Meet Mike Elsea, Your 2019 KBF National Champion!
Mike Elsea was dialed-in. The results prove it. With a 3-day total of 288.75 inches and a winning margin of 16 inches against a field of 461 competitors, his was the most dominant performance ever in a Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship, or any major kayak tournament for that matter.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” said Elsea even after the long ride home to Indiana with the big check for $73,000 beside him.
“I caught my first bass of the tournament on a spinnerbait,” said Elsea, “but after that, I couldn’t get bit on a moving lure. I had to slowly drag a lure tight to the base of a cypress tree – try to peel the bark off of it and get hung up in order to get a bite.”
In a sea of sameness that confounded other anglers, Elsea differentiated the key trees among Caddo Lake’s countless flooded cypress. He could call his shot so well that he would just pedal to the next target and, often as not, catch a bass. “It got to a point where I would just close my eyes, because everything looks so similar with all the trees, and I would open them and say ‘oh, over there, that tree is off by itself’. And it might be 400 yards away, but I would go there and, half the time, I’d catch a fish. Depth didn’t really matter. I caught fish in 3 feet of water and I caught a fish in 8 feet of water, but the tree had to be isolated.”
If he sounds like a hardcore tourney angler, there’s good reason: Elsea has fished the pro division of the Bassmaster Opens and FLW Costa Series. He even fished the first BassFest on Chickamauga a few years back, narrowly missing a shot to fish the final day when he lost a 5-pounder at the boat and finished 11thin the wildcard elimination round. The Top 10 advanced.
Elsea expects that background to pay off now. “When you get your butt kicked 9 times out of 10 it’s going to make you better. Fishing at that level made me better. It made me more versatile. I learned different techniques, learned about finding fish. I’m taking that with me to the kayak tour.”
So how did he go from competing at a very high level in a motorboat to fishing from a ‘yak? “I kind of went through a rough period in my life. I got rid of my boat. I wasn’t able to fish much for a little over year.
“I wasn’t a real happy person to be around, to be honest. I wasn’t happy with myself and I’m sure I didn’t make very many people happy at that time either.”
A friend showed Elsea a new way to enjoy the same sport of bass fishing that he had enjoyed competitively since age 16. “A good friend of mine, year before last, kept sending me pictures. He’d gone and gotten himself a kayak and was sending me texts and pictures of all the fun he was having. I wanted to get back on the water, so I went and bought little cheapo kayak to get out there and it was fun.”
That was the beginning. As Elsea dove further down the rabbit hole, he decided to go ‘all in’ with the fastest growing outdoor activity in America. “I did some more research, was looking into this whole kayak fishing thing and couldn’t believe how big it was. There are tournaments and national championships. I thought, ‘this is cool’. With the competitive nature that I have, I looked into getting a real fishing kayak.”
Elsea found his ‘real fishing kayak’ the first time he laid eyes on the Native Watercraft 10.5 Titan with a Propel Drive. “I loved the idea of a pedal drive so I can move while I fish at the same time. The Titan is really wide so it’s real stable – I stand up most of the time.”
Elsea qualified for the biggest stage in the kayak kingdom by fishing close-to-home state challenges. “That’s really all I did. I wanted to start small. I started fishing the state challenges and qualified for this year’s National Championship through that and low and behold, I went out and won that thing,” chuckled the new champ.
“The phone hasn’t quit ringing. I have to do a podcast later tonight. Chad Hoover wanted me to stay behind and film an episode of his YouTube show, Kayak Bass Fishing, with him. We had a great time and caught some really nice fish.”
When not catching fish, Elsea is still handling animals. “I work with pigs on a commercial hog operation. I deliver babies most of the time, and give shots and vaccines, take care of the sick and things like that.
“On top of that, I’m also a fitness trainer. I’ve been that for almost 20 years now. I work 14 hours a day on average between the two jobs. Hopefully that will change here pretty soon.”
Elsea is one fitness trainer who has no problem with his clients eating pork. “Pork is a good thing to eat. One in every 4 pigs born here in the US ends up overseas so we not only feed our community around here but we’re actually feeding the world and that’s a good feeling.”
Elsea resides in the Indianapolis area. What does he consider his ‘home water’? “Indiana has a bunch of small lakes. But no matter what direction I go, I have to drive at least an hour to hit water. That stinks,” he laughed.
He mentioned a couple of nearby reservoirs and then pivoted away, “but I grew up in the northern part of the state and there’s a lot of natural lakes up there. If I have the preference and the opportunity, I’ll make the 2-hour drive to go fish some of those northern lakes. All those lakes, I feel like, are my backyard in a sense and some of them have some toads in them, I mean, some really nice fish.”
The need to choose his water wisely followed Elsea from Indiana to Louisiana where there were more lakes than ever for championship participants to pick from.
“I qualified in May or June, so I started my research on that area 9 months ago. I looked up every article I could possibly find on Cross Lake, on Lake Bistineau, Caddo Lake, the Red River. Most of my homework was done on a computer, looking up fishing reports and articles and looking at Google Earth and YouTube videos – I can’t tell you how many hours of YouTube I watched just trying to find something, anything. Getting live views of the area . . .
“and it still didn’t do it justice when I got there. I was overwhelmed by the number of trees. Like ‘holy smokes’ how am I going to do this?
“The general consensus is that most of the big tournaments in that area, the multi-lake tournaments, are won on Caddo Lake. And that lake is 25,000 acres and it fishes twice that. It fishes huge. You’ve got 10-bazillion trees and you’ve got bayous that go back until you’re who-knows-where. Especially in a kayak because you can get so much further back in that stuff than you can in a boat so you’ve got that much more water available to you.”
Elsea addressed one of tournament angling’s dirty little secrets. There are no rules against collecting information from others prior to KBF competition as opposed to say, the Bassmaster Elite Series, so he is absolutely clean, but most don’t have the guts to talk about this:
“I’m not going to lie. Part of this game is trying to get some local intel. Anybody can do that just by getting on a fishing forum and making a friend. I did that and got a little bit of help, at least as far as narrowing it down to which lake, because of all that water. Running around to try to hit every body of water like a chicken with my head cut of was, I knew, going to be time wasted.
“I put all my eggs in one basket and fished where big fish live.”
He prefers to catch ‘em on topwaters as well as anyone but Elsea had to drag bottom in order to top the leaderboard in Louisiana.
“I was bouncing between a SinkER Swim Tackle jig – SinkER Swim is a small company in New York. He makes hand-tied custom jigs, good friend of mine. I used one of his jigs and tipped it with a beaver-style trailer – and I was alternating between the jig and just a straight up Texas-rigged creature bait, again such as a Sweet Beaver or a Strike King Rodent.
“The key was getting that bait as close to the base of the tree as I could. I was more or less dragging that bait around the base of the trees, trying to get it hung up. I couldn’t hop it; couldn’t work it like you normally would. I just dead-sticked it. Once that thing got hung up on a root ball or cypress knee, the line would swim off. That’s how I got my bites.”
“They were in all 3 stages. Some were going in, some were on beds and some had already spawned, had beat up, bloody tails while others didn’t have a mark on them.”
Elsea notes that bass in cypress lakes often spend their entire lives on a single big, isolated tree with no need to leave for long. “They stage there, they spawn there, and they recuperate there. It’s a good ambush point.
“Those bigger trees were the key for me in finding those bigger bites.”
Elsea was driven through three days of fierce fishing by a stinging mistake on Day 1. “I had a 20-incher jump off the board while I was trying to take the picture. It ate at me. It still bothers me. I hate making mistakes like that. I was just sick about it the whole time.”
The lost fish reminded Elsea of the 5-pounder that he lost during that BassFest years ago which cost him $10,000 and a shot at the finals.
No matter how many we catch, it’s always the fish we lose that stick with us forever.
“It’s just another example of something that you don’t ever forget.”
Fitzgerald Rods did the heavy lifting and Lew’s reels handled the 15-lb Seaguar fluorocarbon Elsea relied on while peeling the bark off numerous cypress trees around the bayou.
A Bioenno Power lithium battery powered Elsea’s Power-Pole Micro. “That was a staple. It helped me huge on that last day. After the storm blew through it got up to 25 or 30 miles per hour.” Not only did the pole keep him in position to fish slowly, but it helped him to not get blown “a mile away while” fighting fish.
Elsea is big on a new tungsten weight manufacturer “Titan Tungsten. They’re a new company but they’re just exploding. They make the highest quality tungsten I have ever seen. They’ve just come out with their Pro Series weight which has the weight stamped right on there.”
He used a tiny 1/8-ounce version. “Until that wind kicked up on that last day, in the last hour and I had to go to a ¼-ounce weight.”
Precision was critical. “I absolutely had to drag it. If I hopped it, I wouldn’t get bit. If I was 6 inches out from that tree, I was not going to get bit. I had to get hung on the bark.”
As dialed-in as Elsea was, Divine intervention still played a role.
“That last hour, I’ve got to give all the glory to God because He blessed me on that deal. One-hundred percent. Those fish were there, I culled 4 out of my 5 fish in that last hour. It was insane.”
Elsea sees a bright future for competitive kayak anglers, especially now that FLW Fishing has partnered with KBF to host a couple of tournaments this year. “I think it is a huge opportunity. I’m excited about it. I’m planning on at least fishing the first one and, hopefully, making it to the 2ndone.
“The sport of kayak bass fishing – this is just my 2ndyear in it – I didn’t know that it was as big as it is, and it’s getting bigger by the minute. I think the partnership with FLW could take it to one more level.
“I want to do everything I can to help grow the sport, help get more people involved because this thing just changed my life.”
What’s next for Elsea? He has a web site in the works. It will be called MikeElseaFishing.com. You can also search the tagline: Blessed Beyond Measure. YouTube channel is coming too. For now, people can follow Elsea on Facebook and Instagram, just search ‘Mike Elsea’. Either way, keep an eye on our sport’s newest ambassador.
“This ride is just beginning.”
Full Results can be found HERE