STURGEON BAY, Wis. – Open-water walleye fishing on the Great Lakes can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, wind is necessary to trigger the bite as it decreases light penetration. On the other, too much wind can make boat control difficult and can restrict anglers from reaching the most productive areas. Having precisely the right amount of wind is a rarity, but on day one of the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event on Green Bay, Mother Nature delivered for a few key hours. In turn, the best walleye pros in the sport also delivered. Despite an onslaught of alewives to contend with, 14 stringers in excess of 30 pounds hit the scale.
Okada and Schneeberger with the leading bag.
Leading the full field of 137 boats after day one is Wisconsin pro Joe Okada. Known as an adept troller, Okada put 38.66 pounds of Green Bay gold in the boat. However, he would not specify if he was trolling or casting. Casting with lures such as a Shiver Minnow or Rippin’ Rap is a relatively new Great Lakes technique popularized by pros Keith Kavajecz and Gary Parsons, who used the technique to take first and second at the 2014 Escanaba event.
Okada did admit he made a long run north today. Once he reached his primary area, he steadily caught fish, but the bite was not fast and furious.
“One fish showed itself right away,” recalled Okada. “That gave me the confidence to stay there. The bite was just steady enough to keep my interest.”
Okada said he never experienced similar success in practice, but he also never fully leaned on the fish.
“I was putting in 12- to 15-hour days during practice and most days I’d be lucky to get a limit. They were the right-sized fish though, so it was worth the gamble. In practice, all they have to do is show themselves. You really don’t want to hit your areas too hard.”
Okada was not ready to reveal pattern details, other than the bite was better early in the day when it was windier. Around midday, the wind died and the bite followed suit. Okada explained that in addition to decreasing light penetration, the wind also generates favorable current.
In total, Okada caught six fish so he never had to make any difficult decisions. In this tournament, anglers are permitted to keep six walleyes and weigh their best five with culling strictly prohibited. No. 6 went in Okada’s livewell around 1 p.m.
“I had two fish between 9 and 10 pounds and the rest were just quality walleyes. The right fish came in the right order. I did keep a 3-pounder that I didn’t have to weigh. And I probably will keep a 3-pounder again tomorrow.”
Okada reflected on his 38-pound day and his 1 1/2-pound lead.
“I’m excited to do well, but I’m nervous to repeat it. I’ve had a problem stumbling this year. I’ve had some shots to do well, but the second day we fall on our face. I’m a little nervous because there’s not a ton of fish there and I’m sharing the area with another boat. I’m hoping to squeeze out just enough tomorrow.”
Keenan lurking in second
After reaching the $1 million mark in career tournament earnings two months ago, pro Tom Keenan is primed for yet another big payday. After catching a five-fish limit weighing 37.02 pounds, Keenan sits in second place.
“I’m doing a combination of casting and trolling,” he explained. “I can’t say what they are yet, but they’re Rapala and VMC products.”
Ironically, Keenan described today as one of his worst days. He caught only five fish where in practice he oftentimes reached double digits. That fifth and final fish didn’t make it into Keenan’s Ranger livewell until 3:30 p.m.
“I ran north and I’m fishing where it is only big fish. The smallest fish I’ve caught all week was probably 5 pounds.”
Keenan said he caught his five fish in four different spots.
“I’m basically hopping spot to spot. I get one here and then one there. That’s how it was in prefishing too. Tomorrow I’m the third boat out so I’m going to get where I want to get. Tomorrow I’ll get the sweet spot. My only worry is that we’re going to have no wind. With wind tomorrow I know I could catch them. I have some confidence; I know I’m fishing where the right fish are. I think if I get five bites I have a very good chance of winning.”
Local Gillett, Wis., pro Daniel Woodke is in third place with 36.71 pounds. Woodke explained that he is trolling, but instead of covering huge swaths of water, he’s making short passes.
“I pulled up on my No. 1 spot and on the first pass I had two good fish that I weighed,” he said. “I took another pass and I caught another good one. On the third pass, I ended up losing a very good fish at the boat. It was a heartbreaker.
“Then I made a run and changed locations. Within a couple minutes I boated a 27-incher and a 22-incher for my five. I put the 22-incher in the box, although I was kind of second-guessing myself. I continued fishing and then I caught a 24 1/2 that I just couldn’t throw away. So I was done for the day at 2:30 p.m.”
In addition to the missed fish, Woodke also suffered an 8-ounce penalty for an expired fish.
“I just had four good quality fish, 26- and 27-inchers with girth. I was getting 28- and 29-inchers in practice. But I never got that big bite today.”
Woodke said he put on over 80 miles running both directions today. If he catches a kicker or two tomorrow, he thinks he can take home the title.
“What I’m doing is a little different. I believe I can catch them tomorrow; I just need them in the right order. I think I can get the right bites.”
Rohloff fourth, Schertz fifth
Rounding out the top five are Wisconsin pros Scott Rohloff and Nick Schertz. Rohloff, the Watertown, Wis., native, caught a limit worth 35.71.
Schertz, the veteran angler who lives in Tomahawk, Wis., managed five keepers weighing 33.97.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2016 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event on Green Bay:
6th: Keith Kavajecz of Kaukauna, Wis., five fish, 33.63
7th: Korey Sprengel of Beaver Dam, Wis., five fish, 33.15
8th: Karl Wenckebach of Lake Villa, Ill., five fish, 32.79
9th: David Andersen of Amery, Wis., five fish, 32.55
10th: Chris Gilman of Chisago City, Minn., five fish, 32.01
The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the full field of 137 boats takes off from The Lodge at Leatham Smith. The final weigh-in also takes place at The Lodge at Leatham Smith, beginning at 3 p.m.