Have you heard of College Kayak Fishing? You will soon enough.
The College Kayak Fishing series hits the one year mark this month, and with an ever-growing roster of students signing up, has added a Bass Series for 2014 in addition to its Salt Series.
College Kayak Fishing kicked off its inaugural season with salt water tournaments scattered throughout the Gulf of Mexico last year, which has now expanded to include spots along the Atlantic Coast. Now, with the addition of the freshwater tournaments for 2014, there are close to a combined 50 teams enrolled in the series, fishing in spots across the country.
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"It doesn't make sense for college students to fish in bass boats; it's expensive," said Drew Gregory, College Kayak Fishing founder and pro kayak fisherman. "What makes more sense is to get students in kayaks. They can afford kayaks. Plus, it's more fun to catch fish out of a kayak."
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The idea of targeting college kayakers for a tournament series stemmed from Gregory's own personal experiences in college, where he learned that he could kayak fish at relatively low costs while getting to spots big bass boats couldn't. Gregory took his idea to fellow kayak fisherman and North Carolinians Brooks Beatty and Jameson Redding to bring it to life.
"It's certainly not a moneymaker for us, it's just cool," Gregory said. "[The students] are out there with a lot of pride...catching those fish and winning. It's really cool to be able to think, 'If we didn't start this, we wouldn't have all these students out there having a good time.'"
Students compete for prizes, scholarships and the chance to be crowned national champions, a title that went to Louisiana State University last year. Around $10,000 in prizes and $1,500 in scholarships were awarded to anglers in the inaugural tournament season.
The series structure resembles that of most kayak fishing tournaments around the country, with about 20 or 30 tournaments scheduled for the fresh and saltwater series this year. Students compete from now until the national championship tournament scheduled for late-May or early-June.
Students don't have to be part of an officially designated club to compete, but simply need sign up through College Kayak Fishing with a minimum of three anglers to represent their college. There can be multiple teams representing the same school, as well.
"It's really cool to be able to think, 'If we didn't start this, we wouldn't have all these students out there having a good time.'"
Fish are scored using a "catch-measure-photo-release" structure, which features anglers measuring their catches and taking pictures with them, then instantly releasing them. Holding a special token in the picture, such as a playing card, prevents cheating.
"It's a more eco-friendly way to do it and makes more sense because it's in a kayak," Gregory said. "Each angler contributes two to the six fish total; just adding all the inches [to declare a winner]."
The photos are uploaded instantly to software called Kayak Fishing Series, which was developed by the College Kayak Fishing team. Anglers are able to catch a fish, snap a picture and then upload it using the mobile version of the software. The information automatically goes to a leaderboard that gives real-time progress of the tournament.
"Anyone in the world can see how they are doing on the water instantly," Gregory said.
The College Kayak Series served as the "guinea pig" to test the effectiveness of the software, and to make sure it was stable to run through an entire tournament. Because of its success, Gregory is bringing the platform to kayak fishing clubs around the nation. The software has the ability to make tournaments run smoother and bring a professional look to any small club, Gregory said.
The next College Kayak Fishing Bass Series tournament will be held in Effingham, Il., on March 15, and the Salt Series tournament will be held in Tampa, Fla., on February 22.