The Scoop on Willow Cats and the FLW League Finals
Sep 10th, 2008 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Sep 10th, 2008 at 12:00 AM
Call it the battle for the boat, or the battle for the bait to win the boat. Whatever you call it, the FLW Walleye League finals in Winona, MN is a unique event, highlighting both the best and worst of holding big dollar events on the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi River is one of the most magnificent and productive walleye waters on the planet.
Big fish, small fish, and everything in between are available to anglers competing for the walleye league's top prize.
Miles upon miles of wind protected water places boats of all sizes on a playing field free from the big-boat bias common on large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes – important for a league level event trying to recruit new anglers into the competitive walleye fishing scene.
The Not So Good
VHS laws in Wisconsin and exotic species laws on the Mississippi River have all but closed off access to the river's top home-grown bait, the willow cat. The supply available at local bait shops dried up Wednesday morning, with no more predicted for the rest of the week.
Until laws are altered, the large local population of "cats" out of the Mississippi River can no longer be tapped. This makes the bait available only through two local shops in Winona – those with access to bait legally harvested from inland Minnesota streams (not the Mississippi River as erroneously reported elsewhere). This has created low or non-existent supplies – and astronomical prices – when a few do show up at shops in town. Anyone who stood in the long line at West End Bait Shop Wednesday morning only to watch the supply run out can attest to this fact.
The short supply has also afforded local qualifiers with the ability to stockpile cats over the past month a decided edge in access to the hottest bait on the river. Some will argue that there will always be a local advantage. Others will say there really is no such thing. Both are true to an extent, but we ARE talking about the Mississippi River; the local advantage was practically invented here.
The Real Scoop on Willow Cats
Is this event really about who gets the most cats? Certainly not. There are many proven methods to catch walleyes on the Mississippi. This event will undoubtedly be won by the angler who finds the best fish and puts them in the box, cats or no cats.
Some of the finest Mississippi River anglers you've never heard of, and some that you have, guys like Galen Bremmer, Maury Schmerbach, Mike Glynn, and many others from Minnesota down through Iowa rarely have cats in their arsenal. Instead they rely on crankbaits, Dubuque rigs, and plastics to fill their livewells. However, when cats are hot (as each of the anglers listed will attest to) like they are in the late summer, low water conditions we have right now, they sure are hard to beat.
Finals qualifier Luke Kersten from Boyceville, WI finished fourth at the Winona Finals in 2005, and says the availability of good bait this year is a stark contrast to 2005.
"You really had to plan ahead if you were an out-of-towner expecting to have a decent number of cats to fish with this week," stated Kersten.
"For starters, you need to have somewhere locally to keep them in Minnesota. On top of that with the low supply, a two to three dozen limit has been in effect on the purchase of them the few times they have been available this summer . This required frequent trips to get a usable supply," he added.
Willow cats are commonly fished on or above wing dams and rock piles, but work well on any spot that can be fished from an anchored position, even a hole or deep run in a slough. They excel from May through October but really shine when the fishing gets tough.
Our prediction for the finals? 30% of the top ten field will be local qualifiers (two out of the following: Jerowski, Chick, Nascak). 70% of the top ten field will be fishing willow cats. The winners will be fishing wing dams.
Other anglers to watch for: Steve Kopp, Don Pape, Steve Lotz, Chad Carroll, Galen Bremmer, Tom Millenkamp, Mark Michael.
Stay tuned for complete live coverage of the FLW Walleye League Finals from Winona, MN beginning Thursday morning.