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