Courts cruises to day-two lead

Minnesota pro maintains 3-pound margin at Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship

OSHKOSH, Wis. – In most professional walleye tournaments, the weights are strongest the first day of competition and generally decrease as the best locations on the lake see continued angling pressure. Only on rare occasions does the bite improve. Day two of the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship was one of those rare days as the wind picked up and provided the perfect walleye chop. While boat control was not easy, the Lake Winnebago walleyes were much more aggressive overall.

Pro leader Mark Courts was one of the few anglers who did not improve his weight, but that was next to impossible after catching nearly 17 pounds yesterday. Courts still sacked 11.33 to bring his cumulative weight to 28.25 pounds.

“We actually had a really good day considering the amount of boats that moved into the area,” he said. “You just couldn’t work the area the way you wanted to work it. And when you did catch one, everybody would creep in on you. But that’s part of the game.”

The bite was fast early, then Courts hit a lull before going on another run midday.

“I probably caught 15 walleyes today, six of which were the right ones. The place is just reloading.”

Courts revealed bits and pieces of his pattern now that the field has been cut to only the top 10 pros and top 10 co-anglers.

“We’re pulling crankbaits, Original Floaters. We’re just doing it a different way than most guys. We’re using 65-pound Trilene Professional Grade braid as our main line and 20-pound Trilene XT as our leader line.”

Courts is employing both his Evinrude kicker and his bow-mounted Minn Kota Terrova to troll – making repeated passes over the same stretch of water. The kicker provides the bulk of the power and the trolling motor does the steering.

With one day of competition remaining, the Harris, Minn., pro has put himself in great position to claim a second major championship, the other coming in 2008 at the final PWT event.

“I’m feeling confident. We’ll see what the weather does. It might even make it better. Overall, I’m relaxed and fishing very well. I just want to capitalize on every opportunity. I think I missed one good opportunity today and now I’ve just got to stay focused and capitalize again tomorrow.”

Courts doesn’t plan to be picky, instead opting to place at least the first five legal walleyes he catches into his Ranger livewell. Culling in this event is not allowed, although anglers can keep seven fish and weigh their best five.

“I’m in position to win this thing. I’m not going to be dumb and throw away any fish. Not when the bite has been this tough.”

Sprengel up to second

If there’s anyone Courts doesn’t want to see in his rear-view mirror heading into the final day of a championship event it’s Korey Sprengel, an angler with considerable Winnebago experience and arguably the hottest walleye stick over the past three years. Yet here Sprengel is, knocking on the door once again. After catching 13.16 pounds yesterday, he added another 12.11 today for a two-day total of 25.27.

“I ran down to a spot that I was sharing with Tom Kemos to start the day,” he said. “I didn’t even have my lines in the water and he already had two. Then I had three in the first 30 or 40 minutes so I was thinking it was going to be on fire. But then ironically the wind picked up and the bite just died.”

Sprengel’s main pattern is pitching an 1/8-ounce jig with a PowerBait Rib Worm to rock. He also occasionally mixes in a crankbait. Today the crankbait accounted for just one of the five weigh fish.

“I like the Rib Worm because I’m more efficient; I’m not having to re-bait all the time. As it is, I’m losing a lot of jigs in the snarly cover. But when they hit that jig, they just crush it.”

At 11 a.m., Sprengel’s day took a major turn for the better as he landed a 4-pound walleye. At 12:30 p.m. he finally boxed No. 5, a 16-incher.

“Then I left because I wanted to save whatever was left in that area and go for big ones. But again, I never caught any. I know so many spots on this lake to get a big one. I just cannot believe I haven’t got one yet.”

Sprengel still feels like he has a legitimate chance to catch Courts, despite the 3-pound margin.

“I just wish I was a little closer. I feel confident though. If I can get my five early, say by 10 a.m., I might have a real chance. Today I thought it was going happen.”

Ell slips to third

Despite an 11-pound effort, Bismarck, N.D., pro Jacob Ell fell one spot to third with a total weight of 24.82 pounds.

“The wind today was pretty much the same as it was when I found the area in practice, so I definitely had confidence coming in,” said Ell, the second-year pro. “Still, the bite was slower today. We didn’t have our first fish until 8:30 this morning and then it was spotty after that; we’d maybe get one every half hour or hour.”

Ell received only five bites the entire day. And only four came in the boat as he witnessed a nice walleye, estimated at approximately 23 inches, come unbuttoned as the crankbait popped out of the fish’s mouth.

“I’m thrilled with 11 pounds. I just hate knowing that I left some weight out there. In a championship scenario like this, you can’t lose fish. And seeing the fish makes it even harder. I’m still happy overall though.”

Ell revealed a bit of his pattern after weigh-in as well. He fishes two areas on the main lake and trolls crankbaits with planer boards.

“My sauger spot was pretty much unfishable today. We tried it but the boards were getting buried in 3-foot waves. We did actually pull a 20-incher out of there. But then we just grinded it out in the original spot.”

That original spot is a 3/4 mile stretch of water. Within it is one key stretch where Ell has received the majority of his bites.

“Those two were the only places I was able to find quantity. The water is muddy so it’s not that easy for the fish to see. I think there are more there. I definitely left one particular fish.”

McQuoid retains fourth

Despite increasing his weight from 10.01 pounds to 14.20 pounds, Isle, Minn., pro Kevin McQuoid never budged on the leaderboard. With a two-day total of 24.21 pounds, he sits fourth, just as he did at takeoff this morning.

“I was hoping I would climb a little bit, but I did close the overall margin,” he said. “The difference between yesterday and today was that today I got two nice 23-inchers. We had our fifth fish this morning at 10 a.m. and then we kind of struggled a bit. Then the second big fish bit at 2 p.m. and that was a really nice bonus.”

McQuoid has fished the same 1/2-mile stretch of water the entire tournament. He’s trolling crankbaits over water 10 to 20 feet, some of it breakline and some of it basin.

“We figured out the color program the last day of practice. I’m hoping it’s going to work for another day. Catching Courts is doable. What I need is his weight from day one. If I get a couple of those extra bites tomorrow things could change around.”

Skarlis fifth

Tommy Skarlis improved his day-one catch of 9.63 pounds to 13.07 pounds, giving him an opening-round total of 22.70 pounds. The Waukon, Iowa, pro will start the final day more than 5 pounds off the lead. Like Courts, Skarlis is no stranger to winning major walleye championships.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2014 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship on Lake Winnebago:

6th: Robert Cardenas of Gem Lake, Minn., nine walleyes, 22.60
7th: Ross Grothe of Northfield, Minn., 10 walleyes, 20.93
8th: Ted Takasaki of Sioux Falls, S.D., eight walleyes, 20.17
9th: Jason Doyon of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, eight walleyes, 19.07
10th: Tom Keenan of Hatley, Wis., 10 walleyes, 19.07

The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the top 10 takes off from Menominee Park. The final weigh-in also takes place at Menominee Park, beginning at 3 p.m.