it. He’s an innovator, and I am going to support him in whatever he does next…”

I turned to reigning Rogue Gear Company Angler of the Year Wyatt Hammond, who remarked “It hurts to see it go, but it makes next year more interesting….”

Chad then opened up and revealed some of the future plans for the company to the anglers in attendance. It was a description of a streamlined tournament business with many new wrinkles in the formats and a focus on the grassroots.

As the weekend closed, Chad Hoover walked to the PB lodge to get something. Anglers also started to leave, but a few anglers who stayed behind began breaking down the KBF tent and banners,. As they packed and stored them, I reflected on the moment. I packed that away, too, with nearly one decade of KBF TRAIL memories.

Anglers pack up the KBF TRAIL tent. Photo courtesy of Hank Veggian.

In the meantime, there is a Smallmouth Series Championship to conclude (and a River Series), Catch-22, Knuklhed Series and the Challenge Series. And of course, there is Fish OPS, too (there may be a few surprising throwback events in store for the summer months). And there is one more KBF TRAIL Series tournament: the championship round, in October. So as KBF closes one chapter, it opens another.

KBF will post more about that soon….

Additional Info

The KBF Trail Series was made possible with support from Rhea County, TN.

For complete event standings for the 2024 KBF Trail Series at Lake Chickamauga, click here.

The KBF Trail Series Championship  and Ketch KBF Challenge Series Championship will be hosted by Go2Hunstville, AL on October 10-13, 2024.

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

 

Realtree Fishing KBF TRAIL Series Tournaments are Powered by Dakota Lithium Batteries

Additional Sponsors

   Ketch  Yak Rods    FishOPS

Rogue Fishing Co    Power-Pole   YakAttack    Torqeedo     Yeti

First Published June 2, 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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