Walleye Bros are Coming to Take Your Hardware

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Even though I more or less swore off competing in tournaments a few years ago, there are still certain derbies that I’m itching to fish someday. One is the US Open, which just seems badass, and another is the Sturgeon Bay Open, the 2018 iteration of which was just completed. The results were beyond incredible.

The winning team of Jason Stangel and John Ullmer weighed in 10 brown fish for 57.87, which (for the math-challenged among you) comes out to nearly a 6-pound average.

It took over 50 to get into the top seven places, and 45-even to sneak into 36th place. There were large numbers of 7-plus pound smallmouths weighed in, and 6-pounders probably didn’t get a second glance. The 27th place team of Marty McSharry and Benny Antoniewicz capped their bag with an 8.78 pound freak of nature that resembled a grouper more than a big smallhead.

Those weights were obscene, but expected. What might not have been expected is how well the walleye boys did. My friend Joe Okada and his partner, two-time National Walleye Tour AOY Robert Blosser claimed second with 51.47. Gary and Chase Parsons, both of whom are also experienced ‘eye pros, slid into third, just .05 pounds out of the runner-up slot.

As far as I know, neither leeches, Lindy Rigs nor backtrolling were allowed. So what gives?

It’s not the first time that the walleye chasers have made an effort to infiltrate the southern-fried bassin’ world (yes, I know this Sturgeon Bay Open takes place on Lake Michigan, but I’m on a roll, so bear with me), with varying results. A dude you might’ve heard from named Al Lindner went north from Chicago to Minnesota, before qualifying for three Classics, in the 1970s. He won twice, both on generally walleye-deprived waters, Watts Bar and Lake Gaston. [For the record, walleye were later stocked on Watts Bar, but in Al’s day it was no Mille Lacs or Devils Lake, North Dakota.] years later, Wisconsin walleye pro Travis Manson fished the Elite Series as a boater in 2011 and 2012.

I can only speculate as to why the walleye guys did so well at Sturgeon. It might just be that they’re semi-local, and know that body of water well. It might be something more macro, like the fact that walleye anglers need to be exceptionally proficient with their electronics and finding schools of bass rather than individual specimens. It might be neither of those. 

Despite the walleye pros’ crossover, I doubt that we’re going to see Bobby Lane, Tommy Biffle or Todd Faircloth trying to double-dip on the walleye tour any time soon. It’s not that they couldn’t do it, just that I don’t believe they’d want to, nor do I believe that the skills cross over as easily from bass-to-walleye as they do from walleye-to-bass. Nevertheless, even though top level anglers of any sort are increasingly specialized and advanced, some of those skills transfer fluidly.