Our very own Mark Rasmussen took home not only the first prize for longest three fish, but the big fish prize as well. He landed a dandy 33.75" Northern mid-day to seal his victory. The story of Mark's day follows.
Other than Salmon-a-rama 2014, this was my first kayak fishing tournament. I had no idea what to expect going into it. I asked the directors at least 20 questions going into it on how the tournament worked, how we measure fish longer than 30" on a Hawg Trough, etc. This was a different animal, and I wanted to do well.
With the tournament being at Delavan Lake, I had to do a little research into it. I had never fished Delavan Lake, so I spent a couple weeks checking out fishing reports, checking lake maps, and using the Fishidy website to find areas that might be worthwhile to fish. I made the decision to make the 3+ mile trek to get to the southern portion of the lake to fish a river outlet and the bays, which would hopefully have some good weeds. Luckily, I have a few lakes nearby that are similar to Delavan, so I drew off those experiences. I figured the water temperature would be 55 degrees and was hoping pike would either be in the weeds, or along the break near the weeds. My game plan would be to troll to the south, using firetiger and perch colored size 14 husky jerks shallow and similar colored shad-type baits along the edge. Once I found some good-looking weeds or productive areas, I'd cast spinners, spoons, and jerk baits to try entice a strike. I actually figured it'd be pretty easy to catch pike on this lake. Boy, was I wrong.
I got to the launch area around 5:45am, about 45 minutes before the shotgun start. I happened to pull up right behind fellow Trout Mafia member Kalvin and we unloaded our gear. I got more nervous as each minute passed, and was overwhelmed by the amount of anglers and some of the setups. There was only a handful of us that would be using a paddle kayak, the rest had Hobies or Natives that were pedal-driven.
When the whistle blew at 6:30, I sprinted to the south and tried to find the edge to setup my gear to start trolling. Some other anglers got position on me so I was trolling unproductive water for a while until one hooked up with a small smallmouth bass. I got into position and made my way. The water was crystal clear and I was looking for good weed beds as I worked 8-12 feet of water. I found some weeds at about 7:30 as one of my lures snagged some cabbage weeds in about 7 feet of water. As I stopped to yank that lure out of the weeds, my other rod with a firetiger husky jerk started pulling, and I set the hook! I reeled in a small northern pike, about 23". It was a relief to get the skunk out of the box. I started casting that area, hoping to hook into another, but didn't have any luck. I moved on.
I kept trolling down towards the outlet, near another launch. Once I got down there at about 8:30, the weeds popped up and it got shallow pretty quickly. I started to reel one of my lines to keep it out of the weeds. As I did that, I hooked some weeds and yanked it out. SMACK. I was hooked up again, this time with a smaller 22" pike. I watched a fellow yakker, Don, catch 2 smaller pike in the same area, so I started casting. Again, no more luck, so I moved onto the bays.
I worked the weed edges and over the tops of the weeds with spinners, spoons, jerkbaits, and a jig and grub, but couldn't get anything to connect. I saw Kalvin and he had caught a 24" earlier, but hadn't caught anything else. Talking to some of the boaters, they said the pike were active early, but it had shut down. This wasn't a good sign, and I began thinking about working the west shore back to the launch.
At about this time, the wind was picking up out of the south, so I started drifting back in about 15 feet of water, trolling a couple shad raps and casting a lipless crank towards the shore. Nothing was working. I was beginning to panic a bit, realizing I had only caught two small snakes. I knew it was slow, but figured at the very least I'd need a 3rd fish to get in the money. I decided to throw on some tail dancers to work deep water. This is something I generally do in summer to target fish on the deep weed edge down about 20-30 feet of water. I've had a lot of success doing this, catching pike up to 38" the previous summer on one of my home lakes of Big Cedar. Maybe the sunlight and boater pressure had moved some of the quality fish deeper?
There were definitely some big marks on my fish finder from 20-30 feet of water down towards the bottom, but I had no idea what they were. With the wind picking up, floating weeds were everywhere and I had to keep a close eye on my rod tips to make sure my lures weren't fouled up. Just before noon, my rod doubled over. My first glance was at my fish finder to make sure I hadn't snagged bottom. My second glance was back at the rod as I saw it start pumping. I set the hook and the battle was on. The fish stayed down for a while and I just was praying it wasn't a muskie (this is a pike tournament, after all). Once I got a glimpse of the fish, I realized it was a very nice pike. After seeing only two small pike all day, this girl looked monstrous. As I was fighting it, I thought about how much money this fish could be worth! She made a few runs, but 5 minutes later, and a pretty mediocre job with my small net, she was by my side. I got the lure out and paddled to shore to get a good picture of her on my Hawg Trough. She was just under 34", my second largest pike I've ever caught.