Kayaks, Camping, and Camaraderie: The New England Kayak Fishing Striper Shootout IX

By: Eric Harrison

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Tournament Results:
Open Division:

1.Hromada, Eric: 46.5″
2.Fucini, Thomas: 43″ & 42.5
3.Esteves, Gary: 43″ & 37

Artificial Division

1.Harrison, Eric: 47″
2.Santillana, Luis– 45″
3.Vonnegut, Carl- – 43″

Fly Division:

1.Craine, John- – 34.5″
2.Howie, Chris- – 30″
3.Kilroe, Diana- – 23″

Junior Division:

1.Schneider, Cassie: 33.5″
2.Aucone, Jason: 33″
3.Brock, Jonathan: 29.5″

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Eric Harrison took home first place with this 47″ striper in the
Artificial Division at the tournament.

[/two_third] T he New England Kayak Fishing Striper Shootout IX took place August 16th to 18th at Winter Island in Salem, MA. With about 180 entrants, the NEKF Striper Shootout is the largest kayak fishing tournament in New England.

The Shootout is an annual event, taking place every August and drawing anglers not only from New England, but also from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. The last few tournaments have even drawn a contingent of hardcore kayakers from Canada. The event is always scheduled for late August to take advantage of the great north shore striper fishery and to take advantage of the last of the comfortable camping weather.

The Shootout began as a small get together for kayakers at Deer Island in Boston Harbor. It was a small event with the post fishing awards held at New England Kayak Fishing founder Mark Attardo’s house in Winthrop. The next year interest in the event grew so much that a bigger venue was needed.

Winter Island in Salem was the perfect backdrop for the tournament. It offers camping, easy on the water access and great fishing. Winter Island also promoted another element of the Shootout—the focus is on camaraderie and having fun—sure there are many that show up to catch the biggest fish, but everyone has a good time. The campground is a comfortable gathering place for anglers when they aren’t on the water. Downtown Salem is nearby with plenty to do if the fishing is slow, and for those who bring their families, the tournament becomes part of a vacation on the north shore. Saturday nights usually feature the musical talents of kayak guide Rick Buss and sometimes includes a sampling of various home brews.

The tournament reflects the “come to have fun” ethic and is set up so that anyone can win. Prizes are not awarded to the anglers who catch the biggest fish, they are raffled off to all entrants at the wrap up barbecue and awards on Sunday afternoon. The tournament starts on Friday evening and ends Sunday at noon, with two days of fishing, awards are given in four categories for the biggest striped bass.

Most kayakers have a strong catch and release ethic and the tournament reflects that value: all fish entered in the Shootout must be released. Catches are measured, photographed and released and the angler must present a picture of their fish with a tournament indicator that shows it was caught during the tournament.

The first tournament featured only one category—an open class that included all styles of fishing. As the tournament has grown, additional divisions have been added. The 9th edition of the Shootout featured an open division that allowed any gear to be used, an artificial only division where no bait of any kind is allowed, a fly fishing only division, and a junior division.

It typically takes a pretty big fish to win the shootout, the winning fish are usually well over 45” and there have been ties that had to be broken by a second fish. Anglers are encouraged to take pictures of all their biggest fish in case of a tie. The largest striper ever entered in the Shootout was a 50.25” monster caught by Gary Horne in 2007. Even though stripers have a reputation as a fish that loves bait, 3 of the last 4 Shootouts had the largest overall fish come from the artificial only division.

One of the highpoints of the tournament is the Sunday barbecue, most arrive early and stay late. It is a time for swapping stories and tactics and catching up with friends that you only see at a couple tournaments a year. The tournament draws from a wide region and there are many very skilled anglers in attendance—even experienced anglers have a great opportunity to learn about fisheries around the region that they have never sampled.

One of the fun parts of the Sunday festivities is the raffle. As the tournament has grown, so have the number of sponsors. This year four kayaks, from Hobie, Old Town, and Jackson were raffled off to all entrants. The raffle lasted for quite a while as dozens of other sponsors provided prizes for the entrants. Some of the donated items are put in special raffles for charities sponsored by the Shootout.

The Shootout raises thousands of dollars for charities. Among this year’s charities were Sophia’s fund, an organization that supports families of children with cancer, Heroes on the Water, an organization that helps our wounded warriors recover by taking them out on the water, and Casting for Recovery, a breast cancer support group. The tournament is put on and run by volunteers, members of the New England Kayak Fishing on-line community, and all revenues beyond the tournament expenses are donated to charities.

New England Kayak Fishing is the largest on-line kayak fishing community in New England and is a great resource for all things kayak fishing. Members are in all New England states and beyond, and the site offers both discussion forums and articles written by experienced anglers.

This year’s Shootout had about the best weather you could ask for. It was warm, but not too hot and the wind laid down the whole weekend, a rare occurrence around here! The fishing results reflected the good weather, anglers spent plenty of time on the water and most anglers caught legal sized fish. There were many fish over 40” caught in the open and artificial divisions. The largest fish in those two divisions were caught at night, in the open division Eric Hromada caught a 46.25” striper on a live eel and in the artificial division Eric Harrison picked up a 47” bass on a 13” Hogy.

Eric Harrison grew up fishing on the piers, breakwalls, and party boats of Southern California. He now lives in Massachusetts and over the past ten years has become a die hard kayak fisherman, he fishes MA waters year round chasing stripers and just about anything else that swims. Eric is a fanatical plastics fisherman, using them for everything from crappies to salmon to stripers. He is also a three time winner of the NEKF Striper Shootout.