Mike Elsea, 2019 Kayak Bass Fishing National Champion, has returned home from the Kayak Fishing World Championship in Portugal, sponsored by Dakota Lithium Batteries and the town of Cookeville, Tennessee which will host the event in 2023.

Elsea won a bronze medal, no small feat when pursuing multiple species on the ultra-deep, clear lake on another continent.

What follows is his account of an international angling adventure:

“The whole experience, I’m gonna have a hard time putting it into words. It’s just one of those things I would have never dreamt of in a million years. Travelling abroad like that was amazing. It was an adventure getting there, but that’s a side note, a whole story in itself.

Once we got there, experiencing the culture of a small Portuguese town was amazing. The views, the food, the scenery – everything was just absolutely breathtaking. It’s very mountainous over there. Olive trees. The vineyard. All of these mountains have been landscaped over, I don’t know how long. Hand-laid block to make these steep walls up and down the mountain. It’s hard to put it into words.

The pictures and video I’m going to posting on social in the next few weeks are not going to do any of it any justice.

For the competition we were to target largemouth bass and then a fish called zander which look a lot like our walleye over here – they look very similar, act similar, there are some subtle differences. The way the competition was set up, our full card, full limit included 2 zander and 3 per day which was very, very difficult to get. That was probably the hardest lake, I believe, I’ve ever had to fish on. Crystal clear water. Extremely deep. In fact, I took a couple of screen shots of my Lowrance unit when I was over 300 feet deep.

The lake itself is part of the Sabor River, in Portuguese it’s the Rio Sabora, and it was only dammed up like 8 years ago so it’s a very young lake and the flooded, standing timber in it can be in 60, 80, 100 feet of water, and there’d be a 30-foot tree sticking up. There’s a lot of standing timber in there and I don’t even know what kind of trees they have there. I’m assuming that a lot of it was old olive trees, but the real tall ones, I don’t know what they were.

Elsea (right) with Team USA partners Chuck Earls and Eric Jackson

Fishing for the bass, fishing around the wood, the flooded timber, it was very difficult because those fish just live deep naturally there and with the clarity of the water, me personally, I used fairly light line – 8lb test line. I lost a few key fish because they would get me down in the trees. I couldn’t get them out.

Zander, they are a very pelagic fish. They’re out there suspended. Not in big groups at all either. They were mostly just single fish out there suspended in, again, pick your depth – 60, 80, 100, 200 feet – it didn’t really matter how deep the water, those fish were out there in it, 70 feet down. To find the fish without the use of live sonar, it was virtually impossible. You might luck into one every now and then with a big football jig on the bottom while you’re bass fishing and happen to run into a zander that way.

Elsea with the elusive zander

You’ve got to compete with those guys and they’re used to catching zander and they had that type of sonar technology on their kayaks so they can see the fish and get over top of them and drop their bait down right in front of their face and those zander would come up and eat their bait. That’s how they caught their fish.

I caught one zander during practice, basically, just a random fluke throwing a DD22 deep diving crankbait in 60 feet of water throwing a crankbait that ran 17-to-20 feet down and, I don’t know, must’ve just ran it in front of one’s face and he clobbered it but that was the only zander I caught the whole and it was, unfortunately, in practice and didn’t count.

The scoring, zander counted for half a point. If you had, say, a 30-centimeter zander, you got credit for 15 centimeters. So, it was key to catch bass. Bass were more important than zander were. The way we approached that is obviously you want to go for your strength first. My strength is bass fishing. I’d never even seen a zander until last week. My plan was to catch 3 bass and then go looking around for the zander. That didn’t work out so well because it took me all day just to catch 3 bass. I didn’t go target the zander during competition time.

The second day I only had 4 bites all day and, unfortunately, only got 2 of them in the boat. If I would have had that one more fish, then I would have been the silver medalist. Eight centimeters is all the separated us and I had the fish on multiple times. That’s fishing.”

Elsea looks forward to the 2023 KBF schedule as well as some of the lakes on the Hobie Bass Open series. Elsea also competes in Kayak Fishing League. “That’s the team concept. My team actually did really good this year. We were in the playoffs.

“The past several weeks was hammer down. I haven’t had time for anything but fishing.

“And I’m way past due getting in the woods,” said Elsea, noting that he has a degree in wildlife management. “I’m a big hunter. I deer hunt so I need to get some time in the woods.”