An end of season reflection from a second year pro
It is the end of September, and for all intents and purposes, tournament walleye fishing is over. So now what? Do I just crawl into a hole and hibernate until next April? If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t stop, you just can’t. This season was full of highs, and plenty of lows as well. It tested friendships, equipment, and determination. However, in the end, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Being the youngest pros to fish the AIM Pro Walleye Series was a struggle within itself. Not too many seasoned veterans take two-22 year olds all that seriously, however, we found the best way to change that, is to put fish in the boat. It was hard, but in the end, we qualified for the tour championship, however, that is a different story all together.
The season started out with a top-20 finish in Winneconne, WI in April. All week we had a trolling and jigging bite, which died the day of the tournament, as well as our trolling motor, leaving us for the wolves. After driving 2 hours each day to practice, sleeping on tile floors in other angler’s rooms, and the worst wind burn I’ve ever had, we were not going to blank. After a small, mid-lake freakout session, we regrouped and went back to our roots. We ran back to the takeoff in the Fox River, and quickly converted our trolling rods into 3-way rigging rods, dragging homemade bucktail flies behind the boat.
Sometimes you just need to keep things simple, and in this case, it worked. Right away, one of the rods went back, jerking and bending. Quickly, I reeled it in to find a 22 inch walleye, just what we needed! Not 5 seconds later, the second rod went. We were putting on a clinic in front of the guys who had been fishing the river all morning with only 1 or 2 decent fish on the board! The feeling was incredible as we pulled in our 4th fish, our 5th fish, and as we continued to upgrade. Within an hour, we had caught a 5 fish limit good enough for 19th place, beating 80% of the field. The finish wasn’t good enough to make it into the money, but it was a good start, and a great moral booster for the season.
If there is one thing we found out right away, it is that this stuff is expensive. I’m grateful for all of the sponsors that have supported me as I have been continuing to grow in the sport, and without them, none of this would have been possible. The biggest thanks goes to the Hansen Family for helping us with the boat, fees, and letting us take over their living room with dozens of rods and hundreds of tackle boxes. If you guys are reading this, thanks again for everything. It means a lot that you are helping us make our dream a reality.
The second stop for the 2014 season was the mighty bay of Green Bay, which is my most favorite place to fish walleyes. Needless to say, I was pretty excited! Practice started with 30mph winds from the south, giving us a great opportunity to put the Tuffy 1760 to the test. If you can run 30mph across 5-6 foot waves: A, you have one hell of a boat, and B, you are insane. Even with the worsening weather, we put several nice fish in the boat, including a solid 27.5 inch female.
All week, we had not found any one pattern that was producing big fish consistently. We had caught fish just about everywhere, and on just about everything. We decided to make a milk run along the east shore south of Bayshore park, and into University Bay. Right away, we started the day with a double not 5 minutes into trolling! We only landed one of the fish, but it felt good to start the day out on the right foot! After that first fish, we didn’t have another bite for nearly an hour, which is when we continued on north. We fired up the Mercury Pro Xs and screamed off to Vincent Point.
Unfortunately for us, the trolling motor once again decided it was not going to cooperate, so, we did a little on the water redneck magic: two drift socks out the front of the boat, while running the big motor at idle. This kicked us up to just over 2mph, and as soon as we hit the right speed, the Offshore OR12 planer boards started falling back! We were fast and furious for a while, getting bit left and right. However, we lost a lot of fish in the prop wash. It was time to figure out a different way to troll. Luckily, my partner checked the oil level once we shut off the Mercury to find that we had just enough to make our run back to the launch. With the big motor out of the question, we had to get creative.
The fish just wouldn’t hit the baits unless they were pushing 2mph or more. Sounds strange, but sometimes walleye are just that finicky. With the wind to our back, I looked at Alex and said, “dude, lets fly a kite!” He though I was loosing it when I grabbed one of our landing nets, crudely tied a drift sock to it, and held it up in the air like a sail. Even the other boats around us were giving us weird looks… “Oh, it’s those weird kids in the Tuffy that doesn’t stay in the water…” they must have been saying. However, as soon as I lifted our sail, the boat sped up, and no joke, the left inside board dropped back, and then the right middle board. We put on quite a show that afternoon, and ended up with a bag good enough for 20.37lbs. Not the best finish, but given the circumstances, a pretty successful day! Not to mention the awesome shot of us getting the boat airborne headed back to weigh in!
The Green Bay tournament really got us into the swing of things. We were better prepared financially, as well as with some new found knowledge of life on the road. It was by far one of my most favorite experiences on the bay, and I can’t wait to get back there next year! The last stop for the qualifying events was on Lake Winnebago. If there is one thing I’ve learned after this tournament, it is how much I really hate sheepshead.
Practice was great! My girlfriend Raina accompanied us all week, and must have been good luck, because we slammed some really nice ‘Bago ‘eyes. The day before the tournament was the only day we didn’t catch any fish, however, it was pretty nasty out, and we only fished for a couple of hours trying some spots we hadn’t tried yet.
We fish with a really great group of guys. We all help each other out, swap equipment, and even try to stay in the same accommodations. So, to all of you guys, and you know who you are, thank you for taking us in and making this season great, and I look forward to many more with you!
The morning of the tournament was calm…too calm. We all took off, engines screaming, turning the green/brown water to a white foam as 100 boats flew to their spots. Our first spot was deep, in the mud trolling flicker shads almost 100 feet behind the boards. We worked the area for nearly a half hour, with no bites…or so we thought. Upon arrival, the wind kicked up and really started blowing, making it hard to watch the boards. We decided to reel up and check the lures to make sure they were clean, and all 6 lines had a 6 inch walleye on them. Frustrated, we ran to our next spot, a 4 foot deep rocky-weedy flat where we had slammed fish in practice.
Sure enough, right away we hooked up. We ended up with a quick 5 fish limit within an hour, and upgraded twice. It was then that we decided to make a long run to our big fish spot, and not long after, regretting that decision. We made it to the east shore, where the waves were all of 5 feet, maybe bigger. We only had the lines out for about 10 minutes when a monster sheepshead took the board under, tangled lines, and we both nearly fell out of the boat! Screw that, time to leave! We ran back to our previous spot in an attempt to continue upgrading. After sorting through more sheepshead the size of manhole covers than I care to mention, we upgraded a few fish to give us a limit of 8.95 pounds. Not too good, but we still finished in the top portion of the field. The guys who won were locals that got on an awesome river bite that nobody else knew about. Sometimes there is just no substitution for experience!
Unfortunately, due to financial reasons (and being full-time college students) we were unable to compete in the championship back on Green Bay this September. For me, it stings. We made it so far, but we just couldn’t keep going. However, this season was in no way a loss, and in so many ways, a win for me. Between all the friends I made, experience gained, and awesome fishing, this season was a success. Learning from this, next year should be even better as we continue playing this game we call tournament fishing. Now the real work begins. Continuing work with sponsors, sports shows, seminars, product development, and this year, money hunting. Until then, it’s time to hang up the jersey, break out the dress shirt and tie, and get to it.