Lake Erie champion leads day one on Lake Oahe
MOBRIDGE, S.D. – Catching walleyes on sprawling Lake Oahe, a massive impoundment of the Missouri River, is not a difficult task, but finding big fish can be baffling. In many ways, Oahe is the polar opposite of Lake Erie, the site of the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour season opener. There has been one constant between the two events, the name at the top of the leaderboard – Dan Stier. Back home in South Dakota, Stier struck quickly and claimed the lead with a 14.62-pound opening-day stringer.
Stier’s big debate at takeoff this morning was whether to run south or north. He pondered this decision as thunderstorms roiled overhead.
“I have some good fish going way south and some fish good north,” said Stier, who has been guiding on Oahe nearly every day since returning from Detroit. “I have more spots down south, but the fish up north are fatter and heavier. With that wind, I figured I better not run 40 or 50 miles south.”
The first walleye Stier kept measured 19 7/8 inches. He quickly turned the boat around and caught a fat 16-incher. Then another quick spin resulted in an 18 7/8.
“A little bit later I saw one sitting on my Lowrance graph in 14 feet of water. It grabbed my bait, but then dropped it; I never set the hook. So I spun around, marked him again and then Karl (Sprengel) my co-angler caught it. It was so big, he thought it was a northern. But I saw it wasn’t running and pumping like a northern; it had more of a steady fight. I knew it was a walleye but I didn’t know it was that big.”
The kicker measured 27 1/2 inches and broke open an extremely tight tournament. But Stier and Sprengel weren’t done yet.
“We were fishing this rock ledge in 14 or 15 feet and we just kept turning around when we saw them. We caught another over – a 20 1/4 and another that was 19 3/4. We had that weight by 10 a.m. All those fish came off one spot. When fishing a reservoir, it doesn’t take long to get right.”
Not surprisingly, Stier is employing a tactic he helped invent – Slow Death.
“I call it Stier’s Death. I bend my own hooks and it’s been my bread and butter guiding for years. Dave Spaid and I caught on to it back in the 90s and have been doing it ever since.”
Despite a nearly perfect opening day, Stier isn’t sure heading north again is the best route to secure his second straight victory.
“I’m at odds right now. I have more spots down south than I do up north. And sometimes that’s what it takes on these reservoirs. You have to constantly adjust and move until you find the bait and the right fish.”
With over a 2-pound lead, Stier plans to take a slightly more conservative approach tomorrow. Per South Dakota regulations, anglers are allowed to keep eight walleyes, but only two can be over 20 inches in length. Culling is not permitted, which means all walleyes must be immediately kept or released. At the end of the day, anglers weigh their five heaviest fish.
“I think I will box my first three fish over 16 1/2 inches. And anything over 20 definitely goes in. I stumbled into the right bite today, but the high water is changing everything. Right now, things are just clicking for me. What can I say? When you’re hot, you’re hot.”
In second place is Michigan dentist Josh Vanderweide and Wisconsin co-angler Randy Sterr, who caught a five-fish limit weighing 12.20 pounds. While Vanderweide and Sterr also managed two overs, theirs were much smaller – one measuring right at 20 inches and the other going 22.
“The morning started a little slower than expected, but we still boxed three fish at the first spot,” said Vanderweide. “We got one at the second spot and just kept grinding and picking one off here and there. At our 10th spot, we boxed our eighth fish.”
Vanderweide said the bite was slower than in practice, despite catching around 50 fish.
“Fifty fish is an off day on Oahe right now and 100 is a good day. There are walleyes everywhere. We just filtered through them.”
The Jenison, Mich., native said he’s running three distinct patterns.
“I’m live-bait rigging, pulling crankbaits with leadcore and pitching both jigs and cranks. It all depends on the spot. I’m catching some suspended out deeper and others as shallow as a foot of water. Oahe is a great place to come; you can do whatever you want.”
Despite trailing Stier, Vanderweide doesn’t plan to get too chancy with his two overs tomorrow.
“Those overs are pretty few and far between from what I saw in practice. More than likely if I catch an over it will be going in the box.”
Local guide third
Part-time Oahe guide Wade While of Mobridge sits in third place along with his co-angler partner Jim Birkholz. While and Birkholz managed a five-fish limit Friday weighing 11.74 pounds.
“This morning it really started off slow,” said While, who runs a flooring business in town. “By noon, I only had a 17 and an 18 1/2 in the livewell. So then I panicked a bit and we boxed a 15 1/2 and a 16 1/4. We were going through a lot of fish – catching tons of small walleyes along with bass, northern and even catfish.”
At 12:30 p.m., While’s big-fish luck changed for the better. The wind started to blow and almost immediately he caught a 20 1/2-incher. About an hour later the wind increased again and opened the door on another feeding opportunity.
“The second over, a 21 1/2-incher, came at about 1:30 p.m. Then right after that we got the 19. They just came boom, boom. And that was it; we only put seven in the box. It seemed like every time the wind came up, I just happened to be sitting on the point.”
While explained that he has three productive points and today the bigger fish were relating to certain aspects of the point. More specifically, he thinks the walleyes are relating to the old shoreline which is now in approximately 9 to 11 feet of water.
“We were using Slow Death relatively shallow and I don’t really think that’s a secret. I think it’s just a matter of finding the right fish. We had a lot of rain about 10 days ago and that’s really changed the system and brought the water up. We had no bait on these points until noon. Then we finally saw the bait balls and stuck it out because of that. And I’m glad we did.”
With a prefish that included very few overs, While doesn’t plan on being picking tomorrow.
“Anything that’s over 17 and over 20 is going in the box. At a minimum I’m going to try and protect my weight.”
In fourth place with 11.57 pounds are pro Jacob Lapine and co-angler Justin Villard.
“We were patient all day,” said Lapine. “I wasn’t concerned as much with the unders so we just kept fishing big-fish spots hoping for those overs.”
Lapine and Villard caught “quite a few fish” and were lucky enough to nab a 22 1/2-incher and a 21 3/4. Their three unders measured 17 1/2, 16 3/4 and 15 1/2.
“We just grinded away and hit lots of different spots. In prefishing, it was a struggle to get the overs. But they were there today.”
Lapine, the Fon du Lac, Wis., native, was extremely reticent about his pattern.
“All I will say is that my Triton boat made a big difference. We passed a lot of boats running to our spots. It was a good day; mentally it was a little challenging. We had a few that came unglued but that’s fishing. Now I’m going into tomorrow hoping to grind away and get those overs again; it’s just another day of fishing.”
Pro Joe Carter of Sherrill, Iowa, and co-angler Dustin Guay of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, round out the top five with a day-one weight of 11.02 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2014 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event on Lake Oahe:
6th: Tom Keenan of Hatley, Wis., five fish, 10.83
7th: Mike Gofron of Antioch, Ill., five fish, 10.80
7th: Jeremy Schreiner of Durand, Wis., five fish, 10.80
9th: Pat Byle of Colgate, Wis., five fish, 10.50
10th: Brian Bjorkman of Fargo, N.D., five fish, 10.12
The final day of competition on Lake Oahe begins as the full field takes off from Indian Creek Recreation Area, located at 12905 288th Avenue in Mobridge, at 7 a.m. Central time Saturday. The final weigh-in will be held at 3 p.m. at Wrigley Square in downtown Mobridge, located at the end of Main Street.