Kayak fishing hits mainstream with tournament series

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OTTAWA, Ill. — Ron Koch bowled the bass over Saturday.

A guy like me writes it that way, at least.

Koch also represents a good way to show the rise of kayak fishing and tournament kayak fishing.

Fishing his home waters of the Illinois River, Koch measured four bass at 54 inches to win the second event of the Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Tournament Series out of Heritage Harbor.

In the catch-photo-release format used by GLKF in its second year, it is a photo check-in more than a weigh-in. The top four fish (largemouth, smallmouth or white bass in this tournament) are photographed on a measuring board with a token given that day. The camera or memory card with only those four fish (fewer if fewer are caught) is given to tournament officials.

For Koch, it was a float.

‘‘I caught, like, 20 bass,’’ said Koch, who finished second last year in the same event. ‘‘I live five minutes from here.’’

Koch, who owns a construction company and the stand-alone pro bowling shop Strike Tech, put his kayak in at Marseilles and floated down.

‘‘I just have a regular kayak; I had to do it that way,’’ Koch said while looking enviously at the series grand prize of a 2014 Hobie Outback at Quest Watersports, the tournament headquarters.

The smell of grilling hamburgers and hot dogs floated around us as he gazed.

If you haven’t checked out fishing kayaks recently, you would be stunned. Modern fishing kayaks are fishing machines, not just kayaks with rod holders stuck on.

Koch’s path to kayak fishing is a recent one, too.

‘‘I just started kayaking a few years ago,’’ he said. ‘‘It is pretty cool to do creeks and rivers and be right at the water level. You can just go, and

you don’t have to pull your

boat out.’’

The season opener for the series drew 36 fishermen for a pike tournament May 2 on Lake Delavan. It turned out to be a tough opening day for gamefish in Wisconsin.

There were 24 fishermen Saturday for the bass tournament. For some, such as defending first-season champ Nick Doumel, it was tough again.

Not for Koch, who bass-fishes the pool above the Starved Rock dam regularly. His experience mattered.

He tried twistertails, which sometimes are the ticket for bass, but he found throwing a gold Rapala CountDown worked best.

As to color, he said: ‘‘I don’t know if it matters, but I always throw gold.’’

The top four places paid. Koch earned $520, plus $50 for the big fish, an 18-inch smallmouth. Phil Skoropad was second with 49.75 inches, Ted Yates third with 47.25

and Mark Rasmussen fourth with 42.75.

Next is a catfish tournament, the only one that allows bait, on July 18 out of Heritage Harbor.

‘‘I don’t know anything about catfish,’’ Koch said. ‘‘But I could ask some people.’’

Fishing is about expanding knowledge and experience.

The season finale Sept. 12 will be for Chinook, this time out of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Stray cast

The Stanley Cup Final feels like coming back into Burnham Harbor on a building northeaster and trying to hook into the harbor mouth.

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