By Justin Largin
I knew going into 2023 that it would be hard to top my ’22 season. I had so many great tournaments last year, including two national wins, that it would be silly to think I could match those results. I might never top that season, but I also didn’t want to backslide too far. So, my main goal was to beat my ’21 season. That was my first year of competitive kayak fishing, and it was fairly successful. I had mostly mediocre finishes with a few top 10s sprinkled in. So, topping that seemed like a more reasonable goal.
2023 started better than I expected with a 2nd place finish at the Hobie BOS event at Harris Chain. I like the fishery, but practice was tough. On day 1, I bailed on the areas where I practiced and went to a spot where I’d fished on a previous visit. The gamble paid off with a near 100” limit. On day two, conditions were better for bed fishing, so I went back to an area where I’d practiced and chased spawners all day. My limit was much smaller, but it was enough to hang onto 2nd. After Harris, I had decent finishes at the KBF Trail Series events on Lake Murray, 34th and 23rd. For anyone unfamiliar with KBF, they have two separate one-day events instead of a combined two-day total. I hit a long slump after Murray, starting with the Bassmaster event on Lake Guntersville. I made terrible decisions and ended up 71st. It was a huge field, 234 anglers, but I was still disgusted with my performance. Poor showings continued throughout March and April. I averaged middle-of-the-pack or worse finishes at Caddo, Chickamauga, Santee and Hartwell. I finally had another good tournament in late April, at the KBF on the Potomac. I was 3rd and 15th there. Then I finished 6th and 3rd at the KBF Trails on Chickamaugua in June. Next came another skid, with mediocre finishes at Cayuga and the Mississippi. The Susquehanna was good to me at the Native No Limit in August (28/153), but it dealt my worst tournament of the year at the Bassmaster event a few months later, 96/146. That event lit a fire under me. To put it lightly, I was mad and determined to finish the year strong. Two weeks later I rallied with a top 10 at the KBF Trail Series Championship on Guntersville. Finally, my third trip to Chickamauga turned out to be my best tournament of the year, a 3rd place finish at the Hobie BOS Tournament of Champions.
In addition to those national events, I had some success with regional tournaments. I entered more club events this year than the last two years combined, and I’m glad I did. Fishing a little closer to home, with less time and money invested, made these tournaments a lot of fun. I fished loose and my average finish was much higher than on the national trails. I was fortunate enough to win two local tournaments, one with NVKBA and one with MAKBF, and I was runner up in the MAKBF AOY race. Catching fish with limited practice, and sometimes on new bodies of water, gave my confidence a boost. Confidence is extremely important in our sport, and I don’t think mine would have been as high as it was late in the season without MAKBF and NVKBA.
So how do I grade my ’23 season? I’m giving myself a B+ for the year. First, the positives. I ended the year with 6 national top 10s and 2 local wins. I qualified for the championships for Bassmaster, Hobie and KBF. I also finished 4th in the KBF AOY race, qualifying for The Ten for the first time. That has been a goal since I started competing, so it feels great to have accomplished it. And while I’m proud of and grateful for these successes, I haven’t forgotten the failures. I was far too inconsistent this year. For every good tournament, there was a bad one – or two – that I’d like to forget. When I look at the top anglers in our sport, Rus Snyders, Drew Gregory, and Ewing Minor, to name a few, I don’t see that level of inconsistency. They have plenty of great finishes, but what is even more impressive to me is their lack of bad ones. On those occasions when they aren’t in contention for a win, they still finish in the top 1/3 of the field. Take a look at their stats on TourneyX if you don’t believe me. They almost never bomb. That’s where I need to be better moving forward. I’ve got to bring up my average. So the goal for next year is to keep grinding and have a more consistent campaign than in ’23. I know that this is no easy task. Still, I’m aiming high in ‘24. I hope to see you out there!