2018 National Walleye Tour – Saginaw Bay

Stop #2 Cabelas National Walleye Tour June 14th and 15th.

Practice-

I was really excited when I saw this tournament on the schedule, after all it’s the Great Lakes and I love everything about the challenge of Great Lakes Walleyes.

I had done some research prior to this event, more than normal actually. This was due to the fact that none of us had ever fished a tourney  here before. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning, a clean slate, no history simply pre fishing at its purest form. Due to a cold spring it seemed like everything was behind a little bit. Many of the past tournaments this time of year made mention of the Charity Islands and other far away areas that were basically summer homes for the fish that spawned in Saginaw Bay.

My first day of practice I headed out to the charity island area, to get a lay of the land. My first impression was sterile and cold. We ended up catching 1 or 2 fish that day pulling Berkley Flicker Minnows over the series of humps on the north side of the Islands.

As practice progressed it was very obvious that there was millions of smaller fish to be had in the inner bay. 60 to 100 fish days were pretty easy pulling Flicker Shads, or spinners. The problem with all these bites was the fact that they were all 2 to 3 lbers. This quickly made me leave the inner bay, and search for tourney winning fish.

These adventures included 1 to 1.5 hr drives each morning, and started a cycle of 5 hr sleeps and long days on the water. 5 days prior to the tourney I launched in the Port Austin area. From there my pre fish partner Aron and I adventured further, all the way around the thumb pushing 70 to 90 miles away from take off. The first time in the area we eventually found success. I was pulling #11 and #9 Flicker Minnows along a steep breakline when we had our first nibble. A Double!  As Aron reeled his in slow and steady I couldn’t help but think this was a 5 to 7lb. Walleye.  I was also fighting the exact same caliber fish. When his fish finally came to the boat, I exclaimed dang it , it’s a Lake trout. The fish was very dark, and almost foreign looking. A couple seconds later the fish came off and I was left reeling in the 2nd part of our double. When my fish came to the boat, I looked and saw another Lake trout…..untill the fish got with 3 ft. of the boat, I finally realized it was one of the coolest 6 lb. Walleyes I had ever seen. The reason I didn’t recognize Aron’s fish as a Walleye was the fact that these fish have evolved to be completely dark, almost all the way around, literally the only thing white was a 1 inch strip on their belly’s.  Truly a special fish.

8 hrs later we had landed 5 fish, all in the 4 to 6 lb range and had a bench mark for a quality area. 2 days before the tourney we returned to this area, and the water temp had dropped from 56 down to 48 degrees. Our trolling pass was a flop…. no bites. I had a sense of disappointment , but instead of tucking tail and heading south I decided to put my brain to work. I asked myself, what do Walleyes like to bite in 40 something degree water….. Rattle baits! I snapped on a Rattle Bait and we proceeded to cast. within 15 mins I had one pick  it up off the bottom, I set the hook on a nice sized fish, and it was off. “Man that felt like a Walleye” I told Aron. 15 mins later I felt the most wonderful “tick” in the world. As I set the hook, I said “That’s a Walleye” and proceeded to reel in a 6lber! next cast… 5Lber. Let the Anticipation begin, we are onto something!

I was able to find 3 solid areas that were all holding fish, some of them we caught fish and others I simply used my Lowrance SideScan and confirmed the fish were sitting on the rock to sand transition. This was a great feeling, I was on tourney winning fish the only problem, was they were 70 plus miles from take off!

Day 1-

I had Jeff Sass as a Co and we were ready for an adventure. Jeff was from the Green Bay area, and had casted a rattle bait a lot. The weather report called for 4 plus ft. waves with wind calming down in the afternoon. I had made the decision that I didn’t care if it took me 3 hrs. to get to spot A  I was going.

The morning started off steady, Jeff and I had 3 or 4 fish in the box in the first hour. I made am move into the rock to sand transition area I had left alone where the back to back fish and happened in practice. We proceeded to upgrade a couple fish and catch some dandies.

After catching a solid bag, I made the decision to give ourselves plenty of time to get back, and to also save some bites for day 2 on that spot. I was excited knowing I hadn’t even touched my 2nd spot yet.

22.43 lbs. good for 7th place after day 1. Jeff and I were only 2 pounds out of the lead.

Day 2-

I got Paired with my travel partner Chris, and the plan was simple.  Go back to the primary area, whack 25lbs and cash a sweet check!

The water had warmed in the area, and day 2 ended up being a Drum catching festival for the ages! we must’ve caught 20 each. That Primary area only gave us 3 Walleye in the 3 lb. range.  I had let my partner Dustin start on my secondary area with an agreement that he would get 5 quality fish off of it then leave it alone for me as an afternoon emergency spot. As I started my pass on spot B it was evident that it was all Drum here also.

We scrambled back towards the launch and managed to put one more small fish in the box to salvage 10lbs on day 2. This was an absolute let down, I was on tournament winning fish and failed to make the decisions to capitalize on the opportunity.

As I watched Dustin weigh in, It was bitter sweet he had 21.3 lbs.  which he got in an hour on what I though should of been my secondary spot. I was super happy for him, but it was tough pill to swallow after the start I had.

I ended up in 17th Place which was a decent check, but not what I wanted at all. Brett King took the title with his partner Joe Okada a couple ounces behind.  I have always looked up to these 2 Great Lakes Hammers, and I can only dream to be hoisting a trophy on a Great Lakes tourney some day.

 

2018 National Walleye Tour- Lake Winnebago

The 1st stop of the 2018 Cabelas National Walleye Tour.

Practice:

When I saw that the tournament had been changed from our home water of Pool 4 on the Mississippi to Lake Winnebago, I was excited for the challenge. I love fishing Lake Winnebago, I’ve always had a great pre fish on this lake, but have never put it together 2 days in a row during the tournament.

Practice started off great, the Walleyes had finished spawning and were progressing back to their summer homes on the Lake. The team of Bill Shimota, Dustin Minke, Dewey Hjelm and myself quickly started putting a pattern together catching tourney grade fish. These fish were in the 3 to 5 lb. range and we were absolutely whacking them pulling Slow Death, small spinners , and pitching Berkley Ripple shads around the main lake reefs. Our other primary pattern was pulling Slow Death and flies in the mouth of the river. This was a standard thing, and it was obvious there would be a lot of people doing it come tournament time per usual.

The plan was simple, start in the mouth of the fox river, try to get a couple lottery bites, then head out to the reefs and catch as many 3 plus pounders you wanted!

Day 1-

My Co angler for the day was Drake Herd’s Dad, John Herd. I was very confident in our game plan, and had the feeling we were doing something just different enough to have a chance to do very well.

Our morning started with a great boat # and in essence the pole position for first pass at the river mouth. We pulled a combo of a single fly rig coupled with a down rod with slow death. The big bites didn’t happen, but the bright side was, I got to watch my partner Dustin Minke put on a clinic right next to me. We were catching smaller 15 to 18 inch fish that I was throwing back confidently, waiting and saving room in the live well for those big bites. After 3 hours of nothing worth keeping, I decided to head out to the reefs and start putting together a bag.

As we started fishing it had gone flat calm, never a good thing when fishing shallow rocks! The bites were few and far between, and the size was down from the previous days. With a couple hours left, it was obvious that it was time to start keeping fish of any size. The excitement of the day was how it took don to the last minutes to box our final keeper. It’s always fun to look back with a glass half full mentality and appreciate the little things, in this case the scramble to box 5 legal fish.

I was siting middle to bottom of the pack with a measly 9.19lbs after the weigh in.

Dustin was sitting in 1st, Bill and Dewey had respectable bags and were in good position to make a move on day 2.

 

Day 2-

I had made the decision to start on the reefs, after my lack of success in the rive mouth, this did one of 2 things. a) Dustin had the current seem to himself to hopefully win the tourney. b) I could rifle through a bunch of fish to hopefully have 15 plus lbs.

A serious Cold front had come in, and I was wearing every article of Simms clothing I had brought along.

The bite was slow and steady for Iowa Dave and myself, but we were boxing nice sized fish. It was a mix between the slow death and the small spinners, basically the #1 challenge was keeping the boat at a slower speed in the 1 to 1.2 mph range. The NE 20 plus mph wind made it difficult.

As the Day went along I was getting a sense of accomplishment, I was making moves fishing 2 different reefs, and kept resting and returning to the prime areas continuing to catch fish. With an hour left to fish, I decided to go back to the river mouth to try and put the icing on the cake with a kicker fish. With about 20 mins left to fish, we landed a 3.5Lber and I made the decision to keep it as your final fish.

When the Dust had settled, Dave and I weighed 14.94lbs, jumping me into 42nd place, which was respectable considering my day 1 weight.

The Team did great, and I was very happy for my partners. Dustin Minke took 11th, Dewey Hjelm 12th, and Bill Shimota 24th.

In hindsight, the lesson learned was: Have a better gauge on how good of a bite we were on. we all knew we were destroying fish in practice with the pattern that we were using. I could of easily weighed 13 to 15 lbs day 1 also, if I hadn’t spent the time in the River. It’s always easy to look back at a tourney and see what you could’ve done differently, but this one was unique in the fact that if I wasn’t fishing for the win like usual, I could’ve cashed a really solid check and made some great AOY points. That is, if I dedicated more time to the reefs on day 1.