Friday, March 29, 2013

Kayak Bass Fishing Open & Invitational

What if I did...If the wind was out of the...Why did I go to the back of the bay instead of...Instead of throwing a spinnerbait I should have just thrown a...I should have not spent as much time flipping and pitching as I should have...Ahhh!!!

Truck packed, check! Full tank of gas, check! GPS plugged in and ready, check! Good bye kiss on my wife's cheek at 4:30am, check. Finally, it's time to hit the road after months of anticipation and excitement for the inaugural Kayak Bass Fishing Open and Invitational! Joe Underwood and I decided that it would be smart to follow each other just in case somebody had any issues. Our destination was Blacks Camp located on the famous Santee Cooper lakes of South Carolina.

We arrived early Tuesday afternoon to get in a little pre-fishing since day 1 of the Open was not until Thursday. Being the tournament nut I am, I had plans for where I would fish for every single scenario and weather pattern.  Joe and I put in some serious homework time burning our eyeballs out on the computer screens checking out maps, Google Earth, Webpages, historical data, anything to try and get a slight edge on the competition. You cannot be too prepared for events like this one. Not to mention that collecting a check for $3,000 would be pretty nice to come home with!

I am not going to write all of the rules for the tournament, just the nitty gritty; Day 1: combined length of your two longest fish with the top 100 going on to the next day. Day 2: rules are the same, previous day's totals are zeroed out, and the Top 25 move on to the Invitational. With all that being said, the first order of business was to advance to day 2.

A day and a half of pre-fishing went just as I would have hoped. I was able to get on some fish in areas that I did my homework on. I found spots where I knew I could register at least a couple of fish even though they may not win. What I also found was a small bay that contained warmer water that held some of the lake's first fish on spawning beds. There were plenty of 3 and 4 pounders, but I also found a handful of 7 to 10 pounders as well! I didn't even throw any lures at these fish, no point! The last thing I wanted to do was pressure a small spot that could produce BIG!


The night of the captains meeting before the big dance is always fun. You see old buddies, put faces to names of "forum friends", as well as meet new people that are there for the same reasons. With the captains meeting long gone, it's time for day 1 of the Kayak Bass Fishing Open. I hit the water with a smile and a positive attitude. Anything else but positive equals going home empty handed. My plan was to cover water and get on the board as fast as possible. I covered a lot of water with a shad patterned spinnerbait which is one of my confidence baits. It did not take long to land a couple of fish which was all I needed. I ended up landing a few bass with a total of 33" for my top 2 which good enough to advance to the next day. The conditions were so tough that you advanced to day 2 if you registered one fish. Out of the 109 anglers, 21 or so fishermen received the dreaded skunk.

Secret Passage

There is a reason why I don't have any fish pictures to back this up. You have to clear you camera's memory cards at the end of the day so the judges have a clean memory card which makes each day easier to score. So, day 2 was not much different than the first.  I was able to pick up a couple of fish within the first hour of the day so I knew I at least had something to weigh in. Now it was time to go for the big uns. Here is the bad part to fishing on a Friday; the big bass boats had a huge tournament on Saturday so everybody and they're brother were out pre-fishing. Remember that little bay that I mentioned that had some big ole' bass on beds? Yeah, the powerboats had no issues with running the trolling motor of their $60,000 rigs right over the top of these fish. Needless to say, they put 90% of the bedding bass into the thick stuff. I was stealthy enough to get on an undisturbed bed all the way at the back of the little bay. I slowly eased my way down the shoreline using the tall reeds and tree limbs as my back drop to break up my silhouette. I got close enough to see the fish and to make an accurate cast of my texas rigged Havoc Craw. After a few minutes of slight twitches of the craw, the bass just could not take it anymore. Wahoo, 18 1/4" on the board, yes!!! It did not take long to nab a 17 1/4" off another bed doing the same exact thing. Unfortunately, my time ran out before I was able to upgrade anymore.

Gator getting some sun
The photo weigh-in was a little tense to say the least. My goal was to make a top 20 finish even though I knew I would not win with 35 1/2". It felt pretty good when Chad announced all the way up to the top 10 without my name being called. After a few minutes of the waiting game, I was finally called up to the front... "In 8th place and the winner of a Bending Branches Angler Pro Paddle, Richie Bekolay!"

A top 10 finish out of 109 anglers, I'll take it!  This was probably some of the best competition I have ever gone up against in a tournament. Even though I was already qualified to fish the Invitational from a previous win at the 2012 TKAA tournament, it still felt good knowing I would have fished the Invitational no matter what. Congrats to Andy Thompson as he took the honors as the winner of the first Kayak Bass Fishing Open. Now it's on to the Invitational...

The Invitational was held at VIP Adventures in Summerville, SC which was about an hour away from Blacks Camp. Anglers were split up equally to fish two different lakes at the start. Half way through the day we would pack up and switch lakes. This gave everybody as fair of a chance as possible to be successful. The nerving part was only 15 of the 60 anglers would advance to day 2.

Hopes were high and tensions were building as the sun slowly crept up over the tree tops of the private lakes at VIP. All of that quickly went away as a gun shot went off signaling the start of the day. Just like the previous days of pre-fishing and the Open, I was able to get on fish right away. I pulled in numerous fish between 14" and 16" on a spinnerbait and a Rattletrap. Howerver the bite slowed up as the day went on. The fishing was even tougher as we moved on to the second lake. Good bites were hard to come by since we were fighting 25mph+ winds all day! I only managed to upgrade a 1/4" or so which did not leave me feeling good.

Day 1 was over and it was time to find out the top 15 anglers that were moving on to day 2. This time Chad made the weigh-in more suspenseful as he announced the field starting from the first place leader which left you wondering if you made the cut or not. I said to Joe and Marty Mood, "I either made it by a hair or missed it by a hair".  That horrible feeling set in as I heard the top 15 names get called without hearing mine. I found out that I placed in 17th and missed making the cut by a 1/2". I had the feeling that it was going to be close the whole time. Oh, the agony...

A huge congrats to the top 15 that went on to fish day 2. I was pretty happy to see some of my friends like Joe Underwood and Justin Carter move on for the chance at $5,000 in cash! Since I was leaving the next day to get back home, I decided to stay up into the wee hours of the night and have a couple of "beverages" with some really good people. It's always fun talking fishing with guys like Chad Hoover, Luther Cifers, Matthew Vann and everybody else that has the same passion.

At the end of the 2013 Kayak Bass Fishing Invitational, it was Tony Yang who was the first place champion! Congratulations Tony on a job well done! I can't forget to say "hats off" to Justin Carter who took 4th and Joe Underwood who took 5th! Here is link to the standings for both tournaments, (click this).

Wow, what a week of fishing! A huge shout out goes to Chad Hoover for putting on a top-notch event. Thanks to Blacks Camp for the accomodations and dealing with over 100 crazy kayakers! Thanks to Marc Deschenes at VIP Adventures for hosting the Invitational. Lastly thanks to all the sponsors that helped make the first ever KBF Open/Invitational a huge success!

I can say, "What if this" or "What about that", but what for. What I will do is let it all sink in and stay focused throughout the year while sharpening all areas of my game. The drive to succeed only grows after events like this one. Now it's back to the drawing board to get ready for next year's KBF Open and Invitational. Hey, you can never prepare too soon!

~See ya on the water!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Werner Paddles: Above the Rest

All of my gear was unloaded (at least I thought) out of the bed of my truck after a night of schoolie striper fishing. I normally do a mental checklist of all of my gear to make sure it's accounted for. I did not do that after this night of fishing, and it cost me...sort of. The next day I went to load up my gear again just to find that my paddle was not in the garage. I know it was loaded in the truck but it never made it in my hands when I unloaded everything. Well, somebody else decided that it was good idea to unload the paddle for me.

That event was a blessing in disguise. I had plans on upgrading to a new paddle but did not know when I was going to do it. Now I had no choice, time to go paddle shopping! Homework and research on the paddle that I wanted to go with was already done way before my other paddle was stolen. Not to mention, friend and fishing partner Rob Choi says nothing but great things about his paddle. I knew in my head that the day I headed to Appomattox River Company in Hampton, Virginia was going to be the day that I became a proud owner of a brand new Werner paddle!

It did not take long before I found the bright red Werner Camano. Man, is this a gorgeous looking paddle. What's even better than it's beauty is the way it feels in your hands. I was shocked that a paddle so light could be so strong. The blade design of the Camano is for "low angle" paddlers like myself. After doing some "air paddling" I knew it was a no brainer, I found my new paddle!

I wasted no time in racking up the miles with that paddle. 6+ mile paddling adventures no longer resulted in shoulder fatigue. One arm paddling around the pilings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was now an issue of the past. Everything about my paddling experience just became much more enjoyable with the simple addition of a high quality paddle!

It was like this was meant to be. I immediately bragged about my new paddling tool and preached the good news of what it can do to your day on the water. I am very vocal on products I stand by and believe in. One day I received a call from Rob Choi saying that the Werner rep Danny Mongno and he talked, and that Danny wanted to speak with me. I called him up and had a detailed conversation that ended on a great note. To make a long story short; I joined the Werner family as a new Werner Team Paddler. A huge shout out to Rob Choi for making the connection!

Fast forward to the end of February when I received my new Werner Kalliste in the mail. I was like a little kid on Christmas day opening the box of my new "engine". I was able to break it in the next day on a local largemouth bass lake. Before I did any fishing, I just paddled around disscecting the little characteristics that make the Kalliste so special. I didn't need to paddle 6+ miles to realize that this paddle is "The real McCoy"!

I immediately noticed the light swing weight which will dramatically increase your duration on the water making your day out paddling more enjoyable. The low angle blade with dihedral design enables water to flow evenly off of the blades equally to eliminate blade flutter. What you end up with is a smoother stroke and eliminating the need to "over grip" the paddle which would produce hand fatigue. I could go on and on about the qualities that make up this amazing  paddle. One thing is for certain...This is the nicest paddle I have ever come accross! You just have to try one out for yourself to truly appreciate what it can do.

I am a big fan of the saying, "Everything happens for a reason". In my life, I truly believe that occurrences can happen with reasons behind them that are unexplainable. Such is the case on the day that my old paddle was stolen. One could dwell on the negative or the "glass if half empty" outlook. I myself always try to focus on the positive or the "glass is half full" mindset. Certain things in life are inevitable like death and taxes. In my kayaking lifestyle, owning a Werner paddle was just that...inevitable.

~See ya on the water!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Cold Water Bassin

There is not much going on during the cold weather months of February and March. Football is over, hunting season is long gone, and the salt water scene is dull at best. To me that only means one thing...cold water bassin!

Finding time to hit my local largemouth waters is more than just a shot at landing a big ole' bucketmouth; It's an opportunity to sharpen my skills for the upcoming Kayak Bass Fishing Open and Invitational in South Carolina! I have been counting down the days until I get to share the Santee Cooper lakes with some of the best kayak bass fishermen in the country for an intense tournament. Besides all of that, I have been itching to get out since I just received my new Werner Kalliste paddle in the mail. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that some of the best bass fishing in this area occurs in these cold and dismal months.

My first of the two outings was on a Friday afternoon at my favorite lake in Hampton Roads with Joe Underwood (PhillyJoe). This time of year can be tough, yet very productive when your chasing largemouth bass. The spawn is right around the corner even though the water is still pretty cold. These fish will feed throughout the day if you can find the right pattern. Joe and I did manage to catch fish even in tough conditions. I landed fish on a lipless crankbait and a suspending Rapala Husky Jerk. The key was retrieving the lures as slow as possible while still producing some action and vibration. Joe was also able to entice a nice 19" bass with an ultra slow presentation.

19 1/2"

19 1/2"

The next time out I joined friend and fellow Ocean Kayak/Werner Paddles pro staffer Rob Choi. This day was not only cold, but windy! We also met up with fellow Werner Team Paddler Drew Camp and his dad Chip Camp who were already on the water toughing out the elements. It took some time but I finally got on the board with a chunky 17". I changed up tactics once the sun started to peek out hoping that the bite might pick up a little. It didn't take long to get a nice 18 1/2" on a chartreuse Booyah spinnerbait. Hmm, maybe their starting to get a little hungry...

My little hunch was right. These fish finally decided to came out and play. The best part was the bass kept getting bigger and bigger. I landed two more fish as I made my way back to the launch.  In 15 minutes I caught a couple fatties that were 20 1/4" and 21".

20 1/4"

21". Photo Credit: Rob Choi
Photo Credit: Rob Choi

Even though the water temperature is in the 40's, you can still find those feeding windows where the bass are aggressive. The key is to take it slow and be patient. It can be hard to slow roll a spinnerbait without burning it in as well as retrieving your jerkbait or crankbait as slow as it can go. If you can remain positive, persistent, and just may be rewarded with a cold water hawg!

~See ya on the water!