Conditions were good at our 6:30 takeoff with rain in the forecast for the afternoon. I was boat 92 out of 109. I made it up to Lock and Dam #3 as the third boat with one more boat behind me. Any doubts of being able to fish my spots went away and I could not wait to get through this lock and up to my number 1 spot!
I made it to my first spot a little after 7 AM. Within minutes we had a fat 22 inch walleye in the boat casting a crank bait and I was feeling good! It didn't take long for fish number 2 and 3 to be in the boat, unfortunately they were only 16" and 17-1/2 inches. The rules allowed for 5 fish to be weighed. Once you put your 7th fish in the live well you are done as no culling is allowed. I was surprised to catch two fish in this area under 20 inches as I had not caught one while pre-fishing. I was conservative and decided to put them both in the live well. It was about 8:30 and I decided to stick with my plan and hop to another spot.
I went down river about one half of a mile and on my first pass I had what I wanted, a beautiful, fat, 27 inch walleye. When that thing hit the net I was hopping around the boat like Daffy Duck. I gained my composure and made another pass which resulted in an 18-1/2 inch walleye. It was again decision time but I decided to put this one in the live well hoping that it would be my smallest fish of the day. I had my limit by 9 AM and I guessed I had about 15 pounds. This was Ok but to have a chance to be in the top 10 I knew I needed to be in the 20 pound range.
I continued to fish my second spot with no luck and started hopping spots. We continued to catch fish but they were 16-18 inches so we let them go. Finally around noon my co-angler, Jesse, says "I think I got one". I turned around and looked at his rod and knew it was a good one. Jesse played the fish perfectly and I slid the Frabill net under a 23 inch walleye. Oh did that feel good! With this fish we had 27, 23, 22, 18-1/2 and a 17-1/2. Our estimate was 19-20 pounds.
One more good fish and we are really dealing! Unfortunately, we could not get an upgrade. When we went through the locks this morning the lock master informed us that a barge was due to be at the lock around noon. It was 1:30 and that barge had not gone by us. Knowing that a barge can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours (worst case) I made the decision to lock through to pool 4. With a 19 pound plus basked I did not want to risk being late.
We still had a couple hours of fishing which we spent checking out big fish spots. Unfortunately, we did not get another fish so we headed to the weigh our fish. Rain had moved in around 2 PM and was coming down harder as we waited in the harbor. I did not care as I had my new Frabill Stormsuit and 19 pounds in the live well!
The five walleyes weighed in at 19.12 pounds and we ended the day in 12th place. Of the 109 boats 5 total locked up to pool 3, three of us were in the top 12. I love those odds!
I didn't think it was possible but I actually slept worse than I did the night before! I knew conditions were changing. The water was coming up which was increasing the current. The temperature dropped and the wind was forecasted to come out of the Northeast. Someone who has a lot more experience than I told me this was the worst wind for the style of fishing I was doing. I still felt confident as you can see in the interview I gave for Steve at WalleyeFirst WalleyeFirst Roy Vivian.
The order of boats went in reverse order and I was the 19th boat to takeoff. As I turned the corner I saw one of my worst nightmares, a boat tower in the lock! Uh Oh! In my interview with Walleye First I did not mention a barge in the lock as being a threat. Unfortunately, the barge had just arrived and we were not going up river anytime soon! Any time you use a lock in a tournament risk is involved. Plan B was in action and I started fishing areas that were close to the lock.
We jigged the West side of the river below the dam and then went to the east side, nothing! We then tried casting jigs and crank baits to the rocks along the Minnesota side. We caught a ton of fish but they were white and smallmouth bass. I spoke with someone later who caught a 7 pounder in an area that was also invested with white and smallmouth bass. He said you had to catch all of those fish first before you could the bait down to the walleyes. We tried but we had no walleyes to show for our efforts.
Finally, what seemed forever, the barge was through the lock and we entered. It was 8:05 and I was anxious to say the least. Once through I made a mad dash to my spot. I arrived at my spot about 8:30. Even though I had 3 fish by this time the day before I was still confident.
Just like the day before, almost immediately, we had a nice walleye in the boat. The 23 incher came in the same spot on the same crank bait. Now that made me feel better but catching another fish became a struggle. It was evident early that the water had risen and the current had increased. The north wind didn't help as it also increased the flow.
Finally, around 10:30 I caught a 17-1/2" walleye. Not exactly what I was looking for but it helped. It was becoming obvious that I was not able to control my boat like I did the day before. I lost close to 10 rigs. I don't think I lost one in the previous 5 days of fishing! After breaking off for the third time I knew I was in trouble!
I tried everything I could think of including anchoring but to no avail. I was extremely frustrated and did my best to keep my composure. I decided to head to the lock around 1:30 and began jigging the main channel in Pool 4. I was hoping to fill out my limit with 2-3 pounders in the middle of the channel. I didn't think this would get me in the top 10 but at least it would salvage a check.
I caught a walleye that barely measured 15 inches and I put that in the live well as quick as I could. That fish would end up being worth $2000. I did not catch another fish and went to the weigh-in with my tail between my legs.
My weight ended up at 7-1/2 pounds and somehow I finished 26th which was good enough to cash a check as they paid out the top 30 boats. I wasn't the only one who struggled as a number of anglers who had a big weight on day 1 couldn't follow it up with a good day 2. That is not unusual in a river tournament especially when conditions are changing and fish are in transition. The old saying "here today and gone tomorrow" certainly was the case for many.
I finished about 5 pounds out of the top 10 which was really disappointing! I knew I was on the right fish, I just could not adapt to the changing conditions. I certainly learned from my failure and I am confident that I will be a better fisherman because of my experience. That doesn't mean I was happy! Opportunities to be in the top 10 with a chance to win do not come around often and I feel like I let one slip away.
One of the reasons I love tournament fishing is because I feel the same emotions that I did when I played baseball. I hated losing then and I hate losing now. If I had a bad day on the diamond I could not wait for the next game. I feel the same now and can't wait for the next tournament!