The Kayak Angler Tournament Series (KATS) restarted its kayak bass fishing tournament series with a bang this last Saturday, May 23rd, with a real barn-burner on Fayette County Reservoir. This was the rescheduled third event in the five-event series, having been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. This was also the first time KATS conducted a virtual event, abiding by social distancing guidelines. Fayette did not disappoint, with big limits and plenty of them. This isn’t to say those limits came easily, though. Anyone who’s fished Fayette knows the actual velocity of a south wind is about twice as strong as the metrics given by forecasters. A 15mph day can churn the little 2,400 acre lake into a raging sea of 2 to 3 foot swells. That’s precisely what happened on Saturday. But when it’s blowing, the bite is usually good, so there’s definitely a trade-off. Before we dive into things, a little background first.
The night before, in lieu of a parking lot Captain’s Meeting the morning of the event, Tournament Director Joseph Sanderson conducted a virtual meeting in which he laid out the ground rules. He asked the 86 participants – 68 Pro Division, 18 Social Division – be patient while we re-find our collective tournament footing. Austin Canoe & Kayak (ACK) would normally set up a registration table and pass out wristbands, identifiers, and conclude the Captain’s Meeting with the ubiquitous Hawg Trough photo. Not this time. Joseph spoke to the registrants via Facebook Live, answered questions and provided identifiers to the Pro and Social Division registrants. The time format was altered a bit, as well, with the launch occurring at 6:00am, first cast at 6:15am, lines out at 3:30pm, awards presentation conducted via Facebook Live at 7:00pm. Social Division was allowed to launch and fish immediately at 6:15am. The event was a roadrunner, with both launch sites at Park Prairie and Oak Thicket being utilized. Since the tournament occurred on Memorial Day weekend, big crowds were expected and safety was paramount. Joseph thanked everyone for their understanding and resilience in jumping right back into tournament mode, and wished everyone the best of luck.
The day began in the dark for all anglers, as they prepared their kayaks and greeted each other discreetly at a distance. There was no handshaking or fist-bumping, but the camaraderie was evident in the pre-light dawn. The wind was howling. There’s no other way to describe it. The day promised to be a bumpy ride, right out of the chute. As the 6:00 countdown began, kayakers pushed away from shore and plunged into the wind-whipped surf at Park Prairie, with the launch at Oak Thicket being a little less dramatic.
Some early fish were caught and submitted via TourneyX to Joseph, who meticulously judged each and every submission. While the “mouth closed” rule seems to have been figured out, improper hand placement resulted in the disqualification of almost two dozen pics. We need to work on that, guys. Overall, though, no complaints were voiced about lack of connectivity or difficulty in using the TourneyX app. The technical side of submitting fish seems to have been mastered. Catching fish and taking proper photos – there’ll always be room for improvement.
Fayette lived up to her reputation. The lake may not harbor true Texas giants in appreciable numbers, but 19, 20, and 21-inch fish were soon in the net and on the board. Fayette has some of the fattest, healthiest, fighting-est bass in the state. They’re all healthy, solid chunks. A few surprise by-catches were dredged up as well, including a massive flathead catfish caught by last year’s AOY winner Derek Taylor. Tilapia, catfish, gaspergoo, carp – they didn’t count, but they surely made an angler’s heart beat faster for a brief moment.
After a brief couple of hours in which the wind died down to more bearable levels, it regained its velocity around 10:30am, driving most everyone off the main lake and into more sheltered waters. Even there, precaution needed to be taken, as retrieving anchors became a delicate operation. The leaderboard started to take shape, with limits rising from the mid-80’s to the high 80’s, breaking the 90-inch mark around 11:00am. Who’s name appeared at the top? Some early names showed up that you just knew would be there, including former AOY’ers Ryan Herzog and Bobby LeBeuf. It came as no surprise that one angler emerged out of the pack, crankbait virtuoso Brandon Maly, who used his morning to rack up a mid-90’s limit around noon. Yours truly had a front row seat for much of the masterful work performed by Brandon, as 19-inch bass surrendered to him one right after the other. He was able to mix in three 20”+ fish, anchored by a 20.75” beauty. It was no runaway, though. He had to incrementally upgrade throughout the day. Late charges by Adam Estlack and Kayden Drake kept him in their sites. But who would ultimately emerge victorious? The leaderboard was shut off at 2:30pm with Brandon leading, but the final hour was fished blindly, with the winners known only to TD Sanderson.
The day worn on, the wind never let up, but neither did our KATS anglers. At 3:30pm a dazed and bedraggled KATS crew beached their kayaks and thankfully set foot on dry land again, collecting the plastic armada for the long trip home. The general consensus was that Fayette was a hard mistress. She was generous with big limits, but only through continual work and strenuous effort. Many techniques caught fish, including the aforementioned crankbait, but Carolina-rigs, jigs, dropshot, and swimbaits also did the job. More than a few anglers looked and felt like they’d gone ten rounds with a prizefighter, being physically and emotionally drained from the constant pounding of wind and waves. The mental challenge of catching big limits is tough. The technical challenge of difficult physical conditions made it tougher, a day most won’t soon forget.
In lieu of the usual awards ceremony, Joseph appeared at 7:00pm on Facebook Live to announce the winners. No surprise, Brandon Maly emerged victorious with his 99.25 inch limit, narrowly edging out second place finisher Adam Estlack’s 98 inches. Brandon walked away with $1,350 in prize money, Adam netted $850. Brandon’s dominance at Fayette is truly extraordinary. He’s won first place in five events over the last year and a half, an epic feat. Third place finisher Kayden Drake sacked 97.5” with a couple of last-minute upgrades, showing that he performs best at crunch time, another top finish good for $510. His last-minute heroics came at my expense, as Andrew Jacobson’s 97” was worth a fourth place finish for $340. Rounding out the money winners in the Pro Division, Eugene Mora had a stellar day, with 96” and a $170 paycheck. Rolando Nandin didn’t finish in the money, but he garnered an $85 ACK gift card with his 93” limit. The ever-consistent Jeremiah Smith had a solid day, with 92.75”, good for a $42.50 ACK gift card and crucial AOY points. The AOY leaderboard is due for a shake up after Fayette, but as we know, the cream rises to the top over a best-four-of-five season.
In the Social Division, with 18 registrants, our first-place winner was David Mosher, with a very respectable 84.75” limit, narrowly edging out second-place finisher Michael Torres with 84.5”. David took home $198 in ACK gift cards, Michael won $108. Third place went to Denton Havemann, who’s 83.75” gained him $54 in ACK gear. Special thanks to Denton for being our guinea pig in working out the kinks in our Social Division TourneyX registration. Armando Perez had 65” for fourth place and some ACK gear, Brandon Gilroy’s 53.5” took fifth and a great ACK prize, as well. Great job, fellas. You earned those fish and the ACK swag.
The KATS Advantage program provided an extra side pot of money to fight for, and our Pro Division anglers signed up in droves, with 20 participants. Brandon Maly gained an extra $550 for his efforts, Kayden Drake won $250, Andrew Jacobson captured an additional $150, and Jeremiah Smith broke even with $50. If you’re feeling you’re due for a win or a big sack, sign up for KATS Advantage. It can make a good day even better with the extra cash.
Lots of fish were caught at Fayette, but who caught the biggest? Stories abounded on Facebook of lost lunkers and broken dreams as anglers shared their tales, but one individual gained the prize: JR Macoby’s 21.75” behemoth made his day special to the tune of $760. He finished just outside the prize winners in 8th place overall, but his payday was nice, all the same. Lastly, our Mystery Tackle Box winner was Frank Spencer, who showed that even a tough day on the lake can have its rewards. With the announcement of our last and final winner, Joseph ended the awards presentation. He reminded everyone to please note the final registration date for next stop, Lake Travis, when spreading the word of our upcoming June 6th event. That’s in less than two weeks, guys. We don’t want anyone to miss out on the fun.
Thanks to everyone who came out, and for those of you who followed the TourneyX standings at home. As always, thank you ACK for the behind-the-scenes work you due to make our trail possible, including lining up great sponsors and putting out the good word about KATS. Fayette, we love you, but you surely put us to the test, every time. Next stop, Lake Travis. Pre-fish hard and be safe, KATS anglers. See you June 6th.