Countdown to the Championship
Aug 24th, 2010 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Aug 24th, 2010 at 12:00 AM
First place at Bay City. A thirty-second-place finish due to a battle with Lyme Disease at Green Bay after being in 15th, and third at Akaska.
Each of those finishes has brought Alma, Wis., pro angler Jarrad Fluekiger to second place in the AIM Pro Walleye Series™ J. J. Keller Angler of The Year award. And it will take even more of the same (minus the deer ticks) on 67,000 acre Lake Winnibigoshish-a water body he’s never fished-to take it all, plus the $10,000 that goes with the title.
And that may not be too out of the ballpark, since his Bay City win also came on a water body he’d never seen before.
New water apparently doesn’t phase Fluekiger, who’s in his first year as an AIM pro after taking two years off from fishing professionally to return to guiding on his home water of Lake Pepin, about one hour north of LaCrosse and six hours from his Sept. 2-4 appointment with Lake Winnie at the AIM International Walleye Championship.
And what he used to win his first AIM tourney won’t serve him here, since it’s a different time, and place.”I won Bay City jigging in the river in less than five feet of water. That won’t be the case here,” said Fluekiger, who also is making it a point to have fun on the AIM circuit this year.”My first goal in my first season was to try to win a tournament. And once I won at Bay City, that built up my confidence. It told me I could compete with these guys who are some of the best fishermen in the world.”
Fluekiger, 38, also used that two-year absence from the pro ranks to “get that love of fishing back in my head.” Fluekiger has guided for 21 years, starting when he was just 17. This season, he’s running a Ranger 620 powered by an Evinrude 225 HO.
“I’m also trying to be more focused on my fishing opportunities. Two of my fishing buddies on the tour, Tom Gatzke (from Merrill, Wis.) and Chad Schilling (from Akaska, S.D.) have made it a lot of fun for me to compete this year.” he said. “Tom and Chad are good friends, and we do a lot of hunting together in the off-season. When you’re fishing with guys you trust and like, you can be a lot more relaxed. We talk a lot when we go onto a new body of water, and then we attack it.”
That fun extends to AIM’s unique Catch-Record-Release™ format.
“With CRR, you can just go and fish and don’t have to worry about slot limits, and whether you should keep a 21 rather than a 20-inch fish. You just keep catching and upgrading all day. We catch a fish, take a photo and each fish is only out of the water from 30 to 90 seconds and they’re back swimming again. It’s the only way to go.”
“I think that to win angler of the year you’ll have to be in the top 10 at Winnie to be in the running. I’m doing a lot of research, looking up past tournament info and websites on what’s been productive on Lake Winnie, and I’m also trying to apply some of what I know from fishing the Mississippi and Lake Pepin where I guide,” he said.
What’s his prediction?
“I think it’s going to go into a transition bite from summer to fall. I could be wrong since I’ve never fished a Minnesota lake before, but I’ll go up with a positive attitude and will think like a fish,” Fluekiger says. “I think they’ll begin feeding on bait fish like young-of-the-year perch since that lake is a big-time perch fishery and they’ll be moving from deep up to shallows where the bait is, and moving into the weeds. If there’s a river they might start running into it, gearing up for a fall feeding frenzy to fatten up for winter.”
“So a lot of pros will be probably running a lot of live bait including crawlers, leeches, redtails, and also pulling spinners might be productive along weeds.”
Getting tips from locals can be both a help and hindrance, he explains. “If you do get knowledge from locals, you might get focused on one presentation, which becomes a disadvantage, but they also can get you steered in the right direction. There’s a lot of structure in that lake and it’s big, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. You’ve still got to catch’em,” Fluekiger adds.
“When I won in Bay City in May, Angler of the Year was in the back of my mind, but I’m just concentrating on fishing each tournament and whatever happens, happens. I’m going to go for the win and if it doesn’t happen it wasn’t meant to be.”