WINNING WAYS FOR OPENING WEEKEND
Okay! You've got the boat ready, rods are rigged, batteries are charged, bait is in the baitbucket and you've bought your opening weekend tournament tickets. This is the year you're going to win or at least place and take home a prize. But where to find that winning fish... well listen to what the "Ex-Judge" has to share. Who is the "Ex-Judge" you say? Well some will remember seeing posts on the message board last season from the Ex-Judge. He is not a former member of the Supreme Court who now fishes the Bay enjoying retirement. Nor has he been barred from the bench for pulling something only someone a couple hooks short of a lure would do. He is Richard Welsman. Outdoor writer for the Napanee Guide and for 13 years a judge with the Napanee Rod and Gun Club's annual opening weekend walleye tournament.
CHOICE OF AREAS
Richard said the key to selecting spots means paying attention to when the peak of the spawn was in relation to opening day. If it is late the walleye might not have migrated as far away from their spawning ground.
In terms of spots there is no consistent winning hole out there, but the following places have produced winners:
Richard added that spots like the Napanee River and Mohawk Bay have produced numbers of fish but mostly small males. Rarely does an area that yields a lot of fish yield a big one. The giants don't seem to like a lot of company.
I asked if most of the winning fish were caught day or night and more than half of the winners, in his 13 years of judging experience, caught the fish at night. He remembers one year a father and son team had been night fishing and was set to win when, on the Sunday, during the middle of a bright sunny and windless day, a monster was caught and won the tournament. The father and son were locals, have always been consistent runners up and have always fished at night.
No point in pointing to anything because they've been caught on everything. Among the crowd of winners who caught their fish during daylight there was not a single consistent strategy, lure or pattern that dominated. Worm harnesses, crank baits, livebait jigging and spinners have all won. Richard remembers one man who was second runner-up who said he became discouraged when he had thrown everything into the water except a bass plug. So, you guessed it, he tied it on and on the first cast a 10 pounder took it. The midnight shift crowd, when it comes to tackle choice, is a different story. This group casted to shallow areas, humps, shoals and shoreline and for all the lure of choice was by far crankbaits.
The majority of winners were skilled fishermen who had chosen areas strategically. However, Richard recalls one winner who arrived here not knowing where to go. He was lost somewhere in the Reach when he caught his winner, didn't know how to get to Napanee from there and headed up the mouth of Hay Bay thinking that led to the Napanee River. However, they had good equipment and the walleye was delivered in good shape.
If you catch one good-sized one don't rush into the weigh-in station. Walleye are durable if adequate care is given to good aeration and to occasionally exchanging the water, especially in warm weather. The fish will arrive in good shape. Time should be spent immediately going back over the same spot. Richard has noticed that competitors who caught two or three big ones often caught them within a few minutes at the same location. Sometimes it takes hours of waiting for those few minutes. No use going ashore with a runner-up and possibly leaving a potential winner behind. The exception to this is if you happen to catch a big female that hasn't completed spawning yet. A big female who hasn't spawned is under a lot of stress and needs to be released as soon as possible, placing this fish in the livewell to wait with a bunch of others while you continue to fish, increases the stress and the chance it won't survive
In terms of judging experiences Richard wanted to emphasize to all of us the importance of reading the rules. READ THE RULES! The judges have caught people deliberately trying to cheat; they were disqualified from any further participation in the tournament (or future tournaments). Once private investigators were hired to tail a party which had been suspect in a previous tournament. They were caught and lucky not to have been charged with fraud. Also, judges have disqualified many other weigh-in "entries" because it was determined that the rules had been broken when the fish was caught. The two most common infractions of the rules are everyone in the boat must have a tournament ticket and the other is mishandling the fish. The mishandling is usually the result of the angler weighing the fish with their own scales and in doing so damaging the gills.
I'd like to thank Richard for giving us all some food for thought and I would like to wish all of you opening weekend fans the best of luck! -till next time- Dan Elliot