Rhinelander's Ryan Jirik recently made the trip to the Quad Cities in Iowa to fish the FLW Walleye Tour championship. The fishing would be tough, but Jirik would persevere, making a final day jump in the standings and bringing home $12,500 - which, as Jirik pointed out, is not bad pay for a week of fishing.
The championship event was held Oct. 25-28. Anglers were fishing the Mississippi River.
"It was the top 40 in points through the season that made it, that were invited," Jirik said. The full field included two other invites, for a total of 42 pros.
Jirik had fished the area once in the past, as an amateur, but conditions were much different this time. The big river is quite low.
"I was talking to local people ... old guys that were going, 'I haven't ... ever seen the river this low.' That threw a kink in the plans just because the fish were so scattered," Jirik said. "I talked to one guy who said the bite had basically been dead around here since June. A lot of them weren't even fishing because it was so terrible."
He had some practice days leading up to the tournament. The practice time paid off.
"I was kind of poking around down there, I had a local guy fish with me a couple days and hit a couple of different pools," Jirik said.
Eventually, a pattern he could use when the tournament started would emerge.
"I found this little spot like three miles from where we took off from and that's just where I camped out," Jirik said.
The plan of attack was a simple one: jigs, nightcrawlers and a fairly short stretch of river.
"I was just vertical jigging with an eighth-ounce jig and I just kept fishing one little quarter-mile stretch for eight hours, for four straight days," Jirik said.
According to Jirik, there were some other spots to consider, but he chose his largely because it meant less time traveling and more time fishing. And it produced some fish.
"I thought with a little bit of luck a guy could get a limit. I thought I could for sure get two fish ... that measured each day," he said.
Indeed, the spot would produce well enough to keep Jirik in the mix. He managed three walleyes every day of the four-day tournament except one, when he caught two.
"I had the third one on, but I was only fishing in six to seven feet of water, so they come up quick and when I saw it was a measureable fish and my co-angler was in the back of the boat yet and my net was up front," Jirik said.
He decided to just flip the fish into the boat without aid of a net and lost it.
Jirik said the walleye bite showed no specific pattern during the championship tournament.
"I thought I could maybe time the windows of opportunity where they were biting, but it was different every day," he said.
"The first day I got two right away in the morning then the second day ... I didn't have a fish until 11 or 11:30. The third day was pretty well mixed and the last day I kind of had a little flurry at 10 o'clock in the morning where I caught two and lost another nice one and I picked my last one up at one o'clock."
The fishing was tough, but Jirik managed to keep in the running. The field was cut to the top 20 after day two, and the top 10 after day three.
"The top 10 made the fourth day cut, but the amateurs, we call them co-anglers, were done after the third day. The top 10 pros fished on the last day," Jirik said.
"I went into the last day in ninth place, but [without any] co-anglers fishing with us - we were fishing alone - you're reduced two lines," Jirik said.
He saw a possible advantage to fishing alone.
"I'd boated all the fish except for one, so I was thinking, 'I think I can do this by myself, and I think I can pass up some guys' but I thought I needed a limit to maybe get to fifth. I thought I could get to fifth if I had five."
Jirik wouldn't get the five-fish limit, but things worked out well anyway.
"Half the field zeroed on the last day, almost, so I ended up moving all the way up to fourth with just three fish," he said.
"I was just in awe that I moved up five spots with three fish. But the bite was just that tough ... I ended up taking advantage of it."
See Walleye, Page 13B
Continued from Page 12B
The way the tournament panned out was pretty close to Jirik's expectations for the spot he chose to fish.
"My goal was - because it's hard to be consistent down there anyway and you're throwing a tough bite on top of it - I thought, 'Well, if I can get two bites each day, the first two days, I should be able to make the top 20 cut, then if I can do it again I should be able to make the top 10, because I'm just consistently bringing in fish each day,' and it turned out I needed just a little bit more than that."
Another Wisconsin angler, Danny Plautz of Madison, finished in first place and took home $85,000.
Jirik was pleased to finish as high as he did.
"I made the top 10, I thought, 'Whatever happens, happens,'" he said. "It was a pretty neat experience to finish in fourth place."
According to Jirik, this could be the last FLW walleye event.
"FLW is done with walleye tournaments now," he said. "They're just going to concentrate on bass tournaments, so that's the last FLW walleye tournament that we had, probably."
Jirik's sponsors included Ranger Boats, Cabela's, Evinrude, Elk River Rods, Downriver Tackle and Shoeder's Marine in Rhinelander.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce