There have always been fishing contests of one sort of another. Perhaps it was just a wager between friends fishing together which awards a buck on who catches the first fish, or the largest. But in 1967, when Ray Scott founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society — complete with a tournament trail, competitive fishing was taken to a new level.
Bass fishing as a competitive sport is now the king, with state and national tournament seasons as well as amateur teams sponsored in both high schools and colleges across the country. There are also tournament seasons for other species, as well, like crappies, catfish and walleyes.
Walleye tournaments are now second only to bass on a national level and the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, recently unveiled an intriguing 2020 schedule. Why am I highlighting this right now?
Because walleyes are one of the favorite species traveling fishermen have proven a willingness to cross state lines (or multiple state lines) to catch. This is the time of the year on-the-go anglers are looking for places to go ice fishing or next spring and summer; and If a walleye fishing trip is in your fishing future, why not head for a location good enough hold one of the country’s top walleye tournaments?
The first tournament of the season will be held April 30-May 1 in Chamberlain, South Dakota on Lake Francis Case. This sprawling Missouri River impoundment covers 107 miles and encompasses 102,000 acres. Chamberlain hasn’t hosted many national tourneys but is a favorite for thousands of “prairie” based anglers. Fishing is good all season but when this tournament is held the fishing should be solid. The end of April is usually right after the spawn and the fish responding to warming water and increased appetites. Historically, Flicker Shads have been fantastic as well as jigs with plastics and jigs with minnows.
Stop No. 2, which takes place May 28-29, takes the world’s best walleye anglers to Sandusky, Ohio, for an open-water shootout on Lake Erie, perhaps the best walleye fishery on the planet. Experts tout the Erie tournament as the ultimate post spawn event. The second everything turns post spawn in the western basin, the feeding gets crazy. The end of May will be a fun time to visit. That’s when I traditionally book their my own trips to fish for walleyes.
When I go I’m more interested in numbers but the winning pros need size to be at the top of the field. Plenty of fish can be found in the western part of the lake but for the pros, the winning fish could be further east. Typically, some of the big females have slid east by that time of the year.
The third tournament of the season will be taking the pros to Lake Michigan’s Green Bay July 23-24. The tournament headquarters town will be Oconto about midway along the Bay’s western shore, but expect the pros to spread out, north, or even cross the bay to fish the Door County side.
In recent years Green Bay has been producing huge numbers of big fish. Each pro has favorite techniques to fish and any of them could produce daily limits weighing over 40 pounds. Expect trollers, jig anglers and guys casting crankbaits or swim baits to come in with full livewells at this time of year.
The National Walleye Tour concludes Sept. 9-11 in Garrison, N.D. Though Lake Sakakawea (like Lake Francis Case) is a Missouri River reservoir, it’s a totally different type of lake. It’s big, wide and weather can certainly play a role. However, it’s currently filled with a a record abundance of walleyes with several consistently strong hatches since 2011. Those older walleye will be between 25 and 30 inches and the lake is cram-full of smelt. Most years, early September water temperatures are dropping and that triggers the fall feeding frenzy.
I’m sure the competing pros are excited about this year’s line-up of tournament sites. If you are looking for your own trip of the year, following the suggestions of the tourney trail organizers is a solid plan.