The air horn blares at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, signaling the start of a fishing tournament on Holmes Lake.
But rather than revving high-horse outboards, the only sound competitors make is the scraping of polyethylene against gravel.
The anglers rotate their paddles and silently disburse on the southeast Lincoln lake in their brightly colored kayaks.
These boats are paddle powered, low to the water and tapered at the ends. But otherwise, they hardly resemble the seal-skin torpedoes used by the indigenous hunters of the Arctic, the inventors of the kayak.
And forget the helmets and wet suits. A fishing kayak typically features an open bow and cockpit while its pilot will wear a t-shirt, shorts and cap. It’s all about comfort, function and “fish on,” said Marty Hughes, who owns Kayakjak’s Outfitters in the southwestern Nebraska town of Benkelman.
“I like the stealthiness of it,” Hughes said. “We get to spots boat or bank anglers can’t get to.”
Hughes, 51, a physical education teacher, runs the seasonal outfitting business with his family. They sell and rent kayaks and guide fishing trips to Rock Creek Lake north of Parks.
So he has plenty of reason to share his enthusiasm for fishing kayaks. But he’s also involved with Heroes on the Water, a national nonprofit group that provides free kayak fishing outings to wounded and disabled military veterans.
So Hughes found a way to combine both by organizing the first Kayakapalooza, a kayak fishing tournament he drove a long way east to put on.
“We thought a tournament would be a great way to generate awareness and money for Heroes on the Water,” he said.
The roughly 20 anglers who entered Saturday’s event paid $25 each for a chance to win fishing prizes, including a new Emotion kayak. All proceeds will benefit the Kansas City chapter of Heroes on the Water, said Scott Mausbach, a former Lincolnite who heads the chapter that includes Nebraska.
Mausbach, a U.S. Navy veteran, said fishing and kayaking combine two activities with powerful therapeutic effects.
“You can’t think about stuff when you’re out there,” he said. “You have to think about the kayak and the fishing. It gives them opportunities to get stuff off their minds.”
Lincoln angler Jason Little entered the tournament to support the cause, even though he had never fished from a kayak before. Shortly after paddling out, he looped back to the shore to get something he’d forgotten.
“It’s quiet, relaxing,” Little said of his maiden voyage.
The multiple species, catch-and-release tournament would be decided by points based on the length of fish caught. Anglers had to place each fish against a ruler and snap a photo before releasing it. Participants can measure up to two fish of each species.
Thanks to smart phones, word quickly spread across the lake of the day’s first big catch. Rob Berryman, an Omaha native who formerly lived in Lincoln and now lives in Kansas City, landed a nearly 20-inch largemouth.
“He hit that topwater like a grenade hit the water,” he said.
For Berryman, the appeal of kayak fishing really comes down to simplicity. They’re light, portable, easy to load and launch. When he gets off work, he can be on the water in as soon as 10 minutes.
“It’s really simple and relaxing,” he said.
You can spend as little as $200 on a fishing kayak or as much as $3,500. But its easy to get into a high quality boat with the right features for under $1,000.
Most weigh between 30 and 50 pounds and can easily be transported in a pickup bed or roof rack.
Hughes hopes to expand the Heroes on the Water tournament to two annual events in Nebraska.
In the meantime, he’ll keep on casting for the big one.
From his yak, of course.
Reach Joe Duggan at 473-7239 or email@example.com.