With the MWC moving the tournament to a Friday I was only going to have two days to pre-fish. I decided to head down the Saturday and Sunday before the tournament despite the river being a mess from the snowmelt. We had to do a little ice breaking even to get on the water.
This ended up being an expensive decision as one of my favorite jigging rods didn't even make it on the water. Good thing GLoomis and Shimano have a lifetime guarantee!
I pre-fished with Mark Michael and Bad Brad Munda. In two days of fishing we did not catch a fish. I wasn't surprised on Saturday as visibility was around 2". Sunday the river was well past the crest and visibility had increased to 4-5". With no rain in the forecast and mild temperatures in the forecast, there was no doubt fishing would be much better when I returned on Wednesday.
My partner, Scott Pirnstill aka Shooter, was unable to pre-fish so I called on Jim Lukancic to help me out. I felt strongly that the tournament was going to be won downstream and that is where we spent most of our time. The fish were still migrating upstream and we couldn't connect with the right fish to say the least.
We did find one area that did not have a lot of boat traffic that I felt had great potential. Jim lost a real nice fish, I caught a legal and missed one. I thought if we fished this all day we could win the tournament but we could also zero. We moved on and hooked up with a couple of decent fish and found a pod of male Sauger's up to 19" with an occasional female Sauger mixed in.
The night before the tournament I was not happy with the game plan I put together. I really wanted to go down river but it was extremely risky. If we didn't catch a couple of nice fish we would have to go upstream and fish with a lot of boats. I thought the best plan was to go upstream, catch a limit of 18-19" males with the hope of getting a bonus fish or two while fishing deep. This way we could get a quick limit before the fish were pressured and then focus on shallow, big fish, spots.
We started right in the middle of the river in a community spot just upriver from takeoff. We had a limit by 9 AM, the problem, most were small with the exception of an 18-1/2 female Shooter caught. You can't win on Day 1 but you can fish yourself out of the tournament so we went into grinder mode. Slowly but surely we had put a decent limit in the boat. The highlight of the morning is when I dropped my left jigging rod on the gunnel as I went to net the fish. The rod took one bounce and went in the river. I tried to net the rod but missed. The entire time Shooter is yelling at me to net his fish. I was pretty bummed and told a couple of the boats next to us to let me know if they catch my rod.
The very next pass Shooter yells "get the net"! I run to the back of the boat and he had hooked my GLoomis rod right on one of the eyelets. We were screaming and giving high five's. I am sure most thought we were crazy!
Greenhorn Shooter, who for the second year in a row didn't pre-fish, came out firing. About 12:30 he landed a 20" male walleye and all of sudden we had a decent bag of fish going. He also lost a big fish that would have been a huge help.
I decided to move into the first break from shore and it was game on. I lost a Sauger around 20" at the net. Shooter tickled its tail with the net as it swam away. Shortly later Shooter landed an 18-1/2" female Sauger. I made another pass and caught a 20", 3 pound 9 ounce, Sauger. All of a sudden we were in contention. We made several other passes with no success so we headed down river to the spot that caused me to lose sleep.
We made one pass at my spot with no luck. Knowing that females were on that shallow break we headed back for a couple more passes. Lucky we did as Shooter caught a really fat 18" Sauger at 3:05. We ended the day sorting through 15-20 keepers to weigh 14-02 which was good enough for 3rd place, less than a pound out of first.
We headed out in 3rd place behind Mark Mearvy who is a two time winner and a jigging legend. In first were Adam and Steve Sandor winners in 2009 when we finished third. Top that off with Danny Plautz, another past winner in 5th. That is pretty good company. Mix that in with not being confident the bigger fish would be in the same spot and I had a restless night of sleep!
Just like last year, I was hot on day 2 and we were about on the same pace as day 1. Unfortunately, we had all males, four between 18-19" but we caught a ton of 14" Sauger's that we could not upgrade. We checked the shallow break where we caught them on Day 1 but they just weren't there. I thought we had around 9 pounds and wanted to get at least 10 to secure a check. We just couldn't get that last one and we died on our spot.
It was tempting to go down river as the word was out that a lot of big weights came out of an area down river. Tempting but not right so we waited for the fish that never came. We ended up weighing 9-06 and held onto to finish 16th good enough to cash a check.
I did talk to Danny Plautz after the tournament, who finished fourth, and he caught most of his fish where I wanted to fish. I wish we could have caught an upgrade and I would have made the run. I don't know if it would have made a difference as most of the fish Danny caught were early.
All things considered it was a good tournament. We put ourselves in a position to win we just didn't get it done. Shooter and I have been in the hunt down there several times. If we keep knocking one of these days the door will open for a win! With the risk of sounding like a Cub fan, wait until next year!