Well, the tournament season for me has officially ended. Saturday, October 17, 2020 was the last tournament of the year for The BassCast Kayak Series. The championship tournament took place on beautiful Smith Mountain Lake, VA and it was hosted at Magnum Point Marina. Before I go straight to the end of the season, I want to start at the beginning of the year...
Just as other tournament series started late around the country, so did The BassCast. COVID-19 put a damper on a few of what would have been the first tournaments of the year early on. Because of this, our first tournament was supposed to be in June on the Staunton River. I know the Staunton river very well as it is basically the home river that I fish out of my kayak and john boat. I had fished the river about a week prior to the tournament and I had my spots picked out and knew I would be able to catch fish and possibly win an event on that river. A day or two after I caught solid fish, it rained for several days leading up to the tournament and I just knew that the river was going to be blown out. Of course, as expected our tournament was switched to Leesville Lake. I actually live on Leesville Lake, but I wasn’t too excited about fishing on it. I know how this lake is and it is tough to catch fish as the water fluctuates so much. I just decided, what the heck, let’s do this and what is the worst that could happen. I put in at the dam and started to fish around the coves, docks, and rock walls. This was an area that I had never fished before, and I wasn’t sure where the best places to fish were. With all the rain, the lake was high and slightly muddy, but not too bad despite all the rain. “Dark colors and slow presentation”, was all I was thinking that day.
I caught my first two or three fish of a drop shot with a black zoom finesse worm. I started using a drop shot more this year and I have definitely fallen in love with it as I catch fish whenever I use it, sometimes when I can’t catch fish on anything else. The rest of my fish that day came off of weightless junebug Senkos and weighted wacky rigs with Z-man Bang Stickz. Even though I caught plenty of fish this day, I felt that the fish were not big enough to place within the top three. Time was up, I had to come back in and submit my fish and see how I stacked up to some great anglers in this first event. After submissions were in, I waited for the ladies winner and youth winner to be announced. I then stood there waiting to hear who came in third. To my surprise, my name was announced that I had actually come in third place. I was really excited about this, as I hadn’t placed in a tournament since the first kayak tournament I ever fished. I told myself at the beginning of the year that I was going to take this year seriously and do the best that I could do. Finishing third in the first event, gave me motivation to go and see where this kayak series would take me.
Our second tournament of the year was actually an online smallmouth only tournament. I also thought that I could do well in this tournament as the Staunton River was once again there for the taking. I knew the quality of the smallmouth that are in the Staunton, but I also knew a lot of the guys would be fishing the “Mighty James River”. With the tournament being the entire month of July, the Staunton was going to be tough. With little rain, the river began to get lower and lower. It was also getting clearer and clearer. The river definitely looked beautiful but with the conditions, I wasn’t able to catch anything of any size with the exception of a nice largemouth. “Perfect”, I caught a nice largemouth in the river and it doesn’t count for the online Smallmouth tournament. I didn’t have a ton of time to get on the river in July and I did the best I could with the time I had. This wasn’t my best showing either, as I ended up 14th out of 27 anglers.
July 25th, COVID is still around and the heat of summer has been beating down on us. It was now time to head up to Amherst, VA where anglers could fish on any of the three lakes locally located up there. I decided to fish Thrasher lake as it was probably the best chance of catching something fairly large. I got to the ramp about 20 minutes late that day and the lake was already full of kayak anglers and a few jon boats. My expectations weren’t too high at this point as this was the first time fishing anywhere near this lake. The lake was definitely a softer bottom lake and the water was darker than other lakes around the area. I just figured I would try to fish this lake as I would my home lake. It took several hours before I caught my first fish. I was throwing a weighted wacky rig with junebug and black colored senkos. After catching my first fish there, I struggled to catch any more for a while. I then used my Bixpy to run to the other side of the lake and knew that I had to slow my presentation down as I was fishing too fast.
I decided to throw a dropshot with a black finesse worm over a random piece of structure that I found in the middle of the lake. I ended up catching my biggest fish that day on that structure. I believe I caught one other fish on the dropshot, but I had to get back to beating the banks with the weighted rig. A lot of the other anglers left from this lake by about noon and I found myself having the majority of the lake to myself. I really spent the time to slow down and continue beating the banks. I started catching fish, even though I could count them on both hands. I fished Thrasher lake until the very last second and headed back to HQ. I wasn’t sure how I would stack up to others in the group at this point. I was actually surprised to hear that I finished third out of 22 anglers. I really grinded it out at this tournament and it paid off. I have learned that I need to slow down and just go out and fish. This was one of those days. Congrats to my brother for taking first at this tournament as well!
I am now going to fast forward to the championship tournament which took place on October 17, on Smith Mountain Lake. Again, I don’t find myself doing too well on Smith Mountain as I don’t get too many chances to fish this lake. I do however know the quality of fish that comes out of the lake. 6 o’ clock hit and I set my Bixpy Jet into the pod of my FeelFree Lure 11.5 and motored over to a spot that I had fished before. Fog was rising all around me on the lake and I couldn’t see anything in front of me other than my navigation lights. I thought for a second, “I am hoping I won’t be fishing blindly today”. As 6:30AM hit I pulled out a buzz bait and started to cast towards the bank. I threw many times as I thought I would surely catch something on topwater early. I heard fish busting around me decided to throw at one of the areas. I buzzed the bait on top of the water and had a big blow up and the fish pulled the lure down for just a second. “Crap, a missed opportunity”.
After I threw the buzz bait for another 30-45 minutes, I decided that I was going to start fishing the drop shot as I knew I would have to finesse these fish into biting. At about 7:30 I caught my first fish at 16.25”. I then began to throw several other baits along the banks with not much success. I went back to the drop shot and about 2 hours later I caught my second fish at 11.75”. I was really having a hard time catching fish, but I figured others would be having the same issues. I was pretty much done with my first spot so I motored back on over to the other side of the marina to fish an area where I just knew a fish would be.
I threw every lure I had with me and I found myself going back to the dropshot. It took another three hours for me to catch another fish. I ran into other anglers who hadn’t caught anything, some who caught one or two, and some who had a solid limit. My third fish came in at a whopping 9.75”. At this point, time was dwindling down fast. That 2:30PM stop time was coming and I didn’t know if I would be able to get a limit. I kept at it, and while I was on a HOA board meeting Zoom call, I pulled another fish out of a corner on the dropshot. This time, this fish measured 15.5” and I thought that I could really get my limit today. After putting the fish back in the water, I decided to throw back in the same spot. My first cast back in there, I hooked another smaller fish. While reeling it back in, the fish hit the side of my kayak and came off. I was devastated as there wasn’t much time left to pull in another fish. I worked and worked to try for one more, but came up short. I was still satisfied with my performance at this point since I did all I could. That was my best that I could do on that particular day.
Overall, I did come in 6th place out of 18 anglers I believe. I stayed within the top third of the anglers all year and I am definitely hoping to put in more work next year to better my positions. I did end up in 6th place within the AOY race which was pretty cool for me. There are definitely many more things for me to learn, but I have enjoyed this entire year as I placed in the money twice and I just had a great year fishing and fellowshipping with everything within the kayak fishing community.
I would like to thank Bixpy and FeelFree Kayaks for providing such awesome products during this year’s tournament series. I would not have been able to cover as much water without the dual combination. Overall, I had a great first season of competing regularly. I also qualified for the 2021 KBF National Championship. I am looking forward to 2021 and the many ways that I can improve my chances of taking home some wins.
Written by Jonathan Pingilley, Feelfree Pro Staff Member