We are joined by Rick Garavaglia who recently participated in the KBF Trail Series event in Kissimmee, Florida this past spring. We are super excited to have him join us for part one of a three part blog on how to fish a tournament. So whether you are new to fishing tournaments, or a seasoned tournament fisherman, sit back and enjoy this conversation with Rick.
Rick, last time you left us hanging with the storm clouds building and the temperatures dropping. What happened that first couple of days of the tournament?
The first day was insane with 15-20 mph sustained winds and I believe gusts reached 40 mph a few times. The weather forecast was bad enough that the state high school bass fishing tournament moved their bass boat tournament from Saturday to Sunday. However, the KBF trail event fished through this major cold front!
My friends and I debated about where to go a little and I left it up to them with their experience in Florida. I misunderstood their reasoning for where we were going on the lower portion of Toho. I thought we were going there to try to get out of the wind. However, as it turned out we were facing directly into the wind the entire morning. With the winds coming mostly from the North, the wind had the entire length of the lake to build up waves and uninterrupted momentum. It was insane even staying inside the reed line and out of the waves.
I fought the entire first hour or two just trying to manage the thick vegetation. I’m not sure that I was able to make 20 casts during that time. I had to find a way to clear my prop once, but couldn’t get to the bank. It was just too thick. I found a shallow enough place using some roots of some reeds to stand on. I struggled to back out though. Eventually figuring out that my transducer on the bottom of my sonar pod was getting tangled up. I was finally free and made my way through the jungle back around a set of reeds trying to get to more open water, but I had more issues though and frustration finally got the best of me.
I called my buddy and told him I had to relocate and get out of the wind. He encouraged me by telling me that he had caught two fish and gave me a little clue to what was working. Instead of fishing ahead of him, I tucked in behind him and began the other direction in water that he had already fished. I didn’t want to steal any of his potential fish. I caught my first keeper for the day, a 16” bass on a 1/4 oz Texas rigged Zman Craw on my MH Sixgill Scythe paired with a 8:1 Sixgill Wraith reel. It wasn’t long after catching that fish that the three of us made the decision to relocate to a more sheltered area further North on Toho.
After the relocation and exploring the area a little while I managed to find one mat in particular that produced two more fish (13.25” and 14.25”) punching, however I lost at least four other bass in that mat. One of which I could not bring up out of the mat. Its head shakes were powerful and obviously a much better fish. The other three bass came loose and were very polite as they waved good-bye to me as they fought to get back under the mat to safety.
We ended that first day just glad to be out of the wind. It was incredibly rough water. As we prepared for the second day, the overnight temperatures began to plummet.
On Sunday, the second day, I had to let the frost clear off my truck before I could see to return to Toho. It was 29 degrees, but at least the wind had died down significantly. I primarily fished the same mat that I finished Sunday. My thinking was that the bass would be loading under it to warm up as the sun climbed higher into the sky. I had zero bites in the morning on that mat, while my friend just about 30 yards from me got a quick limit on a different mat. We joked back and forth that I must have sore-lipped all of them and they moved over to his spot.
I eventually moved around a little bit, but the thick vegetation proved to be very difficult for me and my DIY “anchor” (a.k.a. trolling motor) to work through. I forced my way back into an opening that I found in some reeds. I found one small hydrilla mat and worked it as thoroughly as I could and got a bite. I made the same cast again and caught my only keeper of the day, a 14” line burner. I caught it on a 1 oz Texas rigged fluke style bait. I simply was trying to change the profile of my presentation a little. I eventually returned to my starting spot one final time toward the end of the day and hooked into another bass in my mat, but couldn’t get it to the kayak. Again, the fish politely waved good-bye and my Kissimmee Day 2 came to an end.
I met up with my friend and we decided to go to the outside of the reed edge to head back to the ramp. It would be a little easier than fighting through the lilly pads and other vegetation. For fun I began tossing a 1/4 oz Texas rigged black with blue flake 5” senko on the reed edges and managed to catch a 16.75” good-bye gift from Lake Toho just before getting back to the canal that led to our ramp.
It was a great event. I was pretty proud of my performance being it was the first time I had ever fished in Florida. One of the things that I think is important to do is to capture some thoughts from an event like this that might help me with my next tournament. Here are some of my notes.
I’m impressed with Florida despite the difficult weather conditions and the super thick vegetation. I felt the limitations that some of my rigging choices presented to me. I was fishing a jungle that I had zero experience fishing before. I think I learned a lot including:
- I need to find a way to practice punching mats before my next trip to an area like this for competition.
- I need to learn how to fish a lipless Crankbait in these kind of environments too. The winner crushed them somehow with a lipless.
- I learned that covering more water and/or getting deeper into the reeds is helpful at times when fishing is tough.
- I learned to be sure of the reasoning behind going to an area with fishing buddies because I may be able to contribute a little more to the thought process, and if I do disagree, I can go to another location. My first trip and with the weather conditions I felt it wiser to stay with a buddy or two.
- I learned to pack clothes for unexpected weather in the Spring. Every time that I had visited Florida in January for conferences I was able to wear shorts the entire time with an occasional lighter jacket. I brought sweatshirts, pants I could layer, and a great rain suit, but did not bring any cold weather gear.
- I learned that there may never be a perfect set-up. In other words, there are weaknesses to any set-up. The heavier motor that helped fight through thicker vegetation also slowed me down in the same vegetation when trying to sneak deeper into the jungle by quietly paddling or using a push pole. I can’t think of any time that I’ve needed to raise and stow my trolling motor since starting to use a trailer to wet-launch my kayak.
- I packed too much stuff, because I have the time to sift through all my gear before leaving. In some ways having all my lures except for deeper diving crankbaits allowed me to adjust to what I discovered while in Florida.
- Packing too much stuff did make for less than ideal situation when stopping for a nap while traveling. I couldn’t lean my truck seat back at all due to every spare inch was filled with gear.
- I learned that the tungsten bullet weights I use at home are too heavy for many of my applications.
What I did right…
I think that in situations like these one has to reflect on the event as a whole. I
could be frustrated about the poor finishes, or I can take a mental snapshot of the entire event. I will not win every event. In fact I’ve only won one. So, I need to look at what I did well along with what I need to learn and do next time:
- I anticipated a few things from what I learned researching Florida fishing.
- I watched several videos about fishing the Kissimmee Chain of lakes and think I learned a lot of possible lures. I feel I spent adequate time doing this.
- I purchased tungsten bullet sinkers in heavier weights prior to this trip for pitching and punching.
- I ordered/purchased the right plastics from Payne Outdoors prior to the trip. Most of my fish were caught on Payne Outdor Plastics.
- Upgrading from the Lure 11.5 to the 13.5 last season made a huge difference for me on this trip. I was comfortable with the extra space and stability in the larger platform. I’m still learning how to set it up though.
- My Micro Power-Pole upgrade was extremely helpful for this trip. I think it was worth the time finishing the install prior to leaving for this trip.
- I removed about 2/3rds of my lures and plastics out of my kayak for the tournament. I don’t know the weight that represents, but with the wind and fighting through the vegetation it made a difference!
- When I realized that the weather was going to be much colder than anticipated, I went to Bass Pro and purchased two different base layer suits for the cold weather. I purchased a mid-weight and a heavy weight base layer to wear under my normal clothes, sweatshirt, and rain suit. I’m pretty sure these two base layer suits will travel with me for any fishing tournament throughout the Spring. I’m pretty sure that a price cannot be put on having the right clothes.
I have already started preparing for the rest of the tournament season. I have made adjustments to my set-up already!
- I sold my entire Lure 13.5 setup that I had only used these five days of fishing in Florida and then started over from scratch. That included my entire DIY trolling motor set-up, a Minnkota Endura Max 55 with PWM, my 64 ah Lithium battery, charger, and my Garmin Echomap Plus 93sv with sonar pod.
- I purchased a new Feelfree Lure 13.5 in the new Green Flash color.
- I purchased a Torqeedo 1103 AC kayak trolling motor.
- I upgraded my sonar to the new Garmin UHD 73sv with the GT56 transducer. I’ve always wanted the smaller unit, but I used the side imaging unit that I had available to me from my bass boat days.
- I will use an old 73cv Plus unit as an additional screen for some fishing trips. I’ve already installed the RAM ball mount for it. This addition helps me to consider the Panoptix upgrade at some point.
- I plan on fishing areas separate from my friends to help cover more water in pre-fishing and making my own decision about where to fish now that I know the area better. Those decisions will be made with safety and conditions in mind.
This is all such helpful information, Rick! Thanks so much for capturing this experience and sharing it with us. If you would like to follow Rick on his KBF adventures, you can find him on Instagram and Facebook.
Written by Rick Garavaglia, Feelfree Competitive Fishing Team Member
Edited by Bobby Ulrich, Feelfree US Pro Staff Team Member