Saturday, August 6, 2011

FLW Green Bay Recap – SOFA Not So Comfortable

After the rules meeting was completed I headed back to the hotel to finish my preparation for the opening day of the tournament. To say I was I little anxious would be an understatement. After five days of being on the water I knew it was going to be boom or bust. I did not sleep well as I was wondering if the fish I was catching were going to be waiting for me in the morning.

Day 1

I was in the first flight, which meant I was one of the first to go out and would be one of the first to weigh-in. I ran about 15 miles south of the takeoff and set up on a mudflat outside of Geano’s an area that reminds of the S.O.F.A. (Strategic Offshore Feeding Area) from Shark Week on National Geographic Channel. Early in the morning there were a fair amount of boats fishing the flat but not near as many as there were two days prior during pre-fishing. By 10 AM most of the field fishing the area moved in much shallower. I had been fishing out further than most and basically had the area I wanted to fish by myself.

I caught a 21” walleye around 8:30. This was a disappointment as I had not caught a walleye under 23 inches in this area but I decided to put it in the live well anyway.  I continued to work my waypoints but it was becoming obvious that the fish I was catching have moved.

I could have moved into the large group of boats that were working from Little Long Tail Point up to Geano’s but I don’t like fishing in big groups. I knew they were catching fish in there but I think the fish they were catching had been there. I did pre-fish some of the area but I don’t believe the fish I was catching would have moved in. The problem was it is a big, big area so I had to cover a lot of water to find them.

I kept looking with only drum to show for my efforts. Finally I went through one of my primary areas but a little further out and I caught a 4-1/2 pounder. Too little and too late, I headed back to the weigh-in with my tail between my legs.

The leaders were around 30 pounds and many in the top 10 were fishing down by Geano’s. Even though I only caught two fish I thought I could turn it around on day 2.

Day 2

I spent the morning as I left off Day 1, fishing the area where I had caught my last fish. I was marking fish but I just could not get them to bite. I tried everywhere in the water column and fished new spots, nothing was working.

What happened next summed up my tournament fishing season. I moved in a little closer to the pack of boats and fished the inside edge of my primary area. There was a dead drum that was floating in the water close to my planer boards. If you are not familiar with a planer board it is a plastic board that is used to move the line to the side of the boat.  This allows an angler to fish with several rods with out tangles. The more line let out the further the board is from the boat. The line from the 9ft rod angles down to the board, which was about 75 feet from the boat. A seagull flies right over the boat and swings in to pick up this dead drum. Much to the surprise of the seagull, and myself, the seagull gets caught in the line between the rod and the board.

I had my co-angler reel in the seagull. I cut the line behind the seagull and tied the line to a rod holder. My co-angler had me hold one wing of the bird as he held the other. He then worked on unraveling the line. In the process the not so happy seagull was biting him. How this bird got so tangled I will never know but, after about 5 minutes, he was able to remove the line and the seagull flew off unharmed.

Are you kidding me? I am on Green Bay, it’s 11 AM and I have caught more seagulls than walleyes? I could do nothing but laugh. What else can you do?

Believe it or not I did not have a walleye at 3:30. I thought the fish would follow a break line and move north so that is where I spent most of the two days fishing. I finally moved east and immediately caught a 4-1/2 pounder and it was time to leave. Shortly before I caught that fish I saw a really nice fish caught. I think I finally found them and they were less than a mile away. I should have known that as I was given a clue with the second fish I caught on day one. That fish was about a ½ mile east of my main spots. I fished that area again with no luck, I think they slipped out another ½ mile.

As disappointing as my finish was, and I was very disappointed, I feel I gave myself a great chance. When fishing at this level the margin of error is so small. Fishing by myself, and a changing pattern makes it even more difficult. However, I am not making excuses. I pre-fished this tournament almost perfect. The only thing I would change is spending Wednesday in my primary area.

Knowing how long to fish your primary spot prior to a tournament is something that I have always struggled with. In an area as big as the area I was fishing fish will roam depending on the movement of baitfish. If I would have been fishing structure that would have been a different story as those fish are more likely to be on the same spot with subtle movements relating to wind.

This tournament concluded my worst year ever. To use a baseball reference I felt like I was hitting line drives right at the opposition (Atom Balls we use to call them), knowing if the ball was a foot one way or the other it would be a hit. I am getting close and am hoping to “break out” next year!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

FLW Green Bay Pre-Fishing

FLW Green Bay Pre-Fishing 7/16/11-7/20/11

I had high hopes going into my last “major” tournament of the year. I was not teaming with anyone for this tournament so I knew that I had to have a strong pre-fishing plan to cover as much water as possible in an efficient manner.

To cover as much water as possible I was able to get at least one of my friends to fish with me each day. This allowed me to double the amount of lines (3 baits per person) I could use. This is critical when fishing Green Bay as the walleyes can be anywhere in the water column and this allowed me to have baits from close to the surface to the bottom.

The consensus was 25 pounds a day would most likely be enough to make the top 10 cut. This turned out to be right on. Because I was not fishing all four FLW events points were not important. I needed to find fish that would produce a five-pound average.  Fish smaller than 22 inches need not apply!

Saturday, July 16

My friends Mark Michael and Chad Setterholm joined me as we launched out of Bay Shore Park on the eastern shore. The launch was packed and there was a big group of boats working the Vincent Point area. We stay out of the group and worked areas north and west. There was plenty of activity but most were Drum with a couple of small walleyes mixed in.

The highlight of this area was hooking into a trophy Muskie. I was running an 1-1/2 oz. bottom bouncer with crawler harness and a number 7 Hildebrand blade on the inside rod. I had a perch or drum short hit the bait so I reeled it in to check the crawler. We were fishing in 20 feet of water. With about 10 feet on the line counter a Muskie that was in the 50-inch range slammed the harness. I had the Muskie to the surface and close to the net three times. He eventually made a run and was threating to tangle a bunch of my lines so I thumbed the spool. Soon after he busted off and was gone. It would have been nice to get a photo but I had more important things to do, I needed to find big walleyes!

We then headed over to the area just south of Geano’s reef. This area had at least 100 boats fishing from Little Long Tail point up to Geano’s. I don’t like fishing in big crowds but we started on the 20 foot break and caught a 21” walleye and then a ton of drum. We knew there were fish in the area but we wanted to get away from the crowd so we headed out to the S.O.F.A. off of Geano’s reef.

What is the S.O.F.A.? I watched shark week on the National Geographic channel over the winter.  Scientists tracked Great White Sharks to an area in the middle of the ocean north of Hawaii. They thought the area was too deep for life and could not figure out why the Great Whites would winter there. It turns out the sharks were feeding on giant Octupus. They ended up calling it S.O.F.A., which stands for the Strategic Off Water Feeding Area. Although the area off from Geano’s is not really deep (23’-27’) it reminded me of the S.O.F.A as it is in the middle of nowhere. One thing is for sure the walleye’s are there because there is plenty to feed on!

We marked plenty of bait fish and walleyes. It did not take long until we started catching nice walleyes. In a little over three hours we caught 12 walleyes between 22” and 28”. Our biggest was 8-03 and our best five probably weighed a little over 30 pounds. We didn’t even spin on these fish to work them again! The good news is these are tournament winning fish. The bad news is the tournament does not start for five more days. Finding the potential winning fish on the first day of pre-fishing is often the kiss of death. Oh how I wished the tournament started tomorrow! Even though most of the boats were fishing to the south and west of us I was also concerned about fishing pressure, which could make things tougher during the tournament.

Sunday, July 17

Feeling pretty good after a great day on Saturday, we decided to launch out of the tournament launch in Oconto. I wanted to see what was going on up north so we headed to Green Island, which is east of Marinette. The wind was out of the south, which is perfect for Green Island. There were 6-7 boats working the south face of the island and so were a bunch of seagulls, pelicans and cormorants. The area was loaded with alewives both alive and dead. We worked the area hard with no success so I ruled out that area for the tournament and we headed to the weeds just north of Oconto.

After several passes it was clear the walleyes were not in this area. Because I was not working with anyone else and I had to make a choice of fishing north or south I decided it was best that I put more time in down south. I dropped Mark and Chad off and headed south. I tried several new areas with only one walleye to show for the day.

Monday, July 18

I shared the boat with Mike Manthe. Even though I had no luck at Green Island I did want to try the north eastern shore of Door County. You won’t catch as many fish in this area but the ones you do catch are big. We launched out of Egg Harbor and targeted reefs southeast of Chambers Island. Everything seemed right but we could not get bit, it is probably too early for the walleye migration to reach this area. There were also thousands of dead alewives and huge schools hanging outside of the reefs. I took that as a sign that if walleyes were there it would be tough to compete with the easy meals that waited for them. A big storm chased us off the water so we loaded up and re-launched at Bay Shore Park.

We headed back over to the S.O.F.A. and worked areas close to where I had caught them on Saturday. It took us a little while to find them but when we did it was on! We caught 8 between 23” and 26-1/2” in about an hour and a half including a double of 26 plus inchers. Our best 5 were probably in the 27 pound range. There were a couple concerns though. First, due to a lack of wind and hot temperatures the surface water temperature rose to 79 degrees. Second there were a lot more boats in the area. This was no secret!

Tuesday, July 19

I shared the boat today with fellow Madisonian Don Doran. In the past I have made the mistake of not knowing an area good enough. Because the S.O.F.A. is so large I decided to spend all of Tuesday working this area. I was careful not to fish any on my waypoints. At noon we only had one 21” fish. We started working a new stretch close to where I was catching them and we got into them again. It was like a broken record as we caught 7-8 with the top 5 again in the 26-27 pound range. Even though the fish were coming easy I was getting more concerned as it seemed 80 percent of the field was fishing the area and more were fishing close to where I was fishing.

Wednesday, July 20

I decided I had learned all I needed to down in the S.O.F.A. so I decided to fish between Oconto and my primary area. We spent a lot of time driving around looking for bait fish in areas similar to my primary area down south. We found an area that was loaded with bait fish. It was also loaded with drum! We lost two good fish and caught one nice walleye. I was hoping to find a backup area but I just did not have enough time. This was a short day as we had the rules meeting at 4 and I had a ton of work to do so we were off of the water by 1 PM.

I was really optimistic but I was also very nervous.  Catch my next blog entry will cover the tournament days to see if I could stay on them.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

AIM Mississippi River Recap

My first Anglers Insight Marketing (AIM) tournament is in the books and I had a disappointing finish, 23rd out of 31. I have had disappointing tournaments before but this one hurts more than others. After pre-fishing I thought I had a good chance at this one but my program fell apart.


I fished this tournament on my own (many anglers "team up" with other anglers to find places, presentations etc.) and I only had 4 days to pre-fish. The tournament was on the Mississippi River in Dubuque. We could fish pool 12 (Dubuque) or we could lock up to pool 11 or lock down to pool 13. That is a lot of water to cover for one guy so I had to be as efficient as possible. I had a couple of friends, with knowledge of these sections of the river, help me out.

The first day of pre-fishing, Saturday, I went down to pool 11. We set up about 8 miles south of Bellevue only to notice that my new 12 ft. lead core rod was broken. Of course, I did not have a spare in the boat and we ran back up to the boat landing to get the spare rod. Not a good sign!

After finally getting set up we hit a fish right away but not the type of fish I would need to compete so we moved on. We then headed down to Savannah. We barely set up and had an 18 inch walleye. Minutes later we caught a 17 incher. We made another pass and caught a 20-1/2 inter and a 19 incher. I was starting to feel pretty good.

We made one more pass, to get a feel for the spot and caught a 16-1/2 incher. Unfortunately, another boat saw me reeling in the fish and he immediately followed my trolling line. We immediately switched to a Dubuque rig and started to fish the upper end of the spot on a current seam. I had one crush the jig and plastic. I did not have the drag set correctly and the fish came unbuttoned. This did not bother me at all as I was pretty sure it was a big walleye. Luckily the other boat did not see that I had a fish on. We left and the other boat did shortly as well.

I was really happy with this spot and we started checking other areas. We did catch more fish but nothing of significance.

Day 2 - We decided to stay in the Dubuque pool on day 2. We really struggled to find fish. We noticed a bunch of people fishing the Steamboat Flats but I decided to stay out of there. I knew that area was going to have a bunch of tournament fisherman in there and wanted to concentrate on areas that were off of the beaten path. We ended up only catching one 24 inch walleye. I was pretty sure I was going to go down to the spot I fished the day before for the tournament so I needed a couple of places to try on my way back. This spot would be a perfect spot to try.

Day 3 - I decided to try pool 11 on Monday. I wish I could take that decision back. I should have been looking for more spots down on pool 13. We fished wing dams above Cassville and caught 3 17 inch walleyes. By noon I knew that I would not be fishing up here so we left and took the boat back down to Dubuque. Even though we did not catch a keeper I had a couple of new spots I could try on the way back on tournament day.

Day 4 - I headed back down to pool 11 to check my number one spot. My first couple of passes were unsuccessful. I was getting a little worried that the fish had left. I tried a pass further out on the flat and immediately hit a 24 inch walleye. The water had been dropping and the fish had moved out on the flat.

That was all I needed to see trolling wise so I decided to try the upper end of the current break. On one pass I caught a 22 and a 21-1/2. I immediately left feeling really really good!

I did not have a lot of time left to pre-fish as all boats had to be off of the water by 2 PM. I tried to find similar spots to the one that was producing. I hit several other spots with no luck. I stopped at a spot about 4 miles south of the dam. I barely got my dubuque rig to the bottom and caught a 27 incher. I spun on the spot and missed a fish and my buddy missed one as well. This was in less than 10 minutes. I left immediately and looked for similar spots. Unfortunately, I ran out of time but I was feeling confident.

Tournament Day 1 - The only problem with my spots is they were a long way from where we take off and I had to go through a lock system. Eight or nine boats made the long run only to find a barge in the lock. Uh-oh! We fished the rip rap just above the lock and dam with no luck unless you call a catfish luck.

We finally got through the lock and ran another 20-25 miles down to Savannah. We did not get down there until after 9, so I had little time to make it happen. To my surprise there were two tournament boats fishing the same area I was. A third one came in shortly after I started fishing. These boats were pulling three-way rigs along the flat close to shore. I started out trolling crank baits using lead core.

I caught a 16-1/2 inch walleye on my first pass. I made several other passes with nothing. It was becoming obvious the fished had moved again. The water had come up and the fish moved closer to shore. While weighing my options the three boats close to shore started killing them.

I tried my three ways on the current break I was fishing the day before. The current had picked up out there and I did not get bit. I could have swung in behind the three boats and fished the way they were fishing. Because I did not fish the line that close to shore I chose not to. In the tournament fishing world it might be called "tailpiping". I have a friend that says I am stupid for not doing it. I am not sure how the other boats would have felt. Regardless, I stand by my decision even though it cost me a chance at a good finish in this tournament.

I went back to trolling and picked up a 17-1/4 incher and then hit a 26-1/4 incher. Both of those fish came at the upper end of the flat on the current seam. This seam ended up close to shore and I had to time my run so I did not run into the other three boats as they would end up in the same spot. I did my best but ran out of time and had to head back.

No luck in the Dubuque pool so I had to settle with the 3 fish that put me in 17th place one out of the cut. The other three fishing that area were in 2nd, 4th and 7th. That is where I thought I was going to be so being in 17th was a real let down.

Day 2 - The lock was open when we got there and we got right through. Even though I only caught 3 the day before I was confident that with more time I could have a good day. Unfortunately the rising water pushed that current seam even closer to shore. I did have one on but it came off before I could even grab the ride.

Because I did not get in behind the other three on day 1 I certainly was not going to follow their pass on day 2. To make things worse a local boat came in and drifted my trolling pass broad side. I switched back up to pulling three ways but with the seam closer to shore I found my pass difficult to run. I tried to time it as best I could but I found myself right in the middle of the other boats.

I made the decision to leave to try the spots that I had found in pre-fishing. I was unable to try them the day before because I ran out of time. I knew that if I left I could not come back but I rolled the dice. Unfortunately, the rising water changed my other spots and I was unable to get anything going.

Running out of time I decided to hit every wing dam and eddy that looked good. We casted crank baits and caught a lot of fish. Unfortunately, if they were walleye they were too small. We caught just about every other species in the river it seemed but we ran out of time and went back to the launch dejected.

It turns out that I only needed about 7 pounds to make the cut. I was emotionally drained and extremely disappointed. In tournaments like this you do not get many chances to be in the "hunt", especially when you are fishing alone. I spoke with one of the best and most successful walleye fisherman of all time. He said it was a really tough tournament because he only had one other "partner" there instead of the four they normally had saying "they had missed the bite". That other fisherman is also one of the best and most successful walleye fisherman of all time. To think they missed the bite and I was on one made me feel good but it also made me realize that I let this one slip away.

I went to bed on Tuesday night thinking I would catch 25 pounds. Things went downhill from there and I never recovered. At least I know that I gave it all I had and I fished with integrity. Now it is on to Otter Tail Lake!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

FLW Lake Erie Recap - What I Learned

I have been putting off doing this blog as the FLW opener was not a good one for me. However, if I am going to write about the good I have to write about the bad! The good news? I learned a lot and will be able to apply my learnings in the future!

This was my first trip to Port Clinton, OH. I fished the FLW Detroit River tournament last year and spent some time in the lake. Even though I fished the river in that tournament, I did pre-fish the lake. It was an awesome bite and I expected to find a similar one in Port Clinton. Was I ever in for a surprise! The winds have been blowing hard all spring and the temperatures have been cool. The lake was a few weeks behind schedule according to most accounts and the fishing had been tough!


My first day of pre-fishing was my best with 5 nice walleyes. The first one came on a crankbait where the tournament was actually won. I had a spread of harnesses out along with one crankbait. I checked this spot periodically and caught the 10-01 walleye above (crawler harness) along with several others. With the weather starting to stabilize I convinced myself that the harness bite was going to be the way to go. Mistake number 1!

The wind blew pretty hard Monday thru Wednesday. I checked my three go to spots on Wednesday. In spot number 1, where the tournament ended up being won, there was a nice mud line. I moved to spot number 2 which was directly east, it was chocolate milk so I moved to spot number 3. The water looked great and the water temp had risen to 53 degrees. That evening I checked the satellite images of the lake. With the east wind I thought that spot 1 and spot 2 would be chocolate milk. Mistake number 2! I decided to go with spot 3 for day 1.

Day 1

At take off the wind was out of the east at 10mph. When running to my spot I checked spot number 2, I was surprised to see the water had cleared up nicely. I decided to stop and fish as it appeared a thunderstorm was on the way. I picked up a six pounder on the second pass but could not get anything else to go. The storm had passed to the south so I headed out to spot number 3. To my surprise the water was dirty. There were plenty of baitfish but I was not able to find any walleyes. Knowing that I needed to get some fish I moved back to where I started. I thought I could grind out a few fish but to no avail.

I decided to head to my number one spot in pre-fishing. As I approached I knew that I had totally mis-read the water (mistake number 8 or something like that) as it looked like the entire U.S. Navy fleet was fishing the area. I was sick to my stomach but I still had an hour to put something together. I continued to pull harnesses despite seeing most pulling crankbaits. I was unable to get a bite and went back to the weigh-in with my tail between my legs.

Sure enough the majority of the field was fishing this area and there were some impressive weights. The same people that I was catching next to in pre-fishing were in the top 10. Talk about a kick to the stomach! Oh well, it is still fun to go on stage even though I am making fun of myself!

Day 2

I started where I finished Day 1. I immediately caught the smallest walleye in Lake Erie, an 18 incher. What? Are you kidding me? Oh well, I thought I would just cull it later, right? Not so much! I caught a 4-1/2 pounder shortly after and that would be it! I can't tell you how depressing it was to see fish being caught all around you! I left, tried a couple of other spots before coming back for the last hour without success.

I certainly learned that I need to experiment more, especially in the water column. Most were pulling crankbaits. After watching the weigh-in my problem was obvious, I was not fishing deep enough. I think I could have caught them on harnesses but I needed to fish deeper. All week the fish were telling me that they were deeper and they preferred crankbaits. Instead I thought I knew better and stayed with my program instead of the program the fish wanted. Duh!!!!!!!

This was a great learning experience. I definitely had my lunch handed to me! However, I was close to figuring it out. I just need to do a better job of adapting to the clues the fish give me. Some of these things have to be learned through experience and in this case, failure. That is Ok by me. I am a better fisherman after getting my butt handed to me. I just can't wait to get an opportunity to redeem myself!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

MWC IL River - What Went Wrong

After spending the previous weekend and the two days prior to the MWC IL River tournament, Shooter and I felt we had a good shot at winning the tournament. We knew it was going to be a shootout due to the excellent water conditions and the lack of bigger fish being caught. If the fish we were catching on Thursday were still there we were going to be in the mix!

Saturday was a raw, cold, day with east winds gusting to 30 mph. Our plan was to hit our big fish spots with the number one spot being the Peru flats. I was a little nervous that there would be a ton of boats as I noticed several were fishing there on Friday. As we pulled up to our spot I was shocked to see that no one was fishing the flats. This could only mean one of two things, one we have the spot to ourselves and we are going to win this thing or the fish have moved on.

Unfortunately, it was the latter. We spent 3 hours jigging and trolling crankbaits. There were plenty of fish there, the problem was the big females were gone. We quickly caught our limit and began sorting but we caught nothing over 16". That is what happens when fishing rivers in general, especially in the spring, here today, gone tomorrow! We went shallow, deep, slower and faster but we could not find them. We decided we had to move as you cannot win the tournament on day 1 but you certainly can lose it!

We then went to plan B, a spot the locals call Auggies which was close to our first spot. This was a hardly a secret spot as there were fifteen boats, or so, fishing the tight break. Again, we caught plenty of fish but nothing that was going to help us win so we packed up and headed to the clam beds.

In most years, the clam beds are going to hold big sauger, especially when the river is in good shape. The IWT tournament was won the week before in the clam beds and it was sure to be a player. We rounded the corner to see an armada of boats fishing from the high  wires all the way down past the power plant on both sides of the river. This area was getting pounded to say the least but we knew all of the boats were down there because big fish were there.

The action was not fast and furious but we did manage to catch about 2 fish every jigging pass. They were all female sauger, none were huge but we did manage to upgrade all of our fish in just 3 passes. We were in the right area as we would go right by the eventual winner as he was trolling upstream and we were jigging downstream. We did not see a lot of fish caught so I am not sure if the big fish were caught early or not or if trolling was producing the bigger fish. Regardless we needed a "kicker" fish so we left with about an hour to go and ran back up the flats hoping that the big fish moved in.

No luck as we continued to catch fish but nothing to help us. We headed in very disappointed knowing that we would need a huge Sunday. We ended up weighing 8.93 pounds which put us in the bottom one third of the field. The good news was, as we thought, it was a shootout and only a couple of pounds separated us from the top 20.

Day 2 - We decided to change it up on Sunday and cover as much water as possible hoping that we would find that "kicker" fish. We decided to run all the way up to Utica to fish the spot where my buddy Mark caught a kicker walleye on Friday. If I had to do it all over again I would not have made the run. I hate fishing up there because you know there will be a ton of boats and a ton of smaller fish. Plenty of tournaments have been won up there and big fish are always caught. However, it is hard to catch them two days in a row up there as the  big fish seem to be on the move.

The steep break where we had caught them on Friday still held fish but not as many. We easily caught our limit in the first hour but nothing of any size. By looking at all of the boats it looked like a good number of the fish had moved to the other side of the river. Probably caused by the river level going down. We didn't check it out and headed back down river to the flats.

We set up on the flats and started smoking them. The good news is some bigger female saugers had moved back in. We were catching them like crazy with doubles being common. The problem was they were all in the 17" range. We kept hoping and hoping that if we put in our time we were bound to catch a big fish. No cigar, after about 3 hours the bite died so we headed back down to the clam beds to see if we could upgrade.

Again we caught fish but nothing to help us as the fishing pressure seemed to be taking its toll. We thought our best chance was to head back to the flats and hope. To my surprise, when I turned the key to my Verado nothing happened. Uh Oh! The battery was dead. I had a problem the Saturday before the tournament due to a wiring issue. I fixed that issue, what now? We didn't have time to worry about that as we were floating down a working river with barges and a ton of fishing boats.

The only thing we could do was to switch the leads from the Verado battery to the kicker battery. It was a big pain but we were lucky enough to get it done without incident. Luckily the boats that we almost floated into understood we were without power and avoided us as we floated down river. It turned out the brand new battery was bad and was not holding a charge.

We headed back up to the flats and we started smoking them right away. We did upgrade a couple of fish but our biggest for the day was only 17-3/4". We headed in and ended up having a better day weighing over 10 lbs. That moved us up to 52nd place out of 123. The sad part is we were only one good fish away from placing in the money.

I was disappointed to say the least but I can't complain about the fishing. It was awesome we just could not catch the "kicker". There were lessons learned that I can use in the future. I love fishing this river and still think I will have my day it is just going to have to wait! I am already looking forward to the 2012 MWC!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

MWC IL River Recap

The first tournament of the year is over. Although it was disappointing finishing 52 out of 123 it was still a great time. Lessons were learned, the bite was great and the new Lund/Mercury is everything that I expected and much more! Here is a recap of the pre-fishing with part II coming soon.


March 19-20 - One of my favorite things about fishing tournaments is I get to spend a few days pre-fishing with friends that I normally I do not get to spend a lot of time with. On the 19th I shared the boat with one of my high school buddies, Scott Gordon who lives in Bloomington, IL and one of my fishing mentors (Sat and Sun), Mark Michael who lives in Princeton, IL. We spent the morning trolling number 9 rapalas and some custom stick baits down at the clam beds. The bite was pretty good when we concentrated on a tight break in 14 to 17 feet of water. Most fish were in the 15 to 17 inch range with a few a little bigger like the one Scott is holding above.

We jigged through the same area with similar results. I tried to jig, against doctors orders, with my broken left arm. I thought I could get away with it, that was until I tried to set the hook on a fish that absolutely crushed my jig and plastic. I screamed with pain and dropped my rod immediately. Needless to say the boys gave me a hard time and questioned if I had a fish at all. I learned my lesson, at least for the next couple of days, and only jigged with my right arm.

We moved up to the Peru flats for the afternoon and caught a few. When I tried to start up the brand new Verado nothing happened. Uh Oh! We used my kicker motor to get back to launch. At the time we thought the batteries were wired wrong, which they were. After the tournament we found the new battery was also bad and wasn't holding a charge which led to an interesting situation the last day of the tournament which I will discuss in Part II. Mark and I were going to fish the IWT the next morning but with the uncertainty of the battery situation we decided to make sure everything was working Ok for the next weekend as being dead on the water during the tournament is not a good thing!

Day 2 Mark and I spent the day checking spots from Spring Valley up to the Starved Rock dam. We jigged all day and caught fish everywhere we went. The bite was awesome with most fish again in the 15-17 inch range. However, we were able to get a couple that were close to 2-1/2 pounds. There was an eddy near the dam that was absolutely loaded with fish. We could have sat there all day and pounded 15-17 inch saugers but we knew we had to find bigger fish so we moved on.

Mark Mearvy and his partner won the IWT with 6 fish that weighed over 19 lbs. They caught them where we were fishing on Saturday in the clam beds. The rest of the field was stacked between 9 and 13 lbs. This verified our thoughts that the MWC was going to be a shootout. Finding the bigger fish was going to be the key.

March 21-23 - To save vacation days for later tournaments I went back to work. The nice thing is I had a sales meeting in Chicago those three days so I was able to drive straight from Chicago Wednesday night which saved me some time. I hate not spending a whole week on a body of water prior to a tournament as it puts us at a disadvantage to our competitors as most spend the entire week pre-fishing. If there is one tournament to skip a few days it is the MWC IL River as spring conditions usually change everything. It looked like this was going to be the case as rains drenched the upper midwest Monday and Tuesday. Somehow the majority of the rains did not fall in the IL River watershed. The river did rise about two feet but I returned to find the river in excellent shape.

March 24 - Two days prior to the tournament, now it is time to get to work! Dale Bowman, the outdoors writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, was supposed to be fishing with me but had to cancel. In his place I recruited my long time fishing buddy Brad Munda to help me find the right fish. My partner for the tournament, Ol' Shooter brought his boat. Our plan is to cover as much water as possible looking for big female sauger. Brad and i will jig through the same area that Shooter trolls through.

We start right near the launch and I caught a couple decent saugers. We then headed down to the clam beds. The bite was on but nothing huge. Shooter caught a good one on the green can side of the river. Brad and I jigged up one about 2-1/2 pounds and then we pulled it upriver with a three way rig. Almost immediately I caught one about 2-1/2 pounds on the dropper jig. Not a bad start, time to head to the next spot.

Shooter got a head start up river and called us over when we reached the peru flats. He had already caught 2 good fish with one a pre-spawn female sauger that was almost 20 inches. Brad and I jigged through the same area and we each caught two 19" pre-spawners and a 17" male who was milking like a cow. These are tournament winning fish, if they are still there on Saturday we have a great shot of winning this thing. To make things even better, nobody was fishing this area.  Mark and I had fished it last Sunday and we only caught a couple of small ones. This is the same area that we finished 3rd a couple of years ago so we were feeling pretty good.

We got out of there and headed up and across the river to a place the locals call Auggies. There were a bunch of boats fishing the outside bend. If you stayed tight to the break the bite was really good, if you slipped off of it, not so much. In the middle of the pack of boats I caught one that looked like it was 18-1/2" or so. It was one of the rare ones that I hooked with my bad arm. I tried to hide it from everyone so I just held onto my rod and acted like I was dragging my jig and would try to shake it off when no one was looking. I only had one more tournament boat to hide it from. He was trolling 3 ways up-river and asked how we were doing. I said "oh, one here and there, nothing of any size". The entire time my rod tip is pounding. Just when I think we are clear the fish comes up to the surface and the guy said "he's got a good one" and pointed at me. I felt pretty bad and said I just didn't want everyone to see it. The games played are kind of funny and is worth a blog at a different time.

Brad and I ended the day with 26 keepers that we put in the boat with several more that we could have gotten in had we used the net and were not hiding fish. Shooter had 14 by himself, we were feeling pretty good.

March 25 - We have the same game plan as the day before. Today Brad fished with Shooter and Mark Michael fished with me. We decided to head to Utica and fish our way down river. Mark and I absolutely killed them with fish after fish. We had 10 keepers on our first pass. We went through a bit of a dry spell when I noticed a change in the bottom on my humminbird. I was just about to say something when Mark said "there's one". It turned out to be a fat, pre-spawn, walleye. Kicker fish like this is what we need tomorrow!

Everywhere we went we caught fish and so did Brad and Shooter. Even though we caught decent fish including one that I would die for the next day we were convinced the spot we caught fish yesterday was going to give us the best opportunity to win. We headed in feeling pretty good.

Coming soon - See what and how we did, warts and all, during the tournament with part II .

Special thanks to Mark and Brad for helping us out!

Monday, March 14, 2011

MWC IL River - What's So Special?

The 25th anniversary of the MWC Illinois River tournament is less than two weeks away. For my MWC partner, Shooter (Scott Pirnstill) and I it will be our sixth straight. This tournament is special to me for a number of reasons. 
Even though I grew up only an hour and fifteen minutes from the tournament site I only fished the IL River once prior to fishing my first tournament in 2006. In 1983 or 1984 the river was getting a lot of attention as it was re-awaking after being used as a dumping ground for much of the 20th century. I was a wide eye kid addicted to fishing and a regular reader of Midwest Outdoors Magazine. In one of the spring issues I saw a headline “First Annual White Bass Tournament”. I sent my $5 entry fee in and begged my parents to take me.
I read everything I could find on how to catch white bass. I watched every fishing show that was on TV hoping for any tips that would help me. I scraped up enough money to buy a couple of sonars, gay blades, little george’s, road runners and twister tails. I was so excited to go and literally counted the days. 
Two days before the big day I was pitching in a Babe Ruth league game. I was covering home plate after a passed ball (Brian Rubis will say it was a wild pitch). I stepped on home plate and slipped as I was reaching for the ball. The runner slid and kneed me in the head. I probably had a concussion but it went down as my bell being rung. Regardless, my dad said that I could not fish the white bass tournament. I was absolutely crushed. I threw an absolute fit and finally my dad agreed to take me to the tournament. I am sure the only reason he agreed was he knew it was the only way to shut me up.
I set up on the wall at the Starved Rock dam and casted everything in my tackle box. Not only did I not catch a fish but I did not get a bite. I was disappointed but remember thinking “if I only had a boat”.
Fast forward twenty-two years or so to 2006. I had always wanted to fish tournaments and finally had a boat to give it a try. I had hired a local guide, Joe Okada, to take a customer out on Lake Mendota. Joe encouraged me to find a partner and fish the first tournament of the year on the IL River. I called up ‘Ol Shooter and we signed up. We were as blind to this tournament as I was in the first White Bass tournament.
We pre-fished for the tournament and ending up finding some decent fish on the Thursday before the tournament. Disappointment soon followed as the computer on my outboard motor went bad and no one had one in stock. That meant we had to fish the tournament with my 15 horse kicker motor. I was again crushed. Upstream we could go a healthy 3.1 mph while downstream we maxed out a blazing 4.1 mph!
Honestly, I don’t think we thought we had a chance to do well with my motor running, now with only my kicker motor we didn’t think we had a chance at all. That is exactly what happened the first day as we caught one 2.93 lb. sauger that was good for something like 181st out of 220 boats. I remember ‘Ol Shooter saying “We are good fishermen but these guys are really good”. Basically he thought we were over our heads.
With no expectations on day 2 we putted up river just hoping to catch a fish. Just like the day before we caught a nice one early and instead of feeling sorry for ourselves we actually started fishing. We went through a bit of a lull but then we put on a clinic right in the middle of a pack of boats that was not catching anything. 
We ended up catching our limit that was the eighth heaviest weight of the day. Eighth heaviest out of 220 really good teams? Holy Crap! We zoomed up and finished 57th. Now we did not make a dime but this gave us the confidence that we could compete at a high level and I have been hooked ever since.
In 2008 we were 4th after day one and ended up 11th. In 2009 we finished 3rd. We had opportunities to win in both of these tournaments but just didn’t get it done. There are not a lot of opportunities to win at this level so when you have a chance you have to take advantage. Hopefully, we are a little wiser and will use our experience to close the door if we are in the hunt. 
Is this our year? I sure hope so. I do know one thing for sure, I can’t blame it on not having a boat!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

MWC Changes Creates an Opportunity

The Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC) recently changed the criteria for qualifying for their yearly championship. To the MWC's credit they listened to their anglers who felt the system was unfair. For those who are unfamiliar with the MWC there are three divisions. The prior rules stated that you had to fish all three tournaments in your division with each team getting points based on their performance. Each division was allotted a certain amount of teams, based on points (think Nascar), who would qualify for the championship.

Without getting two specific there were two major issues. One was how points were calculated which came about after a tournament on the IL River where only four fish were caught by 200 teams (400 anglers). The other, many felt the Central Division, which had more anglers, received an unfair amount of "championship berths".

The MWC changed how they calculate points and also allowed anglers to fish any three tournaments to qualify for the championship, not just the ones in a specific division. You can find out more by reading their press release

I am not a big fan of politics and since I listen to WIFM (What's In it For Me) I wanted to see how the rule change affects me and my fishing partner 'Ol Shooter. One of the biggest changes is going to happen to the only tournament 'Ol Shooter and I will fish, the Central Division Opener on the Illinois River. Prior to the changes teams also could qualify by fishing all three tournaments in their division along with the Challenge tournament which was always the IL River. This brought in additional anglers from the East Division and more recently the new West division. This helped make it one of the most attended tournaments on the circuit. This rule change looks like it will reduce the field as some will choose another "challenge" tournament while others might skip it all together and fish a tournament closer to home in another division. The question is does a smaller field increase our chances?

Shooter and I have fished the last four MWC tournaments on the IL River. The first year we had to enter a lottery just to be one of the 220 teams. The numbers dwindled down to 100 in 2009 and rebounded to 160 last year. I think this year the MWC will be lucky to get 100 anglers. If that is the case, just by the numbers, our chances are better. However, regardless of the number of anglers we are going to have to catch big saugers to win. I expect the winning weight to be similar to the last couple of years. The weight is always going to be dependent on the river conditions. However, with fewer fisherman the fish will be less pressured which could lead to bigger weights for the teams that find the big, female, saugers. Regardless of numbers, this tournament will be loaded with good fisherman including local legends.

I would love to see 220 teams again but that does not look like reality. If the number of teams are down we think we can find a few spots that nobody else is fishing and make a milk run of those spots along with the "community" spots. This is a tournament that we have had a chance to win in the past and one that we think we can win. If the number is 2 or 220 we are going to fish to win! I can't wait!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

To Team or Not To Team

One of the most controversial topics in competitive walleye fishing, probably for all competitive fishing events, is teaming. For those that are not in the inner circle of competitive walleye fishing, here is how it works.

There are three major walleye tournament circuits, the Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), the FLW Walleye Tour and the AIM Walleye circuit. The MWC is a team tournament where two people fish together as a team with the goal of bringing in the heaviest weight over two days with a limit determined by local regulations. The FLW and AIM pair individual professionals with a different, randomized amateur each day of the tournament. It does not matter who catches the fish, the pro or the amateur. The pro tries for the heaviest weight over the 3 days of the tournament. In all three tournaments there can be no communication, during the hours on the water of the tournament, with other boats so it is each team or individual pro against the rest of the field. However, before the tournament and after tournament hours teams (MWC) and individual pros (FLW, AIM) can share information i.e. where they caught fish, what bait they used etc. This is where teaming comes into place.

Teams (MWC) or Individual Pros (FLW, AIM) team with others forming a "team" of 2-4. Most "teams" are formed by friends or some sort of common interest like geography, pro-staffers from the same company or they may be in the same fishing club. Others are a bit more calculated. There are teams that were put together based on where the venues of the tour were usually located. This lead to a pro, who was a great angler on the great lakes, recruiting a great angler whose home water was on the Mississippi River and another angler who was well known on the reservoirs of the Dakotas. The thinking is obvious, each angler with expertise on their home water will help the others on waters that they are not familiar with prior to each tournament. There are several of these "super teams" on each of the walleye tours which can make things daunting for someone who is fishing "alone".

"Teams" travel together and share expenses which is an obvious benefit. They will generally get to the location to pre-fish 5-7 days prior to the tournament. There are several advantages of working as a team. The biggest is 2-4 people can cover a lot more water to find the fish than just one person. For example on a tournament on the Mississippi River there is 60 miles of river to fish. If you have a team of 4 you can break down the river into sections with each person responsible for the section he/she was assigned. If someone starts catching fish on a certain lure or using a certain pattern, he/she calls the others and they can see if that works in other sections that are similar. In 5-7 days this team will have a pretty good game plan on where and how to catch fish. Other benefits include local knowledge, diversity of techniques of each of the fisherman, resources (one person on the team might have access to a secret bait) etc.

I am all for teaming. It has been going on forever and it is a fun way to fish. I am not sure why but it is a topic that most do not like to discuss. Maybe it is because some don't like others to know that they share winnings or maybe they don't want others to know that they had help finding the fish. Regardless of the reason teaming goes on and it is something each fisherman has to think about.

I have been part of a team and I have fished alone. Last year I teamed up with my friend, and mentor, Mark Michael. We had a great time and had our opportunities. Mark has decided not to fish this year so he can spend more time with family. When teaming up you have to have trust and it helps to be friends that is why I enjoyed fishing with Mark. Now with him out of the game I  have to make a decision to team or not to team.

I only asked one person and our schedules do not match so I have decided to fish alone. Some will say I don't have a chance against these super teams. Overall they probably have a point. However, I have been in the hunt before and think that I have a punchers chance at winning! I am sure I will have my struggles but if I do pull one off, fishing by myself against these "super teams", it will be oh so sweet!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why Walleye?

I am often asked why I chase walleyes and not other species like bass or musky. The truth is I like fishing for anything that swims but the walleye has always had a special place in my heart.

I have had a passion for fishing as long as I can remember. I grew up in Freeport, IL, a small town nestled in the northwest corner of the state. I fished as much as I possibly could in the small creeks, rivers, ponds and small lakes in the area. My partner in crime was my grade school buddy Brad Munda. We fished for anything that would bite almost every day in the summers. We caught just about everything that swims, mostly rough fish and catfish when we fished the creeks and small rivers with the occasional smallmouth bass and northern pike. When we fished farm ponds and little lakes like Lake Le-Aqua-Na we would catch quite a few bass. The most elusive fish was the walleye. When we caught one it was a big deal, it was even a bigger deal when we were trying to catch one. The challenge drew me to the walleye.

I can’t remember catching my first bluegill, northern pike or any other species for that matter. However, I can remember the first walleye I caught on Lake Chetek in Wisconsin on my trusty green beetle spin with a black stripe. I can’t remember when I caught my first fish on the Rock River or what kind it was but I can remember catching my first walleye! I was casting a white marabou jig with a round pink head. When I casted with that zebco 202 the line was coiled and look like a giant slinky. It was a wonder that 18″ walleye would hit a jig that was tied on to what appeared to be rope but boy was I glad mr. walleye did!

I still can remember every home run I hit in organized baseball and just about every keeper walleye I caught until I was 18. That tells me two things, one I did not hit a lot of home runs and two I did not catch a lot of walleyes. It also tells me that each were really special and the challenge of each motivated me to get better at both.
When I was 18 years old and someone said that I would have a 20′ Lund Boat and 225 HP Mercury Verado and I would have the opportunity to fish against the best fisherman in the country I would have said they were crazy. Now it is a reality and it is all because I had this obsession with the elusive walleye!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Decision Time - What Tour(s) to Fish

The days are getting longer and the extreme cold has given way to temperatures that are more pleasing to my brittany spaniels paws. This can only mean that winter is not going to last all year so I need to get my 2011 fishing schedule in order!

Choosing which walleye tour(s) to fish is easy for some. For others, like myself, it is a difficult decision with many variables to be considered. If I had unlimited resources and was without a job I would fish them all. However, since the money tree I planted last year did not produce I have to make the best decision for myself and my sponsors. My biggest liability is I only have 20 days of vacation. To compete at the pro level you need to take an entire week off to pre-fish so that means I will have to keep it to four major tournaments. So which tournament should I fish?

The Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC) is a team circuit that has an excellent schedule. I fished the central division 2006-08 and the Illinois River opener the last two years with my buddy Shooter (Scott Pirnstill). We have had some success with an 11th (2008) and 3rd place (2009). This is one that I will always try to have on my schedule as I think we can win! Shooter and I will be fishing this one. Because we know this water pretty good I will only take two vacation days for pre-fishing.

The Forest L Wood (FLW) Walleye Tour has an excellent schedule as well, however, I now only have 18 vacation days left. There are four tournaments, Lake Erie in May, Leech Lake in June, Green Bay in July and Lake Oahe in August. I live close enough to Green Bay that I could  skip a couple of days of pre-fishing, saving vacation days, allowing me to fish all four tournaments. The major benefit of fishing all four tournaments is you gain points based on performance. The top 50 pros qualify for the championship which has an excellent purse with no entry fee. I would be out of vacation days so that would not be a benefit to me. Now my focus shifts to which tournaments would I have the best chance at winning. I am considering Lake Erie, Leech Lake and Green Bay.

The Anglers Insight Marketing (AIM) Walleye Tour is the only one that I have not fished. Their format is on the cutting edge with no fish being kept. Instead all fish are measured, recorded, photographed and released back into the water. AIM will be visiting Winneconne (Wolf River) in April, Dubuque (Mississippi River), Brimley, MI (St. Mary's River) and their championship on Lake Oahe in September. I could fish all of the tournaments but with the Brimley event being an invitational I cannot guarantee that I would be able to fish. That would put me out of the angler of the year race which has a nice payout. Instead I am considering fishing the Wolf River and Mississippi River event.

Because I will not be involved in a points race in any of the circuits my decisions will be based on where I have the best chance to win. I will be fishing by myself in most of the FLW/AIM events with the exception of one maybe two events, I will be leaning towards bodies of water that I am familiar with. Teaming with another angler(s) is common practice on these tours as anglers share expenses and information. Sharing of information happens during pre-fishing and after tournament days. It is against the rules to communicate with another angler during tournament hours. I am all for teaming but I will be going solo this year for the most part. I will tackle this subject at a later date.

Deposits are due soon so I need to make my decisions ASAP! I am leaning towards two FLW events, one AIM event, the MWC opener on the Illinois River along with the Lund Mania tournament on Otter Tail Lake in Minnesota. I will post my decision soon so I can start getting ready for open water!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On the River with The Viver - Expectations

The mercury has been hovering around zero for the last few days, what a great time to start a new blog! In the coming year I will be blogging about my preparation and participation in walleye tournaments. I will do my best to document the ups and downs of competitive angling, hopefully weekly. I will take you through my decision making process of choosing which tour(s) to fish, my pre-fishing and tournament day strategies/philosophies, choices of boats, motors and electronics. I will walk through rigging my boat and discuss the equipment I use along with tips and techniques that worked or did not work for each tournament. I will also blog candidly about subjects that are somewhat controversial like teaming and on the water ethics.

It might be zero degrees but the first tournament of the year, the MWC on the Illinois River, is only two months away! My new Lund and Mercury Verado are on order and I have a ton of stuff to get done before I drop the boat in the Illinois. I am looking forward to an exciting 2011 and look forward to sharing my experiences as I try to live out my dream and win my first major walleye tournament!