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!