The One That Got Away

For some people, participating in a tournament adds an element of excitement to their fishing.  Other anglers like to explore lakes in a relaxed, quiet fashion – often by canoe or kayak. But putting two together? A canoe/kayak fishing tournament? Turns out it makes a terrific combination. And, that’s exactly what I did in Mercer on Labor Day weekend.

I have fished plenty in my life, but I have very little experience with fishing out of a kayak. Josh Lantz, Dave Mull and myself did our best at the first annual Mercer Can-Yak Fishing Tournament. We called ourselves the Swim Whizz Research Team.

Most tournaments require some level of strategy. Those who are prepared have a better chance of succeeding. Planning for this unusual tournament was part of the fun. Lantz and I stayed up late the night before making sure all of our rods were rigged. And we had to have different rods and reels because the tournament format allowed for multi-species catches from panfish to the biggest of game fish.  Catching a bakers dozen of panfish, walleyes, bass, northern pike, and muskies sounded like an easy task. The bag limit for the Can-Yak Tournament included nine panfish and four game fish, with each inch being awarded four points.

Organization is hugely important while kayak fishing. This is a catch-photo-release tournament and that requirement added a challenging variable that made things even more tricky, but it also made the fishing part an awful lot of fun.  A clear photo had to be taken by cell phone, with the fish placed on the assigned board issued the tournament organizers. The fish’s mouth had to be butted up to the end of the board, with its tail pinched. That measurement is then placed on the daily fishing card that was assigned at check in. If the bunk board wasn’t in a convenient place and phone wasn’t readily available, there was no way the fish would make it to the score sheet. I had several instances of the slippery fish bouncing off the board and under my seat. Can you believe I didn’t fall out of my kayak, or drop my phone in the lake? Neither can I. Catching the fish is only half the battle while fishing in a kayak tourney. 

Any lake that is legally accessible in Iron County south of Hwy. G was fair game. I knew the locals would have an advantage of knowing which lake held the best fish. Since the scoring relied solely on inches, Lantz and I spent our time trying to find crappies and pike the first day on Echo Lake. That first day was a rough one. We finally found a school of crappies at 10 a.m. We had a lot of work to do with a 3 p.m. deadline . Originally we planned to find a school and catch our nine panfish one right after another. Nothing to it, right? It just didn’t happen. We tried minnows, Gulp and every trick in the book. Our plan of catching sizable panfish early on and then going after our four game fish just didn't happen. To make matters worse, the wind blew hard all day, making it difficult to hold the kayaks in place.

Kristen Monroe measures a largemouth bass for Mercer’s Can-Yak Fishing Tournament.I paddled away from Lantz and tried my luck for pike in the reeds. While casting a weedless spoon I tricked a nice pike. The grin on my face didn’t last long after seeing the bird’s nest in my baitcaster. Darn! I stayed calm and got the knot out. I figured I would lose the fish, though. Nope, I had another chance. After reeling vigorously again  he was only a few feet from my kayak. Suddenly my reel stopped working. My bird’s nest wasn’t there anymore, so surely there must have been a deeper issue with my reel, but there was no time to figure it out right then. Grabbing my braided line by hand, I desperately tried my best to pull the pike into the boat ice-fishing style. I didn’t really see a pike, all I saw were some much needed “inches" at that point. Maybe that was the problem. The esox lucius slipped off at the last second. 

Mull had been texting photos of decent bass the entire first day from another lake, so on Day Two, Lantz and I changed our plan. We decided to fish Lake San Domingo right behind the Great Northern Motel. At this point we were so far behind our new game plan changed to “just have fun."  I hooked several nice bass longer than 15 inches.  Lantz caught a few sizable fish as well, including an 18-inch bass that never saw the camera lens. It jumped off the board right before Lantz hit the shutter button. Mull nearly caught the biggest crappie of his life and missed the net by only an inch. We all had “the one that got away." 

Swim Whizz Research Team ended forth overall. We had a blast and finished the day listening to Joe Bucher and the Top Raiders play some great music in a tent behind the Great Northern Motel. Best of all, we met a ton of new friends and saw some old ones, too.  What a fantastic way to end the summer. 

Categories: Blog Content, WisBlogs, Wisconsin – Kristen Monroe

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