As the 2018 Kayak Angler Tournament Series (KATS) is upon us, I look back on the qualities that make our freshwater kayak tournament an event that shows no signs of slowing in popularity. This is the 12th year for one of the longest running freshwater kayak tournament series in the country, and the largest in the state of Texas. Our family has grown to include KATS – Midwest, which is about to begin its third year as a fresh face in the kayak tournament world. As KATS continues to gain followers as a brand, the basic fundamentals fueling the popularity are the same that first launched our trail.
In the beginning, KATS didn’t enjoy the communications powerhouse that is modern social media. Events, fishing reports, and tips were shared on the legendary Austin Kayak Fishing forum. KATS was born as a grass roots organization of dedicated kayak anglers under the guidance of Dennis Hermes. Then, there were no Hawg Troughs, 10-inch graphs, or Facebook. There was, though, a group of anglers bound together by their shared passion for competitive kayak fishing. Chasing the beloved largemouth bass as the clock ticked down was how the KATS tournament culture was born.
Technology advanced our sport, brining us standardized measuring devices, digital cameras, online media devoted to fishing, and an explosion in kayak construction, gear and accessories, and tackle. Comparable to the transformation brought by the industrial revolution, the modern day kayak tournament era began around 2010.
The acquisition of KATS by Austin Canoe Kayak (ACK) in 2012 couldn’t have come at a better time. ACK serves the entire paddle/peddle water sport community and plays a critical role in the advancement of the sport. They brought sponsors to the table, opening the door between anglers and manufacturers and creating the opportunity for our events to blossom into 100-plus angler registrations.
The ACK — KATS era has meant unprecedented growth for their branded kayak fishing tournaments, in turn leading to the formation of the KATS Governing Body and the parallel development of the Social Division. Marketing efforts include a user friendly contemporary website, championship payouts and prize development, junior angler promotion, and the annual Alamo Drafthouse KATS Classic Film screening.
Leadership has been key in the growth of KATS. Kristian Kolflat served as our first Tournament Director of the ACK era. He set the tone for involvement, traveling across Texas to find out what anglers wanted in a series they could call their own. That responsibility now belongs to current Tournament Director Ryan Schaper. These men, with the support of ACK staff and KATS volunteers including Andrea Heck, Roland Jimenez, Dayvee, Marleigh, Cip, Dan, and many more are who make our series such a success. A special tip of the hat goes to videographer Mark Cisneros of Big Worm Productions for his outstanding series film-work.
You can buy gear, and kayaks, but you can’t buy friends. I learned of KATS, a Who’s Who of Texas kayak tournament anglers, in 2010, where I followed top anglers like Steve Garcia, Ryan Herzog, Troy Lawson, Mike Bayer, Bobby Lebeuf, Mark Nordstom, Marcus Villanueva, Brandon Campbell, Robert Dockery, Christopher Pearce, Dan Peters, and Burt Briggs on the Austin Kayak Fishing forum. They, and many more, inspired me to participate in competitive kayak fishing and they’re the main reason I continue to fish competitively. Money and prizes are great, but my main appreciation for KATS are the lifelong friendships forged through shared experiences.
Today’s top anglers include many of those listed above, Guillermo González, Joseph Sanderson, Robert Morton, Mike Mashl, Ken Davis, Jacob Moeller, Michael Hanson, Tyler Howell, Matt Moccia, Adam Estlack, Andrew Jacobson, Eugene Mora, and many more. These highly skilled competitors are typical of the talent you’ll find in the KATS community. I’ve always been told that you get better at whatever skill you are developing by running with the best. With KATS, you are running with the best.
Each new season brings new friendships and bigger payouts and prizes, while the opportunity to explore the many lakes our great state has to offer is unparalleled. KATS continues to provide a welcoming environment for every angler, regardless of experience or skill level, to comfortably develop into the tournament angler they aspire to become.
Competing against the best anglers in our state means the best of the past, the best of the present, and those that will become the best of the future. See you on the water.
Thank you to Chris Siebenthaler for his contribution to the Kayak Angler’s Tournament Series and our blog. Chris is a decorated KATS veteran himself. He is a respected member of our community, a KATS Governing Body member, and the best Kayak Tournament MC this side of the Mississippi.