Another Professional Walleye Trail tournament has come and gone on Mille Lacs and, like last year, this year's event was won by an out-of-state pro.
This year it was Steve Bradt of Hudson, Wis., who won with 15 walleyes weighing 34.72 pounds. Last year's tournament was taken by Ron Seelhoff of Burlington, Colo., with 12 walleyes weighing 38.94 pounds. Anglers were allowed to weigh five fish per day this year instead of four.
I always expect to see a Minnesota pro win on Mille Lacs, since many of the PWT pros from Minnesota learned to fish there. But with so many walleyes in the lake these days and with so many good fishermen in the pro ranks, anything can happen.
Who, for example, expected Steve Fellegy, who knows Mille Lacs as well as anybody, to be in last place after Day One? Fellegy finished 115th in a field of 119. The fact that an angler born and raised on Mille Lacs placed so low illustrates the vagaries of tournament fishing on a lake with a protected slot.
By the way, Mille Lacs' big walleyes are very skinny these days. The over-28 inch fish that were weighed at this year's tournament looked pathetic and ugly. Must be a shortage of forage in the lake, thus the torrid bite that's prevailed since opening day.
For the first time in its history the PWT championship will be contested not in the fall but in the spring. Qualifiers from the 2007 tour will compete for the championship title on Michigan's Saginaw Bay in the spring of '08.
At first I was mystified by this move. Would Major League Baseball wait until next spring to play the World Series?
But after talking with several pros at Mille Lacs, I understand the reasoning behind the move and why it makes sense. The championship field will be determined this summer, meaning the pros who make the cut will have the entire off-season to promote this distinction to potential sponsors. In the past when the championship took place in the fall all but hard-core tournament fishing fans had moved on to other pursuits, like hunting. The sport show that ran in conjunction with the championship was lightly attended, and the weigh-ins were attended mostly by relatives and friends of the anglers involved and industry reps with product to sell. A spring championship should make the event much more appealing to mainstream fans.
Pete Harsh, the walleye pro from Sauk Centre, won a FLW Walleye Tour tournament June 9 on Devils Lake, becoming just the third pro to win tournaments on both the PWT and FLW tours. The others are Bruce Samson and Dan Plautz. Harsh now has five tournament wins, four on the PWT and one on the FLW. Only Ron Seelhoff, with six wins, has won more tournaments, but Seelhoff has never won a FLW event.
On the Mount Rushmore of walleye tournament greats, Harsh and Seelhoff both have their mugs. But what distinguishes Harsh as the top pro right now is his ability to find a winning formula no matter where he's fishing. Seelhoff won all of his tournaments by trolling crankbaits. If the crankbait bite is off, Seelhoff is out of the money. Harsh has won by rigging, jigging and now slip-bobbering. Yep, Pete pulled out the bobber rigs to catch 15 Devils Lake walleyes weighing 63 pounds, a hefty 4 pound, 2-ounce average.
Conventional wisdom says you must weigh a limit every day if you hope to win a tournament. Harsh sees things differently, as anybody who knows him would expect.
"Little fish don't win tournaments," Harsh said after getting home from Devils Lake. "If you don't try to win, you'll never win. That backfired on me at Mille Lacs. I threw back a lot of fish I should have kept (it was a no-cull tournament) because I kept trying for bigger fish. I probably gave away fifth or sixth place. I only weighed 12 fish." (He could have weighed 15).
With this win and two previous second place finishes, Harsh now has won more than $120,000 on Devils Lake, and he's left about $27,000 on the table because he runs a Mercury engine, not a Yamaha or Evinrude, two sponsors that offer incentives.
Harsh has a knack for catching big walleyes on Devils Lake, and he has a tip for anglers who plan to fish the flooded timber.
"All trees will hold some fish, but not all trees are created equal," he said. "Look for trees that are medium diameter, broken, tangled, trees the ice and wind has pushed over. Constantly move your bobber, don't just leave it sit there. Cast into pockets, pieces of shade and tangles. A lot of times I'll throw it near a tangle and just before it drifts in there the bobber goes down and you have a 4- or 5-pounder. If you just throw into the openings you won't even get bit, or a northern will come along."
VINCE MEYER, outdoors editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862.
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