Todd Riley Boats 40 FEET of Walleyes at the 2009 AIM Championship
Sep 16th, 2009 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Sep 16th, 2009 at 12:00 AM
Anglers Insight Marketing, LLC (AIM) chose Lake Winnibigoshish, MN as the location for the season-ending 2009 AIM International Walleye Championship™. “Lake Winnie” had never hosted a high level Pro-Am tournament before and this would mean the fishing professionals would be forced to learn new water and adapt to the wide variety of presentation options.
Lake Winnie is located in northern Minnesota and includes over 65,000 acres. The Mississippi River flows through its center. Over 95 percent of the 35-mile shoreline is undeveloped. Common to many area lakes, Lake Winnie also features a “slot limit” for recreational anglers: NO walleyes may be kept between 17″ and 26″ and only one walleye maybe kept per angler over 26″. This doesn’t mean those walleyes are scarce – just the opposite. In fact, these “slot fish” would be the targets of the AIM Pro Anglers using the exclusive AIM Catch-Record-Release™ (CRR™) format.
Todd Riley, an AIM Pro Angler from Amery, Wisconsin, arrived at the AIM International Walleye Championship™ in first place in the 2009 Angler of the Year race. The Angler of the Year standings track the finishes of all competitors over the course of the AIM Pro Walleye Series™ season. Riley earned his first place “AOY” ranking on the basis of consistent and improving results: an 11th place finish at Bay City, MI; an 8th place finish at Green Bay, WI; and a 3rd place finish at Akaska, SD.
The Day One weigh-in at the AIM International Walleye Championship™ began with Todd Riley crossing the stage first, based on his Angler of the Year standing. The AIM CRR™ format allows the Pro Anglers to “weigh” their seven largest walleyes each day. The length of each fish is converted to pounds using a standardized formula based on DNR statistics. A hush fell over the crowd and many of the other Pro Anglers were visibly shaken when Scott Glorvigen, the MC for the day along with his brother Marty, announced Riley’s weight of 34.33 pounds.
The weigh-in progressed and Pro after Pro marveled at Riley’s weight. Many expressed their prediction that a 15 pound daily bag would represent a good weight based on tough prefishing conditions on Lake Winnie as it transitioned to cool water fall conditions. Finally John Schneider, another Wisconsin Pro Angler, posted a weight of 26.81 pounds – significantly over the norm but over 7 pounds short of the standard posted by Riley.
Day Two dawned with identical conditions of sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70’s. Todd Riley expressed confidence that his pattern would hold for another day. While many Pros had commented that they had to scratch out a seven fish limit, Riley stated that his presentation had been catching dozens of fish allowing him to continually “upgrade” his limit. There was not a predictable order, with big and small walleyes mixed together.
The weigh-in order was reversed on Day Two, starting with boat number 54. Riley, in boat number 1 had to patiently standby (contrary to his nature) as each team of Pro Angler and Co-angler crossed the stage. Like the previous day, a limit around 13 to 15 pounds became the norm. That is until Todd finally was called to the stage. MC for the day, Keith Kavajecz, prepared the crowd (and the online viewers watching live on www.aimmfishing.com) that weights typically drop during the course of tournaments. But the crowd was treated to another huge limit as Riley’s weight of 33.07 pounds was announced.
Bruce “Doc” Samson posted a close second with a 29.92 pound limit, but Riley’s overall lead was extended to more than 18 pounds after Day Two!
In morning interviews prior to the Day Three take-off, Tommy Skarlis discussed strategy with Todd Riley. “Are you going to go out and catch a safe limit of nine pounds today?” Skarlis teased Riley. “No, you know me better than that,” Todd responded. “I want to hit this one out of the park and I am not going to let up until I have at least 25 pounds on the scorecard.” He continued, “I am having a really good time. All I have to do is go out and catch a pile of fish. It doesn’t matter what order they come in. That’s the beauty of this fantastic format.”
Todd was referring the AIM Catch-Record-Release™ format. With this format, each walleye is photographed on the official Judge Ruler, and then immediately released where it is caught. Because NO fish are placed in possession, the local slot limits do not apply. In fact, the goal is for EVERY walleye in the seven fish limit to fall in the slot to maximize the total weight.
This was impossible in older “livewell” formats where only smaller fish were brought to the weigh-in. Anglers were previously forced to fish for small walleyes and discard repeated catches of walleyes over 17 inches. Anyone lucky enough to catch even one walleye over 26 inches would leapfrog into the lead. As it turned out, only a handful of over-26 inch walleyes were caught during the course of the tournament including one each day by Riley.
The field of boats for Day Three was cut to the top 50% of the field and the stage show started in reverse order, with Riley in the lead again being held until last. MC Tommy Skarlis interviewed the anglers as they crossed the stage in order. The weights were showing increases over the previous days. The Pro Anglers had either refined their presentations or the favorable, steady weather conditions had played into their hands.
Jason Przekurat took the lead and his turn in the “hot seat” with a limit of 36.21 pounds. Jason was also treated as Ron Lindner, angling legend, addressed the crowd and praised the AIM CRR™ format, referring to it as the “way of the future” for its zero impact on the local fishery. Jason was heard to comment, “I grew up watching Ron and Al Lindner catching walleyes. They are why I am here today. What a thrill to have Ron be a part of this day.”
Przekurat was soon treated to the list of walleyes caught by Pro Angler Jim Carroll of North Dakota. Tommy Skarlis read off the list: 20″, 24.75″, 26″, 25″, 24.75″, 23.5″, and 23″ – ALL large walleyes in the slot, and ALL walleyes that had never been included in a Lake Winnie weigh-in before due to the slot. Carroll’s limit wowed the crowd with a total weight of 39.01 pounds – the biggest limit of the tournament and putting Carroll in the lead, for the moment.
Jim was asked to describe his presentation. He said, “I was fishing deep with big chubs – 5 to 6 inch redtail creek chubs. I was targeting big fish and only had 7 to 9 bites each day, but they were the right fish! I fished in Little Cutfoot Sioux in depths from 30 to 40 feet, and my biggest fish came in about 44 feet of water. I was using long 10 foot leaders and Foam Walker slip sinkers that allowed me to feed line when I felt a bite. In fact, I let the walleye take the bait for three to as long as five minutes before setting the hook.”
Finally the last angler, leader Todd Riley, took the stage and his Day Three weight was displayed on the MC’s monitor. Tommy Skarlis cautioned the crowd that for Riley to bring in three huge limits three days in a row would be an unmatched accomplishment. But when Riley’s weight of 35.21 pounds was announced there was no doubt of his victory. Todd’s limit brought his three-day total weight to 102.51 pounds – a new single tournament record for an AIM event and the first total to exceed 100 pounds. The margin over Jim Carroll’s 2nd place finish was 14.61 pounds, approximately equal to the daily limits being posted by the rest of the field.
Todd Riley was asked to summarize what the victory meant to him. He responded, “When I came here my goal was the Angler of the Year title. I have been close several times over the years, and I always let it slip away. So this is very special. But everything just came together in this event for me. We found this active group of fish late during the prefishing period and I knew it was going to be a great pattern. To win the inaugural AIM Championship and the Angler of the Year is unbelievable!”
When asked about his presentation Todd continued, “I did the same thing all day for all three days. I was trolling crawler harnesses behind Off Shore planer boards. Unlike Jim Carroll, I was fishing relatively shallow – only 12 to 15 feet deep. My prefishing partner David Andersen and I found walleyes in this zone. We suspect they were attracted by the schools of small perch that were there feeding on bug hatches. I trolled with my MinnKota Terrova trolling motor. The autopilot feature was invaluable when we were handling 50 or more fish per day! The presentation wasn’t designed just for big fish but to catch lots of fish. In this format if you catch lots of fish you give yourself the opportunity to also catch the biggest fish that are mixed in.”
When asked about the AIM Catch-Record-Release™ format, Riley was very enthused. “I once had the chance at a victory but lost it due to a dead fish penalty. That will never happen again with CRR™.” he said. “I love this format. All you need to do is catch fish. There is no worry about what order you catch the fish, or which fish to keep and which ones to release. And when we can come to a fishery like Lake Winnie and showcase the quality of the walleyes it is a win-win for us and the local community. Plus, every walleye is right back where it was caught and anyone can go out there and try for it tomorrow!”
“When you add up the lengths of the 21 walleyes I weighed, they equal 480 inches – that’s 40 FEET of walleyes! And this doesn’t include the dozens of fish I didn’t weigh. What a great fishery and a great tournament concept,” Todd concluded.
Todd Riley was presented with the first place trophy and the keys to the Lund 2075 Pro-V boat rigged with a 300 hp Mercury Verado motor by Andrew Klopak, President of Lund Boat Company. Klopak said, “Lund Boats is proud to present this boat, valued at $65,000, as the first place prize to the AIM Champion, Todd Riley. This prize stands as a statement of our proud support of the AIM Pro Walleye Series™ and the AIM Catch-Record-Release™ format.”
Then the entire field of AIM pro Anglers presented Todd with the Angler of the Year trophy. The Lake Winnibigoshish AIM International Walleye Championship™ concluded the successful first year for the new company, Anglers Insight Marketing, which is primarily owned by Pro Angler-investors, including Todd Riley.
*Side note: Following the tournament, Todd Riley was reminded of a pledge he had made to his Fiance over 10 years ago. At that time, he promised IF he ever won a championship and the Angler of the Year award in the same year he would agree to get married. Stay tuned for wedding plans. The only question remaining is if the wedding plans also include a haircut?