I know it is tournament season, and many people are gearing up for and competing in tournaments all across the country.  I’ve been fishing tournaments for 5 years now, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.  Today I wanted to walk you through one of my recent tournaments.  I’ll share everything about how I prepare, what I am thinking on the water, and what I learned in retrospect.  Hopefully you can take some things away that will help you this tournament season.

Club Championship for the WVKA in Jackson County….

A few years ago the WVKA(West Virgina Kayak Anglers) made the change from a on- day to a two-day format for our club championship. Since I’m a pastor and Sundays are my busiest day of the week I haven’t been able to participate in Sunday tournaments. On average I can take two Sundays a year for vacation. So, this year I chose to take a couple vacation days so that I could participate in this year’s championship. The club championship is our only two-day each year for our club and it offers double points. So, if an angler doesn’t compete or doesn’t do well their AOY standings take a big hit. For me, two years ago I dropped out of the top 10 all the way to 20th place in AOY because I couldn’t fish the championship. Last year I was in Top 10 again before the Championship, and was even near had the lead in the tournament after day one (maybe in 3rd?), but couldn’t fish the second day.  I ended the year 15th in AOY points. To say this tournament was important to me is an understatement because I haven’t had a solid finish this season.  


I spooled my six new “Arrival” reels from Sixgill prior to this tournament and paired them with my favorite casting rods. I charged my Torqeedo battery and all my Zpro Lithium batteries that power my other electronics. I also packed my clothes, jerseys, and all my gear and then left Friday morning for my practice day. As I was getting ready to put my truck in gear, I made the choice to practice on Woodrum Lake since it was the closest of the three that we were competing on for this tournament. I arrived at the lake about 7 a.m. and began setting my kayak up for the day. I tied new leaders on my rods and finished some other things before hitting the water. This was my first day out in about two months due to coaching soccer for my son’s high school team. So, I had a lot to finishing preparing. 

Pre-fishing: (Friday) 

My goal was to explore the lake and find some fish for the first day of the tournament. Woodrum Lake is known for having good numbers of fish, but not many opportunities for big fish. I had heard the other lakes had been highly pressured and that fishing was tough. I also was hoping that if I got limits both days of this tournament that I may have a chance to qualify for the State Championship that the best anglers from each of the three state clubs would compete for the title of the best of the best. So, I decided to be safe and fish for a solid limit and relocate to a different lake to try to upgrade if time allowed. 

While pre-fishing I caught my first fish in the back of a pocket on a Pop-R, but couldn’t reproduce that bite to develop a pattern. I explored a few other places on the lake looking at the various cover and structure that was available. I decided to throw a chatterbait as a search bait and see what happened. I managed to catch two more fish. I did get a few other strikes that helped me start keying in on grass edges. I left the lake feeling that I could find fish here the next day. 

Day 1 Competition: (Saturday) 

I returned to Woodrum Lake after deciding to focus on getting a limit. I started on the point at the edge of a pocket that I caught my first fish in during practice. I fished into the pocket with a Pop-R and then returned to the point and started flipping a jig that teammate Jerry Spradling gave me the night before. I worked through the standing timber on the point and eventually got to a branch on the edge of some grass and got first bite of the day. The fish came off though when I lost tension on the rod while reaching for my net. I moved to the next set of cover and landed my first fish of the day after raising another fish in the same treetop. I managed to reproduce this bite several more times to get a small limit. I also lost a few key fish that would have made my day a lot better. I did manage to upgrade throughout the day, but still left about 9” on the lake to end Day One in 17th place with 57.50”. 

Day 2 Competition: (Sunday) 

After a lot of debate on the way to the interstate, I decided to go to O’brien Lake. Overall, I felt that this lake fished more to my style of fishing, and if I could grind out a limit then it would be worth the extra opportunity for much bigger fish. 

After launching my Feelfree Lure 13.5, I made the long run toward the dam to try to get further away from most of the pressure of the other competitors. I eventually got to the spot that I wanted to start on. I caught my first fish about 100 yards into that section after losing a small 11” fish in a bush. I actually believe that I caught it later in the day when I returned to that bush to give it a second try. I worked that area of the lake thoroughly managing a small limit. Fish #1 was on a Payne Outdoors “That Stick Bait” and my second fish was running a Texas rigged Payne Outdoors Riblet over some mats. My next three was caught on the jig Jerry Spradling gave me with a Zoom Ultravibe Craw trailer. Now it was time to look for some monsters. 

I was focused on two types of cover up to this point. I was flipping a jig into grass and under bushes and wood on the bank. I later found out that was the winning pattern that Jody Queen was doing. I would follow it up with a Payne Plastics “That Stick Bait” plastic in my own custom color when needed. Then came a little clue. I flipped my jig to my left into some standing timber in about 6’ of water. On my second cast I caught my biggest fish so far for the day that measured 12.50” which was really cool and an important upgrade.  I worked my way up the lake looking for more things similar to this, but everywhere I went there were other anglers near the same kind of cover. I made the decision to head back down the lake. I could find the timber that fit what I was looking for and it was now after 1:30 p.m. I decided to head back to the small cove beside the one where I had caught my last fish. I had not flipped any of the timber in that cove. Anyway, again on my second cast I got a bite and set the hook on my biggest fish of the tournament that measured 17.75” for a really good upgrade. I finished the day with 63.50” and a total of 121” which was good enough for 10th place. 

This tournament was a grind. I never found a flurry of big fish like I had hoped. My body also wasn’t acclimated to being in the kayak and putting in long days on the water. I’m thankful for the Feelfree Gravity seat. Since I did not get to fish since July 23 I had to overcome other issues simply from a set-up perspective. I was popping leader knots in practice. They simply weren’t tied well enough and simple snags that I can usually recover lead to lost lures. I was out of practice with tackle management and I brought too much tackle out on the water with me. Although, having water and sandwiches helps a lot, but there isn’t much that can be done to be ready for the physical and mental challenge of being in a kayak for 8.5 hours or more for three straight days other than being able to put in time out on the water. I also stood up in my kayak while out on the water to stretch and change a little perspective and pick apart cover better. 

I was surprised with a 10th place finish in this tournament. From the time I got out of the water until the awards ceremony started I hadn’t thought one time that a top 10 was even possible for me. When they said, “10th Place with 121”, I thought is it me? I am truly blessed by God with this finish that allowed me to finish the year in 12th place in the AOY race, and qualifies me for the State Championship! I’m thankful that I’m blessed with great partners that have encouraged me and helped me by sponsoring me and supporting me in this fishing endeavor! 


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Written by Rick Garavaglia, Feelfree US Competitive Team Member

Edited by Bobby Ulrich, Feelfree Pro Staff Team Member

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