No 'gators' grabbed in contest

Writer Dave Mull took a selfie with this “pike,” which was really a carp he caught in a kayak pike tournament earlier this month.

GALESBURG – Thanks to a nifty smartphone app that randomly selects numbers, all of the tournament entry fees in the Second Annual Mainstream Outdoors Kayak Gator Grab were awarded. Otherwise, we’re not sure what would have happened to the $25 each of the six of us contestants put into the kitty. None of us had caught a “gator,” meaning northern pike, in the five hours we spent in our kayaks on Morrow Pond.

I’ve written before about Morrow Pond, a 1,000-acre impoundment of the Kalamazoo River. It’s a vast, green space with little shoreline development just beyond the city limits of Kalamazoo. One sees eagles, ospreys and other wildlife here. Notable that Sunday morning was a peregrine falcon I saw flying above the out-of-service, decrepit electric plant at the dam. The lake is known for its many northern pike, but they proved evasive that day.

It was a long, cold and windy day for most of us. My high point was when a pike bit my lure off in typical lightning-fast fashion, so I at least had a pike encounter. I also caught a bass that ended up taking the “big bass pot” of the competition. It was 13 1/2 inches long. Mike Snay of Dowagiac caught the only other target species of the day, with a 13 1/4-inch bass. Mine was worth $30. We were able to enter bass shorter than Michigan’s legal size limit of 14 inches as we photograph the fish on a bump-board ruler and let it go.

To show the diversity the Kalamazoo River offers, Jake Kimmel of Battle Creek caught the biggest fish of the day, a 24-inch walleye.

I also experienced the fun and excitement of thinking I was going to catch a pike. I had tried all sorts of lures, and finally resorted to a large, rubber skirt black-and-blue jig. This is not considered a regular pike lure, but I’ve caught pike on this sort of jig while bass fishing more than once.

As time wound down in the tournament, I fished the jig in an area not far from the dam. My Humminbird Helix 5 sonar showed weeds and quite a few fish in 8 feet of water — one of the deeper parts of this shallow lake, which probably averages 4 feet deep. So I was determined to stay around these fish and see if I could make one bite in the 40-degree temps of the afternoon.

Shortly after I cast and let the jig settle to the bottom, I lifted my rod tip and just felt something “different.” Like maybe a fish had delicately picked up the lure but wasn’t moving at all with it. So I set the hook and immediately felt that back-and-forth movement that a pike makes, violently shaking its head when first hooked. Then, again like a pike, the fish shot off on a short run, strong enough to pull drag from my baitcast reel.

“Oh boy, if no one caught a pike, this fish might sweep the contest!” I thought to myself.

The fish put up a valiant battle, but little by little I started winning, bringing this tough, cold-blooded creature closer and closer to the surface. Finally the fish was close enough to make a boil right next to my kayak, and I pulled up, net ready, expecting to see a green, toothy maw.

Instead I saw a medium-sized brown tail.

It was a carp that apparently bumped my line, whereupon with hair-trigger reflexes (that’s a joke) I had impaled in its underside a couple of inches from where its tail fin began. I netted it, took a selfie and released it.

I was really disappointed at that moment, envisioning 75 dollar bills slipping through my fingers. But then I was kind of proud that I did feel that little something and had set the hook. Admittedly, that’s a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at dave.sportfish.mull@gmail.com.