An extremely tight AOY competition was not decided until the TCO Championship
Twisted Cat Outdoors (TCO) recently completed their invitation-only championship on Lake of the Ozarks. Not only did they crown the 2020 Champs (Joe Bell and David Burts) they also named and honored the winner(s) of the points race which came down to the championship before being decided. Ten-Thousand dollars in cash and prizes were distributed to the top 10 teams.
The Angler of the Year (AOY) was determined by an angler’s total points in their top 5 events in the regular season plus the points gained at the championship.
“I want to congratulate all the anglers who worked so hard all year,” said tournament director Alex Nagy. It is a challenge to fish new bodies of water, changing water levels, changing weather, learning new techniques, trying different gear and electronic equipment, and taking what they learned from and by watching other anglers to improve their skills.”
Overcoming these challenges mentioned by Nagy are all key factors in becoming a great angler. All of the anglers who qualified for the championship went out of their comfort zone and worked hard to earn their spot.
The competition for AOY was tight. Going into the championship, Jake Derhake and Anthony Kulis were tied at 911 points. Brad Pruitt, Donny Moore, and Donald Moore III followed closely with 910 points. Only a few points separated the top ten.
The winds blew and the waves rolled on Lake of the Ozarks on tournament day. One competitor described the weather as “crazy” by noon as a reasonable day turned bad. The weather service recorded winds as high as 24 mph.
When all the tabulations and computations were complete the first-place prize of $6000 and the second-place prize of $2,000 was combined and split equally between Jake Derhake and Anthony Kulis. They fished the championship as a team with Wade Kaminsky and thus remained tied at the end of the competition.
One of the major reasons Kulis wanted to fish the TCO trail was to compete against Derhake who he describes as one of the best catmen out there. So, teaming up with him and fishing with Wade Kaminsky as a team made the championship an extra special event for Kulis.
“I’m sure we were joking about taking AOY in the beginning of the season,” offered Kulis. “But it wasn’t honestly until the Canton event where I got my third good finish that I thought it was possible to pull it off.”
After Canton, Kulis had some good finishes and added back some previously lost ground. Since AOY depended on the best 5 events his fortunes began to look brighter.
“Basically, being consistent and weighing in limits as the season rolled along is how I feel I got to the top of the list,” explained Kulis. “Weighing in at every tournament is a key.”
Kulis approached the weigh-ins as a learning process. He paid attention and picked up new tips and techniques. He found out, for example, how people were doing better on one type of water than another. The weigh-ins were all about what he could learn.
During the season Kulis fished with three other anglers, Andrew Hargrave, Ron Brown, and Jason Hamilton, so they contributed to his success.
In fact, the three angler/friends have a Facebook page where their fishing exploits can be followed at https://www.facebook.com/jactfishing. Kulis didn’t fish with Derhake and Kaminsky until the championship.
Kulis, along with Chris Riley, also operates I Love Monster Flatheads. A catfish site that demonstrates support for CPR, selective harvest, and catfish conservation.
“Alex’s tournaments are incredible,” concluded Kulis. “They make you work really hard in different types of water. Our team was new to tournament fishing and it was our goal to weigh in a limit at each tournament. You have to catch fish and cull the best you can to make a limit. To be honest, it’s really cool to share the AOY honor with Jake.”
Jake Derhake is no stranger to tournament catfishing. He has had good performances on the TCO trail in the past. In fact, he earned the AOY last year and finished 7th the year before that.
“I fish the TCO because the events are in the region I live in,” explained Derhake. “And also, because I like the trail and the fisheries it includes. Last year I intended to chase the points from day one. This year I wasn’t sure I would be able to and played it by ear based on my first couple finishes. I wasn’t able to fish the first tournament so I knew I’d be behind the ball if I didn’t do well quickly.”
For those anglers that seriously chase the points, it can be a challenging adventure. Derhake for example bought a new truck in the spring and it now has 16k miles on it. More than 8k were with the boat trailer in tow. Point chasing anglers spend a lot of time on the road.
Derhake was quick to recognize the importance of sponsors and family. Spending so much time on the road tends to leave a few things on the to-do list. Sponsors, partners, and family become very important in the chase.
Brian Wintergalen and Wade Kaminski were Derhake’s main partners in 2020. Wade fished the series with him last year but because of his job, he wasn’t sure of his availability to fish in 2020. Wintergalen and Kaminski have been consistent partners with him during the past 3-4 years but a change was in store for the championship.
“Me and Anthony Kulis decided to partner for the championship,” continued Derhake. “Wade joined us too. We wanted to combine our time and resources to give us a chance at the AOY. Using each other’s strengths and leaning on each other when things aren’t going to plan was important. Keeping a cool head when fishing is tough.”
The three partners went into the championship with two of them tied in the points lead. Whatever happened, they would still be tied in points. They had a strategy to try and pattern the fish with the idea they would have to call an audible if the plan did not produce. As faith would have it the plan worked and their 12th place finish allowed them to hold on to the lead and tie for the AOY honors.
“To me, the title of AOY for the Twisted Cat series is as prestigious of an award as there is in the sport,” offered Derhake. “The trail is well run and has consistently produced tournaments with large boat numbers and some of the best fishermen and women in the sport. Also, the payout percentages and prizes are the best I know of. Alex puts a lot of effort into the tournaments. Importantly, many of the tournaments take place in great places to fish with welcoming towns where there are plenty of spectators.”
It was in the middle of a night tournament that Derhake found out that he was going to be a dad. Things could be a-changing.
“I can’t help but believe that I have a good luck charm coming,” concluded Derhake. “My wife jokingly tells me that she doesn’t know if she can handle me around so much and that I’ll be able to keep fishing. However, I believe priorities might be different for next year. The outlook for chasing points for three years in a row is still to be determined.”
The Angler Team of the Year (AOY) is not about a single win, but the journey. It requires consistent performance under all kinds of conditions. In pursuing a goal like AOY, consistency wins out over total numbers. In the TCO, the champions are determined by their best five finishes during the season plus the championship. So, in the end, it doesn’t matter how many tournaments are fished, but how well anglers perform in their best six events.
Historically AOY champs are longtime, dedicated, and determined anglers that love the challenge of competition. This year the AOY ended in a tie between a seasoned angler and a relative newcomer. These two anglers were on a mission to succeed and everything they did along the way contributed to the outcome. They listen to others who have been there before and they learn from their mistakes. True champions are wiser at the end of the journey because they paid attention along the way to achieving their goal.
“This year’s points race was really fun to watch,” said Nagy. “It was the first points race TCO has been able to have with a good amount of money behind it. Thanks to our great sponsors, SeaArk, Suzuki, Marine Master Trailers, and Lix Frozen Custard we were able to offer a $10,000 points race.”
“The points race started off strong with anglers moving up and down at every tournament,” recalled Nagy. “As a tournament director, I really enjoyed watching anglers get into the sport with the same passion I had when I first started participating in tournaments. Many new anglers are coming into the sport and they have a drive that makes it really exciting to watch.”
“I enjoyed watching the competition and great sportsmanship as they worked towards earning points and qualifying for the championship. I am truly grateful to have such great anglers supporting the trail. I look forward to watching them all grow in the sport. I want to congratulate Anthony Kulis and Jake Derhake on being the 2020 TCO Anglers of the year.”
CatfishNOW joins Nagy in congratulating Anthony Kulis and Jake Derhake on an outstanding season with Twisted Cat Outdoors.
Tournament Director Alex Nagy also sent special thanks to Robin’s Resort for hosting the tournament and to all the trail sponsors and volunteers who make the trail possible.
If you want more information on Twisted Cat Outdoors, visit their website at https://twistedcatoutdoors.com.