GRAFORD, Texas — “Go west, young man!”
It’s a saying Michael Cates likely should repeat to himself, given years of good fortune on Possum Kingdom Lake — a run of luck that continued Sunday with his victory in the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX.
Cates, a 51-year-old resident of Arlington, Texas, caught 10 bass measuring 210.25 total inches to win the derby on the 17,000-acre reservoir of the Brazos River about 90 minutes west of his home. He measured a limit of five bass for 109.75 inches on Day 1, and though his catch dropped to 100.5 inches Sunday, he had more than enough length to secure the victory.
Cates earned a cash prize of $7,846 with the win, besting 128 other anglers from around the U.S. vying for a total purse of $25,800.
Cates said he considers Lake Fork his home water and he often finds himself “heading east” from Arlington to fish there, rather than west to Possum Kingdom. But he plans on fishing more at the reservoir with a funny name and a growing reputation as one of the nation’s top bass fisheries.
“This is a special place, man,” he said. “I’m truly blessed to win and had an incredible time.”
Cates staked himself to the Day 1 lead fishing a sweet spot he found in practice — an underwater flat with steep sides where bass would bombard just about any lure he threw to the area. So good was the catching on Saturday that Cates had a pair of bass simultaneously eat his lure three different times.
He primarily used a Strike King 6XD (sexy shad) but also used a small variety of black/chartreuse crankbaits, a Carolina-rigged plum worm and even spoons to catch bass.
The spot produced again Sunday, but not until the afternoon — a wait that had Cates on edge.
“I started there, and by 10:30, I only had two sand bass, two drum and a channel cat,” he said. “So, I hit the bank and started trucking along trying to get a limit. I went into the back of a pocket, and I caught 18 fish to get into the mid-90s (inches). That allowed me to breathe again.
“Then I went back out to my original spot and culled every single one of them. The biggest was 22 inches, but they all were really nice 4- to 6-pounders.”
The secret, Cates said, was timing the arrival of gizzard shad that were bountiful Saturday. They returned Sunday afternoon, just in time for him to inch his way into the title finish.
“The sun drove the gizzard shad farther down today,” he said. “Yesterday was an anomaly. You don’t ever expect to catch ‘em like that. The whole thing was covered with gizzard shad, only about 100 yards or so across, and it happened all day long. There were all kinds of different fish just feasting on them.”
On both days, Cates positioned his kayak in about 21 to 22 feet of water and threw back to the underwater flat, letting his lure hit one of two steep embankments that quickly dropped from 10 to 20 or more feet.
“The bass were waiting for bait to bump off those spots,” he said. “If I could hit one of those ledges, I’d get bit just about every time.”
The Top 5 finishers, a quartet of Texans among them, qualified for the 2024 Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series National Championship. Besides Cates, they include Texas’ Joe Camareno, second, 202 inches, $3,542; Nebraska’s Marty Hughes, third, 196 inches, $2,340; Texas’ Matthew Scotch, fourth, 191 inches, $1,771; and Texas’ Matthew Flett, fifth, 190.5 inches, $1,664.
Texas’ Corey Geisendorff won the $500 Big Bass Award for a 24.75-inch lunker he caught on Day 1. He hooked the fish using a 12-inch, Carolina-rigged green pumpkin worm. A nearby boater with a hand scale weighed the bass, which came in at right at 9 pounds, Geisendorff said.
The derby at Possum Kingdom was the third of five stops on the Bassmaster Kayak Series this year. Additional tournaments follow on the upper Mississippi River in Lacrosse, Wis., July 8-9 and on the Susquehanna River in Lewisburg, Penn., Oct. 7-8. At each stop, anglers are earning points towards the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year race.
The tournament was hosted by the Possum Kingdom Chamber of Commerce.
2023 Bassmaster Kayak Series Title Sponsor: Yamaha Rightwaters
2023 Bassmaster Kayak Series Partner: MotorGuide
2023 Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year Sponsor: Dakota Lithium