Sauger anglers are getting their gear ready for another season on the Illinois River, with tournament season starting in just a couple of weeks, Spring Valley Walleye Club executive director Bill Guerrini told members of the Better Fishing Association of Illinois this week.
There’s a new wrinkle, in the form of new ownership of the season-opening Masters Walleye Circuit event at Spring Valley, but Guerrini said walleye club members and local volunteers are likely to run the tournament this year just about the same way they have for the previous 26. They have a system down pat for sending the anglers out and bringing them back for weigh-in in two flights in the two-day event at the two-ramp Barto Landing. That’s not likely to change right away, Guerrini figures.
The new owners, the Oklahoma-based Walleye Federation (TWF) in January announced the “acquisition of the events division of Minnetonka, Minnesota-based North American Media Group, including the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC) and the Cabela’s North American Bass Circuit (NABC),” according to a press release at http://.walleyefederation.com
In addition to talking to the BFA this week about the new ownership of the MWC event, scheduled this year for March 23-24, Guerrini talked to the local anglers group about how the walleye club continues to invest in the sauger fishery on theIllinois River. Each year, the club asked the managers of the hatchery atLa SalleLakefor a wish list, and then the club fulfills that list. Every year, the club buys hatchery equipment such as nets, heaters – whatever’s needed. Usually, that purchase of items totals $5,000-$6,000 per year, but Guerrini said it has been as high as $10,000.
“If we would just donate money to the DNR, it goes in the general fund,” he said.
Other investments in recent months included repair of one of the docks at Barto Landing that burned when a boat caught fire. A volunteer used a piece of heavy equipment on Thursday to dig the lagoon at Barto Landing slightly deeper, Guerrini said. If the river level stays high, the tournament should go out of Barto Landing without a hitch. If the river level falls back toward drought levels, the contingency would be to launch from Starved Rock State Park.
Guerrini noted the club twice had to base the tournament at DePue due to flooding of Barto Landing.
“We always hope for the best but always plan for the worst,” Guerrini said.
The tournament season starts Saturday, March 16 with a carpenters union tournament, followed by the Illinois Walleye Trail’s season opener on St. Patrick’s Day.
Also at the BFA meeting, Guerrini discussed the club’s hopes for Illinois Department of Transportation to build the new Route 89 bridge just upstream from the existing river bridge, in order to not close the bridge and harm Spring Valley businesses and in order to not close one ofSpring Valley’s resources, Barto Landing.
Invariably, the questions included some about the Asian carp population.
The fear is, of course, that they’re devouring the forage base and adversely affecting the walleye, sauger and gamefish population.
“Scientifically we don’t know, but from a fisherman’s perspective, we think it’s having a pretty dire effect,” Guerrini said.
Of course, that opinion could change slightly if the river current and river levels are good for this month’s tournaments and if anglers start reeling in a lot of those big, fat, 3.5- to 4.5-pound sauger that have been fairly common at afternoon weigh-ins of the past.