Fishing should be fun, not work. And it’s always best if you have perfect weather for your fishing days. But when you compete in a fishing tournament, you fish regardless of the weather. And you work at it. Your success depends on how you adapt to the weather conditions and how much work you’re willing to put in it for the full fishing day.
Last week, Arlyn Lemer from Lolo and I fished the 2002 Governor’s Cup Walleye Tournament at Fort Peck Reservoir. When you fish this huge lake in eastern Montana you can expect to it get warm at this time of year. This year’s 15th edition of the tournament was especially toasty with temperatures hovering in the 100-degree range.
On the open prairies of eastern Montana, the one thing you don’t count on is no wind and that’s often a critical factor in walleye fishing. Wind creates waves that will crash into shorelines and send the baitfish to the points and bays where the waves carry them. In return, the walleye follow the baitfish for their food source. That makes it a lot easier to locate fish. Experts says 10 percent of the lake holds 90 percent of the fish at any given time. Wind helps you locate that 10 percent.
On Friday, the first day of the tourney, there was a little wind early in the morning but then it died completely and laid the lake flat. The air temperature rose as the day went on. By the time we headed in at 2:30 p.m., the heat felt like it was well over 100 degrees on the boat. We fished a main lake point all day and ended up with four weighable, 14-inch-plus long walleyes that combined to give us 6.72 pounds. We felt pretty good about the day until we got in to check the scoreboard. Chuck Lawson and Robert Martin of Glasgow were leading the 200-team field with 38.66 pounds of fish, nine pounds better than their closest competitors.
There were six teams with more than 20 pounds for the day and 27 teams with 10 pounds or more. We were in 66th place after day one of the two-day tourney. We decide that if we would have a chance to place in the money that we better try and catch some 10-pound walleyes. Mark Henckel, the outdoor editor of the Billings Gazette, and I had fished a point on the Big Dry Arm before the tourney and one day we caught a 30-inch and 26-inch walleye. The combined weight of those fish would have given us close to 18 pounds.
Lemer and I started the second day and spent 2 1/2 hours off that point and didn’t get a bite. We decided we had better move about six miles down the lake to an area they call Bear Creek. As we came around the mouth of Bear Creek, we spotted the boat of Lawson and Martin. About six other boats also surrounded them. We decide to give it a try.
Fishing in about 16- to 25-feet of water, we trolled very slowly and pulled either a leech on a hook or a nightcrawler. In about 30 minutes we had landed our first walleye of the day. It only weighed in at 1.85 pounds but it was a start. That bite turned out to be the only one we could produce with this method of fishing.
We had one hour of tournament time left and decided to pull crank baits. After 45 minutes we had a strike. It seemed like a big fish and our hopes were high. After Lemer pulled it closer to the boat I got the net ready. We both waited with anticipation to see how large this walleye would be. It had taken line off the drag on the reel on a couple of short runs. The good news was that it turned out to be about 10 pounds. The bad news was that it was a carp.
Lawson and Martin ended up winning the $10,000 first-place prize with a two-day total of 48.5 pounds. The largest walleye ever caught in a Montana Governor’s Cup was caught Saturday by a couple of guys from North Dakota. It weighed 15.77 pounds. They won $1,200 for their record catch, the only fish they caught during the tourney.
A couple of notes: The second-place team on day one was Mike and Cindy Maurer from Billings. They caught 29-plus pounds with three fish, but zeroed the second day. It is tough to put two good days back to back on Fort Peck.
The 200-team field had participants from all over the United States, including Hawaii. The tourney also had anglers from Tennessee, New Mexico and Iowa with a lot of out-of-state anglers hailing from North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
The Governor’s Cup always fills up its quota of 200 teams early, so if you want to give it a try next year, apply to the Glasgow Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture early. And, if you can, bring a little wind and cooler weather along with you just to help the fishing along.