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Kayak fisherman in Beltrami County is the one to beat in the North Central Region of online fishing tournament

Waters were calm on one of Mark Maule’s final kayak fishing trips for the season. Submitted photo 1 / 2
Mark Maule, known as CrappieProf in the online fishing contest, Kayak Wars, caught this northern this season. Submitted photo2 / 2

The CrappieProf is the top-ranked kayak fisherman in Minnesota — and North and South Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska!

At least that is according to Kayak Wars, an online kayak fishing tournament. CrappieProf (Mark Maule) joined the competition in January 2017. Kayak Wars goes from Feb. 18-Dec. 17 this year.

The contest concluded, leaving Maule, who lives in Blackduck, in first place in the North Central Region (those 10 states) with 7,315 points in Kayak Wars. The next closest competitor is Kayakjak with 2,240 points.

Kayak fishing isn't his job, although he takes it seriously. He holds a master of science degree in sport psychology from Capella University and is an instructor for Kaplan University.

"One of the disadvantages of living where I live in north central Minnesota, is that I miss out on two-three months of the tournament because of ice covering the water," said Maule, who was in Aitkin a few weeks ago scouting out some local lakes. "When lakes and rivers freeze over, I either have to travel south to fish from my kayak, or I will not score any more points."

Maule has been fishing since the age of 3, when he was introduced to ice fishing. As a young teen, he became interested in open water fishing.

"My mother played an instrumental role with keeping my interest in fishing as she purchased many books about fishing over the years," he recalled. "It helped me improve my success rates."

Fishing serves as a sanctuary from real-world issues, Maule added, not to mention the cardiovascular workout it offers.

The weather is always a consideration when Maule plans his kayak trips. He averages three-four trips per week of three-four hours duration. He has paddled in high winds and rain, snow and sleet.

One of his most frightening experiences happened in October. Maule paddled 30 minutes away from a landing where he parked. There were ideal conditions for about a half hour.

"I heard some trucks hauling gravel, or so thought," he said. "I thought it odd they were hauling rocks on a Saturday when it was raining, but I just kept fishing. After catching multiple northern pike and awesome bass for points in the contest, I began to paddle back to exit the lake. As I got to the narrows, a bolt of lightning struck very near in front of my kayak. At that point, I began to think of what to do next. It had been raining for hours, so I was soaked and starting to get cold. There was nowhere to take my kayak out because of my location. Even if I had somewhere to take it out, I would not have been able to spend the night as I had no gear prepared for that kind of outing.

"So, as my kayak filled with water from the rain, I decided to lie down as flat as I could and paddle back to my truck over 30 minutes away. Then another bolt of lightning struck even closer. I paddled as fast as I could lying down and when it appeared to calm a bit, yet another bolt of lightning struck near my kayak. I remember thinking, 'I made it. If I was ever not going to make it back, today would be the day' as I pulled my kayak up the landing blocks. There is no doubt in my mind that it was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had in a kayak and it taught me a good lesson to always have a survival kit on hand."

kayak wars

Kayak Wars originated in 2006 as a friendly competition between two five-man teams of Texas fishermen to determine who could catch the most saltwater fish in a year, with bragging rights being the sought-after prize. Catches were photographed and submitted online with points being awarded for various species of fish, provided they met the minimum length. The competing anglers caught a little over 200 fish that first season.

Over the last decade, Kayak Wars has evolved into the world's largest online kayak fishing tournament, with 12 regions open for competition in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Australia. By the end of the 2016 season, over 205,000 catches had been submitted.

Kayak Wars anglers take home lots more than bragging rights. Prizes are awarded to the top teams/ anglers in each region, to those who obtained certain Kayak Man points during the year, to skirmish winners and by raffle. By the end of 2016, Kayak Wars had awarded nearly $115,000 in donated prizes to over 750 different individuals. The total number of fish registered for Kayak Wars in 2017 was 30,991; 184 species were caught and photographed by anglers from all over the world.

Maule has won a $20 gift pack for second place in a Kayak Wars Spring Skirmish and will receive a pair of Salt Life Cortez Polarized Spot Optics (polarized glasses) for finishing first in the North Central Region this year.

getting the points

Maule said he pursues mostly northern pike because of their availability in his area and because they allow for more points to be gained than other species.

He also earns points for fishing largemouth, smallmouth and rock bass, bluegills, crappies, perch and walleyes. He saves some fish for eating but mostly catches and releases.

"I usually determine what I fish for based on conditions and the systems I have in place for these fish," he said. "Sometimes that means I go to lakes that are near and dear to my heart and sometimes that means I fish in places based primarily on numbers of fish anticipated instead of comfortable conditions."

Sixty percent of the fish CrappieProf registers are caught on baits he made himself.

"My two favorites are the Double G (Gator Getter) and the Boss Hawg," he noted.

Maule said being successful in a tournament like this requires a degree of competitiveness and consistency. It requires dedication, determination, knowledge of fishing concepts and an outright passion for being outdoors.