Kayak Catfishing Tournaments

Over the last year or so, as kayak catfishing has become more and more popular, I have had several people reach out to me with inquiries about organizing tournaments. While I personally have no desire to organize a tournament or tournament trail myself, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and observations that may help the brave soul that decides to take on this task. Last month, I fished in the Yak Tribe tournament. It is a multi-species tournament involving both fresh and saltwater. Fishing in this event gave me some new insight on the challenges that the person who decides to create a kayak catfishing tournament or trail will face.

Cheating is always the elephant in the room so I will get it out of the way first. Any time there is ego or money on the line, there will be some people who push or exceed the boundaries in place. First, let me just say that I think the number of dishonest people in the fishing world is very small but as the old saying goes, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. There have been countless stories of cheating in boat tournaments throughout the years and kayak tournaments are not immune to this either. Case in point is what has occurred in the kayak bass fishing world. There have been some scandals that have given the sport a black eye with probably the worst being in 2016 when the winner of the Kayak Bass Series North Open tournament was caught cheating. That person had apparently altered multiple measuring boards which allowed him to photograph one fish and make it appear to be several different lengths.

I think the leaders of the KBS did a fantastic job of addressing the issue and were fully transparent throughout that process. They have put a lot of safeguards in place, some that we know about and some that we don't, to prevent this from ever happening again. If I were a bass fisherman, I would not hesitate to fish in their events. I only bring this up to make the point that if something like this can happen at the highest level of kayak bass fishing where the majority of the fish being entered are 15-20 inches then it could absolutely happen in a kayak catfishing tournament where we can expect to see fish in the 35, 40, 45+ inch range being submitted.

My recommendation for anyone who is serious about organizing some kayak catfishing tournaments would be to reach out to the leaders of the kayak bass fishing world. Those guys would be the best resource available and could help you avoid some potentially serious mistakes.

Unlike boat tournaments where competitors have the ability to keep fish in a livewell and transport them to a designated weigh-in location to determine a winner, the majority of kayak fishing tournaments are CPR (catch, photo, release) events. Fish are photographed on an approved measuring device, the most popular being the Hawg Trough, and the photos are submitted in place of the actual fish. The winner is then determined by total length. This is a great system for bass tournaments, however, there are some challenges related to using this format for catfishing.

The first issue is with the measuring board. As I mentioned above, the standard device used in most kayak tournaments is the Hawg Trough. It is 30 inches long and works well for small fish such as bass. Unfortunately, it is not suited to handle larger fish such as catfish that will far exceed the board width and length. If a person wanted to create a successful catfishing tournament or trail using this scoring method, there would need to be a standardized measuring board that every competitor would be required to use that was affordable to buy and capable of handling large catfish. This brings me to the next issue of using this scoring format for a catfishing tournament which is safety for both the fish and the competitor.

As a major advocate for releasing trophy size catfish, I could never participate in or endorse a kayak catfishing tournament where the safety of the fish was not a top priority. Trophy size catfish are a limited resource and great care should be taken in a tournament to ensure all are released unharmed. This is where it gets tricky. Getting a large catfish to lie still on a measuring board long enough to get a photo is difficult enough. Add in the fact that you have to do this in a kayak and you have a real challenge. Due to the length of a big catfish, you are basically forced to stand up in the kayak in order to get far enough away from the fish to fit it all in the picture. This then creates a safety issue for the competitors in the tournament for a variety of reasons.

To avoid this safety issue in the Yak Tribe tournament, they allowed you to paddle to shore and exit your kayak to take the photo if the fish exceeded the length of the Hawg Trough. While doing this certainly helps make the tournament safer for the competitors who are fishing the event, it can be detrimental to the survival of the fish being caught. As catfisherman, we are often fishing with multiple rods and in places that are a long distance away from the shore. It can be a very time consuming process to reel in your lines and paddle to shore. Then you also have to factor in the time it will take to get the pics once you get there. I fear having the fish out of the water for the length of time it will take to complete all those tasks will inevitably lead to many fish dying and therefore would not be a suitable option for a successful kayak catfishing tournament.

Undoubtedly in the coming months, there will be some kayak catfishing tournaments start to pop up using either the current scoring format mentioned above or with a new system in place. While tournament fishing isn't something that I personally am very passionate about, I do think they have the potential to help grow the sport. My only hope is that whoever takes on this task of creating a major tournament or trail puts in the necessary time to make sure that it is safe for both the fish and the competitors and takes the appropriate steps to protect the integrity of the tournament itself. There are many more smaller problems that would need to be addressed but focusing on the issues I have listed in this article would be a great start.

If you want to find out more about the Yak Tribe tournament click here. To see some of the challenges I experienced in measuring and photographing big fish in the kayak for the Yak Tribe tournament, check out my video series on YouTube.

Tight lines,

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