Taff Rides Jack Hammer/Zako Combo to Six-Figure Kayak Victory

Texas angler conquers massive field at Kentucky Lake

By Pete Robbins
Photos courtesy of Kayak Bass Fishing

kbf-champ04.jpg

Over 750 competitors convened on legendary Kentucky Lake last week in search of a $100,000 top prize. It wasn’t the Bassmaster Elite Series. Nor was it the FLW Tour. Instead, they were there for the “Third Annual Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship,” and when the scales closed on Sunday Dwayne Taff of Texas claimed bragging rights in this influential and super-fast growing segment of the competitive fishing world.

Taff’s ascent to the top of the game has been lightning quick. He is no newcomer to bass fishing, having participated in the sport his entire life, but he took up kayaking only two years ago, and only started competing out of one last year.

“There are differences in fishing out of a kayak but the basic knowledge is still the same as far as studying the map, figuring out where they should be and what they should be doing,” he said. “The biggest difference is that kayaking slows everything down. Once you pick a spot, you’re confined to that area and you have to figure out what they want.”

In this case, he borrowed a page from Elite pro Brett Hite’s book, relying on the hottest shallow water combination across the country today – a 3/8-ounce Evergreen Jack Hammer, a high-end bladed jig, along with the Zako trailer that Hite designed specifically for that lure.

kbf-champ01.jpg

“Being from Texas, I’m not a deep water fisherman,” Taff said. “I don’t fish water deeper than 10 feet unless I’m in a bind, but I tried to do it in practice, going out and throwing a dropshot. I couldn’t get a bite that way and by Thursday night I was pretty frustrated.” He needed a change of attitude, a change of location, and a new bait selection to make something happen. Some friends suggested that he tag along the next day when they traveled to the south end of Barkley. When they backed out, he stayed true to the plan.

“I was going to go Texas and stick to what I know,” he said. “I was going to throw at every stick I could see.” He looked at the contour map on his graph, found a small slough off the main river, and when he arrived the fish were “stacked up there.”

Two days later, he came out on top, with his 10 fish measuring a cumulative 173.50 inches, a slim winning margin of less than 2 inches. He believes that the difference was not only his persistence and open mind, but also the bait he selected.

“I’m always watching YouTube videos of the Elite Series and I had heard all of the hype about this $15 lure,” he said. “I went to Dick’s to check them out. It was the only place around here that I could find one. I was super-impressed.”

While the bait stayed down and generally ran the way he wanted it to, he had trouble locking in on the best possible trailer. “I mixed and matched, but couldn’t get the right tempo going,” he said. Then he recalled one of Hite’s videos extolling the virtues of the Zako. He had no idea if he’d be able to find any, as he hadn’t noticed them in any local bait shops, but while driving near Paducah he “came across a little bait store in the woods,” and when he walked through the door the Zako display was staring him in the face. “As soon as I threw it, I knew it was perfect. I could still feel the chatter, but looking at the action of the tail it was just right. I didn’t want something too aggressive. It looked just like a baitfish.”

kbf-champ05.jpg

The particular lure was “BHite Delight” with a green pumpkin Zako, and with only one of the jigs in his possession, Taff experienced some near-heartbreak in the heat of competition. At one point he cast the lure in a tree and had to climb it to get it back. Later, the biggest fish he hooked came up and jumped, shook its head, and broke his line. Fortunately, the lure flew directly back into his kayak. By the end of the tournament “the paint was gone and the skirt was gone.” In fact, he had to go into his jig box to recreate a skirt late in the game to keep the lure in service.

He fished the winning lure on a medium-light 7’ McCain baitcasting rod paired with an Abu-Garcia reel spooled with 12 pound test fluorocarbon. He believes that the reel also contributed mightily to his success, because with water temperatures in the 50s, a 5:1 gear ratio allowed him to slow down and taunt lethargic fish.

So what is he going to do with the $100,000?

“People say that $100,000 isn’t life changing. It is,” he said. He and his wife have been remodeling their house to sell it and purchase their dream property, 10 to 12 acres in the Texas woods. This will make that transition far quicker and far easier. Other than that, he doesn’t think that the money will change his love of the game. “I just want to go fishing. I got home early Monday morning, got up and went fishing. It allowed me to clear my head for two minutes. I’m going to keep on hitting those tournaments, too, both local and national.”

kbf-champ02.jpg

Of course, in order to keep his rapid rise moving upward, he may have to invest a few of his hard-earned dollars into some more Jack Hammers and more Zakos. That might not be as easy as it sounds, because ever since the details of his victory got out, his friends “have been sending me pictures of the receipts of the ones they’ve bought.” If he can’t find them locally, or online, there’s always that little bait shop hidden in the woods near Paducah.