Saturday, March 31, 2012

IL River Pre-Fishing Re-Cap

The first tournament of the year, MWC IL River, is in the books. We finished 36th out of 154 boats which was a bit disappointing but we were only five spots and less than 1/2 a pound out of the money. Here is a recap of how our pre-fishing went.

New MWC Partner

For the first time I would not be fishing an MWC event with Scott Pirnstill, aka Shooter. Shooter had a scheduling conflict and was unable to fish. In his place Mark Michael, pictured above with a walleye he caught on the IL River last year while pre-fishing, an accomplished tournament angler and one of my fishing mentors. The IL River is Mark's home water and he knows it well even though he says that the IL River is not one of his favorite places to fish.


The first day on the water with a new boat is a special day. Much of Saturday was spent breaking in the Verado 200 on the new Lund 1875 Pro V. Mark did a great job rigging the boat and I am loving the new ride! We did get a chance to get in some fishing as we hoped to find a good bite for the Illinois Walleye Trail (IWT) opener the following day. The river was in unprecedented condition for this time of year with water temperatures of over 60 degrees, they would rise all the way to 68 degrees for the MWC opener! After some searching we found some active, decent sized fish down at the clam beds. Ol' Shooter came down for the weekend with his son Boston. Shooter and Boston caught 2 saugers over 20 inches in the same area. Fish like those have been hard to come by in recent years so committing to the clam beds for the IWT opener was a no brainer!

Sunday IWT

The fishing was pretty good but it was pretty obvious that the bigger fish moved. The water was slowly dropping and it appears the fish moved to other areas with current conditions that fit their needs. Ol' Shooter and Boston, pictured above, did a little better than we did finishing 31st out of 71. Mark and I finished 41st. We caught plenty of fish but we just could not find the bigger fish. Adam Sandor, owner of the IWT, and his staff did a great job. I was not unhappy with our finish, sure we would have liked to do better but our main goal was to prepare for the MWC. We learned a lot on the water and were excited about the week to come!


I spent Monday with the outdoors writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, Dale Bowman (pictured above with a small male sauger). I enjoy fishing with Dale, he has a great sense of humor. He told me that one of the main reasons he moved to Chicago was from a visit he had when he was in college. He and some friends were in the bleachers at Comiskey Park drinking beer with Harry Carey and Jimmy Piersall. He thought that was pretty neat and said this is my kind of town. I love it! Dale also is an advocate for the outdoors and shines the light on the good and the bad. There aren't many outdoor writers in the newspaper business left which is a shame. I encourage anyone who likes the outdoors to read his articles and listen to his show on public radio, Outside with Dale Bowman. Here is the link to his article about our day

I met Dale at 7AM at Time On the Water Outdoors. A storm was coming in and lighting was everywhere. I pulled up the radar on my cell phone and it appeared if we went up river we might miss the storm. Dale agreed and we ran up river to the dam. I had a plan setup for down river where we would have caught a lot of fish. I needed to check out places up river anyway and thought we would be able to catch our share. Things did not work out that way as we caught everything but a sauger upriver. After trying numerous spots it was 11:20 and we still did not have a sauger. Dale had to be dropped off at the landing by noon. If I spend a morning with the outdoor writer for the Sun-Times and catch zero saugers I am going to get the business from the boys! I setup in the middle of the river on the Peru flats. Luckily there were male saugers who were willing to bite and we caught 4 in about 20 minutes.

I dropped Dale off at Barto Landing and headed back up river. I knew if males were in the area I should be able to find some female saugers. Sure enough, on the first pass after I dropped off Dale I caught a couple of nice females, including the one above. Oh well, that's fishing! I actually learned quite a bit and felt the pieces to the puzzle were coming together.


I was alone all day as Mark was going to start pre-fishing with me on Wednesday. The area that I wanted to take Dale was absolutely on fire. I can't remember how many fish I caught, including the one above, but it was a lot and they were absolutely hammering my jig and plastic.

I went to three different spots and the story was the same aggressive saugers like the one above. I am pretty confident that my best 5 fish would have weighed close to 12 pounds which I knew would be a big weight in the tournament. Two problems, one the tournament is four days away, two this is hardly a secret spot and fishing pressure will be an issue. I spent the rest of the day fishing spots downriver without much success.


Mark and I ran up to the dam and tried pitching jigs shallow. We caught a couple but they were small and we decided that we would spend the rest of the week fishing from Peru south. I wanted to show Mark the areas where I hammered them the day before. We jigged for nearly 3 hours without 1 sauger to show for our efforts. Mark says he likes jigging but he definitely would rather do some sort of trolling program. Vertical jigging is somewhat of an art and Mark and I have philosophic differences on just about every level, especially jig size and color. I don't think either philosophy is wrong it is just what we have confidence in doing. Regardless, I knew if I could show him how these fish were inhaling the plastics that he would agree it was the way to go. Mark had been on me big time about trolling lead core and I was dead set against the idea. I knew I could find the fish jigging I just needed to spend the time jigging but Mark was getting restless.

I finally gave in and we made one trolling pass which took about 30 minutes. It was only fitting that we hammered them catching 10 fish on that first pass with our best 5 weighing around 11 pounds. Mark was smiling ear to ear while I was shaking my head. I knew that we would not be jigging in the tournament as we tore them up the rest of the day. The fish had moved in shallower than we had been jigging and trolling was much more efficient way to cover water.

Thursday and Friday

My buddy Bad Brad Munda joined us for the final two days of pre-fishing. We put in at Hennepin and tried numerous spots down river with little success. We stopped at the Hennepin flats and caught several males jigging. We went to the other side of the river and caught a couple of decent females but not as big as we had caught the last couple of days. The wind was blowing pretty good making boat control a little difficult. I was keeping my jigs vertical but the boys in the back of the boat were getting on me pretty good because their baits were not. Bad Brad noticed right away that any comment that he made about boat control was getting under my skin and getting a chuckle from Mark so they really gave it to me. I almost dropped them off on shore but I decided I would troll lead core which I knew would make them happy.

The next two days we checked our spots and tried new ones. We were starting to notice a larger percentage of female saugers that we were catching were spawned out which was a bit of a concern. We knew this tournament was going to be a shootout and every ounce was going to matter.

We had put in the time and our lead core program was working. We knew the area we were fishing was going to be full of boats. We were fishing shallower and faster than most so we were confident that we would be able to navigate through the armada of boats. Our spots were locked in and we were optimistic about our chances!

Next - Tournament Days

Monday, March 12, 2012

IL State Record Walleye - Pecatonica River Strikes Again!

When Rockford Auburn freshman Nick Tassoni caught a 14.75 lb walleye on January 7, 2012 most were shocked that the Pecatonica River held such a fish. Nick's fish broke a record that had stood for 50 years. Two months later a new record walleye weighing 15.06 lbs. by Jim Zimmerman out of the same stretch of the Pecatonica River.

If one were to quiz fisherman across the state where the next state record walleye would have come from one would hear Lake Michigan, the Kankakee River (which held the record for 50 years), the Mississippi River and maybe the Rock River as a sleeper. If one were to quiz fisherman in Stephenson and Winnebago county one would have heard the Pec, as the locals call it, from a lot of people. This includes Dan Palmer, tournament director for the MWC, who has been telling this to anybody who would listen!

I have been fishing the Pec as long as I can remember as it rolls through my hometown of Freeport, IL. The stretch of river where the two record fish were caught are less than 5 miles away from my grandparents farm and I fished it often. The Pec does not have the best reputation because, like many other rivers in the MidWest, industry abused the river by dumping their waste into the river. Burgess Battery in Freeport was one of the biggest abusers, when it was running and for many years after it closed. Their waste lingered, polluting the river and the area around the plant before finally being cleaned up. The river is also muddy for most of the year as it flows through fertile farmland.

The Pec is known for it's excellent cat fishing and it is loaded with rough fish most notably the common carp. The locals also know it as a producer of big walleyes. Every spring there are reports of large walleyes being caught. When I heard Nick's fish was 31 inches I knew that it could be beat if the walleye was caught prior to spawn. There have been rumors of fish over 14 pounds being caught as long as I can remember. There was even a picture that made the Freeport Journal Standard of a walleye that was claimed to be 36 inches caught near McConnell in the early 2000's.

Ted Peck, an outdoor writer who lived in Shirland, used to write about the Pec often. His column ran in the Freeport Journal Standard and he also wrote for Illinois Game & Fish Magazine. I also remember seeing big walleye's being listed in Phil Pash's Big Fish contest that ran in the Rockford Register Star.

So how does a river that has been known for big walleyes and now has produced two state walleyes stay a secret? The river is not easily accessible, although access is much better know than it was when I was growing up. Most of the river travels through private farmland and, under normal water conditions, it is not easy to navigate with a boat. There are areas that allow for bigger boats but for the most part a flat bottom boat is the best boat to navigate through the log jams and shallow areas. I think this has been the major reason, if you do not know this river you might lose a lower unit. This also makes the river tough to fish especially if it is for one or two fishing trips a year.

Another reason is the locals don't want anyone to know about their diamond in the rough. I get several pictures a year from friends and old classmates who send me a photo of big walleyes they catch out of the Pec. Some are caught while actually fishing for walleyes while others are caught while fishing for catfish. Usually the photo is accompanied by a "if you tell anyone where I caught this I will make you pay"!

With two record walleyes being caught in two months I think it is fair to say that the secret is out! I am a little disappointed that both of these fish have come out of Winnebago County. There will be plenty of people that head over to that stretch of the Pec to try their luck for a record. Hopefully, while everyone is concentrating on the Winnebago stretch of the river, one of my friends or classmates will catch the record in Stephenson County. Then again, they probably won't tell anyone so they can keep it a secret!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Back In the Saddle

It is hard to say that it has been a long winter as mother nature has blessed us with a surprisingly mild Southern Wisconsin winter. However, it has been a long winter for me. In years past I would fish into January on the Mississippi and then sit on a bucket catching fish through the ice into March. This year that did not happen.

I also would spend a lot of time in the field chasing pheasants with my trusted Brittany, Bailey. Unfortunately, that did not happen either as Bailey's health forced her into retirement. I tried to sneak the gun case and game vest out of the house but her nose still works too good. I just couldn't do that to my little buddy, besides without her it is not as fun. Instead I have spent the last couple of months taking her for walks and getting my fishing gear ready and am I ever ready!

2012 is setting up to be a great year. In addition to my 2011 sponsors of Lund, Mercury, Shimano, EZEE Step and Do-It Molds, I have added a new one, Frabill. Frabill is synonymous with nets but they are so much more. They continue to innovate with new products and clothing. Their new FXE Storm Suit is amazing and was recognized as best in apparel at the 2010 ICast show. I have fished some pretty nasty days and this suit will allow me to fish as comfortably as possible in the most extreme of conditions. Frabill is also the leader in Ice Fishing with shelters, ice suits, rods and reels, etc. If you want to catch fish through the ice Frabill products will help you do it better! They also have the best live bait management systems on the market. I will be at retail locations showing the benefits of these products and my other sponsors throughout the year!

My first tournament is the MWC Illinois River which is less than 3 weeks away. I will be giving a tournament preview and will do my best to update this blog weekly throughout the season. I look forward to sharing the good and the bad, hopefully there will be more good than bad!

See you later on down the river!