June 6, 2020
This Saturday, June 6th, 2020, was the fourth event in the five-event Kayak Angler Tournament Series (KATS) 2020, sponsored by Austin Canoe & Kayak (ACK), held on Lake Travis. Attendance for this road runner event was good, with 55 Pro registrants, 16 in the Social division. The summer heat and lively Lake Travis boat traffic was not enough to dissuade our intrepid group of anglers from matching wits with each other and the fish. At this time of year, Lake Travis bass are generally cooperative, but a bit on the small side. A winning limit could include 15” and 16” fish, which is quite a contrast to what we saw on Lake Fayette. If no one separates himself from the pack, the contest could prove to be a battle, from first-cast to lines-in. When a single good-sized fish could mean cashing a check, each contestant knew they stood a chance at winning. That would drive all contestants to fish like every cast mattered. So who prevailed? Would it be OG’s with extensive knowledge of Travis, or relative newcomers who had practiced hard and were on the fish during their pre-fish sessions? Let’s set the stage:
As is KATS new Post-COVID-19 protocol, Tournament Director Joseph Sanderson held the Captain’s Meeting via Facebook Live at 7:00pm the night before, in which he went over rules, discussed current weather and fishing conditions, and answered questions. Joseph reiterated how important it was to stay hydrated, as low winds and high temperatures would surely test the physical endurance of everyone. He also mentioned that Travis was anyone’s game, as 14” and 15” bass were the norm the last time he had been on the lake. This proved to be prophetic. Lastly, Joseph cautioned against zebra mussels, the bane of all fishermen. Anyone who fishes zebra mussel-infested waters knows they’ll lose gear, particularly if they’re fishing around docks or structure. Those little invasives filtered the water to unbelievable clarity, but they’re also little razor blades, wait to slice fluoro, mono, and braid like a hot knife through butter. With a final few words about being courteous and minding our distance, Joseph gave out the codes and wished everyone good fortune and safety for the following day.
Game day arrived, and so did our KATS anglers, spreading out across the lake at any public ramp or pay-for-play launch site. Travis is a big lake, so the density of kayakers per acre was nowhere near what it was for the Fayette event. Launch time was 5:45am for our Pro Division anglers, 6:00am for Social, lines-in for both groups at 6:00am. With “good lucks!” shouted out, kayakers pushed off into the darkness, ready to see if Travis would be cruel or kind on the dawning day. The lake had barely a ripple, with winds slight to non-existent, but everyone knew the pleasure boaters would make the day bumpy by mid-morning.
The day started off a bit slow, so for those expecting to put up big limits in the first few hours, they were disappointed. Lake Travis fished like you’d figure it would for an early-summer post-spawn lake – lots of action, but small fish. Those initial bites included the State Fish of Texas, the Guadalupe bass, a very colorful, hard-hitting little guy who, while fun to catch, rarely stretches to the necessary 14” needed by our Pro Division anglers. Undersized largemouth and scrappy guadies stole baits and broke hearts, but a few keepers started to show up on TourneyX for Joseph to judge. The occasional big girl made an appearance, too, with early leader Kaden Pasawicz scoring a 19” bass on a topwater, which vaulted him to the head of the pack. International Man of Mystery Bryan Fontana/Scarberry, fishing out of the same launch as Kaden, dueled him for the top spot, but others kept pace. Both Kaden and Bryan are relative newcomers to the kayak tourney world. One thing that can always be said is everyone is welcome to compete in KATS, and no event is a sure thing, regardless of experience level. It seems like every year we have a handful of newer anglers who come ready to fight for the money, to make a name for themselves, and that was evident at Travis this Saturday.
No one was sacking consistently big fish, so it became a matter of who could limit out with one or two really nice ones, and make the necessary upgrades down the stretch to steal it from the newcomers. As the day lengthened, the sun beat down, and the wakeboards/pleasurecraft/jetskis came out in force. Lots of water and sports drinks were consumed. By noon the cloudless sky made the lake feel like an oven. What was a calm, still morning turning into a heat-soaked rollercoaster by mid-day, although it wasn’t all that bad, even at the lower end of the lake by the dam, where the writer launched. We always look after each other, though, and I surely appreciated it when Armanzo Saucedo asked if I had enough water. That’s the kind of community we have at KATS – we compete, but we put safety and fairplay first.
Mid-day turned to early afternoon, and the leaderboard was starting to shape up. Kaden still held a tenuous lead, but Bryan was hot on his heels, scant inches behind. The veterans weren’t letting this one go, however, as they were right there, as well. One good fish. That’s what we were all hoping and praying for. But would our prayers be answered? The techniques used ranged as widely as did our experience levels, with some opting for finesse techniques like dropshotting drop-offs or rockpiles, skipping docks with lightly-weighted or weightless plastics. Others favored powerfishing techniques like crankbaits, chatterbaits, and jerkbaits. The eventual winner used swimbaits and jigs near brushpiles early on, switching to T-rigged/C-rigged baby brush hogs on steeper banks and points on the river channel in 15-30 ft of water. Whatever was being used, the standings were tight going into the last hour. The top guys were in the low 80’s, with mid-70’s being common for the ones with limits. A handful of guys were one fish shy of a limit, and even a 14” or 15” fish would push them into the lead. At 2:00pm, Joseph turned off the standings and we were left to guess how it had all played out in the final hour.
What a final hour it was! Lots of movement on the leaderboard, as Joseph was kept busy judging pics, both good and bad. A misplaced hand in a pic could prove costly, as I discovered. Mental errors can be as bad as equipment failure and line sawed off on zebra mussels. Regardless, a few late inning rallies shook up the board and a last-minute miracle even managed to take big bass. At least one heartbreaker of an 18” fish was caught just as the final buzzer sounded, but wasn’t submitted in time to the TourneyX app to make it scoreable. So frustrating. They say fishing builds character. I’m sure fishing Lake Travis made great men out of several of us that day. At 3:00pm, lines were in, and kayakers headed to their launches to put away kayaks, gear and re-hydrate. It was an emotionally draining, physically challenging day. The day afforded all of us only so many chances, so it was up in the air who would come out ahead in the end.
Next came the long, long wait for the winners to be announced. At 7:00pm Joseph logged on Facebook Live with the results, as anglers crossed their fingers, hoping against hope that their limits had paid off, that their competitors hadn’t gotten on hot streaks in the last hour to pull away from the pack. Joseph was giving nothing away. First off, he named the winners in the Social Division. We love these guys. They’re the future of our sport and will fill in when some of our veterans go on to other things. In 5th place with 68.25” John Martinez won gear from ACK, as did 4th place finisher Cody Farmer with 70.25”. In 3rd place, Denton Havermann’s 71.5” won him $48 in ACK gift cards. 2nd place went to Keith Davis, whose 73” earned him $96 in ACK gear. The winner in the Social Division was Joshua Nelson, who scored $176 in ACK bucks with his fantastic 77.5” limit, not far from what our Pro anglers were able to boat.
Next came the Pro Division anglers. In 7th place, former AOY angler Derek Taylor sacked 78.75” for a $34.38 gift card from ACK. 6th place went to Armanzo Saucedo. A-Sauce scored 79.75” on the day for a $68.75 ACK gift card. Remember when I wrote it was anyone’s game? Janson Benavides took 5th place with his 79.75” limit, edging out Armanzo with a bigger 19” best-fish. Janson won $137.50. Well done, sir. Next up came 4th place, won by Mr Consistency Jeremiah Smith, who sacked 82.50” for his best five fish, which won him $275. He was tied by another former AOY Jacob Moeller, but Jacob’s 18” best fish proved to be the tie-breaker. Those two are locked into a very tight AOY race down the stretch – more on that later. So how about our newcomers? How did they fare? Kaden Pasawicz had 83.75” on the day, which won him $687.50. Excellent job, Kaden. You pre-fished your heart out and all that hard work showed up on Saturday. Kaden’s bud and pre-fishing partner Bryan Scarberry AKA Bryan Fontana AKA Mr Unfiltered AKA Mr Almost Aneurysm did his best work in the last hour to score two 16.5” upgrades that moved him ahead of Kaden to win the event with 84.75”, worth $1,237.50. Fantastic work, sir. We appreciate your recap and for sharing what worked for you. Not everyone would do that, but it’s a sign of the great sportsmanship and camaraderie that we promote at KATS. The winning was over yet, though. Big Bass was caught in the last few minutes by our KATS Fountain of Youth award-winner Ervin Coonrod, who landed a fat ol’ 21.25” girl worth $620. Way to go, Ervin! You proved why it’s not over until it’s over. Fish hard up to the very final second, and you can be rewarded.
KATS Advantage came next, after a judging intermission. First place went to Jeremiah Smith, who netted an additional $292. Nice! ATX TD and all-around great guy Armanzo Saucedo took second with a $142.50 check. Derek Taylor won $85.50 for his efforts on the day. John Davila, my ramp buddy, took home $50 to break even. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, guys. If you’re feeling like it’s your day, sign up for KATS Advantage and score a few extra $$$. Lastly, Joseph announced our Mystery Tackle Bag winner, worth $180 in Tackle Warehouse gear. Mario Rodriguez, come on down! Way to go, sir. Even though we no longer have the ACK gear/tackle raffle at the conclusion of our events, we all have a chance at the MTB raffle.
With the final announcements done, Joseph concluded his Live Meeting. Travis was a scrambler, a grinder. It tightened things up for the final event in three weeks, our Highland Lakes and Lower Colorado Roadrunner, where anglers can fish any body of water from Lake Buchanan down to the LoCo outside of Bastrop. The AOY standings are as tight as the limits we saw on Lake Travis. Jeremiah Smith is in the lead, but wily veteran Jacob Moeller is right on his heels, with Nathan Chanyarlak, Matt Yturri, and Kayden Drake all having a shot at the title, as well. It’s looking like a winning sack in the fifth and final event will also win the overall AOY title, too. The excitement and tension for the last event will be hard to bear, but we’ll see who does best under pressure. Looking forward to having everyone join us on June 27th for our Highland Lakes and Lower Colorado River Roadrunner. We appreciate all of you for coming out to fish KATS Lake Travis and for your continued support of ACK and its sponsors. Tight lines, stay safe, and fish hard!