July 23rd, 2024

Canadian Evan Kung surprised to be leading Bassmaster Open standings

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on June 12, 2024.

Evan Kung, as shown in this recent image, is exceeding even his own expectations. The Pickering, Ont., native currently tops the overall Bassmaster Open standings approaching the halfway point of the '24 season. Kung says he would've been happy being within the top-20 heading into the fifth event of the year, June 20-22 at Oklahoma's Lake Eufaula. A top-nine finish at season's end will qualify Kung for the Elite Series next year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-BASS-Andy Crawford *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Evan Kung is exceeding even his own expectations.

The Pickering, Ont., resident currently leads the overall Bassmaster Open standings heading into his fifth event, June 20-22 at Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula. A top-nine finish following the ninth and final competition on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell in October would send Kung to the Elite Series next season.

He’d join Jeff Gustafson, of Kenora, Ont., Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ont., Johnston’s older brother, Cory, of Cavan, Ont., and Cooper Gallant, of Bowmanville, Ont. Gallant qualified for pro bass fishing’s top circuit in 2022 via the Opens.

“Watching Cooper was definitely the biggest inspiration,” Kung said. “To see him qualify through the Opens was a big part of me wanting to jump in and do it.

“And also to let my parents know it’s possible for a Canadian to go down there and do it.”

Kung, 24, grew up fishing largemouth bass with his father in southern Ontario’s Kawartha Lakes and the family cottage on Muskoka’s Six Mile Lake. But he readily chases smallmouths in both Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.

Kung has been a model of consistency this year, finishing no worse than 22nd and twice cracking the top-10 (ninth both times). Last year, Kung’s best finish was 14th on the St. Lawrence River at Waddington, N.Y., but his next-best result was 48th at Toledo Bend.

“Had you said I’d be leading at this point I wouldn’t have believed you,” Kung said. “I was hoping to maybe be in the top-20 or so and then have a chance to make it going into the second half.

“But it’s been crazy because after the first day of the first tournament (at Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in February) I weighed like nine pounds but things have only gone up from there.”

Partly because he’s no longer in awe of the competition.

“It was tough going to anglers’ meetings and seeing people I watched on TV growing up,” he said. “I got really nervous because you can’t believe you’re fishing against these guys and you’re asking yourself, ‘Can I compete?’

“But it helped me realize I can compete so this year I was in a much better headspace about it.”

Kung cites another reason for his impressive turnaround.

“Last year, I ran around a lot,” he said. “If I didn’t catch a fish in 10 minutes or so, I’d move but this year I’ve slowed down.

“I’ve tried to fish like I do back home and I think I’ve become more patient.”

And more trusting of his intuition.

“I have more confidence in how I’m fishing,” he said. “I go with my gut more.

“Last year if I found fish in practice I’d fish only those spots. This year I go out and take it as it comes and try to figure things out that day.”

Kung has bankrolled over US$28,000 this year. That’s important because Open events are in the United States and Kung tows his boat to each one.

Kung has sponsors but still must cover expenses which are largely in U.S. funds.

“I sleep in the truck, I’m not renting Airbnbs,” he said. “I try to keep it as cheap as possible.”

Kung competed at Lake Eufaula in June 2023, which should help this time around.

“It’s a massive lake, much of which is muddy,” he said. “There’s one clear arm that many people focus on because if you’re not from there it’s hard to fish in that mud.

“We don’t really fish anything like that (in Ontario) so I’ll probably be in the clear water. But it will be a tough tournament.”

Trouble is, Kung can’t really can’t afford a bad result.

“It took four really good tournaments to get here but it only takes one bad one to drop me way out,” he said. “So I try to take them one at a time.

“But I’m looking forward to this second half after this one because we come north (for three events with smallmouths) and it’s not super hot.”

Regardless of the lake, Kung’s approach remains constant. He focuses on landing a limit (five fish) before chasing bigger ones.

“I’d rather catch five little ones than come in with none or one,” he said. “Sometimes it takes longer to get one and I get a little stressed but after I get the first I’m a lot less stressed and once I get five I feel good.

“Then I can go look for one or two big ones.”

Kung has also learned the value of sometimes stepping away.

“If I’ve fished five-to-10 days straight, I’ll just take a day,” he said. “I might not even go into the boat or do any fishing things.

“I find when I get going too much, stuff gets unorganized and I can spin out. I like taking a break just to reset everything.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2024.

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