It seems nearly every time someone does a story on Richmond Hill angler Ron Champion, the surname comes into play.
You can’t blame them.
When it comes to his sport Champion is, well, a champion.
Most recently, the affable angler qualified for a spot representing the U.S. in the 2019 Hobie Kayak Fishing World Championship 8. He did so by winning the 3rd annual IKE Foundations Celebrity Pro-Am in New Jersey, a charity tournament put together by professional bass fisherman Mike Iaconelli.
That, as Champion put it, is a “prestigious deal.”
It’s also the second time in three years Champion has made the U.S. squad – he was on the team in 2016, too – and he’s one of the top competitors in what some say is the fastest growing sport in all of sports fishing.
“It’s amazing how the sport is growing,” said Champion, who “came over from the bass boat world” in 2013 to join the ranks of kayak fishermen, and is now one of about 2,000 anglers competing in the Kayak Bass Fishing Trail Series.
One obvious reason for the boom is it’s more affordable.
“People can afford it. A lot of people can’t afford a $40,000 bass boat,” Champion said. “Here you can buy a $500 kayak and get out there with everybody else.”
Those kayaks aren’t exactly the same as those you see at, say, Walmart. These are wider for more stability and are powered either using electric trolling motors or, more likely, with pedals. They’re also big enough to carry the 14 or so rods Champion said he carries when he’s out on the water fishing for fun or trophies.
And he’s out on the water a lot. Champion, a native Tennessean who lives in Buckhead North with his wife Chrissy, son Branton, 12, and daughter Makayla, 8, has competed in 100 tournaments in 16 states so far (and if you’re keeping count, he’s got 37 top 10 finishes, according to his online profile, and some big wins, including the Hobie Bass Open in 2016).
Champion’s also a fan of home, and was recently featured in an episode of Hobie Outdoor Adventures on CBS Sports in which he and a host catch fish while kayaking on Bill Dance Lake in nearby Waterway Township.
Suffice it to say the Champions have taken to South Bryan and the coastal lifestyle.
“We love the Richmond Hill community. There are a lot of good things happening,” Champion said. “We’re fortunate to be here.”
Kayak bass fishing differs from the more traditional kind in a number of ways, not least of which is that fish are caught, photographed against a measuring board and then released right where they were hooked. That, as Champion pointed out, means fish aren’t carried around in live wells for hours and then released miles from where they were caught.
What’s more, the record KBF anglers are keeping of the fish they get into the boat is helping biologists keep better track of fisheries.
“That’s good data, and a lot of states are using our photos and data to assess how well fish populations are doing,” Champion said. “When you’ve got a tournament with 200 boats on it and hundreds of fish are caught during the event, it provides a lot of very good information for the fisheries.”
Yet while Champion is a kayak bass angler first and foremost, and as such is the first of his class to make a Bassin’ Magazine cover, the upcoming Hobie World Championships may not have anything to do with bass, the South’s favorite freshwater sportfish.
The event may not even be held on fresh water.
The Hobie “Worlds” is distinct from KBF sponsored competition. Last year, World 7 was held in Sweden. In 2016, Champion and his U.S. teammates went after redfish, trout and flounder in Louisiana during World 6.
The Hobie World event has also been held in China, Amsterdam, Australia, and Champion said the 2019 competition will be held abroad. As for what country, he’ll know in a month or two when the location is announced.
In the meantime, Champion said he will keep doing what he can to promote the sport of kayak fishing. Like any champion, he wants to leave a legacy.
“One day when this sport starts peaking, and people look back at the guys who got this sport up there, hopefully my name will be included in that group,” Champion said. “It means a lot to me to have this platform to be able to talk about the sport and help it grow.”
You can find Ron Champion on Facebook.
Here’s a link to the Hobie Outdoor Adventures show: