The 2008 Migration Open was held on Lake Erie out of the Geneva State Park Marina. It was an open format tournament and a joint effort between the Western Basin Sportfishing Association (WBSA) and the Western Reserve Walleye Association (WRWA). As a regional level event the tournament field featured some of the finest amateur and professional big water anglers from Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Big water, big walleye, heavy tournament weights, and heavy weight competition, that’s tournament walleye fishing on Lake Erie!
Like most serious anglers, I face the same challenges and obstacles of finding enough time to commit to my passion — walleye fishing! Sometimes between work, family, and other responsibilities and commitments, there is not enough time to be as prepared as I would like to be before each tournament. Those who know me know that I’m a stickler for preparation, planning and pre-fishing.
Tournament fishing is a whole different ball game than recreational fishing. You have to be able to consistently perform under the pressure of competition. In order to be successful you must be able to consistently catch a limit of big fish to be in the race. You have to be versatile and be able to fish in any and all conditions. The scales don’t lie and “they just weren’t biting today” is not an adequate excuse.
Normally, I’m able to get at least one day on the water pre-fishing prior to a tournament, but for this event the cards did not fall in place to allow for the time to pre-fish. My partner and I had just returned from fishing the Cabela’s National Team Championship on Lake Oahe in South Dakota and after having been gone for over a week we both had to get caught up at our day jobs and with all the usual tasks and chores in life. We would have to fish this event “cold” with no time on the tournament waters prior to the event, a fairly daunting task.
With Lake Erie being the huge body of water that it is and the roving nature of the walleye it contains, what were we going to do? Where would the fish be? How would we go about catching them? We had to refer to rule #1 from my fishing philosophy: You can’t catch a fish if you don’t wet a line™! That’s just what we did the day of the tournament, we went out and fished!
Don’t get me wrong, I’d fished out of Geneva before so we had some previous experience to rely on. We just didn’t have any recent information on what the bite was going to be. Due to the nature of competition, prior to a tournament event information on specific fish locations and presentation methods is hard to come by. Would it be diving planers, cranks on boards, spoons or spinners? What about locations, depth, speed? I just didn’t have the usual information that would be gathered during pre-fishing, so we just had to go for it.
The night before the tournament I talked with my partner, Joe Centofanti, and we decided that we would head North East and start fishing in 72 feet of water. Why? It was part experience and part hunch. We decide to pull Slide Diver Lite-Bites teamed with spoons and Reef Runner 800 Series crankbaits behind Church Tackle Co. planer boards, and to let the fish tell us what they wanted. We trolled around 2 mph to start and adjusted our speed up and down throughout the day. Why? Again, it was part experience and part hunch.
The result: Success! We did enough of the right things at the right time and place to take second place out of a field of 53 teams, cashing a very nice check, scoring a couple of plaques, and most of all earning some well deserved respect! The majority of our fish came from up high in the water column on the Reef Runners and some on spoons paired with Jet Divers. Both were presented behind in-line planer boards to allow us to spread our lines away from the boat. This allowed us to cover more water on each trolling pass and to avoid having the boat spook the fish. These are standard walleye fishing presentation methods. The key was applying them under the right set of circumstances.
The fish were scattered with very few being caught close together. When our competitors turned back to make another trolling pass we decided to keep on going. I knew we had to locate a concentration of fish and hopefully some big ones! Instead of wondering about what our competitors we’re doing we stuck with our instincts and it paid off with our two biggest fish of the day. You have to have confidence and rely on your knowledge to be successful at tournament fishing and fishing in general. Were we lucky? Most would say yes and I would agree. We were lucky that we trusted our instincts and relied on experience and knowledge to help us do the right things and to be in the right place at the right time. We created our own luck! How? We simply went fishing.
Remember: You can’t catch a fish if you don’t wet a line™!
The author (left) and tournament partner Joe Centofanti display the results of being “lucky” during a tournament on Lake Erie.