Have you ever wanted to build a kayak fishing club? Think about it for a minute. You live in an area where there’s not really a club, but you’re extremely passionate about the sport of kayak fishing, and want to share you passions with like-minded individuals. How to you go about making something like that happen? John Champion shares with us how he went about building a kayak fishing club in East Tennessee through his newly formed blog, EastTNKayakAngler. It’s a great story of one angler promoting the sport of kayak fishing, and building a place where kayak anglers could come together.
The water was crisp and clear, shimmering from the spring sunlight, gurgling and bubbling as it flowed over the various river rocks. I was almost lost in the peaceful setting of my hometown river when my rod doubled down. That moment where you snap back to reality and set the hook happens in a blink of an eye and then the fight begins. As I fought this smallmouth to the Jackson Coosa, I couldn’t help but wish there were more anglers in the area that kayak fished. I reached down and lipped the smallmouth admiring his colors and size before releasing him and receiving the usual thank you splash. I paddled out of the eddy I was sitting in only to be picked up and carried by the river’s current. As I sat, just letting the river decide the route, my mind flashed back to various times I had noticed other car topped fishing kayaks in passing.
Now home, I started thinking about what tools I could use to bring anglers together in this area. I searched the internet with no luck in the area I live in. This led me to reading what others were doing or had done. I decided I wanted to start a club and from what I could tell, Facebook was the easiest way to do this. So I picked a name and created a page on Facebook. Getting people to see the page meant building a rapport with other clubs. This is an essential step to building your club, because even though they may not live in a particular club’s area, odds are they still follow most clubs within the state you reside in. All the clubs I interacted with were very supportive, shared the groups page, encouraged anglers to check it out and most important gave guidance to get this started.
A month had gone by and there was now at least a small core of active members, so at this point the first weekly tournament was held. I chose a week night for this as it would be a way to break up the week as well as offering all of us a chance to finally meet. By all of us I mean five people. That was all that showed for the first tourney. Even with a small turnout this is a success for you, so don’t get down on yourself. If you’re a growing club, I suggest small weeknight tourneys with a cheap entry as it will encourage growth as well as new members to the sport.
Meeting and greeting local kayak and fishing shops are vital for the success of a club. I was fortunate to have been able to link up with Uncle Lems Mountain Outfitters, who also shared the same goal as I did: to promote kayak fishing and bring anglers together. This allowed us to build a strong relationship where they helped promote the club as well as offered the members of the club certain benefits. This partnership also lead to being able to co-host the River Bassin tournament when it came to town, again only helping to further expand the club.
As time goes on there will be decisions that have to be made. You cannot be afraid to hurt feelings with these decisions as your goal is what is best for the club as a whole. There will always be someone that doesn’t like how you are doing things, the rules, where the tournament was held and the decision on a fish during weigh in. These are rare, but they inevitably will come up. Handle this calmly and explain your reason, then let that be the end of it. A wise man once told me, “No matter the idiot who started the yelling, if you yell back, to spectators it’s just two idiots yelling.” This will do nothing but bring harm for your reputation as well as the club’s.
By midsummer the club was booming. There were posts about fishing, tips, product reviews were consistent, and turnouts for the tournaments were 15-20 members on average. At this point, I wanted to start giving back to the community. So I held my first charity tournament to benefit two members in the local community battling cancer. This tournament was a huge success and this was not only due to the members of the club, but to companies I reached out to asking to sponsor the tournament. Now when you reach out to these companies, you’re going to get a wide variety of responses. The main things are to ensure you explain what the tournament is in support of, give them an honest estimate of how many anglers will be attending, and explain how you’re going to promote them for supporting the tournament. Understand that not every company will have the budget to donate, but that doesn’t mean they will not on the next one, so always thank them for their time and support in order to leave an open door for the next time.
As I sit here and write this, there has been roughly 8 months from start to now. East TN Kayak Anglers now has 300 plus members, a very active internet presence, a core group of around 30 that show for almost every tournament and two sponsors for our trail next year. That doesn’t mean that your club will take off that quickly. I was very fortunate for mine to have taken off as quickly as it did and a lot of it had to do with the support I had from various groups in Tennessee helping me to avoid mistakes. The key is to not be discouraged. Even if it takes a season or two to get where you want, know that it will get there. I think about all the time and effort I have put into getting this club going. I will be the first to tell you it has been worth every second. I have had the opportunity to meet, fish with, and learn from some of the best anglers around and have made friendships that extend much farther than in my local area. Now with most putting the kayaks up for the last part of the year, this is the time that you start planning next year. Look back at the things you have learned and ask the club for their input on things they would like to see for next year. Talk to other clubs in your state about hosting joint tournaments on middle ground. At the end of the day remember this, kayak fishing is about camaraderie, helping newcomers, preservation, giving back, and having fun. If you keep these as the core values for your club, then your club will succeed.
Until next time
Tight Lines and Screaming Reels
John Champion was born in Knoxville, TN and spent most of his summers in Melbourne,
FL. He has been in the Air Force now for ten years and has had the chance to travel
all over the world, but always looks forward to returning to the mountains and
streams of East Tennessee.
He began his own group titled “East TN Kayak Anglers” and holds weekly fishing
tournaments with this group. He has been fishing on and off for most of his life,
though he began fishing from a kayak primarily in 2009. He finds a simple pleasure
in the peacefulness and serenity found out on the water in the kayak. He also enjoys
helping others find this same enjoyment and the lunkers that will forever be in