Hobie B.O.S. on Susquehanna River Turns Out Big Smallmouths
OCEANSIDE, Calif. - In a fiercely competitive tournament that featured one of the strongest kayak bass fishing fields ever assembled, 112 anglers tested their skills against a stellar smallmouth fishery in the Hobie Bass Open Series (B.O.S.) Susquehanna River event. Included among the elite kayak anglers were Hobie B.O.S. current national champion Jody Queen, Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) 2016 national champion Mike Ball, multi-tournament winner Cody Milton, highly regarded Kristine Fischer, 17-year old bassin’ phenom Jaxton Orr, bass sharpie and host of Hooked on Wild Waters, Drew Gregory, plus indomitable bass pro, Mike Iaconelli, making his kayak bass fishing tournament debut.
Prior to the event, Queen, from Bluefield, West Virginia, predicted it would take at least 170 inches of smallmouth bass to secure the top spot in the two-day event and he was, literally, right on the money. With a tally of 171.50 inches to capture the crown, he held off a hard-charging field on Day 2 of the competition. For his efforts, Queen earned his second B.O.S. title of 2020 and a $6,400 purse. Runner-up, Cody Milton of Searcy, Arkansas, pocketed a cool $3,300 with a total of 170.5 inches of bass. Finishing third, Matt Ball, of Little Hocking, Ohio, drove away with an extra $1,800 in his pocket for his haul of 169.75 inches of bronzebacks. In total, the catch-and-release event paid out over $20,000 to the top 12 finishers. Additionally, Ball, fourth-place finisher Gregory, and fifth-place Stephen Sisto, qualified for the Hobie Tournament of Champions (TOC). Queen and Milton had already qualified.
“Man, that was one incredible field, a real ‘Who’s Who’ of kayak bass fishing legends and rising stars” says Kevin Nakada, Fishing Team & Events Specialist for Hobie. “These anglers really came to compete, and not just for the money; there was a lot of pride at stake, plus a qualifying spot for the Hobie Tournament of Champions in November, and Angler of the Year (AOY) points to be earned. With so much on the line, there was no doubt we were going to see some mid-summer fireworks.”
Hobie B.O.S. Tournament Director, A.J. McWhorter, agrees with Nakada’s assessment. “This was definitely our most talented field of anglers,” he states. “Considering the current state of affairs, it was great to see so many competitors come out on short notice to make it all happen. The bass were a little stingy this weekend, but that just further showcased everyone’s skills and talents. It was inspiring to watch these guys and gals work all weekend long on those amazing Susquehanna River smallmouths.”
As expected, Saturday witnessed plenty of jockeying on the leader board, but it was Day 2 – Sunday – that produced the most dramatic results, as several anglers made double-digit moves to finish in the money. Among some of the more notable Sunday performances, Ball climbed 17 places to capture bronze; Fischer moved up an amazing 27 spots to claim sixth place; Orr rose 19 places to take ninth; and Iaconelli jumped 14 spots to finish 12. Still, it was the steady performances of Queen and Milton that eventually garnered silver and gold. Both anglers took a shallow water approach to key on larger fish, and their game plans paid off handsomely.
“This is one of my favorite fisheries,” says a happy Queen, who has 20 top-ten finishes on the kayak bass trail this year. “I know this river pretty well, so I had a few good spots to key on heading into the action. I figured that if I fished clean, I’d be in the running.”
Queen focused on a slice of river that has produced well for him in previous tournaments, mostly working a modified spinnerbait featuring a big Colorado blade on Day 1, and a Strike King spinnerbait with an Indiana Blade ahead of a Colorado blade on Day 2.
“There certainly were some big names in this field,” allows Queen, “but no matter who you are, it’s vital to break down the water and decide how much area you’ll need to cover. A lot of people will just fish the shoreline, but on a big river like this, I like to pick a 400- to 800-yard slice of water, with rocks, islands and turns, and work it straight across from bank to bank. That way, you cover different bottom depths, structure types and currents without getting overwhelmed.”
Queen fished conservatively on Day 1, picking a few bass off each piece he sampled and leaving some stumps, rocks and bank areas for upgrades on Day 2. His bass ran a little larger the second day, but he was consistent from beginning to end in terms of getting fish to eat. “That’s often a key in very competitive tournaments,” he explains. “My Hobie PA14 with Mirage Drive and Kick-Up-Fins also gave me an edge because it has a real shallow draft. On this river, in particular, it helped get me into places some people couldn’t reach.”
At the end of Day 1, Queen was sitting in seventh place, while Milton held the eight spot. Like Queen, Milton focused on shallow bass, although he generally worked tight to shore throwing topwater lures in the hope of singling out larger bass in depths of two feet or less.
“Considering the experience of this field, I feel lucky to have finished second,” Milton reveals. “I was only able to squeeze in a few hours of practice, but I saw a couple of big bass in the shallows tight to the bank, so I went with that pattern the entire time. My hits were spaced pretty far apart, but the quality turned out to be quite good.”
Ball was fast out of the gate on Day 1, catching an early limit before a mud line moved in to cloud his hot spot and dull the bite. At 11:00 am on Day 2, he had only one fish on the board when he noticed the muddied water had pinched in toward shore. “I took that as a sign the river might be clearing up further downstream” he explains, “so I made a move. It didn’t take long to find a spot with better clarity and for the rest of the morning the bass hammered my shad-colored Z-man spinnerbait with willow leaf blades and a four-inch Z-Man Diesel trailer.”
Throughout the tournament, competitors used a wide variety of approaches and techniques to score with the Susquehanna’s famed bronzebacks. Chris Blair and Chris Schafer, who finished seven and eight, respectively, used Hobie’s I11S inflatable, lightweight combination SUP/kayak to maximize their time on the water. Fischer targeted big “loner” fish cruising the riverbanks by throwing a buzzbait and big Ribbit Frog around wood, stumps and grass to accomplish her rapid rise on Day 2. Orr took the opposite approach, blind-casting a Ned rig with a Z-Man shroom head and Z-Man green pumpkin 2.75-inch TRD. “I threw that rig with my St. Croix 6’10”, medium-light power, extra-fast action Mojo Bass spinning rod,” he reveals. “It’s super-sensitive, so I could feel the slightest bite, but it also has enough stiffness to pop my rig free whenever I feel it starting to snag.”
For his part, Iaconelli was impressed with both the quality of the field and how seamlessly the tournament was run. “Like everyone else, I came here to win,” the iconic bass angler states. “With such a high caliber of competition, anyone can rule the day if they get hot. This tournament was well thought out, perfectly executed, and a ton of fun. For me, it was a great experience and an awesome couple of days.”
There’s definitely a learning curve to the kayak approach, the New Jersey bass pro notes. “For one thing, you really need to plan ahead as to where you want to fish because you can’t just rev up and run five or ten miles to your next hot spot. The angles are obviously different when it comes to setting the hook and playing your fish, too. There’s plenty to learn in this kayak game and I have a ton of respect for the competitors who do it well,” Ike concludes, adding that he’ll definitely be back to try again.
“That’s one of the things I love most about these Hobie B.O.S. Events,” says Queen. “We have the type of competition where anyone can win. You can be a national name, a local favorite or fishing in your very first tournament and have a shot because it all plays out on the water. That’s what people should take away from this event. On any day, it could be your turn.”
Next up on the Hobie B.O.S. schedule is the much-anticipated California Delta event, August 15-16, followed by Lake Dardanelle in Russellville, Arizona, September 12-13.