On Saturday Oct. 7, 39 kayak anglers descended on middle Georgia for the final competition of their respective tournament-trail seasons.
For these anglers, it had been a long, tough campaign, their battles being waged on lakes and rivers across the state with one goal in mind—win the 2017 Georgia Kayak Bass Fishing State Championship.
Anglers had competed all year with one of five participating clubs—Chattahoochee Kayak Anglers, East Central Georgia Kayak Anglers, Peach State Kayak Anglers, Reel Krazy Kayak Tour and YB3 Kayak Anglers. Now this was their chance to be crowned state champion and take home close to $2,000 in cash and a brand-new Jackson Kayak Kilroy in the process.
For those new to kayak tournament fishing, you may be wondering how fish are scored. Instead of keeping fish in a livewell all day, kayak fishing tournaments use a scoring system known as CPR—Catch, Photo, Release—that is based on inches, not pounds. Anglers use a standardized measuring board, known as a “hawg trough,” to measure the fish. A photograph is taken of the fish on the hawg trough, and this photograph is submitted for scoring by the tournament director. Each contestant has a tournament identifier unique to the event that must be present in their photographs for their fish to be counted. Their kayak must also be visible in their pictures. The winner is determined by who brings in the longest “stringer,” with stringers usually being three or five fish. The big fish of the event is the longest bass caught.
Before Hurricane Nate threw a kink into the equation, the original plan for this year’s state championship was for the event to be held over two days, Oct. 7-8. On the first day of the event, the anglers could fish the Ocmulgee River along any stretch from the Jackson dam down to Spring Street in Macon. Competitors would score their best three fish of the day toward their championship total.
The second day of the event was to be scheduled on Lake Juliette, again with three fish counting toward their total. The goal was to test the anglers’ abilities to adapt to multiple conditions across both moving and flat water.
Unfortunately, due to unpredictable conditions ahead of Hurricane Nate, the tournament directors were forced to switch the event to a one-day tournament and gave competitors the option to fish either eligible body of water, or to move between the two. The fishing day was extended by two hours, and stringers were increased from three fish for the day to five.
With this change in format, many anglers spent Friday evening working and re-working their strategies for Saturday. “River or lake tomorrow?” was a common question around the campsites at Rum Creek WMA.
Fishing the Ocmulgee River was the choice for most anglers, and it showed in the final standings, with four of the top-five finishers opting for the river all day.
Clint Henderson, of Rome, chose to fish down and up in one specific area of the Ocmulgee rather than float through to a take-out point. Focusing on one smaller area of the river paid off for him with an event-winning 86.25-inch stringer.
“I caught some good ones, including my largest, which was a largemouth, very early on topwater. When that bite slowed, I was able to make some slight upgrades swimming a jig around wood with current/shoals close by,” said Clint. “I did not know it then, but I could have stopped fishing at 10:30. I didn’t. I fished my tail off until the very end. You don’t take any breaks when you’ve got 40 of the best anglers in the state with the same goal as you.
“I went from 10:30-3:30 without catching anything that would upgrade my stringer. I stuck with my area and was able to cull two fish in the last hour, one on the jig and one on a shaky head. I even got another topwater bite that last hour, but it missed it. They weren’t the giant culls that I thought I needed to win it but turns out they were enough.
“The Ocmulgee is an amazing fishery. With the three species of bass that thrive there, you can fish to your strengths and pretty much do what you want and get bit.”
For Clint, this was a victory on a personal level, as well.
“My oldest brother, who passed away last October, got me into doing this (fishing up and down one stretch of a river) on the Etowah, and it works well for me. It’s only fitting that I became a state champion on the day of the Tumor Trooper 5K that he started five years ago. Saturday was the first one in his memory. He was a state-champion wrestler in high school, and I’ve wanted to be state champion like him ever since I got checked out of kindergarten to go watch him win it in 1986.”
Second-place finisher Jason Alford, of Rome, started on the Ocmulgee River before moving to Lake Juliette around 1 p.m. He caught a small limit on the river and made the gamble to sacrifice time on the water to move to the lake. It paid off.
Jason worked Texas-rigged worms on one brushpile in 9 feet of water for three hours, a tactic that produced four of his keeper fish, the fifth coming from his morning on the river. His 81-inchstringer was good enough for the second-place finish, and he took home close to $800 and a Cyprus Hooked paddle donated by Werner Paddles.
Kevin Fox, of Evans, finished up in third place after working the river from the Lloyd Shoals dam ramp down to Marjorie Kahn Popper Boating Access take out.
Kevin’s strategy was to use his electronics to find and target fish in deeper pools. He worked a Texas-rigged Trick Worm with the weight pegged 4 to 5 inches above the worm through those deep pools. That technique produced two shoal bass that measured 18 and 19.25 inches.
Those fish anchored Kevin’s 78.75-inch, third-place finish, earning him almost $600 plus a new ENO hammock and a $50 gift certificate, both courtesy of Outside World Outfitters in Dawsonville. Additionally, his 19.25-inch shoal bass earned him a cool $390 payout for big fish for the tournament.
With the 2017 Georgia Kayak Bass Fishing State Championship in the books, the participating clubs are already turning their attention to the 2018 seasons. Schedules are being squared away, and anglers are making plans to be back at the 2018 Championship (location to be announced late spring 2018).
If you’d like more information about how to get involved with competitive kayak fishing in your area of Georgia, please check out one of the participating clubs on Facebook—Chattahoochee Kayak Anglers, East Central Georgia Kayak Anglers, Peach State Kayak Anglers, Reel Krazy Kayak Tour and YB3 Kayak Anglers.
Oct. 7, Georgia Kayak Bass Fishing State Championship, Ocmulgee/Juliette
Place Angler Inches Money
1. Clint Henderson 86.25 $1,920
2. Jason Alford 81.00 $788
3. Kevin Fox 78.75 $584
Big Fish 19.25 $390
4. Eddie McRae 77.00 $386
5. Andy Middleton 75.50 $192
Total Boats: 39