Why Even Bother?
Mobridge, SD was next on the schedule. I have never fished in the Dakota's, it is a 12 hour drive and my niece was getting married that weekend. That left Bay's de Noc in Escanaba, MI. Crap! I love fishing the area and it is only four hours away. I have had pre-fishing days where catching 28"-29" walleyes was easy, often at the same time.
The problem is the two tournaments I had fished out of Escanaba, I was in the bottom 10. My record a little south in Green Bay isn't much better. If I was going to have any success I needed to have a plan, a different plan.
Out With the Old
In the past I tried to cover as much water as possible trying to find the hot bite. One day I would be in Little Bay, the next day in Big Bay, the next day on the shoals etc. With endless amounts of structure within the MI boundaries I found myself overwhelmed as can be seen in my past results.
No Team No Problem
Walleye tournaments are dominated by teams and "super" teams. Some teams are formed by longtime friends, blood and others by design. On a tour like the NWT, that has several stops, some teams will form on their expertise. For example one team member might be a guide on Lake Erie and excels in open water trolling but rarely fishes rivers. So he/she looks for an expert river fisherman. Throw in experience fishing on the Missouri River reservoirs out west and the structure filled Green Bay and you have a well diversified team.
It can be a little intimidating knowing that not only am I fishing against some of the best walleye fishermen who have ever lived but they also share information leading up to the tournament. Some of these "super" teams have living legends and multiple hall of fame anglers. Then you have the young anglers who are breathing new life and there own expertise into the sport. A team of 5 can fish five different areas in one day, compare notes at the end of the day and make adjustments. To cover the same amount of water it would take me 5 days. If I was going to have any chance I needed to identify one or two areas and know them like the back of my hand.
To the best of my knowledge the 2012 NWT out of Escanaba was won in Big Bay de Noc with big weights also coming out of the Cedar River area. I decided these were going to be the two areas I would spend my time pre-fishing. To get more lines in the water and to not go crazy my buddy SFC Richard Wright helped me as did my cousin Sam. I wanted to find as many spots as possible within a close proximity to each other or on the way from the launch as possible. As always wind would play a key role so I needed to find spots for all wind conditions. Everything else was the same, fish wind blown structure with crawler harnesses.
This is Easy
I met my cousin Sam and Rich at the Cedar River launch the Saturday for the first day of pre-fishing around 10 AM. I had not fished the area before but I did identify areas on a map to target. It was raining lightly with a SE wind. It didn't take long and we found a shallow wind blown hump holding walleye's over and under 23". Local regulations allow only 2 fish over 23" so finding both "overs" and "unders" in one spot is key.
We then headed to other spots that looked similar and the fish went banana's. Doubles, triples it was unbelievable. Why does this always happen to me on the first day of pre-fishing?
Big Bay de Not
With fish going in the Cedar River area I headed over to Big Bay de Noc. The water temperature was a couple of degrees colder and the bite was the same. I did mark a few fish and a lot of bait but couldn't find any active fish. I then went out to the sprawling shoals. Water temperatures were the same as Big Bay and I had the same results. I ruled out Big Bay and the shoals. The rest of my pre-fishing was done between Escanaba and my spots south.
Wind Vs. No Wind
The rest of pre-fishing was great when the wind blew. I would go into a spot, catch 3 or 4 then go look for a similar spot. The walleye's were concentrated on specific spots of the structure. There was a lot of unproductive water but when you found them they would eat.
The problem was when there was no wind. A couple of the spots I was fishing had huge boulders and the fish would be in as shallow as 5' of water. With no wind you could see the boulders down to 15' and the bite was gone. I found some fish in deep weeds but not enough to make me confident. After a day and a half of scratching my head I finally found fish on a deep break.
As pre-fishing winded down I felt good about my day 1 chances with the SE winds forecasted. I wasn't as confident about Day 2 as winds were to be calm early and out of the north late in the afternoon. I was hoping the fish I found on the deep breaks would be there to carry the day.
Close But No Cigar
Day 1 couldn't have gone much better as I caught 3 perfect "unders" and 2 nice "overs". I was in first place after the first 50-60 fisherman and ended up in 3rd less than a pound out of first. On day 2 the wind didn't blow and my bite went with the wind. I couldn't find any fish on the deep breaks and with that went my chances of winning. I did get two "overs" that helped me hold on and cash a check with a 23rd place finish.
My hats off to those that were able to adjust to the changing conditions. My plan almost worked but in the end it failed. I did learn from the experience and look forward to applying those learnings when I am in a similar situation. Hopefully with a different result. Next year can't get here soon enough!