TOURNAMENT WIRE: Let There Be War!

Let There Be War
By Eric ‘Oz’ Ozolins

The late-morning offshore water has slicked off mirroring the bright upper level clouds that gently stream by. Less than a hundred yards away, the surface of the water begins to explode with chaos from beneath the depths. A pack of feeding jack crevalle are blasting bait into the air. As a quiet and intrigued angler slowly draws nearer like a cautious hunting predator, he notices something. Schools of other gamefish species begin to show in great numbers. The compelled angler grabs his trusty rod and a large top-water popper. By now he’s cut the distance to the mayhem inhalf. He creeps a little closer, standing up in his kayak, and then when the time is right heaves the oversized popper as far as he can cast. A couple aggressive plugs and WHAM! A violent crash on the surface is only followed by a 40-pound king mackerel shooting 15 feet vertically in the air and proudly displaying its top-water victim.

The keen youthful angler is towed erratically and for several minutes fights an amazingly impressive fish on semi-light tackle, careful not to get spooled on each blistering run. Within 15 minutes he finally has the glimmering metallic fish subdued along the side of the kayak. Quickly and carefully he unhooks and measures the chomping kingfish. He lifts the fish up as his buddy gets within proximity and takes a photo. The angler then releases the fish forcefully by pushing him through the water like a firing torpedo. One last glance at the beast and the fish takes off thrusting its large mackerel tail. The angler, all smiles, receives a high-five from his buddy. In addition he has an incredible photo of his catch along with a tremendous story to share in Kayak Wars. This story is one of the many anglers have experienced and shared first hand in the annual Kayak Wars Tournament.

In 2011, 782 anglers from across the country competed in the largest kayak fishing tournament in the world – Kayak Wars. Consisting of over 200 teams, anglers battled it out catching some highly impressive fish, and having countless loads of fun while they did it. 2011 also marked the inaugural year of the Freshwater Division. For the first time anglers could compete and submit fish from both fresh and saltwater.

The Kayak Wars concept is quite simple. When anglers go out on their personal adventures, they measure and take photos of their fish. If the fish is eligible via the rules, then the angler can submit that fish by uploading the photo and filling out the catch info on the Kayak Wars website. Due to the intricate programming by Rick Underbrink, detailed standings are logged for each angler, creating a ‘career’ profile anglers can reflect back on, not just for that year, but all previous years of their participation in Kayak Wars.

Last year was magical for many. In the end, the ten-month tournament yielded over 18,800 individual submissions. Keep in mind that each eligible species has a respectable minimum set length to prevent an overflow of submissions, as well as to showcase the largest of each particular species. The vast majority of these fish were quality gamefish. Many included red drum and trout in Texas, snook and tarpon in Florida, lingcod off the west coast, and large stripers in the North-East Division. Many admirable fish were landed from the kayak and submitted for the tournament.

2011 was a year of teamwork and passion. In the end it was Team Nauti Dogs out of Florida that took 1st place for the South-East division and also scored the most points in Kayak Wars for 2011. Epic tarpon, wahoo, and amberjack catches along with a massive array of offshore pelagics helped push them into the lead early in the year and hold on until the finish. Each Team Nauti Dogs angler broke or set at least one Kayak Wars fish record for over the season… Robinson Rodriguez’s 56-inch wahoo, Randall Seneff’s 51-inch amberjack, and Alexis Tejeda’s mangrove snapper are just some of the trophy records submitted. Richard Rusak and Joel Makielski were very consistent with their great contributions to the Nauti Dogs which also helped crown the team the 2011 Total Inches Champions (a combination of fresh/saltwater fish taking the largest per species per angler for the team and adding it to create a total).

Team Sea Hunt took 2nd place honors in the South-East (and 3rd in total inches category) and had an all-star cast consisting of Michael Findley, Brian Nelli, Ben Adrien, Jerry Burdine, and Robert Duerscheidt. All anglers contributed incredible catches while Nelli held the title with largest variety of species submitted. Veteran hardcore Kayak Wars superstars Team Neptune placed 3rd (and in 2nd in total inches). This team was powered by Brandon Denney, Mark Griffith, Kreg Corpstein, Jorge Estevez, and Ernie Cavitt.

In the North-East, Team KBF Hook-1 held on just beating out ‘Fish Junkies’ to become the North-Eastern Champs. The onslaught of quality stripers helped pave the way to dominance for Eric Harrison and crew. Harrison would go on to score 13,145 points making him the all-time single season scoring champ for Kayak Wars. 2nd place team the Fish Junkies was powered by the persistent Rob Choi and Forrest Short. Sneaking into 3rd place was KFA-NY Fleet 1 led by respectable kayak veteran Pat Gallagher. The Northeast division really grew in numbers for both anglers and teams in 2011 and will be on fire for 2012.

The South-Central Division composed of Texas and Louisiana based teams was a tight race for much of the season. Ultimately, Team Rockstar prevailed with a wide variety of inshore and offshore species from both Kevin Eager and Eric Ozolins. Newcomer Tino Mendietta brought Team Oso Young Gunz closely behind into 2nd place. Mendietta and his drum targeting skills counted for 562 submissions making him the leading scorer for the region. Texas Kayak Anglers followed closely in 3rd on the strength of the masterful Flounder guru Jantzen Miller. Miller crushed the competition in the flounder department with 284 submissions for that species.

The Western Region from California to Washington showed off some great catches. Roy Marcum and Bill Liston not only put Team NWKA1 on top in the West, they demonstrated sheer dominance as they scored the most points for the Western region. Superb catches of lingcod and halibut kept them ahead. Second place in the West was the sibling team NWKA2. Dana Hilden held strong for NWKA2 recording 10 different species. Coming in 3rd for the West was The Angler’s Big Catch led by Sonny Nguyen and his double digit species display as well.

The newly added Freshwater Division was also very successful. A plethora of quality sized bass (both largemouth and smallmouth) added into the mix along with over 20 other freshwater species. The 2011 Freshwater champs were Team Nachofish with 6620 freshwater points. Nachofish was led by a powerful team consisting of Joey Sullivan, Bob Dainton, Scott Inge, Erick Bell, and Nathan Raycroft. Their great quantity of quality submissions kept them on top while Team Sea Hunt doubled up, also placing 2nd in the Freshwater Division. 3rd Place honors for freshwater went to Brad Kirn and the rest of Team Wilderness Way for their outstanding catches.

Many ‘fish of a lifetime’ were caught in 2011. Long enduring fights with sailfish rolled on and unexpected delightful surprises such as mega wahoo appeared. It will be hard to beat in 2012… or will it? There will be a few new surprises for KW’12. This year we introduce the Hawaiian and Caribbean Regions. Within two weeks of the tournament, there have been 7 Puerto Rican teams that have entered. More anglers have already entered than at this time last year. It is very likely we’ll see over 1,000 registered anglers and as many as 300 teams compete and duke it out in this plastic war.

Despite that the 2012 Kayak Wars tournament has just started (and within the first couple days records for red snapper and sturgeon were obliterated). There’s still time to compile a team and register. The deadline is April in the southern regions, while registrations will remain open until May in the north. This unique and interactive tournament starts in mid-February and lasts until early December. Everyone is encouraged to have fun and take part by registering at kayakwars.com. 2012 will be the sixth year of Kayak Wars and it is important to note that it is a ‘Free-to-Enter’ Tournament that anyone with a kayak can enter. Prizes are given out at the end of the year from great sponsors such as Hobie Kayaks, Yak-Gear, Sunjammers, and many more. It is in great appreciative thanks to these sponsors that we have prizes that go back to the men and women who enjoy this great event. Have fun in 2012 and let the war begin!

Photos: (top) Brain Nelli with a sailfish; (above) king me says Eric Ozolins; (below) Ben Adrien corrals a shark in turbulent seas. 

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