Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Walleye championship shows off local fishery

By Jeremiah Haas

Contributing Writer


The Quad-Cities is blessed to have an abundance of animals in the fields and in our local waters. Recently, the MWC Walleye National Championship came to the Mississippi River after its stop on the Illinois River at Spring Valley. Twenty-eight teams from 13 states qualified to compete for the chance to be called National Champion. After three days of fishing, one team from Nebraska stood atop the podium.


Jake and Gene Brueggemann, from Wilber and Clatonia, Neb., led after catching limits each day for a total of 32.625 pounds.  The father-son duo edged out Peter and Ted Mart, of Utica, Minn., by a little less than three pounds.


“We casted flicker shads at the powerhouse all three days,” Jake said after learning that he and his dad had won the event. 


The powerhouse he is referring to is a hydro dam along Arsenal Island, in Pool 16.  It was only a few minutes run from the start and tends to have active fish moving throughout the day. While not a lot of big fish are caught there, usually numbers of smaller fish can be caught.


While individual fish were not weighed, the big fish for the tournament was caught by the team of Steve Lotz, of Lena, and Roy Vivian, of McFarland, Wis., with a walleye that approached 10 pounds. Adam and Steve Sandor, of Ottawa, also brought a fish over 27 inches to the scale. 


One of the common complaints heard, if you can really call this a complaint, was that they were catching too many “slot” fish. Anglers are required to comply with area regulation, where all walleyes from 20 to 27 inches are immediately released back to the river. Therefore, legal fish for the tournament are from 15-20 inches, and 1 over 27 inches per angler. With so many “slot” fish in the river, hearts were constantly being broken as some anglers claim to have caught as many as 30 walleyes a day in the protective slot. Those fish would range from 3 to 8 pounds, all good fish for a normal tournament.  


During practice, anglers caught several fish over 27 inches, as well, particularly in Pool 14, but when you have a time limit to get your fish, then get back to the scale, it makes it difficult. 


That risk was clear on day 1 when four boats who locked up to Pool 14 to chase bigger fish there, all were caught in a slow locking situation at Lock and Dam 15 at the end of the day, and missed the weigh-in time by a few minutes. All four of those boats had a good limit of fish.


Many of the tournament anglers were lake anglers, and struggled with the boat traffic, particularly barges, significant current, and just the ever-changing conditions of the river. Most of the successful anglers caught their fish on wingdams or other hard structures. Significant numbers of slot fish can be found on the wingdams this time of year as well.


Jeff Kelm, a MWC official, explained what they expected here on the Mississippi.


“When we originally scheduled this, it was hard to predict whether these fish were going to still be in a summertime pattern or if they would be transitioning into the fall pattern where they can put the fall feed bag on,” he said. “When we got here, we learned we were in this in-between time frame. It challenged the anglers to figure out a pattern, which was completely different than say three weeks ago. 


“I think that many of the anglers psyched themselves out and maybe were overthinking it a bit. But the one thing that all the anglers are excited about is the chance to catch some big fish. Two fish over 27 inches puts you right in the mix to win the event.”


While the tournaments are over, the fish are still around.   


Typically, the walleyes will hold this pattern as long as the water stays above 40 degrees.  


Once it dips below that, they move off to winter holes until spring.  


So, if you have a chance to do some wingdam fishing in the Greater Quad Cities area, and the temperatures hold, you might find yourself with one of the best Illinois walleye fishing experiences available.       


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