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This past july I drove up to the great state on michigan to compete in one of the Michigan Kayak Anglers trail events. In my humble opinion these events have some of the toughest competition yet are run seamlessly. I drove up two days prior to the event in order to prepare for this open range event. For this particular tournament all rivers feeding the kalamazoo river within fifty miles of the check in were eligible along with several lakes within the same radius. In simpler words, I had a very large amount of water at my disposal and only two days to find the fish.

In the first day of practice I elected to cover a variety of water and check out Austin lake, Portage lake and several different spots along the river. Even before I made my first cast in practice I was somewhat leaning towards fishing on one of the rivers solely due to my love for smallmouth; however, I knew the big fish producing reputation of the lakes in the area would require me to find some bigger fish in order to stay competitive. In my quest to find a spot for the tournament I found myself standing at the boat ramp of Austin lake. I launched my Cuda HD and went to work. Almost immediately I noticed that the lake was very shallow and that there was minimal cover. Surprisingly the fish didn’t seem to care and I boated a half dozen fish in just a few minutes. Unfortunately all of them didn’t reach the MKT minimum of twelve inches. I moved offshore to the deeper water with a weed bed and fished for roughly an hour. In that time I had boated only one keeper at fourteen inches and made up my mind that Austin lake isn’t going to be where I fish the tournament. It was already mid afternoon at this point so I decided to pack up shop and drive about half an hour over to portage lake. I pulled up to the boat ramp and find a very promising looking lake. The water had several feet of visibility and the entire shore of the lake was made up of lily pads. I have a thing for fishing lily pads so I was somewhat Intrigued as to how this lake would fish. Eagerly I again loaded up the Cuda HD and hit the water. After a few casts into some prime looking gaps in the lily pads and a short paddle through I confirmed my suspicions that there weren’t any fish up shallow except for those pesky bowfin. Knowing this I switched my tactics to the deep water and again I was only rewarded with one scorable bass. There I had it, two whole bodies of water were now eliminated. At this point in the day I had about 3 hours of sunlight left. So yet again I packed up shop and thought about the next spot to try. I didn’t have any specific spot in mind so I consulted, every anglers best friend, google maps. I looked at the north branch of the Kalamazoo river and found a small and almost hidden boat ramp that was only a short drive away. So, logicly, that’s where I decided to spend the rest of my day. For the third time that day I hit the water. For some reason unbeknownst to me that entire section of river was abouluty on fire, with dinks. I caught about thirty smallmouth in just those few hours of daylight left but not one fish was over fifteen inches.

Back at the campsite for the night I contemplated the options that I had discovered that day and my game plan for the next. The river very obviously had fish in It but not the size I wanted so I figured that my next day of practice will be spent solely on the river.

I woke up for day two of pre fishing and drove out to a new spot along the river. This area was located in downtown kalamazoo at a place called Verburg Park. I fished there for a few hours going roughly half a mile up and down stream. Surprisingly this section of the river

was significantly less productive than the last area that I fished. So off I went. My plan was to work my way to different boat ramps up river so that I could see most of the river. The next stop was actually not on the river. It was on a reservoir formed from a dam up river. So I drive up to this reservoir and I knew Immediately that it would not be worth my time to fish. Standing on the ramp looking out at the reservoir all I could see were large waves and very muddy water. From there I literally turned around and left without making a cast. At this point It was seeming that I was out of options. I drove father up river to another spot on the north branch and had almost Identical results to Verburg Park. By then I was out of out of Ideas so I went back to the spot where I caught a bunch of fish the day before and I put the Cuda HD in the water yet again. By now I was just fishing for fun and not in preparation for the tournament. Once I hit fortyish smallmouth for the day I set my goal on reaching one hundred! Well about 4 hours later I had landed 106 smallmouth none of which were over fifteen inches but I had five exactly at fifteen. I was honestly quite proud of myself and considered that achievement validation for the drive all the way to Michigan. On my way back in I even landed a pb Pike at thirty four inches. Needless to say I was in a better mood.

That evening at the camp I made the decision to fish that same stretch of river. My reasoning behind this was that five 15 inch fish wouldn’t put me out of the race. I figured that anything could happen and I could even win if I had a 75 inch limit.

The morning that I had been anticipating the last few days was finally there. I pulled up to my spot over an hour early just in case there were going to be other anglers there. I rushed to set up my gear and got the kayak on the ramp and ready to go with 50 minutes before first cast. So with nothing to do I sat on the ramp in the pitch black and waited to see if anyone would show up. Of the 71 anglers in the event not one of them showed up to the ramp I was at. The clock hit 6:30 and it was game time. Almost instantly the fish were biting. I put dink after dink in the boat. A few of them were scoreable but most weren’t. After a short while I hooked a fish that felt a little better that the small ones I had been catching. After a short fight I had it on the board.

It was a 15.5 inch smallmouth, the biggest bass that I had seen so far.

I was pretty excited since I had a decent fish and a limit. A quick check of the leaderboard and to my surprise I was leading the event with 71.25 inches! It was less than an hour in and I was the only one with a limit. Feeling pretty good at this point I got back to fishing. Ten minutes later I landed another solid fish at 15.25 inches and culled my total up to 74.25 inches. At this point it was only an hour into the tournament and I was only .75 inches from the goal that I had set the day before. Another fifteen minutes go by without a cull so I decided to switch baits. I sent a fluke soaring towards a deep hole in the river and I let it sit on slackline. I watched my line move down stream as the fluke tumbled in the current when all the sudden it stopped moving. It sat there for a second ad then to my surprise it started going back up stream! I set the hook hard and it stopped dead in its tracks and jumped. I immediately knew that it was bigger than 15! A quick fight later and it was in the net and then on the board. That fish went


17.5 inches and culled me up to 78 inches!

At this point I was pumped to say the least. I took a minute to calm down and check the leaderboard. Again to my surprise I was still leading. In fact I was still the only one with a limit. For the next hour or so things began to slow down. I culled a few more times but not by much. At about 9am I made the cast that would change my day. With the fluke again I fired it into a deep hole in the river that I had been fishing all day. I had already caught multiple smaller fish out of this spot so I wasn’t expecting much. The current was pretty strong so my bait quickly drifted down river only to abruptly stop. Remembering what happened last time I immediately set the hook but there was nothing there. I paused for a second, my bait still in the water, slightly confused about what happened. I shrugged it off and began to reel my fluke in to make another cast when I felt the unmistakable weight of a fish on the end of my line. Setting the hook a second time I instantly knew that I had a big fish! My first though was pike, but before I even had a chance to second guess myself an absolute monster smallmouth came soaring out of the water! I fought it hard for every inch of line. After what seemed like a blur because of the adrenaline I had this monster in the net. As I put the fish on the board my heart skipped a beat when I saw the tail hit that 19.75 inch mark. Right then and there I knew that I had a shot to win.


A few quick pictures and she was back in the water.


The first half of my tournament was somewhat laid back. I wasn’t fully in the tournament mindset but after landing a giant smallmouth it was an entirely different ballgame. Times like these are when I depend on my kayak most. With my Cuda HD I had nothing but confidence. I knew that I needed to move back upstream past the ramp so that I could float back down and then unload at the ramp. So I set off. A game time decision to paddle a mile and a half against a swift current. On of my favorite things about the Cuda HD it that in a swift current it tracks straight as an arrow. I had no problem whatsoever paddling that far up river.

Once I got to the spot I liked I started fishing. On my very first cast into this spot with a ned rig I hooked another big fish! Like the ones before it, this fish would not give in. It took a few minutes to get her in with the light line but dang it was worth it! An 18.25 inch smallmouth to add to my limit. By this point I knew that I had a very good chance at winning but there were several other great anglers right on my tail and I couldn’t rest easy. The leaderboard when down and I started to head back to the ramp. On the way in I picked up one final cull. A decent 16 inch smallmouth to bring my five fish limit to 87.25 inches!


A short while later I found myself standing at the check in holding that First place trophy! I was beyond excited to be able to bring home a big win in michigan and represent Jackson Kayak while doing so. Looking back at this tournament almost seems like a dream. The biggest win thus far in my fishing career came from a spot where I had little success in the two days prior. In two whole days of practice I didn’t land a single fish over 15 inches but in the short time of that tournament I put up a limit of 87.25 inches. That’s an average of 17.5 Inches. To say the least, It was a happy drive back to Indiana. That trip was easily the highlight of my 2018 season. What an awesome experience. 

– Aidan Darlington