Previewing the Bay Mills Invitational Walleye Tournament™
May 17th, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified May 17th, 2011 at 3:56 PM
The tumbling St Mary’s River, which defines the border between the U.S. and Canada at Sault Ste. Marie, is characterized in contradiction. Sometimes it is miles wide and calm. Sometimes it is moving like a freight train. The river connects frigid Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Thanks to the famous Soo Locks and a quarter-mile-long powerhouse, the river flow can change almost instantly.
Below the locks, the river opens up into a series of lakes. The AIM Pro Anglers have free rein to fish anywhere in this system – on both the U.S. and Canadian side of the border. They also can venture out into the expansive waters of Lake Superior, or stay within sight of the take-off at the Bay Mills Casino and never leave Brimley Bay.
The question each AIM Pro Angler must ask is: Do you go for quantities of fish nearby, or bet the whole shebang on the chance to catch just a few big fish along Superior’s rocky shore?
That is what is on the mind of the AIM Pros as the second annual Bay Mills Invitational Walleye Tournament looms. The right strategy will mean picking up a check during North America’s richest walleye fishing tournament. The wrong decision will mean going home a day early, since only the top half of the field will fish on Day Three of the tournament.
Go Big or Go Home, Says Mark Martin
AIM Pro Angler Mark Martin, who was a contender early on at the 2010 tournament last June, expects a whole new set of conditions to be in play. Martin began last year’s Invitational strong. At the end of Day One, he was in third place. Then things began to unravel, thanks to events both manmade and natural. He ended finishing just out of the money.
“I fizzled at the end because first, cormorants invaded my territory,” Martin said. “It’s never happened to me before. Then they shut down the water through the power plant or the locks area, and I wasn’t ready for that.
“I chose my spot because I knew I’d be so far off the beaten path that I wouldn’t be contending with other Pros. But here I was instead contending with a native population of scavengers. The cormorants are fishing and I’m fishing, and they’re better fishermen,” Martin said, recalling that he saw one of the black diving birds surface with a 17-inch walleye in its beak right in front of him.
Current concentrates the fish, and once it slows the fish disperse. That made it difficult to catch any at his second and third prime spots. His fallback spots were already occupied. “My ethics and that of the other pros say we don’t crowd someone who’s there first, so you just suck it up and move on,” he said.
However, Martin said, he’s heading back to Brimley this year with that knowledge to contend with what will likely be different circumstances. While last June was so warm that a giant Michigan Mayfly hatch was two weeks early, this year’s colder conditions may mean different techniques and locations.
“The fish aren’t going to be as far advanced in their migration cycle. I also know now for a fact that when they shut down that current flow, I’d better not depend on those current areas and have lots of backup areas in my pocket,” he added.
“I didn’t put much emphasis on the water above the locks and in Lake Superior last year. And now that may really be in play this time,” he said. The colder water fish, which were already entering their summer patterns last year, might just hole up in Superior’s bays and rivers this time.
“The biggest fish last year all came out of Lake Superior,” Martin said. “It may not produce the numbers, but someone could put together a big bag and come in with five fish that people below the locks couldn’t touch in three days. A 10-pound fish there is the norm, but they are very rare.”
On the other hand, anglers choosing to fish in Lake Superior also have to deal with the extraordinary water clarity. “That water is so clear and the fish will be so spooky that you’ll have to depend on a wide spread of planer boards to get anywhere,” Martin added. “And, it will be critical to depend on Navionics mapping chips so you know where each reef or piece of structure is located.”
Carroll’s Prediction: Head below the Locks
Jim Carroll, an AIM Pro Angler who nearly won it all fishing Lake Superior exclusively last year, agrees with Martin. “It’s a crap shoot. But if you’re lucky, the big – but easily pressured – fish are out there,” says the Pro from Minot, N.D.
Carroll led after first day last year. “I came in with two giant fish to take the lead on Day One. Then I had only two bites on the second day and only got one of those fish to the boat. That lowered me to fifth place with only three fish weighed in over two days. On Day Three I did a death spiral and didn’t get any,” he said.
Carroll never locked through to the downstream lakes, but he’s expecting to this time around. “Honestly I think that there was an opportunity to win last year where I was fishing out in Lake Superior. But it was ultimately proved that the spot couldn’t take the pressure. Everyone who went there was hoping that they would have the reef to themselves. But ultimately there were seven boats fishing it. I was fortunate enough to take two of the four fish caught there the first day. Maybe three were caught the entire second day. The third day it got dark and cloudy and I was thinking, ‘man they’re going to turn on’ but they never did.”
Superior’s clear and cold water is a big unknown, he said. While some of the rivers flowing into it may produce walleyes, the odds of winning on the big lake are slim. “If you have to place odds on whether it will be won above or below the locks, you’d have to be in the high 90 percent range that it will be won below,” Carroll predicted.
This year many Pros start out knowing where Carroll hooked his biggies last year and will probably head there this time. “Those Superior fish will have even more pressure, so I’ll stick to my prediction that this will be won below the locks.”
Carroll added that shallow and protected Brimley Bay might also come into play heavily. Last year, lots of anglers ended each day there. “With everything behind because of the cold weather this spring, it could be even more of a factor. I don’t know if you can pull the quality of fish out of there to win,” he added.
Carpenter says below the Soo Locks is where he will be
Brimley Bay is exactly where Brandon Carpenter of Rockwell, IA spent all three days of last year’s tournament. He eventually finished in second place. However, this year, he is also predicting that the winning fish will be found below the locks.
“I think we’re going to have to search for new spots,” he said. “I’ll be looking for areas with current breaks and fishing below the locks, around bridges and finding those seams. There are lots of good spots below the locks.”
However, he also left open possibly staying within sight of the take-off at the Bay Mills Casino again. “The cold won’t affect the bite too much but it will effect where the fish choose to hold. Since this an artificial lure-only tournament, you really have to finesse them with plastics. That makes it a bit tougher.”
Carpenter, quiet by nature, is confident of his chances in Brimley. “I’ve been looking forward to this tournament for about 11 months now. I feel really good about it because the pattern of the fish at this time of the year plays right into the way I like to fish,” he said.
Martin expects trolling crank baits and crawler harnesses will be the preferred presentation in the lakes. “The bigger fish last year all came on crank baits like longer Husky Jerks and Shad Raps.
Carroll, on the other hand, feels that jigging may be a big factor. “The winning bite last year was in Lake George and it was just starting to go. This year, with everything being behind, that area may not be much of a factor.”
Carpenter agrees, “Post spawn, cold water fish will be hungry. We may find them in completely different locations than in 2010.”
The winning presentations and locations will not be a secret for long. The Bay Mills Invitational Walleye Tournament begins on June 2nd. The take-off and weigh-in is at the Bay Mills Casino. The daily weigh-in starts at 4:30 pm each day. Anyone unable to attend the weigh-in can also catch all the action at www.aimfishing.com, where the weigh-ins on June 2, 3, and 4 will be broadcast live.