Tournament Tips - What Can
We Learn from the Walleye Pros?
Don W. Sangster
Some of the thousands of
Canadian anglers that chase walleyes every year pursue them for more than
just enjoyment, relaxation, sport or even a meal. These anglers fish for
money and glory in big-dollar professional walleye tournaments across
North America. While these tournaments may not interest all walleye
anglers, can the average recreational walleye angler learn something from
To answer that question, I spoke with four top Canadian walleye tournament
pros. As a tournament angler myself (although, admittedly, not in the same
league as these gentlemen), I suspected that I wasn't likely to get these
pros to reveal their tournament secrets. Instead, I asked them each one
basic question: What is the one piece of advice that you can offer to the
average walleye angler to help them catch more or bigger fish? I also
asked them to reveal their number one, go-to techniques when they're down
to the last few minutes of a tournament and absolutely need to catch one
Greg Horoky of Harrow, Ontario, has competed on the In-Fisherman
Professional Walleye Trail in the United States for many years. He is
Canada's all-time walleye tournament money winner, and is the only
Canadian to ever win a major U.S. walleye tournament.
"I think that the number one way the average walleye angler can catch more
fish, especially in western reservoirs, is to move more and find the fish;
they won't come to you," Greg told me. He added, "Too many guys just sit
all day on a spot that has produced in the past, waiting and hoping for
the walleyes to bite at some point. We have a saying on the tournament
circuit: 'fish fish, not memories.'"
"Once you find the fish, catching them is easy. All you have to do is suit
your tactics to where the fish are and the best way to catch them. There
are countless different techniques you can use to catch walleyes, but they
all depend on finding the fish first. Even the best angler in the world
can't catch fish if they aren't any around," Greg said. "That means that
you need to cover water until you find the fish, and to do that, you
really need to use your electronics."
I couldn't help myself, so I asked Greg to let me in on just one of his
"There aren't really any secrets. Tournament guys just know how to refine
different techniques to suit the conditions and situation at hand," he
told me. "For example, because I fish such diverse waters, I've developed
seven different ways just to troll."
As for his go-to tactic, Greg reaches for a bottom bouncer and spinner
combo, usually rigged with a full jumbo nightcrawler.
"In one tournament I was fishing so close to the weigh-in stage that I
could hear the competitors being interviewed and their weights announced.
In the two previous days I caught my five fish very handily, but I knew I
had to catch one last fish on the last day to cash a cheque. I continued
to use the technique that got me there, bottom bouncers and spinners
across the mouth of the feeder stream flowing into a main river. Sliding
up and down the drop off, first slowly then quickly back up, produced that
last fish and a cheque."
Richard Mellon of Strathmore, Alberta, began fishing professional walleye
tournaments in 1995. He qualified for four Professional Walleye Tournament
Championships between 1996 and 2000, a record unequalled by any other
Canadian angler. Rich has now retired from the tournament circuit to host
his own outdoors television show, Outdoor Quest Television.
"Without question, the best advice I can give to all recreational walleye
anglers is to learn to use your sonar," Rich advised. "Note that I didn't
call them 'fish finders,' as I think they are better referred to as
'structure finders,'" he added.
"I'm amazed at how many people don't even use sonar and just rely on a map
instead. Maps are good, but I won't even fish without my sonar," Rich told
me. "It's your underwater eyes picking apart the lake. Without it, you're
like a blind pig trying to find an acorn."
"Learning to use your sonar consists of first learning how to physically
operate your sonar unit, and then learning to understand what it's telling
you, as your sonar is always telling you something," he stated.
"The best way to learn how to use your sonar is to read the manual and
make sure that you know how to switch it into manual mode so that you can
control settings such as sensitivity/gain. You simply can't get the most
out of your sonar in auto mode. For instance, your screen should always be
set to show no more than a 20-foot section of the water column in order to
get maximum resolution," Rich told me.
"Once you're comfortable operating your sonar, you simply need to spend
some serious time on the water learning how various structures, objects
and fish mark on your screen," he advised me. "Some of the sonar
manufacturers have very good online tutorials on their websites that can
also help you to understand and interpret what your sonar is showing you,"
OK, Rich, but what about a secret or two?
"Pay attention to all of the variables and conditions around you. When you
catch a fish, you have to be able to figure out what just went right, so
that you can hopefully take advantage and repeat it," he answered.
When it comes down to crunch time in a tournament, Rich suggests doing
whatever it is that you do best.
"Many times I've had a bite die, but I was still marking fish. In
frustration, I'd switch to the technique that I'm best at," he told me.
"Even if that technique is 180 degrees from what you've been doing, if you
have the confidence, it will pay off many times. Of course, it's up to you
to know what you do best," he added.
Chris Kindraka of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a hot young walleye angler who
has fished in some of the biggest walleye tournaments in western Canada,
as well as PWT and RCL events in the U.S., including three RCL
Championships. He has tasted victory on the Saskatchewan Walleye Trail,
and has numerous top ten finishes throughout western Canada.
"The best advice I can give anyone looking to catch more and bigger
walleyes is to be versatile," Chris told me. "Too many people insist on
just fishing jigs, or just pulling cranks, or just trolling crawler
harnesses. These tactics will all catch fish, under certain conditions and
situations, but not under all conditions and situations," Chris added.
"Because tournaments are held on so many different bodies of water, to be
successful you have to be versatile so that you can catch fish under a
variety of conditions," he advised. "In fact, some individual bodies of
water, such as Lesser Slave Lake in Alberta, are so diverse that one or
two techniques alone are probably not going to be enough to allow you to
fish as effectively as you need to. As a recreational angler, if you fish
large or diverse rivers or lakes, or you fish numerous different bodies of
water, you need to be versatile too."
"To become versatile, you have to experiment and practice with different
tactics, techniques and lures," Chris told me. "And that's harder than it
sounds, because when a certain pattern is working, you want to stick with
it and keep catching fish. But you have to have the discipline and
dedication to experiment and see what else might work as well," Chris
"It's not a fair test to try a new technique or lure under dismal
conditions when nothing seems to be working. All that will do is ensure
that you'll never try that new thing again. The goal is to develop
confidence in new tactics so that when the old standbys don't produce,
you've got other tricks up your sleeve," Chris continued.
Any secrets you care to share, Chris?
"Be aware of what's going on around you, such as other people catching
fish nearby, perhaps at a different depth than you are fishing," he
replied. "Often they are just doing one thing differently than you are,
and that's all it takes."
What about Chris's can't fail lure or bait?
"I don't really have such a thing," he insisted. "Fish will move around
during the day as wind and light conditions change, especially in natural
lakes. If I'm down to just a few minutes left, I'll just head back to the
spot that produced my biggest fish or the most fish for me earlier in the
tournament. In this situation, you need to have the confidence in the spot
to know that you can catch one more fish. Confidence can make all the
difference in the world, regardless of what lure or bait you're using," he
Andrew Klopak of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a veteran of many western walleye
tournaments. He has placed in the money numerous times, and has won the
Vanity Cup Walleye Tournament in Saskatchewan, the Canadian Walleye
Championship in Manitoba and the 2004 Prairie Walleye Classic in Manitoba.
"In a tournament, although we may be fishing for eight to nine hours a
day, we may actually be catching fish for only 10 or 20 minutes in total.
That means that in addition to concentrating and remaining focused, we
need to keep our confidence up for the entire day, because when it
happens, it can happen very quickly. I think confidence is the biggest
thing that the average walleye angler can learn from the tournament pro.
Confidence can make all the difference," Andrew told me.
"If you don't have the confidence in your bait, your location and yourself
to believe that each cast will produce a bite, then you won't fish
thoroughly or effectively and you're just wasting your time. It doesn't
matter whether you like to jig, rig, run crankbaits or whatever, as long
as you are confident," he added.
Andrew doesn't really have a go-to tactic when he needs just one more
fish. Instead, he lets the setting and circumstances dictate his actions.
"It all depends on the particular body of water, but if I need one more
fish to fill out a limit, I'll try whatever has produced the most fish for
me that day. If, however, I need a big fish, I'll use bigger baits in my
best big fish spot," Andrew told me. "This tactic can be especially useful
for recreational walleye anglers where slot limits are in place requiring
certain sizes of fish to be released."
Can you share a tournament secret or two, Andrew?
"The best anglers never stop learning," he replied. "They always strive to
improve their skills and knowledge by watching and listening to other
anglers, especially the good ones, and keep an open mind to new
techniques, baits or locations. Weekend anglers should do the same. The
more you know, the easier it will be to put the pieces together and catch
fish," he added.
"Also, always remember that a walleye is a walleye, wherever he swims. I'm
not saying that walleyes won't show a preference for particular baits on
certain waters, because they can, but don't be afraid to try your
favourite tactic from back home on a new lake, even in another province,"
he informed me. "Even if local anglers tell you that it can't work and
that you're crazy to try, you just never know. In fact, that might be the
best bait to try, as the fish probably haven't seen it before."
Professional tournament anglers are among the most talented and skilled
walleye chasers. When you simply must catch fish to get paid, you learn
what it takes, and heeding the advice of these four tournament pros can
help all of us catch more walleyes.