Select Page

Kayak Fishing Tournaments- A Newbie’s Perspective

Hey Jackson Readers, My name is Emily Jackson, I’m a 30 year old whitewater kayaker, mother of two, full time employee, wife and nomad. In my spare time, (which isn’t as often as I would like), I love fishing. Something about only focusing on catching the fish is super meditative to me. I also love precision casting, so even when I am not catching a lot, I love trying to nail the perfect cast.

I have competed in two Kayak Fishing Tournaments in my lifetime, both times with very little gear or equipment. The first tournament was the Pan American Championships in Cookeville, TN (my home waters.) where I placed 1st in the Women’s Class and 3rd in the Men’s Class.

Kayak Fishing Tournaments 101

The second one which was more recent- the KBF Trail Series at Lake Kississme in Florida. I had no idea on what to expect. I was super nervous as I hadn’t fished FL waters very much and there are Alligators…. Not to mention that at the boat ramp everyone looked so fancy, decked out, experienced and professional.

I did get to talk to one other gentleman who was also a little nervous as it was his first ever fishing tournament, and by reminding him, “it’s all about having fun out on the water.” Hearing myself utter those words helped me alleviate any self doubt or concerns I was having. “What if I drop my pole? What if I get eaten by an Alligator? What if I don’t catch anything? What if I mess up the photos or something?”

To be honest there wasn’t much to be worried about, so I started worrying about things that are complete irrelevant. I knew I could catch fish, I knew I wouldn’t get eaten, and I knew I could handle taking a photo.

Being prepared and knowing the key aspects of what you DO need in order to participate helped me shut out all the random concerns I was creating in my head.

I want others to know how much fun these tournaments are and the simplicity in participating. You CAN keep it simple.

Step 1- Register for your event

  • Something I learned here is that occasionally the entry fees are for ONE day, so check when you register if it’s for one day, or the weekend.
  • Also ensure you are part of whatever organization may be required to participate. Such as KBF, you need to be a KBF member.

Step 2- Fishing License

If you are fishing in a different state, or if you don’t have your Fishing License, make sure that you do!

Step 3- Know what equipment is required

Kayak Fishing Tournaments 101

  • Kayak-
    – I was going for simplicity, and had planned on visiting manatees with my kids afterwards, so I brought the Jackson Kayak Staxx- with the fishing kit.
    – Since I was racing trolling motors to my spots, I was very happy with the hull speed of this kayak, and I loved that it was an ideal platform for fishing and rec boating with my kids afterwards.
    – You can use a peddle. Paddle, or trolling motor, all are allowed.

  • Paddle-
    – I used a Werner Paddle, there are lots of different brands out there, but my Werner paddle breaks down into two pieces for easier transportation, AND its super light, when you are paddling hard all day, its nice to have a lighter paddle.

  • PFD –
    – Safety First! Your PFD must be on at all times, no matter what, even if you’re getting the worse tan lines. I was in my Kokatat Levitihan as I like all the pockets and storage it has for quick acces, and my tools.
    – I don’t believe this can be a pull PFD, it must be a standard PFD.

  • Poles-
    – I brought 3 poles each day, I could have gotten away with two but I was grateful to have 3 on the last day as I had some bad backlash that wasn’t cooperating on one reel.

  • Lures-
    – I used one lure on both days, the whole time… My good Ol’ Wacky Worm. My Dad (pro bass fisherman Eric Jackson) kept putting all these other lures in my tackle box and I was just like “chances of me trying those out are slim to none…” He said well you may end up wanting them. But deep down I knew I wanted to fish with what I was confident with- My Ocho Strike King Wacky Worms, and if I was feeling daring, I might even switch up the color. But green pumpkin was my baby…
    – Key tip is to fish with what you’re confident with.
    – Hooks and weights are essential too! Extra never hurt anyone.

  • Flashlight-
    – This is another safety requirement. Since you take off in the dark, your flashlight must be on until after sunrise. I used a high powered GoPro Zuess as its waterproof, long lasting and clips on easily.

  • Measuring Board
    – This is important to either ask or look up board requirements before you take off. Some tournaments only allow certain certified ones. The KBF trail series ONLY allowed Ketch measuring boards. This is to ensure everyone is using the same measuring tools. But each tournament could be different so be sure to check ahead of time so you’re not DQ’ed for the wrong board.

  • Tourney Tag
    – This is another requirement- it’s how they ensure the fish are caught the day of the tournament. Generally a code is given out the night before the tournament, and this code goes onto a little square piece of paper that you can either print or ask the organizers for (but they much prefer you to print your own) Make sure the code or codes are in the right spot and visable once you slide it into your tourney tag holder. (tourney tag holder is a little ziplock on a band.
    – The Tourney Tag can be in two locations, wrist or on measuring board. Remember if the CODE cannot be seen in the photo, the photo won’t count.
    – If it’s a multiday event, you will need a new code before the second day, so ensure you have multiple print outs of the tag.

  • Phone-
    – First step with your phone is to download the APP they will be using for scoring. The two that I am aware of is Tourney X and Fishing Chaos.
    – Once you have these set up, make sure you have set up your profile.
    – Make sure you have room on your phone for lots of photos.
  • Phone Case with leash
    – When you’re trying to wrangle your fish, get the on the board and get them to pose properly for the photo, it can be a little overwhelming, so having a leash on your phone (and your phone in a waterproof case) it will help you not have to worry as much. The case you have will need to be a clear one that you can take your photos through. As IF you are taking your phone out each fish, the chances of you losing your phone is a lot higher (Lost phone, means no options for continuing in the tournament.)
  • Other Tools
    In my PFD I had:
    • My Pliers
    • Scissors
    • Extra Hooks
  • Goodies
    – I also brought my GoPro to capture part of my Day- you never know what may happen!
    – Snacks- LONG days, so bring some food in case you get into an energy lull
    – Water- cant forget your water!
    – Sunblock, Hat, Glasses – Sun Safe can help you maintain your energy longer!

I sure I am missing a few things that people may label as necessary- but this is my general overview from my perspective. I don’t use nets personally but many people do. Once you have all your stuff here are 2-3 tips that I worked out from my day on the water-

Kayak Fishing Tournaments 101

Practice taking your photos of the fish- there are a lot of rules here

  • Fish mouth butted against the board – and closed- you lose an inch when it ¼ inch open, and your fish won’t count if its open any more then that.
  • Ensure the tourney tag is readable
  • Make sure the photo isn’t too blurry
  • Dorsal fin pointing away from you (so fish pointing to your left)
  • Don’t put your hand under the fishes gill.
  • Eyes need to be clearly visable

Drink water before you’re thirsty!

Don’t get discouraged when people come close to your space and are catching fish

  • I was surrounded by a team of 3 guys at one point and I hadn’t caught any good fish for a little bit, but I stuck my ground and caught my biggest fish in an area that they had fished and left.


Its skill, plus luck so be patient with yourself and enjoy the day. I didn’t think I was doing very well in the tournament as I watched people pull in fish all around me, but sure enough I ended in 13th! On the podium and with some money!

Doing well in the tournament was honestly just the icing on the cake- I had a GREAT day and was reminded of the amazing community the Kayak Fishing World has!

So if you’ve never had a chance- grab your gear and check out a local tournament near you!

Here is a little video of my weekend out on the water.

Happy Paddling,
Emily Jackson