Team of Champions – The Barracuda Challenge

Kyle Waterhouse tells the story of a Saltwater Boat Angling sweep at the 2019 Barracuda World Tour

Two of the Saltwater team, Kyle Waterhouse and editor Tim Macpherson, were invited to fish in the Navionics teams taking part in the 2019 Barracuda World Tour finals. Amazingly, both teams won their finals. Here’s their account of the fun.

Despite the Barracuda Tour being around for many years I had no idea of its magnitude. It wasn’t until I got the invite to fish for Navionics at this year’s event that I really began doing my homework. It soon dawned on me how exciting it was going to be. The tour is a catch and release event that focuses on lure fishing for bass, which is a style of fishing I really do enjoy. The number of competitors from across the world, and the level of sponsorship and organisation that goes in, really is quite staggering. With 60 boats, 120 teams and 360 anglers it would certainly be the biggest competition I’d ever taken part in and I was delighted and very humbled to be given the chance to fish.

Navionics Charts

I’ve been an advocate of Navionics for a long time; Their app and software are essential tools for serious anglers. There’s no denying how important their charts are, and I really like the company’s ethos too. They take a very personal approach to their customers and have always shown excellent support to the kayak scene that I’m part of. UK manager, Lance Godefroy is a very genuine and conscientious chap who I consider a good friend. He, and Navionics, have attended virtually all the fishing events I’ve taken part in – some commitment. So it was a pleasure to accept their invitation.

The event

The event is organised by Beneteau and is held out of Port du Crouesty, in Arzon, and would take place over eight days. It’s been marked as the biggest European ‘no kill’ fishing competition and would see upwards of 120 teams compete for the title to become the Barracuda Tour Champions. This was a title that would earn some serious bragging rights and our Navionics boat would have two teams to try and take it. Team one would be our journalists team which was made up of three anglers, including Swedish journalist and all-round cheeky chap Jonas Nordigards, Sjoerd Beljaars from Rotterdam and our very own Saltwater Boat Angling editor, Tim Macpherson.

The Teams

I would be fishing on the pro team alongside French bass guide Slyvain Garcia and Swedish pike pro Stefan Trumstedt, who, it seemed, was a bit of a celebrity. We had a great mix of nationalities and our support team consisted of around a dozen others selected by Navionics France manager, Loic Moreau. Loic is a great character and the brains behind the planning. He is a very organised manager who planned every detail meticulously –  not least the wine selection, which was fantastic! The prospect of three days of bass fishing and socialising with these guys was hard to beat especially after such a busy year, with little to no time on saltwater.

The format and a level playing field

The format for the event was quite simple, there would be two sessions a day, with each team rotating to keep it fair. The fishing ground would be split into five zones and would again be rotated. Teams wouldn’t know where they would be fishing until the briefing, just before the sessions began. There was certainly a large emphasis on keeping things fair. The teams would fish from either a Barracuda 8 or 9. The race to the fishing zone would only start once all boats had left the harbour and had reached a start point. The site of 60 boats setting of at 40 knots in a line was a site to behold. The teams were supplied with the same gear including lures and independent adjudicator boats would measure catches so there was a level playing field. This would prove to be a great test of the anglers and skipper’s skills. Bass are the main target with points awarded based on fish length and up to five bass per team being recorded in each session. All bass had to be 42cm or over to qualify and were kept in the boat’s livewell until one of the adjudicators boats was called over to measure them. As the event is strictly catch and release only, any dead fish would not count. Thankfully we didn’t encounter any issues with this and it was nice to know they took catch and release so seriously. The combined length of all bass over 42cm would then be your teams score. Longer fish could of course upgrade ones you’d already registered and a bonus of 10 points was awarded for any additional species boated, up to a maximum of 80 points, or 8 species. Interestingly the list of ‘bonus’ species seemed to be non-exhaustive and I was surprised to hear that cuttlefish, crabs and even jellyfish qualified!

Meet the team

We all met in the harbour on the Wednesday evening to run through these details during a very warm welcome party laid on by Beneteau. Their hospitality, and the mood was, excellent. There was a real buzz in the air as competitors gathered. It was a good chance to get to know the guys I’d be fishing with. It quickly became apparent that local bass fishing guide, Sylvain, was going to be invaluable. He must have felt the pressure as we grilled him for information. We all felt very confident having him on the team! We had chance that evening to go down to the boat to meet our skipper Pierrick and to check out the kit we’d be using. Our boat was a Barracuda 9 with twin 250Hp Suzuki engines and it looked awesome! Like all the other boats it was seemingly brand new and freshly decorated in stunning livery. All the boats had been wrapped in their team’s graphics and this added a really cool visual element to it all. Loic distributed our team polo shirts, jackets and caps so the whole group looked very professional. Given that most of us had only just met there seemed to be a great team bond forming and excitement levels were very high.

Day one

My team was due to fish the pm session though we all decided the night prior that we’d head down in the morning to see off our team mates and get a feel for how things worked. It was breakfast at 06:00, then the briefing and zone decision before the boats would start leaving the harbour around 07:30. Seeing the boats head out is a bit of a spectacle and big crowds would gather as the event compere called out the brands on the loud speaker. We waved off our team mates, wishing them luck and by now we couldn’t wait to get out there ourselves as it just looked so much fun. Thankfully, I kept in touch with Tim throughout the day and he sent me plenty of updates and fish photos – they were doing well and had found a few fish which really motivated us. Before we knew it we were on the boat and getting ready ourselves. Our boys had done well and caught some bass and a few other species – things were looking good. We wouldn’t be fishing in the same zone as them, though at least some fish had been caught and our skipper had managed to stretch his legs. This was it, we were off! Like a scene out of whacky races 60 Barracuda’s weaved between each other on full throttle to their chosen fishing spots. We were hurtling along at the front of the pack towards an offshore reef system just past a set of islands.

First creature

It turned out to be very tough fishing. There was virtually no tide running for the first few hours of and it didn’t feel very fishy. With nothing working desperation got the better of me and I began bumping the lure along the bottom to see if I could interest a wrasse. That would be ten points so it seemed a good ploy. Before long I got a weird bite. I lifted the rod there was something on but it wasn’t pulling back – I suspected a clump of weed. It felt heavy, so I carefully wound it up in case it was a cuttlefish –  we were desperate for any points! I was completely surprised when a big spider crab popped up with my lure in its claw! I still don’t know how it happened but it had obviously mistaken the sandeel lure for its next meal and wasn’t letting go. We now had 10 points and soon added another 20 when Stefan landed his first ever ballan wrasse (vielle in French which translates as Old Lady!) and a cheeky jellyfish. It was a slow day for us and aside from a brief encounter with a big angry garfish which avoided getting hooked, we headed in a bit deflated. We’d all wanted to do well but we returned to port with a measly 30 points.

Day 2

By now talk of my spider crab had spread among our group and I had quickly become known as ‘the Spiderman’. It was all very funny, but I knew I needed to find some fish or that nickname would haunt me. Today was a new day and we would be fishing in a new zone and on a new tide. The tide seemed to be the biggest influence on the fishing and this time it was a couple of hours into the ebb so there would be plenty of current. In fact, current wasn’t an issue at all as we were fishing in the mouth of the Gulf of Morbihan where the tide is funnelled between two headlands. The water flows at over 6 knots and I’ve never seen anything like it. It was a very crazy spot, with massive overfalls and vortexes like I’d never experienced. It was quite scary if and extremely difficult to fish. Keeping contact with the bottom was nearly impossible. We persevered for a bit though after a dozen super-fast drifts we decided to try and find somewhere easier.

Once we moved, it felt much better as the drifts were at 2 knots and there were also plenty of fish showing on the sonar. We all felt confident and it didn’t take Sylvain long to find them. He quickly gave Stefan and I a masterclass on how to do it and several bass went his way, including one over 42cm. They were obviously down there and the man who knew how to extract them was doing just that. Stefan and I copied him, but it wasn’t working for us and that day was very frustrating.

We could not get a take for love nor money and we began questioning everything. The whole day went by without a fish for either of us and it was hard as you begin to feel a bit useless! I was obviously doing something wrong and now panic was setting in as a blank could be on the cards. Thankfully Sylvain did us proud and got 2 bass on the score board for us that day, which was 85 points but nowhere near enough to put us in the running for a top five finish.

 The Silver Final


The third and final day dawned and with the other Navionics team scoring more points than us over the previous two days, they went into the Gold Final and we would compete in the Silver Final. The points from the previous two days did not count for the final and the winners on the day would win it in their category. That was a good move from the organisers and, with so many teams competing, helped keep things interesting. It was game on and I just had to catch a bass, just for my own sanity. We fished the same zone as day two, so we knew where to head having caught a few fish the day before. We weren’t fishing blind. I scaled my fluorocarbon leader right back to just 10lb, I noticed Sylvain was fishing very light too. He and I made up a load of lures with lighter jig heads for the day ahead and I was confident that these changes were going to make all the difference. I had to believe in something that day and once we were fishing it was feeling good as the lures felt like they were working better. It had felt good the previous day but I still had that vibe it was going to happen soon. I was right and about half an hour in I got a solid thump and a fish was on. All I kept thinking was “Please, don’t come off” as I knew it was a bass – the tell-tale head shakes could be felt all the way to the surface. Thankfully it did stay on and a small undersized schoolie bass was netted to a roar of applause from everyone. That fish was important to me, I was elated – the pressure was off; I wouldn’t blank. I’ve never been so pleased to see such a small bass! So, it was back down and carry on. Before long I was in again and this time it was a better one of 46cm and our first points. It was finally happening for me and I felt how I’d wanted to feel all week, confident. In angling, confidence is everything and I went on to land another three bass that day with one measured at 44cm. I couldn’t believe it, we were now hitting fish every drift and Sylvain and Stefan were also catching and we were all buzzing. By now the Kraken rum was flowing inside the cabin and skipper and crew got louder and louder throughout the day as they knew we were in for a good result and celebrating early!

We ended the Silver Final with 12 bass and five recorded for 235 points. That was a big score and for me it wasn’t just the score but also the fun we had that made this such a great day on the water. We were loud and far from discreet but were nailing the bass all day among boats that were struggling. A few very minor tweaks seemed to be the difference between another blank and a red-letter day and that is why I’ve always loved the sport. You never give up as you just never know!

We had no idea if we’d done enough though and returned to the harbour singing and dancing with beers flowing and music blasting from the speakers. It was all so much fun and couldn’t have been any different to how we all felt the previous day.

The results The rest of the day was spent relaxing with my team as we waited for the others to do their thing in the Gold Final. Thankfully they also went on to have a great day and it just seemed to go brilliantly for Navionics all round on that last day. At the awards evening we all sat eagerly for the results though we could never had imagined what was coming. Team Navionics only went and won the lot! Gold and Silver finals and both teams took to the podium to lift the trophy. We became the first ever team to win both finals and my team’s 235 points also smashed the silver final as our nearest competitor only scored 164 points. It was a safe victory and I think the pictures say it all and I really hope I get the chance to do it all again next year!