Cold water, pike, and a 2nd place finish, oh my!

This past weekend I headed north to MIchigan to compete in my third tournament of the season in as many states.  You may recall my first tournament of the year was in Kentucky at the Bluegrass Yakmasters Open on Cedar Creek Lake.  My second tournament was the Central Indiana Kayak Anglers/Heroes on the Water Crossroads Kayak Clash on Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis, Indiana, in which I did check in a single 13.75″ fish on a very tough day of fishing.

This particular tournament was hosted by Gull Lake Marine, a Hobie dealer on Gull Lake near Richland, Michigan.  This was a slam-style tournament with 2 biggest pike, 2 biggest bass, and 2 biggest panfish counting towards the total inches, though not all groups were required.  I’m almost exclusively a bass fisherman, so I was nervous about placing well in this format, but I figured inches would be built up by pike and figured that if I could find them I could catch them with traditional bass lures that imitate baitfish.

I did my normal preliminary planning, analyzing topographical maps and gathering as much knowledge about the lake as I could without being there. Figuring that the fish would be transitioning to the spawn soon I tried to identify certain areas that had significant amounts of shallow flats with deep water nearby. This led me to the area of an island and the surrounding coves and cutbacks. I was setup to throw spinnerbaits, hoping to capitalize by finding pike and bass with it, and also tubes and soft plastic jigs.

Upon launch, I set out to my planned destination, but two things really stuck out to me as I pedaled my way there: the water was cold and the water was very very clear. Early in the morning the water temperatures were reading right around 47 degrees. I could see bottom in 13 feet of water. As of yet I did not let this change my plan for the day.

A few other guys apparently liked the same area I did but initially it seemed they were doing more trolling than casting and retrieving. I worked a particular cutback with the spinnerbait and tube jig for a while with nary a bite. I worked from shallow out to the deep drops. Even working in shallower I wasn’t seeing many signs of life in the clear water. Then it just hit me…

Hero shot of my first pike

Hero shot of my first pike

Cold, clear water. A bit of a breeze to ripple the water and cloudy skies. Why shouldn’t I throw a jerkbait? I had a spinnerbait bait tied on to the rod I use for jerkbait fishing, so I cut it off and tied on the crack black Lucky Craft Flash Pointer I decided would be a good choice to start with. Starting in the cutback, I made my way along the edge of the long point. It wasn’t very long until my first fish was on the line, a pike that barely made the 20 inch tournament minimum. My blood was pumping as I was not only on the board but had done so with the species I knew it would take to win and the species I was least sure of catching.

My day on the water according to Navionics

My day on the water according to Navionics

I spent the next few hours working this large flat, positioning myself in 3-5 feet of water and casting out over the break and to the large dark spots marking grass beds speckling the gravel bottom. The wind was blowing me across the flat in the exact direction I wanted it to. So I’d make a pass, then sit down and pedal upwind, stand, and work it again. After catching four pike and three bass, I felt it was time to move on. Using the Navionics app to locate similar bottom contour nearby I moved only a short distance to the island and repeated the same drift and jerkbait pattern. I had similar success here, upgrading my pike and catching a second bass that met the 12 inch tournament minimum.

Rough Waters

Rough Waters

By the time I decided to move on from this next area, the wind had picked up considerably to around 15-20 mph. I also had just over 72 inches of fish to turn in. I pedaled north a bit and hit another point but only momentarily, as this area was completely unprotected from the heavy winds. It was nearing time to make my way back towards check in. I was determined not to be late, so I gave myself ample time to return and even do a little fishing on the way in the protected cove where the marina was located.

Check in time is usually an exciting part of any tournament. It’s the easiest time to strike up conversation with those I don’t yet know. This tournament did not disappoint, as I made many new acquaintances and put a few faces to names from forums and Facebook groups. I met a few guys that made the journey from Chicago, a couple of Hobie teammates from Canada and Michigan, and plenty of other awesome kayak fishermen.

The tournament went silky smooth. Gull Lake Marine, Rodney, and Dave Mull put on a great event with nary a hitch, at least from my perspective. It was announced that they’ll have a second tournament October 18th, and I’m certain I will do everything in my power to return for it. I don’t have the complete results but my 72.5″ was good for second place behind over 90 inches from Lucian Gizel from Michigan. Another big gap separated me from third place, an indication of the tough bite of the day. Big bass was Lucian’s 20 3/4″ smallmouth pig and a fisherman from Chicago took big pike at 34″, his only fish of the day.

Setting the hook

Setting the hook

This tournament was also a big milestone for me in the Hobie Pro Angler. I spent the majority of the time standing and fishing the jerkbait on the flats, allowing myself to become a rather large sail in the increasing winds throughout the day. This was also the first time I’ve actually caught fish while standing up. I can officially say that there is little that this boat can’t handle even with a large fellow such as myself inside. This tournament solidified my confidence fishing from this boat and I’m excited about the opportunities coming up to put some of this new confidence to work.

Next up is the Portside Marine event on Morse Reservoir May 17, followed closely by the Hobie Bass Open on Kentucky Lake. It’s a busy May, but I’m having an amazing time.