'JUST YOU AND THE FISH': More anglers are discovering that kayaks are fishing vessels
Randy Farley and his son were winning money fishing big boat bass tournaments, but they weren't having that much fun.
“We just got tired of a bunch of people with big boats and big money and talking trash,” Farley said.
Now, the Norman resident and his son compete on a kayak bass tournament trail in the state. They are still winning money but enjoying their time on the water much more.
“It's definitely less cutthroat,” Farley said of the kayak bass tournaments. “It's not who has got the biggest motor and who can get there (fishing spot) first anymore. It means you have to outkayak them and you have to outfish them. Everybody is there for the fun, but everybody wants to win.”
Brent Wilson of Bartlesville, founder and past president of the Oklahoma Kayak Anglers tournament series, calls kayak fishing one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.
A tournament trail that started in 2012 with eight kayak anglers for the first event now attracts around 80 on a regular basis.
The organization hosts more than a dozen bass tournaments in the state with regional trails. Smaller jackpot kayak bass tournaments are held weekly in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas.
“It's been blowing up the last couple of years,” Wilson said of the popularity of kayak fishing. “Kayaks are really easy to get a hold of and they are really fishable.”
The biggest kayak bass tournament in the state, the Beavers Bend Kayak Classic, is scheduled April 14 on Broken Bow Lake. Hosted by OKC Kayak and Tulsa Kayak, it is an annual charity tournament with part of the entry fees this year going to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Dave Lindo, owner of OKC Kayak, said 65 percent of his customers now are buying kayaks for the primary purpose of fishing. Kayaks can be equipped with the electronics and other fishing accessories found on bass boats.
The kayak bass tournaments practice CPR (catch, photo and release). They are paper only events where the winner is determined by the five biggest fish in inches, not pounds. Tournament anglers must take a photo of the bass they caught, record the length and then release the fish.
Pedal-drive kayaks are very popular among anglers because they don't have to put the fishing pole down when on the move, Lindo said. Anglers in pedal-driven kayaks, which have a hand-controlled rudder for steering, also can travel much faster than by paddling, he said.
More anglers are opting for kayaks for several reasons. They are less expensive than power boats and require little maintenance. They are easier to get on and off the water, and anglers can reach secluded, shallow places in them.
And for many, it's just more of a peaceful and relaxing way to spend a day of fishing.
“I would liken it to deer hunting with a bow and arrow,” said Mike Mayberry of Edmond. “It's so much more personal.”
Mayberry is another former big boat bass tournament angler who now fishes exclusively in a kayak.
“There are certain places that I would go that I would never go if I didn't have a kayak,” he said. “I have gone back into some creeks that are so skinny (shallow) that you would never even dream of taking a bass boat back there. It feeds the explorer side of us, plus there is some fish back there, too.”
Oklahoma's most popular bass fisherman, Jimmy Houston, also is a fan of kayaks, although he recommends that anglers add lights on them for safety reasons.
Houston said it can be difficult for people racing across the lake in a bass boat or ski boat at dusk to see a kayaker.
“If I want to go fishing all day, I would rather be standing on the front of this Ranger boat," Houston said, “But you can take kayaks a lot of places you can't take bass boats, and it's an inexpensive way to go fishing in a boat.”
Houston, who is a pitchman now for Jackson Kayak, says he enjoys the solitude of being in a kayak and will often hop into one to fish on his private lake.
“I keep two of them on the dock at home, and I go get in them a lot in the evening,” Houston said. “What I really, really enjoy about kayaking is you're out there and it's kind of just you and the water or you and the fish.
“It's just kind of tranquil. You are out there by yourself and you are so close to water. To me, the first time I ever fished out of one, that was the big deal. And if you get a 5-pounder on, it will pull you around.”