I arrived in Red Wing late Friday night, April 20 and was anxious to hit the water. On Saturday morning I was joined by Chad Setterholm who lives in the Minneapolis area. The first day is a relaxed day as I am just trying to get a feel for the river conditions. Chad, pictured above, was the first to strike with this scrapper he caught jigging, the skunk was out of the boat!
Shortly after I caught this 16 inch female that was still full of eggs. We were in a spawning area that generally holds big fish. I lost what seemed to be a nice walleye shortly after this fish but we decided to move on with the thought that these fish would be spawned out by the first day of the tournament on Thursday.
We spent the rest of the day fishing areas that we hoped would hold large, post spawn, walleyes. I checked out numerous areas in the back channels and at the head of Lake Pepin. I have had success in these areas in the past, however the low water and flow made finding fish difficult. We did catch several more throughout the day including one nice one. It was clear the low flow had fish spread out. Covering water was going to be key to finding the right fish.
When I fish major tournaments I am always trying to find spots that are off of the beaten path. The tournament was out of Red Wing and Pool 4. However, pool 3 (up to Prescott) and pool 5 were both in play. I have never fished pool 3 but I thought having to go through the lock would discourage most from fishing the pool.
There were about 10 other boats that had the same thoughts as I did which still leaves plenty of elbow room. Chad and I spent most of the morning looking for big fish in Buffalo Slough. We didn't have a keeper until around 11 AM when we caught several males that were around 15 inches, not exactly what we were looking for! I did lose one really nice fish on a jig and plastic. We stuck around to see if we could get one in the boat with no luck.
Around 1 PM we decided to concentrate on the main river channel. We were really struggling and by 3:30 we had not caught another keeper. I decided to try a different method and started my pass. I must say I was not expecting anything when the 22 inch walleye pictured below absolutely slammed my bait.
Now that got my attention. This fish was a tournament walleye, fat and aggressive, exactly what I would need on tournament days. After a quick photo and measurement I put her back in the water and made another pass. I recreated my last pass and before I could even hope for another fish another one crushed Chad's bait in the exact same spot! In the picture below Chad is holding this fat 25-1/2 incher.
Holy crap, I was really excited. This fish was close to 6 pounds with the other one weighing 4 pounds. There was a boat nearby so we left as covertly as we could. I knew I was on to something but it was almost 4:30 and I had to get Chad back to his truck. I would have to come back up later in the week to see if what I found was a reliable pattern.
The weather forecast for Monday was nasty and they were right on! If I had indeed found the fish I was looking for on Sunday, I was going to have to find some spots between the takeoff and the lock so I decided to fish the upper section of Pool 4. I got to the ramp at 7 AM. It was raining/sleeting and 40 degrees with a horrible wind out of the North. Normally there would be 25 plus boats at the landing, I was the second one. I guess I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer!
I headed up to the dam and fished the sand on the Wisconsin side of the channel. I barely got my jig and plastic down and caught a 16 incher. About 5 minutes later I had this 25 plus incher slam my jig and plastic!
I guess I shouldn't be shocked, river walleyes aren't as moody as their lake cousins. I ended up catching an 18 inch pre-spawn sauger on the next pass. Fishing was pretty easy but I was worried that a lot of the fish near the dam would begin to migrate down river by tournament day so I went exploring.
The rain stopped and the boats began to show up, most of which were trolling lead core on the flats and in the main channel. I caught several fish the rest of the day but nothing like I had caught on Sunday. I am sure there was an occasional nice fish being caught but I knew there would be a ton of boats fishing fighting over the same fish. This gave me more confidence, the rest of the week I was going to be in Pool 3.
Tuesday and Wednesday
I spent Tuesday and Wednesday refining my pattern. I looked for similar spots with the hope of putting together a milk run of spots. Much of both days were unproductive fishing wise, but extremely valuable as I was able to eliminate areas. If I went into an area that had fish I knew it right away. These fish were aggressive and the right size. I am not sure how many fish I caught on Tuesday but I caught quite a few with my best five weighing around 20 pounds. I found 7-8 similar spots that were holding the "right" fish and my confidence was riding high going into the tournament.
I went to the rules meeting and there was a lot of discussion on what it would take to make the cut. I knew some were struggling when they thought that 12-1/2 pounds a day would make the cut. I was hoping they were right but I thought that it was going to take 20 pounds on day one with something similar on day two. If they were right I was confident that I was going to be really happy after Thursday!
Next: Tournament Days