Each February, while most folks are still in a deep sleep comfortably under cozy warm covers, there is a unique group of anglers preparing to launch an armada of plastic boats into misty cold waters in anticipation and hope of catching the big ones. I imagine a small handful of these guys are wondering, “what am I getting myself into” but I also imagine that when they get that first bite, the adrenalin kicks into full gear and it’s game on with no turning back!

That imagination actually comes from my own experience. Admittedly I have only fished one kayak fishing tournament, which was years ago, but it helped me understand what it is that keeps these anglers determined to finish out a tournament series, specifically the Kayak Angler’s Tournament Series (KATS). This event is hosted and managed by Dennis Hermes of AustinKayakFishing.com, a website community that is dedicated to the sport of kayak fishing in central Texas. I had a chance to sit with Dennis to get some additional insight as to how all this got started and through our conversation, he offers some advice for those considering their participation in such an event.

Dennis Hermes, AKF (AustinKayakFishing.com)

Tell us a little bit about AustinKayakFishing.com and how it all got started.

I have been an avid fisherman most of my life, starting out on the bank as a kid with my Zebco 303. As I got older and my family grew, I progressed through all the levels of boats (rowboat through bay boat). Of course, my kids grew up and I found myself fishing solo more often than not so figured that a kayak would suit my needs perfectly. I bought my first one (Mainstream Kingfisher) and was hooked. There was very limited information about kayak fishing in this area at the time so I created a website just for that purpose, thus AKF (www.austinkayakfishing.com) was launched in May 2006.

What about KATS, how did all this come about?

Prior to AKF, a friend of mine had started a fishing forum and I had the bug to put on a fishing tourney strictly for kayak fishermen on area lakes. He had the means and I had the motivation so we put on the BAKO (Bastrop Area Kayak Open) in March 2005. It was a great success so I knew that there was an interest in doing more events. The following year, I started my own forum and had everything in place so the KATS was born.

I’ve attended many KATS events and it seems like you put a lot of effort into it. I imagine this takes up a lot of time. What drives you to keep doing this?

Interesting question Roland…at first, my drive was to just have an outlet where like-minded anglers could get together and go kayak fishing. As the series grew, I realized that I really enjoyed the competition factor of tournament fishing, especially after winning the 2009 KATS. In short, I really enjoy the challenge of putting on a good event and the fellowship of the anglers, that’s what keeps me going.

For those unfamiliar with kayak fishing tournaments, can you tell us more about what one could expect at this other similar events?

One can expect to get up very early and fish all day (LOL). By the time it is over, you will be spent physically. Kayak fishing is unlike powerboat fishing where you turn the key and go. Effort is required to move you and your gear from spot to spot and get back to the weigh in on time.

Can you also offer some additional insight as to how an angler would “weigh-in”?

Our weigh-in process has been forged from trial and error over the past few years due to several unique problems. Most of the lakes we compete on are slot lakes. This means that fish between 14-21″ cannot be retained. Unlike typical bass fishing events, we have no live weigh in due to the slot limit. Instead, we opt to use the CPR (Catch, Photo, Release) method and score our catches based on the fish’s length as determined by a judge in reviewing the angler’s photos at weigh in. The anglers score their longest 5 bass that are 14″ or greater, high score wins. I do have rules in place for ties and photo criteria that must be met. All this information is posted on my website so everyone knows what I expect from them at the weigh in.

What about KATS? Aside from a regional focus on central Texas, can you offer some insight as to what makes this event unique?

Don’t know if there is really anything unique about the KATS as kayak fishing tourneys have been happening well before my time. I do want to make the event enjoyable for all the anglers and make them feel as if they have received their moneys worth. I do this by posting rules and implementing them fairly, announcing a schedule of events and sticking to the time line, providing food/drinks at the end of a long day of fishing, and trying to treat everyone as I would like to be treated.

(Side note, Dennis and his wife make an amazing chili! – RJ)

If one were to want to participate in next year’s event, what do they need to do and how should they prepare?

The KATS is open to all kayak anglers regardless of age or ability. Obviously, the 2011 KATS is completed. This series takes several months of preparation and I will begin work on the 2012 KATS by Sept. 2011. If you are planning on fishing in one or more of the events, do register on the AKF forum where we discuss many of the aspects of the events. Once everything is finalized, I will launch the 2012 KATS page by late December 2011 so watch for it and come join in on the fun!

Speaking of next year, when do you think the next series will begin?

The KATS will always begin late January or early February. I do one event a month, wrapping up the series in early May. This works for us because I focus on the power generating lakes early in the year when the bass are spawning and follow with natural lakes/rivers later in the year as the weather (and water) warms.

Don’t need all of your secrets here but if you had any advice that may help someone win this tournament what would it be?

IMHO it all boils down to preparation and luck. You are allowed to fish the lake where the current event is being held up to 5 days prior to the event, after that it will be OFF LIMITS to fishing until launch time. Do go and pre-fish the lake several times to locate potential areas that hold fish. Note weather conditions, when, where and how you caught fish and either remember or log that info. Come game day you should have a solid plan in place BUT be open to adapt to changing conditions. Making the right choices is what it is all about and preparation gives you an advantage, but a little luck can go a long way in making the grade.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

In closing I would like to say that I am not doing this alone. With the help of KATS sponsors such as ACK, the events are drawing more people every year, in part due to all the great prizes given away. The tourneys are a great outlet to go get some exercise, fish, and meet people that enjoy the sport as much as you do. I do hope while reading this interview that anglers consider joining us in 2012. Best fishes till then!

Mark Nordstrom

Thanks Dennis, it was a pleasure and we look forward to being a part of this event once again next year. For those of you thinking about joining the AKF community, click here — it’s a friendly and valuable resource for any kayak angler of any state.

With that, we’d like to congratulate all winners of the 2011 KATS, and specifically Mark Nordstrom, who won the Kayak Angler of the Year Award. Mark is now the proud owner of an Ocean Kayak Trident 13 Angler that ACK donated amongst of a variety of other prizes and gift certificates.