River Rat Ruling: Dubuque Doesn’t Disappoint
Jul 6th, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Jul 6th, 2011 at 10:59 AM
River Rat Ruling:
Dubuque Doesn’t Disappoint
Many anglers have a love/hate relationship with the Mighty Mississippi River. For many fishing professionals that call the Great Lakes or northern lakes home, the huge Mississippi River (hundreds of miles long and miles wide – especially in recent flood conditions) is like a foreign country. Yet few will argue that the river fishery is tremendous. With concentrated management efforts on many of the pools, a world-class walleye fishery has emerged and some of the finest walleye anglers on the planet have proved that.
The latest AIM Pro Walleye Series tournament, staged out of Pool 12 of the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa really challenged many of the anglers. Water conditions were confounding: falling and rising with temperatures swinging up and down on a daily basis. Locating good numbers of larger biting fish would be the major challenge of the tournament. Small cigar-sized walleyes are common but would not form a winning weight compared to the big, trophy walleyes that everyone knew were also present. But the AIM Pro Anglers are the best walleye anglers in the world; certainly they would figure something out.
Veteran walleye Pro Angler and Iowan, Tommy Skarlis shocked the entire field as he put on a clinic during Day One with an incredible seven-fish limit weighing 51.05 pounds. This near record single day weight put Skarlis more than 26 pounds ahead of Brett King in second place. King was also familiar with the River, and was currently holding onto the lead for the AIM J. J. Keller Angler of the Year Award.
Many assumed it was a “done deal”. Just crown Skarlis as the Dubuque tournament champion. But this was the Mississippi River where anything is possible
“The wingdam bite really started to turn on during the second to last day of practice,” explained Navionics pro, Tommy Skarlis. “We caught some fish as the water was dropping, and it was still going pretty good on the first day of the tournament even though the water was starting to come up and get dirty. The wingdams were very productive, but that bite was getting tougher. I felt the bite in other spots would get better as the tournament wore on.”
“I caught two of my primary fish form wingdams,” Skarlis says. “The rest however, came from my main spot, which was back in Menomonee Slough. The rising water moved in and I knew my pattern was diminishing, but I really didn’t have enough confidence to leave it. After maintaining a slight lead after Day Two, I then knew it was no longer my tournament to win but rather my tournament to lose.”
Playing the current is absolutely essential to being successful on the river, as the fish take advantage of current breaks. The baitfish are at the mercy of the current and the walleyes go wherever the baitfish are found. Skarlis took advantage of his experience and used a rig that was actually developed in the local region known as the “Dubuque Rig.”
“The Dubuque Rig is run on a three-way swivel,” Skarlis explains. “That dropper is 16 inches of line completed with a three-quarter to one ounce hand poured jig from a DO-IT molds. I tipped the big jig with a four-inch power grub and a leech. On the other swivel I tied a five-foot length of line to a hook baited with a jumbo leech, crawler or a minnow. The rig is fished by bouncing the heavy jig on the bottom as I creep along the current seams. Most bites come from the trailing hook, just floating along innocently behind.”
Robert Lampman, fishing in his first AIM tournament, finished Day One in third place. Being an experienced river angler, he also knew how walleye tournaments on rivers can have wild day-to-day fluctuations. He knew that no tournament is won on the first day so he kept to his game plan.
“I knew that if Skarlis were to come in with an 18-20 pound limit on Day Two of the tournament that catching him would be very unlikely,” said the Desoto, Wisconsin native. Robert Lampman continued, “If I was going to catch him I needed to have a solid Day Two and bring in one of the biggest bags of the tournament. I knew the pattern I was on would hold as it appealed to rising and dirty water, so my confidence was high.”
Having fished this and adjacent pools of the Mississippi for many years, Lampman is no stranger to rising river conditions. He is also a veteran walleye tournament angler who won the 2005 FLW Championship, which took place just downstream on the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities. He took a few years off from tournament fishing to remain close to his ailing mother. That is a fine representation of what kind of man Lampman is; he knows and understands what life is all about.
Lampman returned on Day Two of the AIM tournament having CRR’d seven fish for a total weight of 33.23 pounds. Skarlis, on the other hand, managed only a four fish total of 12.07 pounds. Lampman was able to cut the difference between him and Skarlis to just over six pounds. First place was within reach, but the competition all knew that another 50 pound bag was a possibility. Someone would stumble and someone else would surge into the lead. A shootout emerged…
“This was my first AIM experience under the CRR format,” Lampman explains. “I was very impressed with the professionalism, organization, and the passion of all the anglers involved. This portion of the Mississippi protects the walleyes from over-harvest through a slot limit, which in walleye tournaments can make it extremely difficult to put together a solid limit. Through the Catch-Record-Release format that AIM developed, we were able to fish a premier walleye fishery without limitations and really show off the quality fishing opportunities that Dubuque has.”
During practice Lampman worked closely with eventual second place finisher, Harry Miller. They had put in quite a bit of time fishing high water conditions. They were still nervous with the constantly changing conditions, but really settled into their pattern after the tournament began.
“I was running a Bomber crankbait and also pitching jigs,” explains Lampman. “We targeted back eddies close to rock piles where the walleyes sought refuge from increasing river currents and could lurk in the dingier water. We also looked for water depths that were in the six to eight foot range that was adjacent to that kind of structure. It needed to be easily accessible and easily reached with short precise casts.”
“Truthfully, I think that pattern would still be effective today,” Lampman continued. “Knowing that the fish where there and most likely that the conditions were not going to push them out kept my confidence up. I had six or seven spots I was fishing, and each location was good for one or two fish, so it wasn’t the kind of bite where I was on large schools of bigger fish. However, my final day weight of over 30 pounds came as a result of a consistent bite. I knew just where to place my presentations.”
Dubuque native, Harry Miller is no newcomer to the sport of competitive walleye angling. Miller co-founded the Walleye Anglers Trail and has been a dedicated Mississippi River Rat for over 30 years. When matched with the experience and wits that Robert Lampman contributed, this team of competitors was almost unbeatable, and they proved it.
“This was my first AIM experience, as well,” Miller said. “Everybody was so professional and really represented what the AIM Walleye Series is all about. We were fishing against some of the finest walleye anglers in the world and to place second among them was a dream come true. Just having the chance to talk with and get to know so many of them is what made the event for me.”
Lampman, Miller, and Skarlis all agreed that some of the loudest applause and cheering came when Dubuque native and another first time AIM angler, the young up-and-comer Clayton Freiburger took the stage each day. Freiburger finished a very respectable fourth and proved he has a spot in professional walleye angling.
“The next generation of competitive anglers looks very strong,” Miller said. “These young guns have learned to be patient and effective under all kinds of fishing conditions and situations. Freiburger is a fine representation of what the future of professional walleye angling looks like, and I wish him the best of luck.”
Lampman sealed his victory with another consistent bag weighing 30.25 pounds on Day Three. His three day total was 87.58 pounds of Mississippi River walleyes. Harry Miller also surged ahead of Skarlis to finish with 67.52 pounds, good enough for second place. Tommy Skarlis finished in third with 66.22 pounds, followed by Clayton Freiburger in fourth with 61.35 pounds, and fellow Iowan and AIM Pro Angler Brandon Carpenter in fifth with 56.88 pounds. Brett King was able to maintain a slim cumulative lead in the J. J. Keller Angler of the Year race after three tournaments with a ninth place finish at Dubuque.
The victory in the AIM Pro Walleye Series tournament at Dubuque earned Lampman a prize package of $5,000 plus a new boat and motor. The boat was a Crestliner 1750 Raptor TE equipped with a Mercury Optimax 125hp motor, with a package value of $25,000.
After winning this event, Lampman was asked if this experience would push him back into the fulltime professional angler scene. He remains undecided but agreed this was the kind of event to reignite the walleye tournament excitement within him. If it were to work out with his regular work schedule, Lampman would absolutely consider participation in the full AIM schedule.
River fishing can be as tough as it gets, but when you put pure blood river anglers like Lampman, Miller, Skarlis, Freiburger, and others together on the Mississippi River you will see some impressive fish. The Dubuque, Iowa area was shown to be an incredible walleye fishery. The local anglers continually said, “You need to come back when conditions are better and the fishing is REALLY good!” The AIM Pro Walleye Series and the Catch-Record-Release format were created to promote this kind of fishery, and the river rats proved it!
Full tournament results, along with video interviews of the competitors can be found at the AIM website, www.aimfishing.com. The website also includes video replays of all three days of the weigh-ins, hosted inside the Mystique Casino in Dubuque. The next tournament in the 2011 season is the AIM International Walleye Championship, scheduled for September 15 to 17 in Akaska, South Dakota.