MWC: Where’s the walleye?

ESCANABA – Conditions weren’t ideal but that didn’t stop 32 of the 46 teams from reeling in fish on Thursday during the opening day of the 2013 Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit World Walleye Championship.

A recent cold front and a lack of wind played a factor for many on Thursday, but for first day leaders Tommy Skarlis and Jeff Lahr it wasn’t an issue. The duo from Iowa caught their daily limit of five fish, which combined to weigh-in at 19 pounds, seven ounces.

“The weather I don’t think is going to affect us,” Skarlis said. “The only thing that is going to effect us is the pressure that’s in the area. You’re going to have some guys show up that maybe weren’t there today. It got pretty crowded a couple of times but we do have a backup plan that we can bail out to and you know it’s going to be a situation where hopefully we can adjust and get the fish that we need.”

The “backup plan” didn’t just happen overnight for Skarlis and Lahr, who have spent many years fishing the Bays de Noc.

“I’ve probably fished 200 days here on the bays, well over a half a year of my life and at 48 that’s 1/96,” Skarlis said. “All though conditions aren’t perfect, you know that’s sometimes when you win a tournament, is when you have an opportunity to catch fish in a tough bite.”

Not only did the Iowa duo catch their limit but they also hauled in the second biggest catch of the day at nine pounds, five ounces, earning them an additional $246 in cash for the biggest catch award. Skarlis said the Bays de Noc always has fish but the size of the area can make it challenging.

“There is always fish, that’s the toughest part of unlocking this thing, is figuring out the differences, figuring out what it’s going to take to get these fish to bite,” he said. “We got it figured out at least for a little while and then we had to switch up and change tactics.”

In total, seven fishers filled their limit, but for second place finishers Tony Kobriger and Dan Zwick it only took four fish to vault them into second, with a total weight of 18 pounds, one ounce.

“Today went well as could be expected,” Zwick said. “We traveled a long run today looking for two big fish, which luckily we got and came back and had a couple spots we fished in a little deeper water and picked up a couple more.”

Zwick and Kobriger thought they had a fifth walleye that woud have been in the right size bracket (above 15 inches, only two fish over 23 inches) but it got off before they landed it. Zwick noted that they’re happy to still be amongst the leaders even without hitting their limit.

“We’re thrilled to be right up there,” he said. “You can’t ask for nothing better than being right up in the top 10. It’s such good competition and everybody has so much tackle and knowledge on this body of water and anytime you take a top 10 you’re happier than hell.”

Zwick and Kobriger, both of the Green Bay area, have been fishing the Bays de Noc for the last 10 years, both in tournaments and for recreation.

Low walleye numbers didn’t didn’t stop all the anglers from cracking the top 10. Matt Davis and Dan Gies of Ohio only managed to haul in one fish but it weighed 10 pounds, 12 ounces, good for ninth place. That was the biggest fish of the day and earned the team an extra $410.

Glenn and Carol Chenier of Gladstone sit in 26th place, after catching one walleye weighing in at five pounds, three ounces. Jerry Plourde of Escanaba and his partner Dan Stier are in 29th place, with one walleye netting three pounds, 11 ounces.

The tournament resumes today at 8 a.m. The winners will be announced after Saturday’s weigh-in at the Miracle of Life building on the U.P. State Fairgrounds at 4:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

The first place team will receive $20,000, with the second place team bringing in $10,000. Third place gets $8,000, fourth $5,000, fifth $4,000, sixth $3,000, while seventh and eighth get $2,500 and ninth and 10th will earn $2,000. The rest of the teams will all get $1,000.

MWC Tournament Director Dan Palmer said the fishing will improve if they wind picks up over the weekend.

“They need wind,that wind cover helps immensely with the walleye bite, so they definitely would like to see some wind but they better be careful what they wish for,” Palmer said. “Mother nature can really get after us.”