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Along with the FLW Cup, which ended Aug. 11, Hot Springs also hosted the first FLW Kayak Bass Fishing Championship Aug. 9-10 at Lake Ouachita.

Clint Henderson of Rome, Ga., won the event and $15,000, signaling to the world that big time kayak fishing has arrived.

"I'm proud," Henderson said. "I can't believe it's me. I try to do the best I can to represent the kayak fishing community the best I can and be something positive in the sport."

Kayak fishing is unique not only because of the platform, but because of the way catches are recorded. Catches are represented in inches instead of weight. Henderson ended the tournament with 157.75 inches. Dwain Batey of Siloam Springs finished second with 155 inches, and Garrett Morgan of Conway measured 154 inches.

The protocol for measuring fish is standard and precise. Anglers photograph their catches on an approved measuring board. Before each round, a tournament director gives them a card showing the date. The card must appear in each photo. The fish's mouth must be closed and pressed tight against the edge of the board. The tail must be compressed.

Fish are released after being photographed instead of being subjected to the stress of riding around in a live well, being weighed out of water.

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Fishing in bass tournaments from a power boat is physically demanding, but it's nothing compared to fishing from a kayak. If you have a manually powered kayak, you have to paddle or pedal to wherever you want to go.

Rules allow kayakers to use electric motors. That is a powerboat, and it gives an unfair advantage over manually powered kayaks. For that reason, electric motors should be prohibited or given their own exclusive category. Nevertheless, Henderson scored a victory for the purists because he paddles his 'yak.

"It is tough. It is extremely physical. Its 'next level' physical," Henderson said. "If you want to relocate in kayak fishing, you have to paddle or pedal a 120-pound kayak back to ramp, load it in your truck and drive to another place."

The kayak's most obvious limitation might also be its biggest advantage. A kayak angler must determine how to fish the water in his immediate vicinity instead of tearing off to another spot at 70 mph.

"There's more of a connection in kayak fishing than there is in a bass boat," Henderson said. "You're close to the water. You're tuned in. I love it. It feels weird fishing from a bass boat anymore."

Henderson said that a total range of six miles is the limit for a paddler. That's three miles out and three miles back. It's considerably more for a pedal boat, and a whole lot more for an electric-powered 'yak.

"You're looking for stuff you can reach from a public ramp," Henderson said. "You have to be in your range because six miles paddling in flat water is tough."

The mechanics of casting are also a lot different. Most kayak anglers cast from a sitting position, although some kayaks, like the Hobie Pro Angler, are stable enough for standing.

"You're sitting down casting at water level, so you can't do the big sweeping sidearm casts that you can do from a boat," Henderson said. "If I go overhead, I've got to remember that I have six rods sticking up behind me. You have to think a lot about your back cast and forward cast. Early on, I struggled through a lot of 'birds nests' and snapping line and watching lures sail over the horizon."

You can mitigate that with horizontal rod holders, which can hold up to three rods on each side of the kayak.

"That makes a huge difference," Henderson said. "I like to carry eight rods. That's not possible on a lot of kayaks. When I go to a river event back home, I have that many rods, and I still go under tree limbs and through things that other boats can't go."

The mechanics of fishing are also different. A heavy bass boat provides the leverage for hooksets and fighting a fish. Kayaks are so light that they move when you set the hook. A big fish will pull a kayak, as well.

"Fighting fish is way different," Henderson said. "I lose fish in a bass boat because I pull too hard. The boat is not moving with them. In a kayak I keep my drag tighter to keep them stuck. I learned that the hard way. In a bass boat, I had the drag set looser."

In a bass boat, an angler hoists fish over the gunwale. In a kayak, you have to finesse a fish at eye level. That's part of the allure.

"You're down there with them," Henderson said. "It's a rush when a fish comes up in your face and splashes you with water."

Sports on 08/18/2019

Print Headline: Marquee kayak tournament arrived at Lake Ouachita

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