Road to Pro: How to Prepare for Your First Kayak Fishing Tournament

Meta: No matter what level of angler you are, if you love the challenge of being out on a kayak on the water and catching great fish, kayak fishing tournaments are the next step up. 

And no matter the level of your skill with a rod or on a kayak, taking part in kayak fishing tournaments is an experience. Here’s how to prepare for your first one. 

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or a seasoned pro, taking part in a tournament can be a fun way to spend a day or weekend. If you’re about to enter your first one, though, you may not know what to expect. It’s a bit more in-depth than just turning up with your rod and kayak and getting onto the water! 

Here’s what you need to know when preparing for your first kayak fishing tournament! 

Pick Your Tournament 

Just a bit of Googling will turn up local kayak fishing tournaments you can enter. Popular national trails such as the Hobie Bass Open Series, B.A.S.S Nation Kayak Series, and the KBF Trail Series take place across the country, so you’re likely to find their tournaments near you. These are tournaments that focus on Black Bass species, but some other tournament series target other types of fishes.

If saltwater fishing is more your thing, you’re in luck. The saltwater scene is booming, and tournaments like Kayak Saltwater Series (KSS), Ride The Bull Kayak Tournament, and the NCKFA Oak Island Classic are all worth the entry. 

If you can’t find something near you, all is not lost! Kayak Bass Fishing hosts online tournaments! If you’re new to this, short on time, or in an area that doesn’t host tournaments, the option to partake in an online tournament means you don’t miss out. You’ll need to but a KBF membership and download the Fishing Chaos and TourneyX apps , but once you’ve done that you have access to a multitude of tournaments

The KBF Challenge Series presented by FishUSA is a well-organized, country-wide series of 300+ online Catch-Photo-Release (CPR) competitions. The variety of tournament types presents an exciting challenge for anglers of all levels, and you can take part no matter where in the country you are. 

Many tournaments require a membership in order to enter, so you’ll need to pick and choose carefully, unless you can happily afford them all! 

Gear Up 

You can go kayak fishing with just a kayak, a rod, and a reel. But if you’re taking part in a tournament, there’s a few other pieces of equipment you need. 

Kayak, Rod, & Tackle 

Of course, you can’t go kayak fishing without these. If you have your own kayak, then you’re set. If not, you can sometimes rent one, or a canoe, but it’s best to have your own rig. You can use a good old fashioned paddle, or an electric motor. Not all areas or tournaments allow electric motors, so double check what motor your kayak has. 

As for rods, it’s completely up to you what you use. More serious fisherman may kayak around with up to 8 different rods, so they’re prepared for anything. If you’re doing it more for the fun, then you really don’t need that many choices. If you only have one rod, that’s totally okay too. You could still catch more with your single rod than the angler with 8 on the back of his kayak! 

As for tackle, use what you feel comfortable with. If you need to stock up on gear or want to invest in a rod holder or paddle for your kayak, Fish USA has everything you might need. 

Measuring Board 

If you’ve never fished in a tournament before, you may not even know you need one of these. Kayak competitions use the Catch-Photograph-Release (CPR) method to pick a winner, and to prevent cheating, you’ll need to use an approved measuring tool. Some tournaments require your board to be approved at check in before the event begins, too.

You can’t just chuck a ruler in your kayak, though. Approved boards include the Ketch Board (KBF TRAIL events only allow the Ketch board, while the KBF Challenge Series allows other brands). Here’s a quick rundown of how to use it: 

  • Dip the board into the water before using it (so the fish isn’t lying on hot metal or plastic). 
  • Position the fish with its nose against the end fence, facing left. 
  • The fish’s mouth should be closed and its eye should be visible. 
  • The tail should be spread out and centered on the board. 
  • Your kayak needs to be visible under the board. 
  • The identifier needs to be visible, and it’s best to place it next to the fish (never on top of the fish). 

Identifier Holder 

Each tournament has a unique ID code. You’ll need to print out your identifier card for the tournament and write the code on it, then display the ID card in each photo you take of a fish on your measuring board. 

Because you’ll be placing your identifier on a wet surface near a slippery fish, you can’t just have a little paper thing. An identifier holder like the Ketch ID is important for keeping that ID card  safe – if you lose it or it gets damaged, none of the fish you catch will count towards your total! It’s also a good idea to print and carry more than one ID card, for this exact reason. 


Your success in these tournaments relies entirely on the photos you take. You need a decent camera, but for many tournaments, you also need to be able to upload your photos to the tournament management system. 

A smartphone camera is a good choice. Some tournaments will examine your pictures at check in, so you won’t need to upload them. In these cases, you may be able to get away with using a digital camera. 

But most tournaments no longer allow digital cameras, and if they do, your time on the water may be shortened so you can arrive early to upload your photos at Tournament HQ. In most cases, you must have a smartphone. Be sure to check beforehand. 

Practice the steps, too: landing, measuring, photographing and releasing a fish, as well as uploading your catch, are part of the sport. You will do them more effectively after practice.

Personal Flotation Device 

Most local fishing groups will require you to properly wear a PFD (or life jacket) when you’re out on the water. Don’t neglect this! Most fishermen know someone whose life has been saved by one of these. 

It’s that thing that gets in your way and you wish you could leave it behind, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need it and don’t have it! Make sure yours also has a whistle. 

Read The Rules 

Tournaments require you to sign a release before competing. Most of us sign and send, but don’t even read through it! If you don’t know what you can and can’t do, you can’t complain later if you get disqualified. It’s  essential to read through the rules and regs beforehand so you’re in the know. 

Prefish The Waters 

You can Google what you wish before the event, but there’s nothing like actually being on that water. It is a good idea to do some research on the water if you’re unfamiliar with it, but your best way of prepping and learning is to prefish. 

Get out on the water a few days before the tournament, and fish as many days as you can lead up to it. This is the perfect opportunity to take notes on things like the best time of day to fish, water temperature and depths, what bait and lines worked for you, and if there are areas the fish like to congregate. 

Be mindful that some tournaments limit pre-fishing time to certain periods, and prohibit hiring guides within certain times. 

Tick All The Boxes 

If you’ve got your kayak, rod and reel, bait, measuring board, PFD, and identifier, you should be good to go! Here’s a quick summary to make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes before heading out to kayak. 

  • Take spare identifiers. 
  • Have a backup camera and/or phone battery charger. 
  • Wear sunscreen! 
  • Double check local rules and regulations. 
  • Identify a nearby spot with good Wi-Fi. 
  • If they are not pre-marked, darken the lines on your measuring board with a Sharpie. 
  • Add a means of flotation or tether to your measuring board (you don’t want to lose it overboard). 
  • Carry a first aid kit in your kayak. 
  • Keep an extra set of clothes in the hull. 
  • Stock up on nutrient-dense foods, like beef jerky, energy bars, and fruit. 
  • Practice using the apps. This can be the new kayak fisherman’s biggest downfall! 

Introduction to TourneyX app. 

When you win money

Congratulations! Maybe you won a prize or a check at a tournament. If it is a check, and the amount is over $600 be prepared to file a W-9 form for IRS taxation purposes. That means make a budget and keep a record of tournament related expenses, too – you can deduct fishing related expenses against that income. 


Preparing for your first kayak fishing tournament is important, but if you do forget a thing or  two, don’t let it ruin your day! 

It takes a few tournaments before you’ll know the ins and outs of it properly. Above all, enjoy yourself, be grateful for the chance to be out on the open water, and catch some fish!