I'm sure that some of you have wondered what it is like in the exciting world of professional tournament fishing. The following is an account of daily activities on the way to and from a tournament and what goes on during pre-fishing and tournament days. I've included actual events and the pertinent thoughts that went through my head, the mistakes I made and the things that I learned. I hope you find it interesting.
The tournament covered here was the 2006 In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail event on one of my favorite lakes. Devils Lake in North Dakota is a natural lake that has no natural outlet. It is a growing lake due to the inflow of water during a time when North Dakota is in a wet spell. The lake is now over 130,000 acres and is consuming farmland and buildings. Much of the fishing in the lake is around roadbeds, old buildings, the flooded timber of windbreaks and other lakes and ponds that are now accessible from the main lake by going through shallow marshes or over roadbeds. Northern pike, yellow perch, white bass and walleye are all abundant in this system. Walleye can be caught in many different ways on this lake. Whatever is your favorite way to fish for walleye can be used to catch fish.
Day 1 (Wednesday)
I left home at 5:30 am. I plan on being in Devils Lake this evening after completing a 16 hour drive. I'm going through Rapid City because I want to stop at Scheels All Sport to look at a 5 foot trolling rod for pulling lead core. This would give a nice spread with my 10 foot G. Loomis rods on the outside and these 5 footers on the inside. From what I've heard they handle the lead and flex well to handle the fish.
It is noon and I'm almost to Rapid City. I notice that my fenders on my boat trailer are getting splattered with something. It is not raining and the roads are dry. I hope it isn't what I think it is. I pull over and sure enough the transfer case in the truck is leaking fluid again. I just had a seal replaced last week when this happened on my way back from the last tournament in Wisconsin. It looks like they didn't do it right.
Spend 3 hours at the Chevy dealer in Rapid City. They patch up a hole in my transfer case with JB Weld, fill it up and I'm on my way. I'll have to get it fixed right when I get home but I can't wait 2 days for parts right now. Hope it holds
I head to Scheels to check out the rods. They don't have any and there's a waiting list to get one. I buy a bunch of crankbaits I don't have and a spare sonar transducer and drive some more. I made it to Aberdeen at midnight and stop for the night. The truck cost me a half a day of pre-fishing.
Day 2 (Thursday)
I leave Aberdeen at 6:30 am and get to Devils Lake at 10:30. I stop at the car wash and hose down the boat and trailer to remove the fluid and dirt from the transfer case leak. I get everything prepared and get on the water about noon.
I decide to check out a couple of spots I know in Creel Bay. The wind is blowing from the south at 25 MPH and the waves are about 2 feet. Water temp is 51 degrees. Nothing happening in my first spots. One area I want to fish has a boat sitting on it. I head over to 6 Mile Bay to check out another spot. Water over there is about the same temperature. I cast the shoreline with a Shad Rap. Catch a couple of small northerns and finally catch a nice 20 inch walleye. It looks like the pattern of casting to reeds still holds.
I get off the water about 6:00 and meet up with my buddy Kevin, who's also fishing the tournament, for dinner and to find out what he's caught. Kevin caught a couple of 18 to 24 inch walleyes casting crankbaits, but nothing until late in the day. I head over to my friend Bruce's house where I'm staying and discuss the fishing with Bruce. Bruce is saying that the crankbait bite doesn't get going until the water warms up. I get to bed about 10:30.
Day 3 (Friday)
I get up at 5:30 and meet up with Kevin at his camp. We head over to Graham's Island State Park to launch our boats. We will fish on this side of the lake because we're picking up Bruce and Kevin's wife at 1:00. Kevin and I split up to work the north side of Mauvis bay. Wind is still from the south but light, water temperature is 57 degrees. This should be better.
I do some exploring and head into a marsh that we couldn't get into the last time I was here. The entrance is a foot and a half deep but it drops to 4 feet inside. I catch a bunch of nice northerns but no walleyes. The water temperature is over 60 degrees in this marsh. I've got to believe that the walleyes will come in here at some point during the tournament.
At 1:00 we pick up Bruce and Kevin's wife at 6 Mile Bay boat ramp. We head to Doc Haggan's Island. We split up to cover the bay. Bruce is in my boat and after a few casts he has a follow. I make a couple more casts and catch a 24 inch walleye that I shake off at the boat so no one sees it. I make a few more casts and catch another nice walleye and shake it off. We're out of here.
We head down to New Mill Bay. Kevin heads to throw cranks on a spot and Bruce and I work the old gravel road with live bait rigs. We catch a couple of 16 inch walleye and decide to leave. This will be a good spot to catch a limit if needed but they're not tournament winners. We check out a couple of casting spots in New Mill but no decent walleyes.
We check out another bay near Fort Totten and catch a few nice northerns, but no walleyes. Looks like good stuff to fish as the lake warms. Head back to the boat ramp and get off the water about 7:00. Eat supper and go to bed.
Day 4 (Saturday)
Get up at 5:30 and go to town for breakfast with Kevin at 6:30. The wind is howling from the north at 35 to 40 MPH and it is cold. The waves on the lake are over 5 feet. We decide not to go out and break all our equipment on a day like this. I'm okay with it as I think I know the lake well enough and can spare a day of pre-fishing. I really don't think there is much to be learned going out on a day like this. We head to Grand Forks to find crankbaits and run into several other PWT pros doing the same thing. I'm glad we didn't go out as one of the pros sunk his boat in the high waves.
Day 5 (Sunday)
Bruce has to work today, but his fishing buddy Greg will come with us and show us around a new area up in Pelican Lake. There's a spot up there where you can cross the old railroad tracks if you're careful and the wind isn't blowing too bad. It is overcast and cold today but no wind. We launch the boats at 7:00.
We cross the tracks with only minor damage to my electric trolling motor blade. It now resembles a serrated bread knife – might be good in the weeds. We head all the way to the furthest northwest corner of the tournament boundary. There is some nice structure here and in the right circumstances could produce some good fish. We work it for several hours and only produce 2 walleyes. It could be a good spot if the weather cooperates, but if the wind comes up from the wrong direction, it would be hard to get back across the tracks and we could get trapped back here.
Greg wants to go to look at a bay that he thinks we can now get into this year. We head through the trees, raise the motor up and head in. The water going in is about a foot deep and there's a lot of timber. But once inside the bay is 10 feet deep. We head to the far end and there's another bay with a shallow entrance. This one is also about 10 feet deep. These are old ponds that are now connected to the lake. We split up and fish this bay. Greg catches a 27 inch walleye back here. The sun is out and it is late afternoon. We quit about 6:00, get some dinner, discuss the day with Bruce and get to bed about 9:00.
Day 6 (Monday)
Bruce has some business to take care of so we'll pick him up at 10. We decide to work the southwest side of the lake and drive over to Minnewauken to launch. There's a strong east wind that makes the boat ramp unusable. We turn around and head back to Graham's Island to launch. Lots of driving and we're not on the water until 8:00. We decide today that we're going to run slip bobbers until afternoon since the crankbait bite is a waste of time until the sun's been out and the water has warmed.
My cell phone's messed up and Bruce can't reach me, so Kevin goes to pick him up. They come get me and we make a plan. Kevin and Bruce will work north and I'll go work trees and bays on the south side of the lake. I'm not finding fish in the bay so I'm going to head to my tree, where I pulled 26 pounds with 4 fish in tournament a couple years ago. The ice has taken it off but I still have the waypoint on my Lowrance. The tree is still there under water but I can't anchor and stay on it in this wind.
I head into Howard's Bay. Wow, has this ever changed! This used to be a bunch of reeds and water channels. Now it is just a big bay. There are PWT boats trolling in here. So much for my plan. I decide to go find Bruce and Kevin and find them tied to a tree, out of the wind, near Grahams Island. It is late enough in the day that I decide to bobber fish as well. I get a couple of 16 inchers on bobbers. We head in about 6:00. Dinner, shower and bed as usual around 10:30.
Day 7 (Tuesday)
This is the day before the tournament and we have to be off the water by 2:00. I've got a lot of prep work to do and decide to quit before 2:00 to avoid the rush at the boat ramp. Kevin heads off to East Bay and I decide to work the bays to the south of Graham's Island. It is sunny and not too windy today. I wish I could stay out all day. No fish today but I know what I'm going to do in the tournament. It seems that the crankbait, shallow fish aren't biting until after noon, so it makes sense to slip bobber in the trees until noon then head into the bays after the sun has been up and the water warms (anyone who thinks walleyes are light shy should fish here sometime – clear, shallow water that doesn't turn on until the bright sky of midday).
I get off the water shortly after noon. I head to the car wash and spend $10 washing my truck and my boat. I park at Bruce's house and sit in the boat, swatting mosquitoes, putting on new line and tying up all my rigs for tournament day. I've got 2 slip bobber rods, 2 jig rods, 2 crankbait rods, 2 live bait rods and 2 bottom bouncer rods rigged and ready to go. I hope I have enough shiny chrome crankbaits to make it through this tournament because there aren't any within 100 miles – we bought them all.
The meeting is tonight and I meet my co-anglers. They all seem like good guys. I get to bed at 10:30.
Day 8 (Wednesday, tournament day)
Get up at 4:30. It is raining. I drive out to Graham's Island to meet my co-angler and launch. It is so muddy. Why did I wash my boat and truck?
Launch happens shortly after 7:00. I'm in the second flight today so we don't have to be in until 4:00. I head to the trees at the entrance to the new bay we found with Greg and tie up in 7 feet of water. We immediately start catching fish. I decide to keep a 17 incher. We get 7 fish and weigh our best 5. I keep another 17 incher and hope it is not a mistake. That's all the small fish I plan to keep. We catch a lot of fish but nothing over 20 inches. Kevin and his co-angler are tied to a tree about 50 yards away and it looks like they caught a really nice one. I guess we'll stay a while.
At 12:30 I decide to go cast cranks. The sun is shining and it should be good now. I head into the new bay. 2 boats are in there. They must have been in the first flight out because I never saw them go in. I fish a couple of spots with no positive results and decide to leave. It is calm today and I have a long day so a long boat ride is worthwhile. I head to a spot in East Bay.
There's a boat sitting on the spot I want to fish and we see that they just landed a fish. We can't go there now. I'm not going to chase nets. We fish another spot in the bay and leave the other boat alone. They leave and the whole north shore is open to us now. It is 1:00, we better make this quick. I cast to the shore a couple of times and catch a 20 incher. It goes into the livewell. In the next 15 minutes we catch 3 more in the 20 inch range and a bunch of trophy white bass. While my crankbait is tangled in the net from my last fish, I toss a Sassy Shad on a jig under a tree and catch a 7 pounder. Alright! We've got 7 fish and don't need to weigh those 17 inchers. It is 2:00 we can go in early.
We take our time going in and get to the weigh-in at 2:30, just as the sky opens up and we get dumped on. But we weigh 15.49 pounds and end up in 35th place for day one. Not a bad start, but 32 pounds is leading!
I re-tie everything for tomorrow, dinner, shower and bed by 10.
Up at 4:30 again. This time the alarm wakes me. Wind is blowing from the north. It's cold and overcast. My plan is to head to the bay where I ended yesterday. I'm in the last flight today so I don't need to weigh-in until 4:45.
Launch happens on time today. We make the run in rough water. It takes about a half hour to get there. A few casts into the day I catch a 19.5 incher which goes into the livewell. After that, nothing. It is overcast so maybe we need to wait for the afternoon bite. I decide to put out slip bobbers until it warms.
My co-angler gets a bite on his slip bobber but sets the hook like Roland Martin and pulls it out of the fish. I guess I should have coached him better. You just can't do that with 9 foot rods and Fireline. We work a few more trees with nothing to show.
Back to casting. No walleyes, no white bass, just northerns. They weren't in here yesterday. But yesterday it was calm, warm and sunny. Today the wind is from the north and it is overcast. We try the south side of the bay and the water is 5 degrees warmer but still no fish. I'm convinced this spot isn't going to turn on today with this wind and no sun. We head to the new bay.
The two boats that were in the new bay yesterday were in there again. I guess one of them weighed 15 pounds yesterday. We work over this bay pretty hard and catch no walleyes. It is 3:00, we need some fish to weigh. I head to New Mill to the road.
We've got an hour to catch 4 more fish to weigh a limit to even have a chance in this tournament. I get out the live bait rigs, we put on some leeches and start working the submerged gravel road. Right away I get a bite and land a 15.5 incher. It is got to go in the livewell. We get a twin of this fish and miss a few bites shortly after. One more comes at 4:30. It is time to go, one fish short and our biggest is the 19.5 we caught first thing this morning – not good.
The wind has stopped, the sun came out and it only takes us 5 minutes to check-in. We probably could have stayed and caught another fish. 7.2 pounds and drop to 91st place.
Dinner, shower, bed by 10:30.
Time to make up some ground. One of the guys in the new bay weighed over 18 pounds yesterday. I really can't fish in there and mess them up, it is just not right. But I can fish the trees to the entrance to the bay again. I'm early flight today so I have to catch fish early. Small fish aren't going to help in the tournament, but my co-angler is sitting in 32nd place. He needs to move up to better than 30th to win something.
I decide to head to the entrance to the bay and tie up in the main lake in 5 feet of water. This way we can catch anything going over the shallow water in or out of the bay. Right away we catch a 16 incher on the slip bobber. Too small to do any good. We slip bobber and cast jigs. It is clear enough and shallow enough that casting crankbaits is an option and we give that a try. I explain to my co-angler how to work the Sassy Shad on the jig and 1st cast he catches a 21 inch walleye. We're on to something! We cast cranks and the Sassy Shad. Our bobbers go down all morning but they are all small fish. We've got 3 fish over 20 inches and one of them is pushing 7 pounds. But it shuts down. It is only 10:30 and it's time to head east.
We've got a south wind and the sun is shining. The waves in the middle of the lake are topping out at 4 feet. We get to the bay after about a half-hour run. We work the area where I pulled fish fast on the first day and nothing. The water is still cold from yesterday. We keep moving down the shore and catch a 20 incher. This is great only one to go! It is getting close to 2:00 when we finally get the last one, a 19.5 inch walleye. We head back to the new bay. Those other guys should be out of there by now.
It is 2:30. We've got 45 minutes to upgrade a couple of 19.5 inchers. Those other guys are still in this bay. Not good. We'll stay out of their way and fish here anyway. We catch a couple of small walleyes that are not worth keeping as they won't upgrade what we've got. Time's up.
Weigh-in comes. We've got 18.81 pounds. A good day. My co-angler moves up to 16th and wins a bunch of good stuff including a 24 volt trolling motor and a form for a bunch of free Reef Runners. I move up to 57th. Not enough for a check (I needed another 5.5 pounds) but gives me a chance to keep moving up in the overall standings. The guy who wins the tournament guides for a living on this lake.
I pack up the boat and get ready to leave early tomorrow morning.
Day 11 (Saturday)
I wake up at 4:30 and hit the road. The truck is holding together. I reach Glendo at 4:00 and decide to stay and fish. There's nobody at home this weekend so I don't need to get back. Glendo is packed. It is Memorial Day weekend and everybody from Denver who owns a boat must be here. I go out fishing with a buddy at dark and we catch a few 15 inch walleye. I sleep in my truck.
Day 12 (Sunday)
5:30 am. The wind is blowing from the north, it is cloudy and looks like rain. I don't feel like dealing with the wind (I had enough of that in North Dakota) and I go home. I left the boat at a friend's in Glendo since I'll be back on Wednesday to fish the Wyoming Walleye Circuit tournament this weekend. The truck made it. I'll get it fixed after this weekend's tournament.
What did I learn from this? I need to pay more attention to the change in weather. I had a good plan for 2 sunny, south wind days, but it takes 3 days to win money in these tournaments. The big weights were from people who tied to trees on day 2. I didn't have a big fish bite for a north wind on a cloudy day. The crankbait bite can be a great one but you need to have the right wind and water temperature as well as great structure/cover for the fish. If I had fished on that windy Saturday when we went to Grand Forks and if I had been able to catch fish on that day, then that would have been the plan for my day 2. Would it have mattered? We'll never know.
About the author, Dan Swanson: Dan Swanson is a multi-species guide in Northern Colorado. He is an instructor and seminar speaker on fishing techniques with a specialty around the use of fishing electronics. Dan competes professionally in walleye tournaments around North America. He is on the Pro-Staff for Ranger Boats, Evinrude, Lowrance, St. Croix Rods and Costa Del Mar.