The Rookie (Part 1)

By Darrin Collins

When I was younger, if anyone would have told me that at age 40 I would be kayak fishing in tournaments against some of the best anglers in the country, I would have said they were crazy.  Even the thought of kayak fishing was nowhere to be found back then. Like most men, my fishing started as a child. But I didn’t learn from my father, I was self-taught. In fact, it wasn’t even my favorite thing to do as a kid. I always played sports and that made me competitive, but fishing back then was more just a way to pass the summertime with childhood friends.

So tournament fishing for me began with some hesitation. When I reached my 40th birthday, I had already been kayak fishing for two years and had heard of tournaments through social media and friends. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I was good enough to fish competitively. I am a single parent and a paramedic with a local ambulance company. But I felt like I needed something to do in my free time and kayak fishing was a good fit.  So I decided to put the fear of failure behind me and start competing. My competitive side would get a fix and it’d be fun as I got to meet other kayak anglers who like me enjoy being on the water and fishing.

I made a commitment to myself this year that I would pick out one tournament series and do whatever it takes to fish the entire series. So I picked one and signed up for the first event: The North Texas Kayak Championship (NTXKC) series at Lake Fairfield, and this is where my journey as a tournament angler began.

I had never fished Fairfield Lake before and so the first thing I did was to learn as much as I could about it. Then I pre-fished it, ultimately doing three trips before the tournament in my attempts to learn the lake. This meant lots of driving back and forth on my days off, and my State Park Pass was put to good use.

One of the first things I learned was that approaching a lake for a tournament was strangely different than for recreational fishing. I learned to look at the lake’s contours and find underwater structure where fish could hide. I read lake maps, looked at launch points, watched weather reports and studied fish activity as it related to water temperature and their spawning behavior. I didn’t know it then, but this self-education would come in handy on tournament day.

In the days leading up to the event I began preparing myself not only mentally, but physically. This was because I was making the transition from a paddle kayak to a quicker and bigger peddle yak. The peddle drive meant I could cover more water and maybe make it to my fishing spots quicker than other anglers. But a new boat takes time to get used to, and to set it up comfortably. So there I was, a rookie angler afraid of getting my ass handed to me by more experienced anglers, and I’m also having to learn a new boat.

For those of you that don’t know Fairfield Lake, it’s a year round warm water lake due to a power plant at the lake. Water temperatures have been known to be 65-70 degrees in wintertime, which makes Fairfield an early spawn lake.  Most lakes in the area don’t warm up until the end of March or mid-April, so Fairfield Lake was a perfect opener for this series.

The lake fished well during my pre-fishing trips and I was able to catch a 5-fish limit two of the three days I fished. I felt good going into this first event, like I had learned to pattern the fish, which were holding in tall grass. Several days before the event, I turned to YouTube and learned how to pitch and flip into cover, and then I practiced every minute I had, standing on a bucket in my living room, looking like a complete goofball, flipping into my front foyer.

The downside was I broke one of my rods the day before the tournament while practicing. I guess this was the price you pay for success. At least that was what I told myself, as I took another trip to the local Academy store.We’d camped the night before and I was glad I chose to go to bed when I did unlike some of the other anglers we were camping with. Four thirty in the morning came awfully quick.

The morning of the tournament, the pre-tourney jitters set in. I chose not drink coffee or eat breakfast, because my stomach was in knots. But this was supposed to be fun right?

It was a cold and windy morning and everyone was bundled up in waders and rain gear. Was this what tournaments were about? Having to fish in conditions that I wouldn’t normally venture out into? This is crazy! A lot of familiar faces from my local fishing group were at the captain’s meeting and it was nice to meet and talk with other anglers before hitting the water.

Check-in went smoothly with lots of laughs, guys joking with the tournament director as he got everyone registered. It was almost time. The time I feared. Would I catch fish, or was I gonna meet the dreaded skunk everyone talks about? A small part of me felt good, though, because of my pre-fishing in the weeks prior.

A short drive to the boat ramp and BAM!  We were met by 30 bass boats waiting in line to launch. Oh great! How was I supposed to catch fish with all these guys here? And they all looked like they knew what they were doing.

I had to park around the corner and cart my heavy Hobie PA 12 about a quarter of a mile down to the boat ramp. Well Good Morning Darrin, the fishing gods said, not only are you gonna have to do well against your fellow kayakers, but you were also going to have to do it with 800 glitter boat anglers there with you.

Well maybe not 800, but there were a lot of them.

To be continued…

Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish

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