What started out as a planning meeting for one kayak fishing club ended up being a fun “challenge” event that has not only turned the state’s individual kayak clubs into one brotherhood, it was also a lot of fun. 

Bill Lewis, a board member of the Upstate Kayak Fishing Club, admitted that it seemed only fair to talk to the Midlands Kayak Fishing Club when the Upstate Club was scheduling a meet-and-greet event on Lake Monticello.

“I contacted Jason Saledas with the Midlands Club and said since we were going to fish in their backyard, would they like to join us?” Lewis said. “He popped back, ‘Is that a challenge?’ and that’s when we both sort of hit on the idea of an interclub fun tournament. We also thought it would be good to contact the Lowcountry club and invite them to come up, so we both got in touch with Lewis Brownlee.”

Lewis said if planned and executed correctly, he could see the “challenge” becoming an annual event, with each club taking turns running the event and picking the venue. Because the event was scheduled for June on Lake Monticello, known for its excellent catfishing, the first challenge would be an kayak catfish tournament.

“We thought we could make this thing big and do it every year, even design a trophy so that the winning club would have bragging rights for the year,” Lewis said, “but we wanted to see what kind of participation we would get this year before we started planning for the coming years.”

As president of the Midlands Club and the host of the event, much of the planning fell on the shoulders of Saledas. Trying to make the challenge as hospitable as possible for all involved, especially those driving in from as far as two or more hours away, it was suggested that the tournament would be a 12-hour event and anglers could fish as much or as little as they wanted.

“We decided to fish from 7 to 7 on the Saturday the week before Father’s Day,” said Saledas. “We picked the Highway 99 boat ramp on Lake Monticello because there’s a primitive campground next to the ramp and we got lucky — there really wasn’t a lot of other folks there and most of the anglers traveled in on Friday night, set up camp and were ready to fish the next morning.”

It was determined that a team captain would represent each club, and it was each angler’s responsibility to document his or her with a photo of the fish lying on a measuring board along with an identifier received the morning of the event. The top 10 fish from each club would determine the winner.

The Upstate club won with 10 catfish that measured 201.75 inches and had the big fish of the tournament. The Midlands club was second with 169.75, and the Lowcountry club was third with 160.

The big winner of the event was the charity chosen as beneficiary. When setting up their club several years ago, the Lowcountry Kayak Anglers designated Heroes on the Water, a national paddle-sports organization designed to help military veterans re-adjust to civilian life through kayak fishing and fellowship, and it seemed the obvious choice.

“We kind of rebooted the old HOW chapter when we started up,” Brownlee said. “Jason Saledas had been active with the local chapter in Virginia when he lived up there and fished with the Tidewater Kayak Club, and he came down back in April to help with our first event, so we decided we would raise money for the Lowcountry, South Carolina Chapter of Heroes on the Water.”

Each participant paid a $20 entry fee to fish, and the money was donated to HOW. In the end, $540 was collected that will benefit both the Lowcoutry chapter as well as the newly forming Midlands chapter of HOW.

“Veterans who are interested in participating in an HOW event can go to our website and sign up for an event,” Brownlee said. “There is no cost to the veteran, and we actively seek volunteers who have boats, tackle, know-how and the desire to help out this worthy cause.”

For more information on kayak fishing club, visit these websites and/or pages:

Upstate SC Kayak Fishing Club: www.ukfc.us; Facebook, Upstate SC Kayak Fishing Club.

Midland Kayak Fishing Club: www.midlandskayakfishingclub.webs.com; Facebook, Midlands Kayak Fishing Club.

Lowcountry Kayak Anglers: www.lowcountrykayakanglers.com; Facebook, Lowcountry Kayak Anglers.

Grand Strand Kayak Anglers Association: Facebook, Grand Strand Kayak Anglers Association.

Heroes on the Water: www.heroesonthewater.org