Eighty-four boats took off early on Saturday, March 29th and Sunday March 30th to take on the Illinois River, and among those were Cabela's Pro and Rhinelander, Wisconsin's Ryan Jirik and his father, Tom. Ryan considers himself lucky that he has the opportunity to fish with his father at this level, and stated that the two complement each other well on the water.
Jirik stated that he thinks the Illinois River is a fantastic fishery with a lot of Sauger. He also said it is easy to fish with a lot of flats and that fish can be found from one bank to the other. This tournament was the first for the Master's Walleye Tour where only artificial baits were allowed. Jirik stated that this ruling did not change much of what he would have done on this fishery, or how he would have fished it. He stated that crankbaits are a mainstay on the river and that the deciding factors were water temperature and what style of crankbaits would work the best. He also pointed to the fact that there are many, many high-quality soft plastics on the market today that can entice a bite just as well as live bait. In Jirik's opinion, the only technique that would have been affected by the "artificial bait only" would have been the three-way rig with a live minnow. He stated that this technique can help catch post-cold-front fish, but that the bite was good enough on the Illinois River that he, and others, caught plenty of fish with crankbaits and jigs.
The water temperature, during pre-fish on Thursday was about 41 degrees, just 7 or 8 degrees colder than when the majority of the Walleyes would spawn. The river was just below flood stage, but Jirik reported that the water level was falling and cleaning up nicely from the week before. He believed the spawn would probably take place sometime around next weekend.
When asked about the importance of pre-fishing, Jirik stated it is very important to success. He also mentioned that he has fished almost ten tournaments on the Illinois River in early spring, so a day or two of pre-fish on this particular body of water was enough to give him an idea of what was going on. Also, in the spring, the fish are migrating and things change daily, so too much information can become useless by tournament time.
On Day 1, the father and son team concentrated their efforts in their two primary areas. They were hand-lining stick baits. Jirik said that in practice the pair caught their biggest fish on Lucky Craft Pointers and Lucky Craft Flash Minnows. They had a limit of fish by 9:30 a.m., but Jirik did not think the limit would hold up. By 11:00 a.m., they took off for their other primary area, where they thought they would find a bit bigger fish. They were able to cull out two fish, but only caught four fish for the rest of Day 1. The weigh-in on Day 1 found the Jirik's in 46th place with five fish for 8.01 pounds. While they were less than 6 pounds out of first place, Jirik stated that, with limits or Saugers, even two to three pounds to make up could be a hefty chore. The spots on the Illinois River are constantly replenishing, though, and the pair knew that limits for both days would be common. Jirik figured that if they could boat 12 pounds on Day 2, they would be in good shape.
On Day 2, Jirik and his father, knowing there were good fish on the spot where they started Day 1, decided to stay with that spot for Day 2 and grind out their limit. Day 2 brought a tougher bite, and Jirik was happy with the limit they found on that day. He said that, ironically, after catching fish on Lucky Craft Baits for three days, he switched to #7 floating Rapalas custom painted by Downriver Tackle to get his fish on Day 2. Jirik stated they were fishing the right spot, just failed to find the one or two big bites they would need to place higher up in the final standings. The duo were able to move up into 38th place on Day 2 with their 5-fish limit of 9.05 bringing their two-day total up to 17.06. Jirik stated that, while he would have been happier with a higher finish where they would cash a check, he finds himself very lucky to be able to fish with his father and spend that kind of time with him.
Jirik will also be fishing the Cabela's National Walleye Tour this year. That series will be at the Detroit River in Trenton, MI on April 25-26, The Missouri River/Oahe in South Dakota on June 27-28, and Bays de Noc in Escanaba on August 29-30 this year. The championship for the Cabela's National Walleye Tour will be September 18-20 on Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh. These tournament dates can be found on the tour's Website. He mentioned that he was also thinking about fishing some local bass tournaments with the Hodag Bassmasters.
Jirik stated that he would not be where he is today in his fishing career if it were not for his sponsors:
Cabela's, Ranger Boats, Evinrude, Offshore Tackle, Downriver Tackle, Elk River Custom Rods , Lucky Craft , and Shoeder's Marine.
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