They say baseball is a game of inches, but for Ron Champion a spot on Team USA for the Hobie World Fishing Championship in December came down to one-half inch.
That was his margin of victory the first weekend in June at the Hobie Bass Open Tournament in Kentucky, netting him a $3,500 winner’s check and a spot in sixth annual worlds, to be held Dec. 4-11 in Louisiana.
“I’m really excited because the chance to represent our country is big,” Champion said. “It’s the pinnacle of kayak fishing.”
There will be 25 countries competing in the tournament, which in past years has been held in Australia, Amsterdam and China.
Champion, a professional angler who has participated in numerous events, including bass boat tournaments, took up kayak fishing in 2014.
“A friend talked me into it,” he said. “Kayak fishing in general is really growing.”
Champion said he enjoys the kayak tournaments because he believes it levels the playing field and puts more emphasis on skill.
“Ultimately we’re all just fishing out of big Tupperware bowls,” he joked. “There isn’t the same ego involved like there is with bass boat fishing.”
The cost is a lot different, too. Champion said a kayak designed for serious fishing costs about $3,500, compared to bass boats that can run upward of $50,000.
“There’s a real comradery among kayak fishermen,” he said. “Everyone is willing to help each other out. We do it because we just really love fishing.”
For the casual angler, smaller — and much less expensive — kayaks can come in handy, Champion said.
“You can throw it in the back of your truck and go anywhere,” he said. “And you can reach places you can’t get to in a boat.”
Champion said he also enjoys leisurely kayaking with his wife Chrissy and their son and daughter, Branton and Makayla.
“It can be fun to just get out and paddle,” he said. “Especially with as much water as we have around here.”
During the Hobie Bass Open in Kentucky, Champion finished the first day with 57.25 inches caught. He took a risk the second day, driving two hours to a different location. Giving up that much time on the water, however, paid off as he brought in 51.50 inches of bass. His total of 108.75 inches just edged out the 108.25 caught by the runner-up.
“The rules let you go anywhere you want as long as it has public access,” he said. “And since you’re so spread out, you take pictures of what you catch as proof.”
Champion said each competitor is given the same type of measuring board and some kind of marker that has to be in the photo to prove that the catch is part of that particular tournament.
“The photo is really just as important as catching the fish,” he said.
The bass are then released.
“It’s about taking care of the fisheries,” he added. “You let them go where they’ve lived their whole life.”
Champion and his family moved to Richmond Hill from Tennessee last year due to his wife’s employment, and aside from his pro fishing career he also works from home as director of business development for a promotional products company.
“There are a lot of great places around here to fish that I’ve found,” he said. “I’d encourage people to get out there and enjoy it.”