Imagine this—it is February; the snow and sleet are relentless as they cover everything in sight. Six inches of powder sits atop the patio furniture in the back yard, and walking to the mailbox requires ten minutes of layering clothes. Outdoor life for kayak enthusiasts all but comes to a halt in these winter months in Ohio, as the local rivers and lakes are inaccessible to a kayak fisherman. Cabin fever has set in well over a month ago, and the only saving grace is looking at you and your comrades’ past trips, photos, and reports from previous seasons.
This is exactly how I came across Noah Heck this past winter. As I was perusing social media sites, I saw a guy who was putting up some big fish, on the Jackson Kayak regional team, and also running a tournament trail. These accolades were enough to grab my attention and initiate a conversation with Noah. As our correspondence continued and evolved, we found ourselves on the topic of College Kayak Fishing.
Noah explained to me that he worked with well-known professional kayak angler, Drew Gregory, on a series called College Kayak Fishing. He went on to tell me that College Kayak Fishing (CKF) is a tournament-based organization built to engage college-aged students in the sport of kayak-fishing. Being an educator and passionate kayak angler, this was a very intriguing concept to me. During our conversation, we agreed that introducing young men and women to the sport of kayak fishing is paramount to the future of the sport. Specifically, we discussed the possibility of CKF growing to include a Northern division in addition to the Southern division, which already existed in the series.
Soon enough, Noah and I were planning out details for events in the North for CKF. In order to do this properly, we realized that several parties needed to be involved. Dealers, local clubs, universities, and a tournament director needed to be the four legs present to support the CKF platform. Adding this to the existing CKF template, we built an effective and sustainable model for a college tournament series, which we believe has the capability for continued growth and positive influence of our nation’s youth.
Months passed; spring turned into summer, and soon the green leafs of June and July began boasting their vibrant shades of fall. Tournament time was just around the corner for the 2014-2015 College Kayak Fishing Series. A final meeting with Drew and Jameson Redding on the New River in West Virginia solidified our vision, and it was time to execute the plan which had been in the works for the previous six months.
After returning from the New River summit, the process of contacting colleges and universities, dealers, and local clubs hit full stride. The first obstacle I encountered in the process was the fact that contacting college kids is somewhat difficult. Cold calls and messages are rarely returned, and so relying on a network of anglers, and some chance encounters became the fallback plan.
The first school, Ohio University, got on board with the series one mid-summer day as I was floating down my local river, chasing smallmouth bass. One of my former students, Zach Ferenbaugh, was wading the river, hunting the same bronzeback trophies as I, and we had a great conversation that eventually led to College Kayak Fishing. As luck would have it, Zach is the Outdoor Club President at Ohio University, and immediately, the OU Kayak Fishing Team was formed. Zach quickly recruited eleven of his friends and through successive face-to-face Skype meetings, OU was ready to hit the water.
The next university to become involved was Miami of Ohio. Once again, I relied on a network, this time through family, to contact the Miami University Outdoor Club President, Jack Gaskins. Jack, like Zach was more than excited to initiate the process at his university, and even obtained three university-funded kayaks for the new Kayak Fishing Club at Miami University.
The final school to participate in the first CKF event in Ohio was Ohio State University. For this contact, I relied on one of the kayak anglers I knew personally from the Jackson STAR program who attended OSU. Mike Arp and I worked together as we contacted Sid Hoover and the OSU Bass Club. Through this contact, we recruited a solid team of anglers to represent the Buckeyes at the upcoming tournament.
Having 28 interested college-aged anglers was exciting and worrisome. I had anticipated around fifteen interested participants, but realized the scope of the series would be much larger than I had originally estimated. The next move was to collaborate with local dealers to provide demo boats for the kids for a day. Columbus Kayak, Outdoor Source, and Great Miami Outfitters in Ohio all provided boats, great prizes, and even time on the water with the anglers on the day of the event. Gathering over 25 boats, and some fine tuning of the website by Noah, we were all set for the event to take place on October 5th, 2014 at Kiser Lake in St. Paris, OH.
As preparation for the event, OU rented a cabin near the lake and hashed out their plan of attack for the following morning of the water. Miami approached it slightly differently, as the entire team stayed at Jack’s house, as he lives only 30 minutes from the lake. The Redhawks also pre-fished the day before to pattern the bass, giving them an advantage the day of the tournament. Ohio State also met up prior to the tournament, and actually brought several kayaks on a dealer’s trailer for anglers of the opposing teams to use. This camaraderie was not only impressive, but a reminder of why we kayak fish. As a whole, kayak fishermen are some of the most humble, personable, and enjoyable people to spend time with. I am confident each one of the 28 anglers who participated in the Kiser Lake event will fit right into the crowd as they enter into the world of kayak fishing in their bright futures.
4:00am: October 5th, 2014. The alarm didn’t need to sound as I was up and ready to make the trip to Kiser. After some last minute preparations, checking, and double-checking, I was on the road, windows-down, appropriately blasting “Counting Stars” by One Republic as I could see frost glistening on the wind shield in the crisp, clear autumn night. I was feeling good, and all of the hard work was about to come to fruition as I drove to Kiser Lake.
Upon arrival, the parking lot was empty, but not for long. Soon my Kayak Fishing Ohio counterparts Luke Buxton, Dan Knopp, and Mike Gunder all showed up with extra kayaks in tow. Soon Bret Chumley from Columbus Kayak also showed up with even more kayaks on his mega-trailer. As we talked, rigged the kayaks, and set up a tent, anticipation of the anglers’ arrival was building. We didn’t have to wait long, as we heard a loud thumping of music blaring through the serene landscape of Kiser Lake. A convoy of cars made its way down the winding hill on its way to the parking lot. Ohio University had arrived.
Miami was soon to follow, carrying three of the kayaks they were granted from their University and both teams began unpacking their gear and scoping out the kayaks, which sat on the moonlit beach, ready to hit the water. Within a few minutes Ohio State pulled in with 12 kayaks on a trailer Outdoor Source graciously allowed them to use. The teams had arrived, and friendly rivalries and even some tongue-in-cheek smack talk was brandished in typical collegiate fashion.
The next 45 minutes found everyone unloading kayaks and gear, as well as picking out that perfect kayak that suited their needs. From Jackson to Hobie, NuCanoe to Wilderness Systems, many brands were well represented at the first CKF tournament for 2014-2015. All of the anglers who participated were more than happy with the options and various uses of kayaks they were able to choose from. A quick ten minute paddle around the bay allowed the anglers to become acquainted with their boats and left them satisfied with their choices. A thorough captain’s meeting and overview of proper fish submission on kayakfishingseries.com was discussed, and identifiers were handed out. Without any further ado, it was time for a blastoff launch from the beach.
A blastoff start consists of all anglers being at the same place, and launching at the same time. Blastoff starts are always entertaining, and this particular start did not disappoint. 3-2-1 BLAST OFF—was yelled into the half-mile hailer, as all twenty-eight college-aged, newly christened kayak anglers enthusiastically, and unknowingly began a new phase of their young-adult lives: Kayak fishing. The laughter and sheer joy that ensued after their blastoff was not only comical, but also refreshing. Hearing these college kids yell, scream, chant, and laugh was a site to see. If I had to guess, it might be the only day in the past few years they have been that awake and alert at the 7 o’clock hour. But, for a moment in the tournament, they were like kids on a playground, taking in the freedom that kayak fishing generously provides.
After the launch, it was clear each two-man team had a specific area they wanted to fish, and technique they wanted to use. A cold front had passed through the day before, and temperatures had dropped 20 degrees in 24 hours. I was interested to see what the anglers had up their sleeve of tricks. Within no time at all, bass after bass was being caught by anglers of many teams. Ohio University was the first to strike as several of their teams began hauling in tournament-sized bass on spinnerbaits and chatterbaits. Chartreuse was the color of choice for these anglers. OU had a game plan, and now it was up to Miami and OSU to respond.
Paddling around, and taking in the competition was enjoyable. Watching these anglers learn to position their boats, land a fish from a kayak, and then complete the daunting task of the Hawg Trough picture brought me back to my first experiences in a kayak. If they are anything like me, I knew these college fishermen would be hooked for life. These anglers were naturals. Many anglers immediately stood in some of the Jackson Kayaks, notably the Big Rig. Soon after I passed a group of OU anglers, I heard an uproar. Turning around, I saw a 30-inch, 15 pound hybrid striped bass being held up. It was Miami University angler, Tim Steele, in the Big Rig.
Kiser Lake is only two miles long but holds monster fish, and this was a true trophy. After some quick pictures by his friends, Tim’s fish was safely returned to the water. After the release, he said, “Even if I don’t catch any more fish, catching that one made the entire tournament worth it.” To me, that was worth the price of admission.
Miami and OSU quickly climbed up the board as solid fish from both teams continued to be landed. Adam Lipps from the OSU Team 3 was able to fight and measure a monster 20.25 inch bass that propelled his team to the top of the leaderboard early. With a kicker fish at that length, all of the competitors knew that if they were going to make a comeback, they needed to land at least three solid fish per angler by the end of the day.
The Ohio University Team 1 made up of Alec Denker and Justin Telep were up to the task. Both armed with Jackson Kayak Cuda 14s, and able to quickly and efficiently cover ground, the anglers ripped the lips of bass after bass. Their bass total for the day was over 40 and both put on a clinic of consistency. Alec was throwing a bright green chatterbait, with a chartreuse swimbait trailer. This was the brightest bait I have seen thrown at Kiser Lake, but it absolutely dominated the day.
As the day winded down, Mike Tufts and Jacob Jesionek of Ohio State Team 2 employed a new strategy as they corralled shad using their kayaks! This strategy was not only innovative, but it was working. Throwing a white spinnerbait as they drove schools of shad between their boats and lilly pads, they proceeded to make a late surge and catch some very nice bass in the process.
At 2:30, anglers began to make their way back to the beach for measure-in and official results. Returning to the beach anglers were surprised to see some of their parents, who came to watch and support their teams and schools. The online scoring system at kayakfishingseries.com could not have worked better. Throughout the day, anglers were updated with live results, and it kept them motivated to execute that perfect cast or choose an appropriate lure as conditions changed.
Results were tallied and a quick exchange of texts with Noah Heck, who served as the official judge of catches for the day’s events, and the awards ceremony was ready to begin. All 28 anglers walked home with custom baits from 412 Bait Company, Gift Cards from Columbus Kayak and Great Miami Outfitters, swag items from Kayak Fishing Ohio, and big bass was awarded with a new Bending Branches Angler Scout paddle from Outdoor Source. All-in-all the generosity of the CKF sponsors was certainly appreciated and rewarding for the anglers.
When the dust settled, the top three Teams ended up as follows:
1st Place: Ohio University Bass Team 1—Alec Denker and Justin Telep with 93.00”
2nd Place: Ohio State University Bass Team 3—Adam Lipps and Ryan Hallowell with 88.75”
3rd Place: Ohio University Bass Team 3—Isaac Bailey and Jared Ferguson with 88.50”
Bret Chumley from Columbus Kayak was generous enough to present $50 gift cards and $25 gift cards from his business to the first and second place teams, and Dan Schlegel from Great Miami Outfitters supplied $20 gift cards to the 3rd place team.
To see the complete results, please see the following link:
As the day concluded, thinking about all of the help and contributions from others was humbling. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable times I have had fishing, and it was one I will always remember. I know the anglers from each college enjoyed their time on the water as well, as many are going back to their universities and beginning sustainable and school funded Kayak Fishing Clubs. Some of the messages Noah, Drew and I have received in the days following the tournament reflect the impact CKF has made on these students:
“Sunday was a blast, as my first (and the rest of the Miami teams’ first) bass tournament, let alone in a kayak, it’s safe to say it was one of the best fishing experiences I’ve ever had. From the Miami team, I’m sure the rest of the guys at the tournament, and myself, we can’t thank you enough for hosting that for all of us. It means a lot to me that you included Miami even though we are small and still trying to grow. I’m currently in the process of finding more, better experienced fisherman here at school to improve and expand our team quality/quantity. Now that we know what they are like I’m sure we can do a bit better next time. Personally, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve been researching kayaks, fish finders, gear, etc. I’d really like to get into it. I’d love to talk more about it but I don’t have too much time right now, hopefully in the near future. Most importantly, I hope you were pleased by Miami’s showing and thank you again for including us and contacting me in the first place!”
“This summer while fishing in a local river in my hometown I ran into Aaron Stiger, one of my former high school teachers. He mentioned to me that he was making plans to start a college kayak fishing tournament series. Right away I knew this would be a great opportunity for the OU Anglers and as soon as the fall semester started I introduced the idea to the rest of the club members. The members of the club were very interested in the idea and after some details were worked out we made the decision to get as many people in the club involved in this opportunity as possible. This past weekend I and 13 other members of The Ohio University Anglers Organization made a trip to Champaign County to participate in a College Kayak Fishing tournament on Kiser Lake. We split into teams of two and competed against Ohio State University as well as Miami University. The sponsors of the tournament were kind enough to provide kayaks for everyone involved in the tournament, which made travel plans much easier for us as a club. When we arrived and the rules were reviewed. After everyone had their kayaks ready, the fishing began! Everyone was so excited, especially as OU got on the board early and gained quick momentum. After eight hours of fishing on a breezy October day, the college anglers all reported back to the beach. The end results were impressive, many teams finished very strong and a lot of fish were caught throughout the day. One Ohio University team came out on top at the end after the official measurements were over! Our club is very proud of all of our members who participated in this tournament and are looking forward to spending more time competing in kayak fishing tournaments. Plans have already begun to get funding to buy kayaks that our members can use now and in future years in tournaments and recreational fishing settings alike.”
“At the end of the tournament, my team put up a strong finish and had a blast. It was a GREAT time, I got to get out and meet a great bunch of guys and fish. As exhausted as I was, I was already thinking about the next kayak fishing tournament. My kayak fishing will not just stop there. I plan on taking kayak fishing to a whole new level at Ohio State. I will be working towards starting a kayak fishing club as well as building consistent tournament teams. At Columbus Kayak, I hope to continue my STAR Program position through Jackson Kayak and build an even bigger kayak fishing community. I know both of these are attainable, because once other anglers try fishing from a kayak as there is nothing that can match it on the water. CKF is something I highly recommend anyone in college to try regardless of experience kayaking. One event and you’ll be hooked!”
The College Kayak Fishing Bass Series is growing rapidly. For this upcoming season, tournaments in Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia are already in the planning stages and ultimately college anglers are going to have the ability to compete for Jackson Kayaks and scholarship prizes. Check out kayakfisingseries.com for more information on College Kayak Fishing. If you know anyone interested in the series, please have them contact Aaron Stiger at firstname.lastname@example.org.