It’s about that time! Once April hits, most of the country starts to feel like spring, and tournament season is quickly upon us. In fact, some places in the south have already had some tournaments. We’ve seen some Feelfree anglers putting up big numbers and win.
While some people eat, breathe and sleep tournaments, some of us are more reluctant to get involved. After all, fishing a tournament seems to carry with it pressure that isn't present on a normal day on the water.
So to give us some perspective on how to rig out our kayaks for a successful tournament, we brought some of our top tournament anglers together to help us out a bit! Today we are joined by Rick Garavaglia, John Rapp, Joshua Boothe and Jerry Spradling.
Thanks so much for joining us today guys! I’m really looking forward to hearing some of your best tournament rigging ideas! Let’s jump right in.
Preparing your kayak for a tournament is much different that preparing for your favorite day at your local lake. What general categories are you thinking through when you are rigging your kayak for a tournament?
Rick: This is my fifth season fishing in tournaments and a lot has changed for my preparation the last four years. First, I have discovered things that work for me. I will not change those things. I’m going to use the same kayak as last season. I’m going to use the same electronics, rods, lures, and line. I’ve switched before and struggled. Those things I want to keep consistent for muscle memory and consistency. Second, I am double checking electronics. I’m making sure my batteries are taking charges and that they work with my YakPower system and fish finders. I won’t assume they are going to work and launch the first day of the tournament and find out a wire is loose. Third, I’m also looking over little things that bugged me last season and try to make those things better with minor adjustments. For example, I need to add a pulley and replace a rope that needs to be just a few inches longer for my Torqeedo. I keep reminding myself that any major adjustments can also create unintended issues. Finally, I’m building lists of things I need to pack so I don’t forget a paddle again, or forget my pole for my Micro anchor.
John: I agree with what Rick stated. Plus, It's all about research or your familiarity with the locations of the upcoming event. Take the appropriate kayak setup for river floating or cruising a lake, and prep your fishing equipment for the use of baits in deep water versus moving water. Switch out rods and reels with the appropriate fishing line, whether it's fluorocarbon or braid, based on water type and clarity. Always have those packed boxes of tools, additional terminal tackle and lures for those last minute emergencies. You never know when you’ll have a broken prop, busted rod tip, or stripped reel. Also bring a plastic welder and spare batteries.
Jerry: Man, you guys think through so many things! I keep it pretty simple. I just think through what gear I may need for a particular fishery in the way of baits and such. And whether to take my anchor or not. Plus, I have two kayaks. One is strictly a lake boat (unless the river has plenty of depth) and the other I use in swifter waters such as the New River and Greenbrier here in West Virginia.
Joshua: The others covered it pretty well but don’t forget snacks and water! Staying hydrated is important when you're on the water for 8 hours straight. Plus I like snacks.
John: Yes! Snacks! How did I forget those?
Rick: I gotta put snacks on my list that I’m making. They might even be listed above my micro power pole. Haha!
That’s great guys. When you think back at all the tournaments that you have competed in, what was the one time where you were like, “I wish I would have rigged my kayak differently than I did today”?
John: I learned early that if you aren’t familiar with the tournament water that you need to research it. I fished a very swift and rough river (South Branch of the Potomac RIver) once without several tools that could have helped me tremendously: (1) My kayak was not equipped with a rudder (I had yet to install it). That would have assisted nicely in getting me positioned to run rapids and help when I was pushing hard with my paddle to steer the kayak. (2) the other was a drag chain… it would have also helped keep me straight when hitting those bigger class two and three rapids. Luckily I made it through without a spill or loosing any equipment.
Jerry: One year in Florida I would have loved to have had a push pole to get back into the mats a little better. Paddling around in them was impossible.
Rick: I fished Florida for the first time in 2022. I was wishing the entire trip that I had saved more money and purchased a Torqeedo, or other motor that was designed for a kayak. I had a DIY set-up that worked great in the lakes and rivers at home in WV. However, the vegetation was so thick in Florida that I fought all week with my trolling motor. I was running a 50 or 55 lb thrust Minnkota on the back of my kayak as well as a Micro Power Pole mounted on a thick piece of aluminum. It was really difficult to clear the grass, lily pad roots, and other things off my prop. And to top everything off the wind on day one of the tournament made everything more difficult!
Joshua: Rick, I’ve never had a problem with my trolling motor.
Joshua: My first tournament on Lake Guntersville I was having a hard time fishing the grass beds because of the prop on my motor. Getting through thick slop with any kind of prop is tricky and usually leads to a big mess.
Rick: So you made the same mistake I did! Haha!
Thanks for sharing that guys. For the tournaments that you have fished, are there any unique things that you do to rig your kayak that you don’t see a lot of other people doing?
Jerry: I’ve added a couple storage pouches to both the Dorados I have owned. They’ve come in handy for keeping wrenches, soft plastics, and scents as well as keeping the small 360° light I use during predawn launches.
John: I have been fortunate to be part of a team with another company where I get to use some prototype mounts. One currently is a side rail mount that is four sided that extends from the front track to the rear track on the sides of my kayak… I can then add horizontal rod stagers, my motor throttle and other accessories… Last Summer I was fortunate to get the first rear mounted plate for my Moken 12.5 and rigged up a New Port Vessels NK180. You could basically ski behind that thing.
Rick: A lot of what I do I think are pretty well industry standard for most tournament fishermen. I do keep two (2) Tackle Workz Donkey leashes in my kayak to attach fish to and place them back in the water to let them calm down prior to measuring or while I double check my photos prior to release. The reason I carry two Donkey leashes is to have one for back-up if one breaks, and in the unlikely event that I land two fish on one lure like a crankbait or jerkbait. Last year I started placing my net in a way that would help prevent fish from flipping off the Ketch board and directly into the water. It has saved a couple smaller fish. I also use two smaller 7” Garmin Echomap graphs. I typically have one screen on maps to see my waypoints and the other I have split between sideview and a couple different downview images. Eventually I hope to have Livescope. Both of these are mounted on my Feelfree Sonar Pod for easy removal and safe storage in my truck.
Joshua: For my Lure 13.5 I made my own stern mounted motor and a hands free steering system for a trolling motor. I can just cruise down a bank while fishing and never put down my rod.
Great. In closing, if you could leave people with one piece of advice to rig their kayaks well this tournament season, what would it be?
Rick: My best advice is to try to update things when you have time to try it out and practice with it prior to tournaments. Do not try a new kayak on the first day of a tournament. And do not make major changes to your kayak prior to a tournament if you cannot try them out. If you change anything before a tournament, be sure to make minor adjustments or replace things exactly as they were. At least make sure any changes are things that you know will work and that will not create other problems/issues while out on the water. So, my advice for rigging your kayak this tournament season would be to get as much time on the water prior to competition with your set-up and figure out what needs done well before tournament day.
John: Everyone here has made great suggestions, but no matter what kayak you are using, getting the rudder kit should be your very first add on. It makes life so much easier on the water.
Jerry: Well, not necessarily rigging, but the old adage, buy your second kayak first. Meaning, go ahead and save the extra money to get the good one you think you’ll want later and save the money of rigging one that you’re just gonna get rid of a year down the road.
Joshua: My advice is to get a lot of tethers and tie your tools down. I keep my pliers and scissors and all that tethered to my seat. You don’t want to drop something and it sinks to the bottom of the lake. I even keep my phone tethered. There are several great companies out there that build a product just for kayakers so we can keep our gear safe. If you drop your pliers or phone into the water, your tournament is over.
Rick: If I dropped my phone in the water, I’d just draw pictures of my fish on my board.
Jerry: I’m not sure those would be accepted.
Rick: I’m not sure you have seen my drawing skills.
John: Haha! You guys are great.
I agree! You guys are great. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and share with us some of your best practices. Hopefully we can all learn from your time in tournaments. I’m going to go and add snacks to my tournament list right now.
Good luck everyone on this tournament season! From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a great one!
Bobby's Kayak Gear List
Yakgear Backwater Assassin paddle
Lowrance 9” Ti2 with Ram Mounts
Railblaza C-Tug with Sandtrakz
Written by Bobby Ulrich, Feelfree US Pro Staff Team Member with help from Rick Garavaglia, John Rapp, Joshua Boothe and Jerry Spradling, all Feelfree US Competitive Team Members