This kayak club has zany fishing contests

Zach Seaman won last Sunday’s treble-free fishing challenge among members of the Oakland County Kayak Fishermen club and got to keep the belt until the next challenge.    

Imagine a bass tournament with a five fish limit—and a banana. Competitors are all in kayaks and on a fairly small body of water. You must worry about more than just catching fish. Someone in the group has that banana and if they throw it in your kayak, your catch number goes to zero. Now you have to put the banana in one of the other anglers' boats.

“So basically we were chasing each other all over the lake and trying to fish at the same time,” said Dwayne Badgero, one of the first to join the Oakland County Kayak Fishermen, a four-year-old club that has a unique series of competitions for members.

It’s so unique, no one really knows what the next contest’s twist will be. Unlike most club tournaments, they have no entry fee and no cash prizes other than an optional big fish pot at some events.

Instead, competitors pay $25 at the start of the season, which gets them some decals, a OCKF shirt, and pays for a prizefighter-type belt. The winner of each tournament keeps the belt until the next contest. The second-place finisher comes up with the rules for the following contest.

They have a dozen such “challenges” a year. Other challenges have been technique specific, such as requiring all fishing be done with the drop-shot method. Others have required specific lures. One was modeled after the dart game “Cricket” with different species worth varied amounts of points.

Jason Crisp and Ryan Davidge started the club, inviting people via social media to get together and fish. From there it grew to about 30 guys and the challenges, which started last year with 12 events.

I’d heard about these challenges, and when Badgero dropped me a note and invited me to fish one, I took him up on it. Last Sunday, I made the 160-mile drive up to Seven Lakes State Park and paid $25 for an OCKF shirt and to fish for the belt.

This challenge was no trebles. We would try to catch three bass each, with total inches determining the victor, but no one could use a lure with a treble hook. It was just a four-hour contest, and most anglers, including me, found bass hard to come by. Only a few three-fish limits came out of the weedy lake, and the winner, Zach Seaman, caught three fish in extremely shallow water using a Z-Man Big TRD, a 4-inch worm.

I fished a swim jig and a Z-Man Finesse Worm in the peanut butter and jelly pattern, getting nothing but bluegill nibbles for about the first three hours. Finally something hit, ran hard for the bottom and snipped through my 6-pound test fluorocarbon line. No doubt a pike.

Two casts later in the same area another fish grabbed the little worm, taking drag and also digging for the bottom, but this one didn’t take the lure deeply enough to bite through the line. It was another pike, about 28 inches long. I released it.

Back at the “measure-in” where the participants compared their pictures of fish to figure up inches and decide the winner, the atmosphere was light, with lots of good-natured ribbing. Fourteen anglers had shown up to fish. Badgero said participation ranged from about 12 to 20.

When I got back and wrote this column I asked member Steve Katz about the banana contest. It turned out that his 14-year-old son Tyler had come up with the idea.

Tyler is the youngest member of the club, and father Steve, who mostly paddles around with a camera during challenges, credits several club members for mentoring Tyler, teaching him techniques and giving him equipment.

Tyler recently paid that forward. While fishing recently, Tyler noticed a man and a boy sharing a fishing rod on shore. Tyler gave the younger angler one of his own fishing rods.

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