Bjorkman sacks 47-pound mega-stringer, leads Erie opener
TRENTON, Mich. – Lake Erie has no equal in terms of producing giant walleyes and day one of the 2014 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour season opener proved it with 14 stringers over 40 pounds. While the walleyes are both sizable and plentiful, the problem is that Mother Nature oftentimes makes getting to them difficult. Anglers debated this morning whether to stay in the friendly confines of the Detroit River or brave the wet and wild conditions out on Erie. Veteran North Dakota pro Brian Bjorkman chose to venture out to the big lake and his decision paid off.
Bjorkman was skunked at spot No. 1, but No. 2 was productive. The bite eventually slowed so he ventured onward to No. 3, which is where he finished his day.
“I think I ended up catching 15 or 16 fish today, so not a ton. In practice, we caught more but the quality was there and that’s what I really care about. I was fairly confident that we could go out and pull a mid-40s bag. In practice we had that kind of weight and even a day in the 50s. So I had high expectations. Today we had three kickers that were over 10 pounds. I did miss one that I think would’ve helped as our smallest fish was a 7 1/2.
Bjorkman was understandably reserved about his presentation, although he did offer a few clues.
“The biggest thing I want to say is that I’ve been looking for active fish , not just getting stuck on one marathon troll. They’re either going to bite or they’re not. When these fish want to eat, they eat and it’s not just one; it’s all your boards. The people that live out here are spoiled.”
With blustery weather once again in the forecast for tomorrow, getting to the fish will be just as important as triggering them to bite.
“I’d much rather go out on the lake,” added Bjorkman. “That’s where I want to fish. I like my chances out on the lake; we’re going through the right fish and I’ve got some spots to myself. But if we are confined (to the river), I do have areas that are producing some pretty decent bags.”
Bjorkman will start the final day of competition with nearly a 4-pound lead.
“Being in this situation is great, but there are ton of awesome anglers underneath me. So I’m going to go out with the same mentality of needing to catch a big bag. I’m excited to get out there and see what happens.”
In second place with a total weight of 43.95 pounds is Dan Stier. Like Bjorkman, Stier is a veteran tour-level pro with vast experience on both the river and the big lake.
“When I took off this morning I had two spots on the lake – one close and one far,” said the Mina, S.D., pro. “I was aiming to go to the far spot first and I told myself if I could average 16 mph it would work. I was driving 19 mph, so I was ahead of the game, and then towards the end it even started to flatten out a bit.
“We finally got there two hours after takeoff. I dropped everything down and 40 yards later we caught our first fish, which was 9 1/2 pounds. After that first pass we had our limit and then we just kept culling and culling. I bet we caught 35 or 40 fish including a few doubles and triples. That’s a good day. I want to say that my co-angler, Chris (Schmitt), was an awesome guy and an excellent fisherman. Teamwork like that is a huge thing to have; it allows you to concentrate on the little details.”
Stier’s smallest fish he brought to the scale was 28 1/4 inches in length and weighed a little over 8 pounds. He did not weigh his biggest walleyes, but he had three in his limit that were true 30-inchers.
“I left the area at 1:30 p.m. and it was a good decision because the wind roared back up in the afternoon.”
It’s no secret that most of the field is trolling. Stier said he is too, but he’s doing something a little different.
“I didn’t see any fish caught around me and there were a dozen, maybe 15 boats. I was trolling, but speed is a huge factor right now especially with the current. I truly believe that was the difference. It was a little South Dakota trick.”
Stier is optimistic about his chances tomorrow, whether the weather confines the field to the river or if the lake is once again in play.
“We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but I really like this spot. I had one good day there three days ago in practice and then I didn’t want to go back because it’s no secret. It’s one of those places that just gets better as the water warms.
“The river treats me good though too. It comes down to getting the right bites in the river. But I know how to put myself in the right places to get those bites. I’m confident I’ll get my fish either way.”
Sitting in third place at the halfway point in the tournament with 43.34 pounds are Captain Ryan Buddie and co-angler John Hoyer. While Buddie is fishing only his second NWT event, he is no stranger to Lake Erie, having grown up in northeast Ohio. When he’s not competing in regional tournaments or working as a commercial airline pilot, Buddie is guiding clients through his charter.
“We had a long boat run this morning,” said the North Ridgeville, Ohio, native. “It’s no secret the big fish were out on the lake and that’s where we were at. I have one good area and a bunch of spots within that area. The thing is, the fish move so much this time of year it’s just about staying on top of them.”
For Buddie, it took some time to reconnect with those fish. In fact, he sampled his first three spots without putting a walleye in the boat.
“They’re active fish, so you pretty much run around until you see them on your Lowrance. There wasn’t much bait in the area and we had that perfect milky green water color so that helped.
“Once the wind laid down I was able to zip around and search a little and that was crucial for me. At 11:30, we caught the first fish and then we just started cracking away. The secret really wasn’t the spot, it was the presentation that targets big fish. It’s kind of a secret bait that I can tell you more about tomorrow. We used a big fish presentation and it worked; it paid off.”
Buddie said he is trolling both spinners and crankbaits behind Off Shore planer boards and that keying in on a color to match the forage was key.
“The spawn is over and they don’t have those heavy eggs anymore, so I was pretty happy with that weight. That’s good but not unheard of or anything.”
In fourth place with 43.24 pounds are pro Brett King and co-angler Troy Cox. Like Buddie, King experienced a slow morning and then got back on ’em.
“I actually caught most of my fish between 10:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.,” said the Claremont, Minn., pro. “They shifted a little bit and I kind of changed up what I was doing a touch and they started to fire. It was kind of mayhem from there. I didn’t go through a ton of fish, maybe a dozen, but they were the right ones.”
King traveled roughly 40 miles to get to his primary spot, which was surprisingly light on boat traffic. Once he arrives, he pulls boards – making half-mile passes.
“Coming in, I figured 40 pounds was pretty achievable; that was the benchmark. I will say I was surprised to catch them that good with the water that clear. It was clearer than I expected and if wasn’t for the 4- and 5-foot waves, I probably wouldn’t have fished it. But your mobility is so limited I had no choice.”
Ryan Dempsey of Green Bay, Wis., sits in fifth place with 43.19 pounds. A troller back home, Dempsey is no stranger to pulling boards and covering open water. Today he used a 50-50 split of spinners and crankbaits to put his walleyes in the boat.
“We got our big fish early and then stared at boards and caught small fish the rest of the day,” quipped Dempsey. “Right when it was time to pull them and head in we had a double – including one upgrade. Other than that it was a pretty slow last four hours.”
Dempsey said he and his co-angler partner, Chris Hammond, caught a total of 12 keepers on the day. There is considerable company in the area and Dempsey said he would not mind if the field was confined to the river tomorrow.
“I know how it is with these bites; there could be some flip-flopping if we’re allowed to fish the lake.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2014 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour season opener:
6th: Pat Byle of Colgate, Wis., five fish, 42.21
7th: Ronnie Rhodes of Sheffield Lake, Ohio, five fish, 41.64
8th: Bill Shimota of Northfield, Minn., five fish, 41.56
9th: Joe Okada of Fitchburg, Wis., five fish, 41.42
10th: Tom Kemos of Oconomowoc, Wis., five fish, 41.12
The final day of competition on the Detroit River and Lake Erie begins as the full field takes off from Elizabeth Park Marina, located at 202 Grosse Ill Parkway in Trenton at 7 a.m. Eastern time Saturday. The final weigh-in will also be held at Elizabeth Park, beginning at 3 p.m.