Dec 1, 2021
It was, almost, like déjà vu all over again.
It was, almost, like déjà vu all over again.
For 2019 Kayak Bass Fishing’s (KBF) National Champion Mike Elsea, and current Indianapolis Knight, the return to Shreveport/Bossier City, LA for the 2021 KBF National Championship (KBFNC) was an unquestionable success.
The Mooresville, IN resident fished his way to 20th place in the KBFNC, eighth place in the KBF Trails Championship, seventh place in the KBF Challenge Series Championship, and fifth place in the KBF Team Cup Championship.
However, perhaps the most impressive results, outside of a 2019 repeat … Elsea’s strong week earned him fifth place in the KBF Angler of the Year (AOY) race, and a return to the coveted 10 House. Arguably as sought after as the title of KBF National Champion, a spot in the 10 House caps off Elsea’s impressive 2021 season, where he will square off against the top 10 KBF anglers in January, in south Florida, for more than $???? and the title of The 10 Champion.
“I was pleased with my finish,” he Said “Naturally, I do always want to win, but I certainly know how hard it is to come out on top of such a large field of amazing anglers. Having said that, ending up fifth overall in AOY points, and securing a spot in The 10 was above and beyond my expectations … and I couldn’t be happier. Making the 10 was everything to me.”
Returning to the same waters, where Elsea dominated the field on his way to the largest margin of victory ever in a KBFNC event, was bittersweet for the 2019 champion.
“When I heard we were going back to Shreveport/Bossier City for the 2021 national championship, I was ecstatic,” he said. “I couldn’t wait! As soon as I rolled into town, all those emotions from 2019 came rushing back – excitement, nervousness, and anticipation – all wrapped up into one giant emotional mess.”
With those feelings of excitement and anticipation also came the pressures that winning the sports’ biggest prize bring. Because of his 2019 win, Elsea is now one of the most recognizable figures in kayak fishing, expectations few of the other one thousand plus KBF members will experience.
“I definitely felt added pressure to repeat as national champion,” he said. “I had some confidence that I would do well going into the week, but as practice progressed, that confidence turned more into nervousness.”
Because of the results plucked from Caddo Lake in 2019, this year the beautiful Cypress tree-laden body of water was the popular choice among the majority of the 350 competitors - each hoping to become national champion. For top anglers like Elsea, that meant more and more baits in more spots, and more and more traffic in and around areas throughout this amazing bass fishery.
“This time around, I definitely felt the lake I fished got way more pressure than before,” he said. “I couldn’t get away from people, and that bothered me some. However, I was able to go behind people and pick off fish they left behind in some instances. I’m still kicking myself for not practicing on the winning lake (Lake Bistineaus), when I told myself I was going to explore it, but never did. Oops!”
Even without venturing away from Caddo Lake, Elsea still found fish – especially in practice prior to the event. There just weren’t enough big ones on tournament days to nudge him to the top.
“I wish I could’ve strung together my best five I had during practice,” he said. “I don’t normally set the hook during prefishing, but sometimes they just won’t let go and they give me no choice but to land them. My best five during the week would’ve easily surpassed 110 inches. I caught some absolute slobs!”
Tops among those “slobs” was Elsea’s new personal best (PB) … a 24.5-inch beast he took on his last practice day. It was a memorable catch, but one that he hoped never to make in the days leading up to the national championship.
“My new PB was a HUGE surprise, no pun intended,” Elsea said. “I was cruising from one group of trees to another, and while I was in open water, a fish boiled behind my kayak. I had noticed a little bit of schooling activity here and there throughout the week, but this wasn’t a fish busting on bait. Again, it was just a subtle boil behind the boat, so I just flipped my Chatterbait behind the boat at it ‘just because’ and my rod loaded up. I don’t normally set the hook during practice, but since I figured this was a fluke, being out in the middle of nowhere, I leaned into it.
“I knew right away it was something with size, but had no idea how big until it jumped completely out of the water. Happy and sick was what I felt simultaneously at that moment. I couldn’t believe the size of this bass. Unbelievable catch! My biggest bass to date.”
As the tournament progressed, changes in the weather crept into play, as they usually do during a three-day event. Pressure drops, wind, rain, and changes in water clarity all affect fish in different ways – ways which can frustrate even the best of the best anglers.
The changing conditions where exactly what Elsea was hoping for.
“The weather … absolutely affected me,” he said. “It was like a blessing from God, just like what happened in 2019. Each of the last two days of the tournament had a weather change in the last hour or two of the day, and it absolutely turned the fish on for me. On day two, I was able to cull up three times in 20 minutes, for a total of 100.75 inches.
“Day three, I had virtually nothing going into the last hour of the tournament, then, all of a sudden, I had my limit in five casts. Weather change … yes! Gift from God? Yes!”
In addition to weather changes and crowded conditions, fisherman have to deal with a lot of other variables that might affect the outcome … such as battling their own decisions when they may struggle to find fish over an eight-hour day on? the water. Sometimes, when the fish aren’t cooperating, it’s easy to second-guess your strategies and deviate from what is otherwise a successful game plan.
Although there were stretches of time where there was cast after cast after cast without any fish, Elsea’s confidence never left him. He said there was never a sense of panic, instead just more determination to find fish.
“I really didn’t make any major adjustments during the tournament,” Elsea said. “I knew how to catch them, so it was more a matter of timing and hitting the right areas at the right time.”
That’s what champions do … prepare, practice, and stay focused, never giving up. For Elsea, it was, almost, déjà vu all over again.