Matt Kiefer can flat-out fish. If you live in Indiana, you probably already know that. So, when Kiefer went down to Kissimmee, Florida to compete in the Kayak Bass Fishing Tenvitational and Trail Events (I and II) earlier this year, it was no surprise to see his name at the top of the leaderboard – all three leaderboards! Kiefer fished the first trail event on Saturday, January 30, and finished in third place – with a five-bass total of 92 inches. The next day, he followed that strong performance with another five-bass limit of 92 inches, to take second place in the second trail. Because the Tenvitational was fished concurrently alongside the two trail events, Kiefer used those consistent trail catches to finish an impressive third place in the Tenvitational.
Kiefer’s three top-three finishes may have been no surprise to the fishing community; however, he wasn’t sure what to expect from ten lakes in Central Florida – and several of the greatest kayak anglers in the country. “I honestly had (no expectations),” he said. “I just wanted to go have an adventure, fish somewhere that I’d never been, and get some much-needed fishing therapy … I was nervous about all the professionals out there, but when the alarm goes off when it’s time to start fishing, it’s just you, your kayak, and the fish.” And, fish he did. Kiefer studied maps, used the internet, and watched YouTube videos to prepare for the three tournaments.
When he arrived, he had a game plan in place for practice and then the tournaments. “Going down, I knew where I needed to start pre-fishing … I had a pretty good idea that this lake had a bunch of quality fish in it,” he said. “That being said, I’m sure all the lakes do, but when you have 10 lakes to choose from, you have to start somewhere.” In the days leading up to official first cast, Kiefer fished a little, scouted a little, eliminated water, and found spots he hoped would produce quality fish during the tournaments. Locations, wind, and other fisherman helped lead Kiefer to his chosen lake on Saturday. But as happens more often than not - usually at every tournament - anglers have to make adjustments on the fly.
As he began the move to his preferred starting spot, a couple other fisherman showed up and headed toward Kiefer’s preferred area. Kiefer chose to start day one at location Plan B. “During my research, I had noticed this canal/creek that should be holding some fish, as it was similar to the areas I saw that had bedding bass,” he said. “So, I shot up into that spot and waited for my lines-in alarm to go off.” Although it took a few hours to catch his first fish, Kiefer remained confident. “I wasn’t worried … I think it was about 10 a.m. when I finally caught my first one,” he said. “The largest of the entire weekend, at 21.25 inches.” That fish, along with a steady catch of smaller bass, proved he was on the right track. He was throwing topwater frogs, punching pads, and Jackhammer chatterbaits. He felt good about his day to this point, and his chances for a top finish. "After my third fish, a second 20-plus, my confidence really started to come up,” Kiefer said. “(I caught) my third quality fish, and my fifth keeper … day one was a total success for just going out and fishing!” Kiefer ended the Kissimmee Trail I with 92 inches of fish, good for third place.
Day two, Kissimmee Trail II and also day two of the Tenvitational was similar to day one, with adjustments, competitors all over the lake, and for Kiefer, big fish. “After getting a 20.5 inch netted, and photos taken … I had four fish for 70 inches,” he said. “It was 8:04 a.m., and I was leading the Tenvitational by 30 inches!” Kiefer ended his day with another five largemouth bass totaling 92 inches. He finished the second trail on day two in second place. Both days’ total of 184 inches would push Kiefer up to third place finish in the Tenvitational – an impressive tournament ending against some of the best in country. When it was over, Kiefer knew he had accomplished something special. “I was able to get to the check-in with about 30 minutes to spare,” he said. “I sat down at a table by myself and just relaxed for the first time in several days. It was a bit surreal. I hadn’t won any of the three events that weekend, but I could argue that I had a better weekend than every other angler!”
Kiefer suffered a loss shortly before leaving for Kissimmee. His father passed away, and it was a difficult time for the Evansville resident. Fishing the Florida tournaments would not only be an angling adventure, but it would also be a healing moment and a time for reflection. “I don’t know that his passing affected my trip per se,” Kiefer said. “I know that he would be proud of my accomplishment down in Florida. I needed the time on the water to heal a bit. Losing a parent was certainly something I knew was inevitable, but it was truly one of the hardest things ever … over the years we had fished many hours together.” Kiefer said he leaned on his wife, Alena, for support and reassurance. He called her during day one, and
they texted during day two. Communicating with her helped keep him steady when his emotions began to soar, especially after netting a 20.5-incher. He knew he had to settle himself, and who could help him. “My heart was racing, and to be honest, I spun out for about 10 minutes,” Kiefer said. “I was still casting, but really had no idea what I was doing. I sent Alena a text and she told me to calm down and get that 5th fish.” Even without a win, Kiefer showed he belongs at the top of the leaderboard, among some of the biggest
names in the sport. Humble and quiet, he looked back on his time in Kissimmee just as those who know him would expect.
“Looking back, I feel I did well,” Kiefer said. “I’m not sure I was prepared enough, but the ending turned out pretty good … I lost one on Sunday that would have won the Tenvitational, but that is fishing. I think I made good decisions on how, where, and what to fish. I will say going into this event, I had no confidence that I was going to have a good showing. But here is the takeaway … be confident in your abilities. Fish the way you like to fish and enjoy the time on the water.” You can see Kiefer’s YouTube recap of this tournament at: Https://youtu.be/IrZApigzV8E