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Nature has its own clock. Humans have their clocks. I live, and fish, somewhere between the two.

Tournament anglers tend to pre-fish on the day prior to an event. I tend to avoid it. What I do, if I am traveling and fishing a big event, is to instead have a look around town. I’ll visit a park or museum, find a good restaurant, and relax. And I keep my eyes, nose and ears open, because sometimes the smallest detail can be overlooked, but that’s the detail that helps you fish well. My first big tournament of the year this season was a Carolina Kayak Anglers tournament at Shearon Harris Reservoir in central North Carolina. What did I do the day before the tournament? I spent the afternoon doing yard work.

And that’s where I noticed something interesting. I have two dogwood trees in front of my house, and there were small buds on the branches. We had seen a few recent cold snaps, and while the terrible cold and snow that blasted the rest of the United States missed us, our lakes had gotten colder. I pre fished for my tournament the previous Tuesday, and noticed dead shad at the deeper southern end of the lake. There weren’t any bass around. When I saw those buds, I knew what to do.

66 anglers showed up to compete, with air temperatures in the high 20’s at launch time. When anglers left my ramp, they headed for deeper water. I went the other way. Those tree buds told me to check a transition area where a creek channel runs along a big flat at the far end of the lake. Pedaling my Jackson Bite FD at a leisurely 2.5 MPH, I reached the area in about 30 minutes and started to scan the water. It was high, cold and stained. And the wind was picking up, out of the east. So I kept moving, because I decided to work with the wind rather than against it.

The majority of the field was either beating the banks or catching White Perch in deep water (20′) with blade baits. I was taking a chance. When I reached the limit of the area I targeted, it was covered in ice, but as I backed away I noticed the water temperature has increased between 4-5 degrees. I looked at the trees on the sunnier, south-facing shore line. Buds.

Largemouth Bass have their own clock. As winter ends and the days grow longer, their bodies grow fertile. The fish begin testing shallow water, moving from winter holes to transition zones where they can find emerging insects, crayfish and other nutrition. They need the energy to spawn, and there is no turning back that clock.

As I scanned the water under and around my Bite FD I noticed fish tucked behind the submerged islands of dead grass. They were on the calm side of the wind, and I reckoned they were relatively inactive. Like a fly fisherman, I would have to set up a good drift and present my bait as naturally as possible.

Thankfully, the Jackson FD rudder kit has a long blade. This makes the boat more responsive to rudder commands, and to get the right drift I had to think of my kayak and body as a sail. I set up my drift at an angle that followed the channel, dropped a jig into 5′ of water, and started drifting over that transition zone between the deeper water, the channel and the flat. Life is still waking out of winter, and fish don’t drink coffee, so our lure presentation has to be sow. It wasn’t easy, and I missed a few islands, but as I passed over one of the submerged humps, the rod jumped. Then it really jumped, and I set the hook.

When the fight was over, I had a beautiful 20.75″ Largemouth Bass, still in her pale winter colors, snug in my landing net. In kayak tournament fishing, the photograph is the last, critical step in the process. The fish has to be relaxed and still, your hand must be steady and the photo must be clear for the judges. My 26″ Ketch board fits perfectly across the inside of the Bite FD, so I set it up, turned my boat to avoid shadows from the pedal drive, and photographed the fish. She was released and swam off immediately, to nestle back behind that hump.

There were 6 hours left in the tournament, and I knew I would need more fish. But the wind gradually slowed, and with it my drift. After nearly 2 fruitless hours, I gave up and moved along. Somehow, my fish had me in 1st place, but I was sure I would need more. 4 hours remained, and it was a stacked field.

Call it luck. Call me Ishmael. when the standings went down one hour before lines out, my fish was still in 1st place. Only four other anglers had submitted fish, all healthy females. Transitional fish, I call them. When it was over, a fifth fish had come in, and was .50″ short of mine. 60 anglers skunked in all. I took home $1600 for 1st place and Big Bass with a single fish.

The hardest events are the most gratifying to win. Whether you are grinding in 100 degree heat or slogging through freezing temperatures, Tournament fishing tests your patience, endurance and your devotion to our great sport. I’ve been there on the miserable days, when I misjudge the water, or misread the clues. Underwater, time is different than human, surface time. But there are clues that can tell us when the bass begin to move, despite how cold we are. So when the first buds appear, it’s time to get in my Bite FD and look for big Largemouth Bass in places that most anglers overlook.

Image: Thank you to Windy Oldham for permission to reproduce the CKA photograph.

About the Author: New Jersey native Henry “Hank” Veggian has lived in North Carolina since 2006. He started fishing from a Jackson Coosa in 2011. Gaining a reputation as a tournament kayak angler on the booming North Carolina scene, Henry began competing on a national level in 2016. He currently represents the Jackson Kayak Fishing team in his Bite FD.

Closest Dealer: Get Outdoors Paddlesports (Greensboro, N.C.)
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Twitter: @miacalva
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