Lake Wylie isn’t short on big-money fishing events, but one this weekend is in a class all its own.
There’s no single launch point. There aren’t live wells full of fish. Boats won’t have motors. There won’t be a weigh-in. There won’t be scales – except for those on the fish.
“It’s all kayaks and greenbacks,” said Adam Fillmore, owner of Hunt Fish Paddle, formerly Lake Wylie Bait & Tackle. “This is going to be an annual thing, if not bi-annual.”
Fillmore has anglers from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida signed up – more than 70 paid registrations as of last week – for the tournament running dawn to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and daylight until 2 p.m. Sunday. All will fish from kayaks. Not a one of them will bring a fish to shore.
“It’s all photo-based,” Fillmore said.
Each angler gets a colored rubber band each day. Anglers can launch from any public access. When they catch a fish, they take a picture of it against a ruler with the rubber band to prove it’s from competition that day. Then they let the fish go.
The top five lengths Saturday add up with the top five Sunday. The angler who measures out the longest wins.
A field of 200 boats would pay out $30,000, and the winner will get $10,000.
Awards also will be given based on registration, including drawings for two kayaks with paddles. The biggest fish winner gets a replica mount of it. There’s even a $300 prize for biggest catfish, though only bass count toward the tournament measurements.
Drew Gregory of Charlotte makes a living off kayak fishing. Not by winning tournaments, but by running College Kayak Fishing and designing kayaks for a manufacturer, running a tournament trail and filming a television show.
Gregory said kayak fishing is 10 or 15 years away from joining the boat-and-bass circuits in allowing anglers to make a living off tournaments.
“It’s pretty big,” he said. “It’s a super fast-growing sport because anyone can do it. The cost is lower.”
If the Lake Wylie event grows into what Fillmore envisions, it could end up with a purse that’s “a record in our sport,” Gregory said. Most tournaments now offer a kayak to the winner. There aren’t major sponsors.
The sport does appeal to a more natural type of angler, Gregory said, even down to the catch-photo-release setup and length-based competition.
“It’s definitely better on the fish, eco-friendly,” he said. “It’s just an easier way to do it.”