The Evolution of Nebraska Kayak Bass Fishing Derby’s

By Marty Hughes

Whether a novice or seasoned veteran in the sport of kayak fishing the spirit of competition is alive and well in the state of Nebraska! We have seen the number of events grow the past few years and you can pretty much fish in a derby just about every week from May to October. The purpose of the information given in this article is to help us better understand how we can grow our sport of kayak bass fishing in Nebraska and determine the best times of year and places to fish without being overcrowded on these waters we choose to compete. 

Currently, there are four different weeknight leagues in the eastern part of the state you can participate in with the possibility of more on the way.  There are basically three to four organizations offering these events each season. Recently, we compiled the results from a high percentage of the kayak bass fishing tournaments back to 2013. Before the advent of online software to record results most tournaments were kept on a laptop spreadsheet and posted online. From 2013 to 2018 results were difficult to find and we are still looking for a few of them yet. The tournaments from 2019 to 2023 give us more accurate information about location, participation, numbers of fish submitted, and results. 

Nebraska has much to offer in surface acres of water to fish but one drawback is the size of most of the lakes. Recent data completed by UNL Fish & Wildlife Research Cooperative Unit shows that we have a discontinuity in waterbody size within our borders. They determined that we have 559 extra small public lakes that range from .4 acres to 104 acres. There are 20 small lakes ranging from 115 to 182 acres. Then we have 22 medium size lakes 223 acres to 465 acres and 17 larger lakes in the 648 to 12,141 acre range.  This might be the reason we see numerous “roadrunner” events each year offered by kayak bass fishing organizations. Also, the number of fish in these lakes available to catch can also be a huge factor in determining whether or not it would be a viable fishery for a derby to begin with. Fishing pressure, especially with lakes within and around more urban areas can make fishing more difficult. 

What we have seen from the results of these kayak bass fishing tournaments is that those used in the urban areas have seen more catches. This may be due to the “roadrunner” style format which can spread anglers out and give more opportunities to catch fish. The graphic below shows the top five results in our state with 4 of the 5 tournaments in an urban area. Yankee Hill and the Lewis and Clark area showed out among top places to fish between 2019 and 2021. 

From what we know in gathering the tournament data there has not been a century mark total yet in Nebraska during a live one day 5 fish limit tournament. Month long online events have proven that we have a lot of large bass in the state with top scores consistently exceeding 100 inches.  Below are the top 5 one day limits that we found. These are very good 5 fish limits from eight hour tournaments and all from completely different anglers. Nebraska has numerous elite caliber anglers as you can see below and as evidenced from high national finishes in recent years. 

Most events in recent years average between 27 and 32 anglers. This past year the average per event dropped to around 21 anglers per event.  This could be due in large part to the offering of more series events in local states and the scheduling of more events outside the state on larger bodies of water available to fish by our local organizations. These are only assumptions as the pandemic may have given us more participation before 2023. The three highest attended events were all “roadrunner” style and held in urban areas. One of those, “Fishing for Families” invited boaters and bank anglers as well. 

Most of the events offered in Nebraska are a five fish limit format with some using the “Catch All You Can” concept.  As mentioned in the first part of this article there are also several week night leagues and online events. Those events were not included in this information but we will take a look at them in future articles. Leagues can be held on those smaller waters as they usually draw less competitors than your traditional live events and they also usually have a three fish limit.  The online events give anglers a chance to catch their fish anywhere within the borders of the state unless they are a multi-state event. 

The next set of graphics show the “all time” results of our derbies from 2013 to 2023.  You can obviously see the growth with the number of events offered.  The participation seems to be very level across the last few years.  Like mentioned before, the early years don’t have the complete data and we hope to find more soon. If you know any events that were offered and not included please email us below with that information. We also want to remember that from 2004 to 2019 there were several multi-species tournaments. We did not include those events in this article. With that, here are the results we have accumulated. 

These were the early years. We all looked forward to the one or two live events held each year and the first national event appeared in Texas called the TOC (Tournament of Champions). In 2016 we saw the emergence of more Nebraska events including the T.O.T.C., and the newly formed “Sticks” club. This was the first established kayak bass fishing club in Nebraska. We also had the Midwest Kayak Fishing Series emerge with the first regional competition.  

As you might have noticed we have a few results missing from this period but there is plenty of data to show the growth of events. Participation increased from the previous three years and we saw many new names in the sport emerge as well.

Coming out of the pandemic we saw a consistent increase in participation and the quality of catches were evident as well. Some events branched out across the western and northern part of the state. B.A.S.S.  also established its presence with Nebraska and Colorado state championships taking place. A new club was also established called the Central States Kayak Anglers. 

The last two years we have seen an explosion of kayak bass fishing events all across the country and Nebraska was not an exception to this growth. We had another club emerge called the Heartland Kayak Anglers. Although there were more competitive opportunities 2023 saw an overall slight reduction in participation. There were a lot more events from the clubs listed above conducted outside our borders of Nebraska as well.  There are many common names on these lists and at the same time the number of skilled anglers has increased providing plenty of competition on the local level. Again, there were several league derbies held with some of these anglers participating in them.  

After looking at these results tournament directors and planners might be able to determine which lakes are more promising for their events. With the 2024 season just on the horizon most schedules have been established and it looks like we will have a few more out west.  At the same time we are seeing more and more events being established in bordering states that offer larger lakes to provide more opportunity in catching fish. Another resource to use in determining events could be the Nebraska Game and Parks yearly surveys.  Will we see more “roadrunner” style events or events on our largest lakes? Time will tell. In the meantime, if you enjoy fishing competitively and getting outdoors there are plenty of events to choose from again this next year.  

About the author: Marty Hughes is an avid outdoorsman and  kayak angler who is passionate about growing the sport of kayak fishing across the country.  He has competed in hundreds of kayak fishing tournaments along with running a kayak fishing guide service in Nebraska. He is most known for his legacy in the growth of the sport of kayak fishing. 

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