Everyone AIMs for First Place
Apr 27th, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Apr 27th, 2011 at 1:35 PM
The purpose behind every competitive angling event, regardless of species, is to provide a professional atmosphere where anglers can go head-to-head in order to determine who is the best on a particular body of water. There are no guarantees in the sport of fishing. But if you participate in enough tournaments, the best will eventually find themselves atop the podium.
Walleyes are a highly targeted species for many reasons, including the fact that they provide the most highly favored table fare. For the competitor, walleyes offer a challenge matched by few other fresh water fish. In fact, the walleye might be one of the most finicky species available to sporting anglers. Something as simple as a color change or a 1/32nd weight adjustment will turn fish on to the point where anglers can load the boat in a matter of minutes. The sense of accomplishment an angler has after filling a limit of healthy ‘eyes under adverse conditions is tough to compare to any other feat in competitive angling.
“During the pre-tournament practice days in Winneconne we enjoyed some tremendous weather, which always makes you a little bit nervous with a massive front looming in the near future,” explains Tom Kemos, champion of the 2011 AIM Pro Walleye Series™ tournament at Winneconne. “The bite got tougher and tougher as the weather conditions deteriorated, but I knew I would still have to stick to my strategy and find some good fish after the tournament began if I wanted to be in this event.”
“Fortunately, under the AIM Catch-Record-Release™ format, I was able to devise a plan where I could put together a competitive limit, and then go search for big fish,” Kemos continues with anticipation in his voice. “To catch fish, we needed to be on the water. The weather conditions got so poor that we woke up on Day One to ten inches of fresh snow. The tournament officials elected to cancel the first day after consulting the AIM Angler Advisory Board. I was disappointed to lose one of three days as that can really cramp your strategy, but you’ve got to take it in stride. We anxiously waited for the day to pass knowing there was a $30K check waiting for one of us at the finish line.”
Because walleye are in such high demand across the country and many of the waters they reside in have very detailed and often rigid restrictions, holding a tournament on certain bodies of water can be a challenge. In many states like Wisconsin, harvest takes place the moment the fish are placed in the livewell, therefore no-culling laws are enforced for management of the fishery.
The obvious goal in every walleye tournament is to weigh the biggest fish the tournament limit will allow. Under bad weather conditions and facing a tough bite (where very few AIM Pro Anglers weighed a full limit) it would be hard not to put the first seven walleyes in the livewell. In a typical tournament in Wisconsin, you would see anglers back at the dock early with a limit of small fish.
“We don’t keep any fish at all during these AIM events,” Kemos continued. “What the AIM CRR™ format has done for us as professional walleye anglers is open a whole new set of strategies. Being faced with no-cull laws and slot limits really forces the anglers to make decisions that can make or break their outcome at that event. With CRR, the fish are caught, recorded on the official Judge ruler, photographed, and then immediately released. This format is so powerful because it allows the best anglers to shine and not be handicapped by a lesser limit that they were forced to weigh-in.”
The AIM Pro Walleye Series developed the Catch-Record-Release format to accentuate the head-to-head competition between the anglers, and to insure that the tournament results were not subject to local bag limit or slot size regulations. CRR makes it possible to stage the AIM Pro Walleye Series tournaments virtually anywhere, and at the peak of the bite.
The AIM Catch-Record-Release format is not only great for heavily restricted walleye waters, but it also is designed to improve the image of tournaments within the community. CRR mandates the immediate release of every walleye, thus eliminating any risk of delayed mortality. It is the goal of every AIM Pro Walleye Series tournament to have zero impact on the local fishery.
“At the Winneconne tournament, the majority of the anglers were fishing in the Wolf River between Gills Landing and Freemont where it appeared that the fish were stacking up and holding,” said Kemos. “The walleyes I were catching were good limit-fillers, but not the size needed to dominate a tournament. During multiple day events, you need to have several back up spots and then manage the bites to come in at the final weigh-in with the best total weight.”
After the first day of competition (Day Two of the scheduled tournament), Kemos was able to hold onto 8th place. It was obvious that he would really have to contact some bigger fish in order to climb in the standings on the final day.
In a tough bite, the standard tournament rule is to catch a limit. On Day Three, Kemos abandoned the upper Wolf River relocated within sight of the Winneconne Bridge. After recording a small seven-fish limit – worthy of a paycheck – he relocated looking for the bigger fish needed to move up in the final results. Finally, after several hours of unproductive attempts, Kemos was frustrated. That’s when his tournament instincts took over. Kemos set up on Clark’s Point near Winneconne where he found the winning fish.
“I knew I was going to have to start pitching jigs to the scattered rock piles rather than continue to vertical jig, which is what I was doing up to this point,” Kemos explained. “The shallower water matched with the hard bottom created some excellent spawning habitat. I was certain some of the larger females would be present. My suspicions were confirmed and my intensity shot through the roof on my third cast. I got the kind of bite that makes your knees knock before you set the hook. It ended up being a dandy 21.5-incher that set the stage for the remainder of my efforts on that spot.”
“To match the shallow water I was fishing, I downsized to a 1/8th ounce jig tipped with a shiner and began fan casting around the rock piles. I would bring the jig back to the boat and then kill it by letting it fall to the bottom where the fish would scoop it up and run. I really want to stress the value of hi-visibility line, especially when pitching those light jigs in shallow water. I was using eight-pound Suffix Siege in a neon-tangerine color. It’s bright, but the fish really don’t seem to mind in a river setting and it allows you to identify even the lightest of bites.”
“Rod selection is absolutely critical,” said the Ranger/Mercury Pro. “Being primarily a jig fisherman, St. Croix Rods have been absolutely instrumental to my presentation. Brand new for this year is the 7’6” medium weight, extra fast action Legend Elite rod. I ordered two specifically for this tournament and I can tell you they are a treat to fish with! I was able to keep in contact with my jig at all times and, most importantly, I was able to detect even the slightest of bites that often accompany a strong cold front. Your gear is vital to being successful during a tournament – especially when the conditions are not ideal.”
After all the boats were pulled from the river, the anglers gathered at Critters Sports for the final weigh-in on Friday afternoon. A large crowd watched and the level of intensity grew. The walleye pros knew a $30K check was about to be handed out. Kemos didn’t disappoint and brought in 18.38 pounds for his final day weight (the biggest daily limit of the event) and a two-day total of 25.98 pounds. This weight sealed the victory and earned him the $30,000 check. As it turned out, his final day weight alone would have been enough for 6th place.
Kemos was ecstatic with his victory, as he should have been. He beat conditions that humbled many in the field. Second place went to Mark Martin with a two-day total of 22.62 pounds. Placing third was Ross Grothe with 21.23 pounds. Fourth place went to Mike Gofron with 19.39 pounds, followed by Chase Parsons with 18.86 pounds. Dan Plautz took sixth place with a total of 18.15 pounds. Gary Parsons finished in seventh with 16.16 pounds. Brandon Carpenter took eighth with 15.76 pounds, followed by Jim Hughes in ninth with 15.68 pounds and, and Tommy Skarlis in tenth with 15.66 pounds.
The next tournament of the 2011 AIM season is the Bay Mills Invitational Walleye Tournament. This tournament is sponsored by the Bay Mills Resort and Casino and is promised to feature the largest purse of the season. The tournament dates are June 2nd through the 4th.