Fishing teams, and local businesses, will have to adjust to a major rules change for the season-opening pro-circuit walleye tournament at Spring Valley.
A year after the tournament series changed rules and halved the number of rods or baits each angler could use, the circuit is banning live bait in the 2014 Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit Spring Valley Walleye Tournament, which is March 29-30.
The manufacturer of scent-infused plastics such as Power Bait and Gulp!, Berkeley this week announced it would continue to sponsor the MWC. The circuit also announced two of the 10 circuit events, including the one at Spring Valley, will be part of the “Artificial Challenge.”
“I’m just getting back from Florida and the word’s just now getting around,” Spring Valley Walleye Club president Bill Guerrini said Tuesday evening.
He said some local tournament anglers always use live bait. Others use jigs and plastics when they drift downstream but use jig heads tipped with minnows on three-way rigs when they troll back upstream. He said “you can talk to 20 guys and there will be 21 different” opinions on the best baits and lures and when to use minnows.
“The ones that will be in more trouble will be the ones pulling three-ways,” Guerrini said.
Annual MWC competitor and local Illinois Valley Walleye Trail tournament director Adam Sandor said he doesn’t mind that two MWC events will be for “artificial only,” but “I just don’t think Spring Valley in March is the best place to have it.”
In March, the Illinois River often is flooded and dirty, he said. When the water clarity is poor, the fish are less likely to see artificial bait being fished fast than live minnows fished slowly, he said. And when the water temperature is extremely low, sauger in the Illinois River are less likely to chase a crankbait being trolled upstream than a minnow trolled more slowly.
“I know a lot of the locals are not in favor of it at all,” Sandor said.
He said he thinks some might skip the tournament altogether if they can’t use bait.
Series owner explains
Robert Cartlidge of Oklahoma owns the Masters Walleye Circuit and also operates the 20,000-member Bass Federation, highschoolfishing.org (which promotes high school state tournaments), Cabela’s North American Bass series, National Bass Anglers Association after-work tournaments, Walleye Federation and the nonprofit Future Fisherman Foundation. He likes the idea of the artificial-only rule, and said anglers can use any brand they want. In short, he said it’s not just for the benefit of Berkley.
“We tested it last year with the anglers and what we’ve done is said at this event, no live bait, everything has to be artificial,” said Cartlidge.
Of the nine series events leading up to the Oct. 8-11 World Walleye Championship, the Spring Valley and May 2-4 Hastings, Minn., tournaments are the two that will have a prize-money bonus added by Berkley and artificial-only rules.
He said it’s good from a competition standpoint.
“The angler response was very positive,” Cartlidge said. “They loved it because it levels the playing field for them.”
Berkley is contributing $2,500 to the purse at Spring Valley.
“(That) has never been done on the walleye trails; they’re always fishing for their own money,” Cartlidge said.
Also, there is a conservation goal of protecting the waters.
What’s to prevent anglers from bringing in minnows in their boats’ minnow wells that came from different bodies of water or different states? Conservation agencies and states are cracking down on transporting of bait because of the fear of transferring invasive aquatic species into previously un-infested waters.
Cartlidge does not want to see infestations occurring because of tournament anglers.
“As you may well know, the Asian carp threat to the Great Lakes is a great threat,” he said, citing the very real fear of Asian carp fry being in the same minnow bucket or seine with shiners. When invasive species are unwittingly introduced to bodies of water, it usually harms native species populations or affects them in some way.
“From that standpoint, it’s a great conservation piece,” he said.
“Really it’s a win-win-win, Tournament anglers are supposed to be a little more skilled,” he asserted, and said the artificial-only rule “changes the dynamic of the tournament.”
He said artificial lures often outperform live bait.
“We went to Devils Lake (North Dakota) three years and looked at the catch rates, (and) artificial was as high if not higher than they were with live bait,” Cartlidge said.
Ryan Vecchia of Spring Valley and Bill Elliott finished in second place in last year’s tournament. Vecchia said he used artificial lures only at the 2013 event.
“I think it’s going to work out good. All I use is artificial,” Vecchia said. Later, he admitted he occasionally brings minnows as a “safety net” when the water’s extremely cold or murky. He said a lot of anglers will need to learn to troll upstream pulling crankbaits instead of minnows.
Personally, Sandor doesn’t mind using artificial lures in tournaments, although he said many years the anglers who finished in the money or won at Spring Valley were using minnows.
“It doesn’t break my heart that I won’t have to put my hand in a minnow bucket when it’s 35 degrees out,” Sandor said.
He worries about local bait shops and an Ottawa bait distributor, all of which sell a lot of minnows during the week of the big tournament.
“It’s going to hurt the local economy as far as bait goes,” he said.
Sandor likes the artificial-only idea when he travels to tournaments.
He said he has been to competitions on the Mississippi River where most of the Minnesota anglers are using 3-inch catfish minnows called “willow cats”, also known as madtoms. But by the time the out-of-state and Illinois anglers get to town, the local anglers have purchased all the willow cats — and not out of necessity.
“You’ll see guys go into the shop and buy every willow cat they have so the other guys can’t get any,” Guerrini said.
Cartlidge said the same thing happens with red-tail minnows at certain tournament locations.
Sandor said he would rather see the artificial-only test take place at Lake Erie than at Spring Valley, because many anglers feel the need to use live minnows when the river’s extra-muddy.
Usually, however, in early spring on the Illinois River, sauger are pretty aggressive.
“The bottom line is, if you get your jig in front of that fish, he’s going to bite it,” Guerrini said. “I don’t care if you’ve got a jig or a minnow or a bare hook … at that time of year.”
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