In this interview we talk bass fishing with Bennett Kudder. Bennett is on the very successful Bryan College Fishing Team. We talk to Bennet about his overall fishing, his goals and specifically his use of two topwater baits, the Whopper Plopper 130 and the Pompadour.
How long have you been fishing?
I have been fishing my entire life. I started from a very young age inshore fishing with my dad who has always been an avid saltwater angler. In September 2011, we were in Vermont for a wedding, and I caught my first bass on lake St. Catherine. I caught it on a crankbait. I was instantly hooked because I had never caught a fish on an artificial lure until then.
After that, I couldn’t help but want to bass fish more and more. Three years later, my dad and I joined a local club called Long Island Bassmasters and started tournament fishing. While my dad introduced me to fishing, I introduced him to bass fishing because I was always reading and learning about it. I was asking him to go bass fishing instead of saltwater fishing. Like me he quickly started to love bass fishing and now it is pretty much all we do.
You have joined the very successful Bryan College Fishing Team. How much did that factor into your college decision?
I knew I wanted to fish in college and pursue a marketing degree. I also wanted to be in an area that offers several types of fisheries, especially in the southeast. I contacted Coach Keen of Bryan College and Coach High of Auburn University and visited both schools and coaches. I was very intrigued by Auburn’s impressive campus and team, but I ultimately chose Bryan College.
At the time I wasn’t sure about my decision to go to a small Christian liberal-arts college but now I can confidently say I made the right decision. I love the fact that Bryan is right on Lake Chickamauga. I love how close the teammates are to each other and the coach. Also, it doesn’t hurt that since my decision they have won Cabela’s school of the year, the Bassmaster National Championship, and the Bassmaster College Bracket. I would love to qualify for the Bassmaster National Championship every year that I fish in college. It is a dream of mine to fish professionally, and I think that college fishing is the surest route to realize that dream.
What have been your favorite waters to target largemouth bass?
Candlewood Lake and Mahopac Lake are my home lakes. They are very pressured and usually fish pretty tough, but both can yield jaw dropping bags of largemouth and smallmouth. Currently, Candlewood holds my personal best largemouth at 6lbs 3oz which is a trophy fish for my neck of the woods. Candlewood is special to me because it is the biggest lake in my area and receives the most pressure. Therefore, anytime I catch a fish from this lake I feel very rewarded because fish do not come easy from here.
Of course, moving south and fishing Lake Chickamauga has been a substantial change from what I am used to. I like Chickamauga because the fish are so much bigger than back home. You never know what a day on Chickamauga will hold from 49lb bags to the 15lb state record. I also like that this lake is teaching me different things than my home lakes such as fishing ledges and fishing for current-oriented fish.
You also appear to love catching big smallmouth bass. What have been your favorite waters to target smallmouth bass?
Candlewood lake and Mahopac Lake definitely have my heart for smallmouth right now. My personal best smallmouth is also from Candlewood at 4lbs 2oz, which I am hoping to break this year. I love catching smallmouth on swimbaits, jerkbaits, topwater and crankbaits on both these lakes. Sometimes I’ll throw a dropshot, but I really love to power-fish for smallmouth on these lakes.
I have also fished some famous smallmouth fisheries like the St. Lawrence River and Henderson Bay of Lake Ontario, however, I did not experience the fishing that makes these places so well known. I blame this partly on the limited range and electronics of the boat I was using, but also, they are just so vast and finding the fish can be very difficult.
You recently fished the Brandon Card Open in December. You said it was your first time on Lake Norris and that you learned a lot. How did you do in the tournament and how was the fishing?
The fishing was super tough with a winning weight of 7lbs. Nobody caught a limit and many people failed to bring back a single keeper, myself included. Neither me nor my partner were familiar with this lake and we decided to stay close to the launch and just fish all day. We caught plenty of shorts, which can be extra frustrating when the minimum length on smallmouth is 18 inches.
Norris is definitely like no other lake that I’ve been on. It taught me how to fish a lake like that and most importantly it made me confident with a 2.8″ Keitech which I have never used before that day.
On the other hand, Ronnie Moore captured some good photos of me fishing, and even catching a fish. I was super pumped to see myself on Bassmaster.com.
How have you been transitioning to southern ledge fishing?
Chickamauga has very different ledges than the ledges I’m used to back home. At home our ledges are smaller and do not have heavy current on them. My favorite ledge bait is a jig, and I like to work it from the top of the ledge to the bottom.
I noticed you throw big Whopper Ploppers. When and how do you throw this big topwater bait?
I actually only own the 130 size. I know plenty of people who use the smaller sizes under calm conditions, but I feel more confident with a spook. I like to use the 130 when there’s just a little bit too much surface commotion for a spook. When it comes to topwater, I think bass are less afraid of a bigger lure. I don’t know why but that’s just what I’ve noticed.
I use one rod for all my topwater hardbaits. It’s a Dobyns Fury 7ft MH Moderate Fast which was made for treble hook baits. It has enough flex to throw a finesse popper a long way, and enough backbone to throw 5” spooks and the Whopper Plopper 130. Also, it has a very soft tip for working these baits and keeping the fish hooked.
The reel I use for that setup is a Lew’s Tournament MB Speed Spool in the 7.5:1 gear ratio. Despite being one of my least expensive reels, I am blown away by how far it can cast everything from a finesse popper to the Whopper Plopper 130. Part of the reason I can do this is because I have it spooled with 30lb braid and a 4 foot leader of 15 pound monofilament.
You will also go opposite and throw the Pompadour. When and how you are throwing this bait?
I throw the Jackall Pompadour on the same setup as the Whopper Plopper. I prefer the Pompadour when I don’t have to call the fish as far, such as in shallow water, right over submerged grass, or casting specifically at targets. The Pompadour can make just as much commotion without all the noise. It flails and splashes around which can still attract fish from a distance but not spook the ones right below it.
You had the chance to Marshall for Bassmaster. What were those experiences like?
The first event I marshaled was the 2016 Cayuga Lake Elite Series. I marshaled Jacob Powroznik on day 1. He made a top 5 by sight fishing the whole event. It was amazing watching the sight fishing master do his thing and he really taught me a lot. He was even nice enough to have me come up on the front deck and watch a fish position and react to his bait. On day 2 I marshaled Keith Poche. He taught me 2 ways of using a senko that I have never tried. Finally, on day 3, I marshaled Edwin Evers and I got to watch him flip grass as deep as 13 feet which is a big summertime technique on my home lake.
The second event I marshaled was the 2017 St. Lawrence River Elite Series. I marshalled Dustin Connell on day 1. He was a blast to be with and to talk about college fishing with. In fact, the day I was with him, he took over the race for the ROY title which he eventually won. On day 2, I marshaled Fred Roumbanis. Watching him frog fish and throw a spinnerbait next to reeds was really cool. On day 3, I marshaled James Elam who ended up with a top 5 in the event. Watching him fish for main-river smallies on big humps and submerged islands taught me about boat positioning, and how those fish use that structure as a current break.
The last event I marshaled was the 2017 Lake Champlain Elite Series. On day 1 I marshaled John Crews. He did everything from run up a small river and flip for largemouth to smallmouth fish in the main lake. He is such a versatile angler and does some really interesting things when it comes to modifying his baits. Lastly, on day 2 I marshaled Keith Combs. He was really cool to be in the boat with and dropped some wisdom on me about college fishing and pursuing my dreams.
I really love the marshaling program as it is a great way for any angler to learn from the best anglers in the world. The only way I can describe it is like being on the sidelines of a NFL game, except you’re the only one there. It’s really cool because you get to see things that the cameras don’t. You’re there to fist bump them after each fish they land. I’m not sure if I will marshal a 2018 event but I’m considering either the Kentucky Lake or Chesapeake Bay event.
It is obvious to me that this young man is soaking himself into the sport. His future appears very bright, and I have the feeling we will be hearing the name Bennett Kudder much more in the future. Bennett can be followed on Instagram @bennet_kudder_fishing.