Staring at my quiver of bass fishing rods, still in disarray from the last time I’d gone out, I didn’t feel any inspiration. It was Friday Sept 23rd, and I needed to get on the road and make the drive from Farmville, VA to the Tidewater area, for the 12th Annual TKAA Kayak Fishing for Charity Tournament. So, I made a last second decision to skip out of the Largemouth Division. The main impetus for this was laziness. I didn’t feel like packing all my bass rods and gear. Loading up two fly rods and a small box of flies seemed so easy.
“Can I switch my registration to the Fly Fishing Division?” I asked at the tournament check-in three hours later.

Fly fishing from a kayak is not always easy. The weather had not been ideal in Hampton Roads, with heavy rain and flooding leading up to the tournament. The water clarity was going to be tough. The fishing wasn’t going to be as easy as the packing job.

“The water clarity is going to be terrible, but I wanted to pack light,” I said smiling.

This would prove both an aggravating and fortuitous last second change of plans.
Kayak fishing has exploded in the last few years and that has given rise to big purse tournament payouts. These big payouts are of benefit to the kayak fishing industry, to raise awareness and hype, and I’ve toyed with the idea of getting more involved in them. But for the time being, I tend to focus on big charity tournaments, like the YakAttack Tournament based out of the Farmville area, and the TKAA Tournament out of the Virginia Beach area.

The Tidewater Kayak Anglers Association is a leader in the Hampton Roads, Virginia kayak fishing community. This marked their twelfth year putting on this tournament. The event benefits Heroes On The Water and Project Healing Waters, two of the largest veteran support organizations in our industry. I love that even if the fishing is awful, I’ve at least, in a small way, helped to fund these two honorable groups.

The Captain’s Meeting on Friday is always a great time hanging with the tribe. Everyone piles into the Lake Wright Quality Suites in Norfolk to buy up raffle tickets for all the prizes on display. There are a lot of prizes!The proceeds from the raffle are split between Heroes On The Water and Project Healing Waters. As the drinks flowed and folks guarded their plans for the next day, I met up with good friends , The Lozier’s.

Mark and Kris Lozier, are the husband and wife team that operate 1st Landing Kayak Fishing Services in Va Beach. Both of them have been exceedingly gracious in their aid and encouragement as I’ve continued on my personal kayak fishing journey. They’d invited me to fish with them and now that I’d abandoned my bass fishing mission, I was all in.

Saturday dawned a beautiful day. We paddled out into a creek marsh north of Norfolk. The wind picked up immediately. Mark, Kris and George started catching schoolie stripers from the jump. I began whipping the wind with my long rod. I broke one off within the first 2 hours. I wasn’t psyched. With the wind kicking and the water muddy, the likelihood of having a successful day fly fishing was minimal. Losing fish was not good. Why did I decide to do this again?

Kayak fishing tournaments are Catch, Photo, Release, so after measuring my fish and snapping a photo I released the speck, and started paddling towards my friends.

Everyone drifted out into the bay, chasing birds and hoping for schools of fish. I decided to stick to the grass. As I slung bugs into the wind, I started getting hits in the last cut before the water opened into the bay. I was throwing a redfish fly I’d picked up down in a small shop in Atlantic Beach, NC, and using my 8wt. to punch through the wind. I cast one more time, and started a strip-strip-drift retrieve. Boom! I felt the tug and strip set on a speckled trout. It erupted out of the water and began thrashing about. After one failed net sweep I got the 16” speck into my kayak.

Kayak fishing tournaments are Catch, Photo, Release, so after measuring my fish and snapping a photo I released the speck, and started paddling towards my friends.

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“Did you catch anything?” Mark asked.

“Yep, a decent 16” speck. First saltwater fish on the fly.” I replied.

Mark and Kris impressed upon me that I should check my fish in before the cut off time. They thought my one fish, on this challenging day, might score a place. I wasn’t so sure.

So, we got off the water and adjourned for lunch. The beauty of a charity tournament is the lack of pressure. You’re there to have fun with friends and raise money. The fishing is a bonus.
We got back to the Tournament HQ at a decent time and I turned in my score sheet. The TKAA tournament features a Youth Division, Fly Fishing Division, Female Division, Largemouth Bass Division, Flounder Division, Speckled Trout Division, Striper Division, Redfish Division, and the Slam Division. The wide array of options combined with the good cause, usually results in hundreds of kayak anglers, from across the country, converging on the Tidewater area. This year was no different.

Through sheer good fortune, I walked away with 1st Place in the Fly Fishing Division. And though it felt like I’d stolen one, instead of a true testament to skill, it further fueled my desire to work on my fly game. As an angler, I often take multiple rods out for a day fishing. The problem is, whenever I get frustrated with the long rod, I can quickly grab my bait caster or spin gear. During the TKAA tournament I only brought my fly gear. It forced me to focus in. It’s a tactic I’ll be deploying more in the future. Next year I want a slam in the Fly Division.

All of the above self congratulations are antithetical though to the real reason I attend this tournament. As I’ve mentioned before, every year I try to attend two tournaments, the YakAttack and TKAA Tournaments. Both of these events raise money for Heroes On The Water and Project Healing Waters. Both routinely raise in the neighborhood of $10,000-$25,000 dollars for these two organizations. The fact that 200-300 kayak anglers can raise that much money in one weekend is a testament both to the high regard these veteran support organizations are held, but also speaks volumes to the humble generosity of our tribe.

In these polarizing times of political combat, it’s easy to lose sight of some easy truths. We are all Americans. We are all human. Our military is a voluntary entity comprised of individual Americans, humans, who have chosen to wear the uniform and serve this great country. Many of them come home, carrying the memories of their deployments, and have trouble reacclimatizing to life on American soil. Organizations like Heroes On The Water and Project Healing Waters take these veterans out for a simple day of fishing, and in that gracious act, help to heal some of the wounds, both seen and unseen. Studies have shown just how effective these calm and laughter filled days on the water can be to our vets.

Charity money aside, raffles aside, trophies aside, fishing aside, tournaments like the TKAA Kayak Fish for Charity Tournament are about so much more. It’s not about any of those tangible things. It’s about people wanting to do what they can to help other people. We are a big ole messy, complicated, opinionated and outspoken tribe of vibrant personalities. But we are not here strictly to get what is our’s and to pound our chests in self congratulatory celebration. We are here to sit around a campfire and share stories. We are here to engage with each other, regardless of any lines in the sand, because it’s our commonality that binds us. We are here to extend our hand and help others up. We are here to humbly salute the service of those who put it on the line, and offer what we can to aid them when they come home. That is why I attend these tournaments.

That trophy looks good on my mantle though,….at least until my wife makes me put it in the closet.

Come join us next year. You won’t regret it.

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