PIERRE, S.D. -- As the PWT makes its rounds some waters are better-suited to the fishing styles of certain competitors. Trollers excel at Lake Erie, for example, while live-bait riggers usually do better at Lake of the Woods.
When the tour pulled into Lake Sharpe for the second event of the season it was speculated a live-bait specialist would win. That was good news to Daryl Christensen, who is known as "the jigmeister" among his PWT peers.
The nickname comes from Christensen's ability to finesse jigs into the mouths of wary walleyes. Jigging landed him a title at Lake Stockton, Mo., in 1998 and propelled him to sixth-place overall in last year's PWT rankings.
Christensen has been perfecting his jigging techniques since the day he first threw a line into the Fox River near his hometown of Montello, Wis. There he caught his first walleye and thousands have come since, most on jigs.
"I'm glad to be done trolling," Christensen said over breakfast Saturday morning. "You can never have too much bait or too many jigs."
Christensen is one of the few pros on the PWT who has fished every tournament since the circuit began in 1989. He has fished professionally for 14 years and has helped boost walleye fishing to the status it enjoys today.
In his book "Journal of a Walleye Pro," Christensen chronicles two years in the life of a tournament angler. Reading it leaves one with the impression that Christensen has a hard time saying no to anybody. When he isn't fishing he is teaching a seminar, giving a clinic at a sport show, meeting with one of his 10 sponsors or working with a tackle manufacturer on some piece of equipment. Indeed, one sentence in the book is revealing: "I find it somewhat ironic," Christensen wrote, "that a guy who used to skip school to go fishing is now skipping a day of fishing to teach school."
On May 6 Christensen gave a jigging novice from Brainerd a lesson in the fine art of vertical jigging. Previously I had jigged by casting roundballs with Twister Tails. Christensen set me up with an Odd Ball jig, a unique design he helped create for Bait Rigs tackle company.
Joining us on Lake Sharpe was PWT director Jim Kalkofen, who had arrived in Pierre the previous night. Christensen took us to where he had caught a limit the day before, but the lake level had dropped four feet and a cold front had moved in. We marked fish but couldn't get them to bite.
We moved upstream near the highway bridge, where a strong current had made fishing impossible the day before. "When the water drops or a cold front hits," Christensen said, "fish the area where the river changes the least."
It sounded like good advice, but the walleyes had other ideas and wouldn't bite. Christensen noted the water was 47 degrees. "Pretty cold," he said. "We better find something warmer."
We headed for the stilling basin, a narrow finger that extends off the main lake near the Oahe Dam. The basin serves as an overflow channel when the water is unusually high. The water temperature in the stilling basin was 55 degrees, and the presence of other boats gave us hope that perhaps some biting walleyes had been located.
As we moved upstream Christensen scanned his graph and the shoreline as well. Too many fishermen, he said, look exclusively at their graphs and forget to note shoreline features that can indicate potential hotspots. "See those rocks ?" Christensen said, pointing to rip-rap on the bank. "They might indicate a spawning area. Judging from the water temperature I'd say the spawn was fairly recent. The females might still be around."
Boats drifted by, but nary a fish was landed. Christensen took us to the front of the procession and then went to the bow and began working the trolling motor while watching the graph -- a new Zercom LPG 2000 that simulates the readouts of the defunct paper graphs. It's performance and price were impressive.
We were in 6 feet of water when Kalkofen caught the first fish. Christensen hooked another minutes later. It took awhile, but I finally joined the fun. The walleyes weren't big but they were plentiful and, unlike the fishermen in the boats around us, we caught them at a steady rate.
I couldn't tell what Christensen was doing differently. As if he had read my mind, he said, "They're moving too fast, even the guys with drift socks. When the water is this cold you really have to slow down. Keep your line as vertical as possible. The bites are light and a straight line is how you detect them."
We caught numerous 14-inch walleyes. Bigger fish were seen on the graph but we couldn't coax a bite. Christensen never got discouraged and kept searching for fish. I glanced at my watch and, realizing a long drive home was ahead, suggested we head in. Daryl obliged, but on the way to shore we stopped and fished a channel where earlier the water had been too low.
It was vintage Daryl Christensen -- fishing right up to the dock.
Daryl Christensen's equipment
Boat and motors: 18.5-foot Fisher with 200-hp Mercury Optimax, 9.9-hp Mercury kicker; Motorguide trolling motor
Rods and reels: Quantum Tour Edition rods with Quantum TI Response reels and Stren monofilament
Graph: Zercom LPG 2000
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