Tournaments definitely a different kettle of fish

Well, it was fun while it lasted, but I’m not sure I’d want to do it every weekend.
The third-annual Emo Walleye Classic is now in the history books and, as usual, there were lots of surprises—pleasant ones for some and not-so-pleasant for others.
This was my first taste of tournament fishing and it certainly bears little resemblance to the recreational variety, especially in such a highly-competitive event.
How competitive?
Consider this: When the final results were tallied Saturday evening, only three teams who finished in the top 10 last year managed to duplicate that feat this time around.
Team #2, consisting of Frank Grunewald and Frank McWhinnie, wound up in fifth spot this year after a second-place performance in 2003 while Team #7 (Bill Godin and Ralph Galusha) again cracked the top 10 by finishing ninth.
And Trevor and Kevin Croswell (Team #10) duplicated their 10th-place finish from a year ago, but all the others were nowhere to be seen.
Such is the nature of the game. There are so many variables in fishing that skill and preparation alone are no guarantee of success. Ultimately, Lady Luck is always a major player—and she can be quite fickle with her affections.
Another major difference from recreational fishing is in technique. Forget about “playing” the fish or trying anything fancy just for fun. This is business and the object is to get the fish in the boat as quickly as possible—both to minimize stress on the fish and to maximize your time on the water.
After all, you only have eight hours on Day One to boat as much weight as you can, and on Day 2 you have only 7.5 hours, so every minute counts.
My partner, Patrick Langevin, and I had a good tournament and managed to take eighth place overall with a good catch on Saturday. It turns out the decisions we made as a result of our pre-fishing experiences paid off—in spite of a drop in the river level of nearly 18 inches over the last week.
As well, we hit and lost some big fish on both days, which might have put us higher in the standings had we succeeded in boating them, but that’s what it’s all about.
The difference between winners and wanna-bes is not letting the big ones get away.
That was the margin of victory for tournament champs Dale Hartlin and Dan Pollard. They landed their big fish, which ultimately accounted for half of their total weight over the two days, while others failed to do so.
Still, there is very little we would have done differently. We found several spots during our pre-fishing outings that were holding fish and then came up with a technique to get them to bite last weekend.
Our strategy hinged on precise depth control and that meant we were utterly dependent upon electronics. We relied almost entirely on pulling crankbaits in what we believed was the “hot zone”—depths of eight-12 feet.
We used sonar to map and follow the 10-foot line and since the depth at which crankbaits run is determined primarily by speed, we used a GPS to precisely maintain a speed of 1.2-1.3 knots against the current.
Through experimentation, we found this speed put our lures almost on the bottom without hanging up. When we ventured into slightly deeper or shallower water, we had to adjust our speed accordingly.
As a result of our pre-fishing experiences and our results from Day One on Friday, we decided Saturday morning over breakfast at the Circle D Restaurant in Emo to pass up two of the areas we had worked earlier and instead concentrate our efforts solely on the one spot that consistently had produced fish for us.
It would seem our gamble paid off, since by noon, we had four fish in the boat and were beginning to cull the smaller ones.
The weather Saturday presented a real challenge for most teams. The wind out of the southeast was so strong, anchoring was virtually impossible and even the electric trolling motor could not hold a position for long.
Fortunately, this was not as significant a factor for us as it might have been for other teams, since we spent the whole day trolling the same spot over and over again.
It was tedious work and the wind demanded close attention to boat control, but it seems it paid off.
Nevertheless, no one was more surprised than we were when we discovered we were in first place after we weighed-in Saturday afternoon.
I knew that wouldn’t stand up for long, though. Our two-day total was slightly less than 14 pounds and I expected it would take at least 15 to even crack the top 10.
However, as the final teams checked in, we realized the weights were not going to be as high as predicted. In fact, Hartlin and Pollard’s winning weight was less than a pound above the top weight last year—and several pounds under what I thought it would take to top the 53-boat field and snag the championship.
But then again, that’s fishing for you. You just never know where Lady Luck is going to flash her winning smile.