Previewing AIM On ‘The Big Muddy’
Jun 17th, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Jun 17th, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Pros competing in the upcoming AIM Pro Walleye Series™ will be “pooling” all their resources on the Mississippi near Dubuque to see who exits as the big winner in the third event on the 2011 tournament schedule. This is because they will be concentrating all their efforts on only two to four of the Big Muddy’s manmade pools. These “pools” are actually lock-controlled lakes which can be 20 miles long. In total, hundreds of miles of Mississippi River along with the hundreds of additional miles of side channel backwaters are all in play during the tournament.
The AIM Pro Anglers will also be contending with wing dams, which are manmade structures constructed to channel the current, plus higher-than-normal water levels that have made national news all spring.
The Pros say that whoever pattern’s the river’s “here today, gone tomorrow walleyes” will have a huge advantage.
Bruce “Doc” Samson, who finished third here in an MWC championship in 1988 expects crankbaits and live bait to be the top presentations on the river, which he says has an outstanding walleye population. Known as “Doctor Sonar” for his electronics expertise (including popular seminars and four DVDs on everything from understanding fishing sonar for beginners to operating the latest Lowrance StructureScan™ units), Samson will be bringing all his electronic knowledge to bear to find fish that will put him in the running.
“I’ve fished it all the way down to Pool 17 from Pool 2 and each is a little different, but you always have to read the current, allow for the dark water, check the wing dams and backwaters,” he said. “Walleyes are walleyes and will relate to current. If the water is high and there is good current flow, our job is to figure out where they are. They are still somewhere,” he added.
Water levels will likely change between pre-fishing and the event, he added. The Pros will have to be prepared and adjust accordingly. “You just have to have lots of spots and make good decisions.”
“Crankbaits typically work well on the Mississippi whether you’re trolling with leadcore line or casting. But at this time of year, live bait usually is the ticket. Usually it’s night crawlers, but at other times they’ll also hit leeches. So whatever they want, I’ll give it to them,” he said.
Heavy summer rains in the area will also add sediment to the water, which is already loaded from recent flood conditions. But regardless of conditions, Samson says there will be plenty of walleye near Dubuque.
“The Mississippi is a wonderful walleye factory. One of the better pools is near Redwing, Minnesota, where there are lots of walleye and saugers. And, Pools 13 and 14 are really good. We’ll be starting on Pool 12 and a lock is right there to fish 11, or you can lock downstream to Pool 13 if you want.
“The side channels here also will come into play, absolutely. If there’s a heavy flow in the main river the fish will end up in those channels and if they’re deep enough and have decent current themselves, they’ll be big factors.”
Predictions of Pros to Watch: Iowans Skarlis and Carpenter
Samson said that if there was one AIM Pro to watch, the smart money at the tournament headquarters Mystique Casino would be on Iowan Tommy Skarlis. “He fishes here quite a bit. He’s a good jigger and lives nearby so he’ll be a favorite to win. I also think Brandon Carpenter (from Rockwell, in central Iowa) is pretty good on the river. But don’t count out Minnesotan Brett King (winner of the Bay Mills Invitational earlier this month.) He guides on Pool 4,” Samson said.
Those wings or side channels just may be the ticket for AIM Pro Keith Kavajecz, who won an MWC championship here in the 1980s. “The main technique here might be wing dam fishing,” he said, but only if the current speed drops enough to allow control of your presentation.
Prior to the tourney, water levels were high but falling, and that means walleyes will start setting up on those manmade rock piles jutting into the river from shore to help divert current to mid-river. “The rocks and current breaks draw the fish in and in this part of the Mississippi these dams are very prevalent. Fish hold on them and the key is to find one where the current and depth are to the walleye’s liking. A wing dam may be 150 feet long, but only 20 feet may actually be holding fish,” Kavajecz said. Setting up in the wrong place will mean the difference between cashing a check and going home with a lighter wallet.
However, as Kavajecz pointed out, this is a river. And that means fish may be present one day and gone the next, and if those days are tournament days, you’re either in the running or out of luck.
His predictions of the best presentations will be trolling cranks like Berkley Flicker Shads, or current trolling spinner rigs with crawlers. Bigger baits, he said, also may be the key in the river’s stained water. “I won here but that was in fall with lower water and current, so this is like fishing a whole new body of water for me.”
That’s why he says local anglers competing in the tournament will be hoping to cash in using their everyday river knowledge. But, he added, many times locals don’t fare as well as out-of-towners. “Sometimes they’ll know too much, and it’s hard to get away from fishing memories.”
One of those locals who will be challenging the other pros is Maury Schmerbach, who has fished walleye since 1989 and has cashed his share of both local and national tournament checks, including the MWC championship in 1998.
“Usually June gets to be an awesome bite. The water is still high here, but it’s dropping 5 to 8 inches a day. The lower it gets the better the bite should get,” Schmerbach predicted. “A lot of the islands are flooded and as walleye get back in the timbers, they’re hard to catch. When the river drops back into its banks it will confine the fish more.
“A lot of walleyes are in the side channels now and if the water drops it will be a whole different bite. They could be there one day and it’ll drop six inches and they’re gone. The whole school will move on you,” he said.
Schmerbach predicts that some anglers will resort to a “Dubuque rig,” a 3/8 ounce jig dropper with a three-to-five-foot plain single hook tipped with a leech or minnow. Those are usually pulled again in front of those wing dams, rocks or sand points.
Local knowledge like that may be the tipping point to a win – or not, as Kavajecz pointed out. “There are quite a few local anglers entering as Pros and you don’t want to count them out,” Schmerbach concluded. “There are some pretty good sticks here.”
No mater the speculation on techniques and locations, everything will be revealed starting on June 22nd. The daily weigh-ins will be held indoors at the Mystique Casino. For fans unable to attend in person, they weigh-ins will also be broadcast live at the AIM website, www.aimfishing.com. The winner will take home a first place price valued at over $25,000 onjune 24th.