With spring tournaments coming, remember it’s not all about the fishing

By on March 24, 2015
FishSens Pro Travis Hartman won’t let a disappointing finish get him down after a tournament weekend full of good times. (Courtesy Travis Hartman)

I recently fished a Cabela’s MWC tournament at the Illinois River in Spring Valley, Illinois. While having dinner with my teammates and a local restaurant, a waitress remembered us from the previous year and gave us an especially hard time. I’ll always fish tournaments because of my competitive nature and my desire to improve and succeed as an angler. But as I get older I’ve found that the true enjoyment of fishing tournaments come from those unique experiences at each venue and the time spent with family and friends while pre-fishing and then competing on tournament days.

This tournament’s journey started well before the actual trip, as we were in the middle of a long winter which didn’t allow me to get the boat out of the garage leading up to tournament week. I spent a few evenings taking care of annual maintenance: cleaning terminal posts for the five batteries on the boat and, of course, going through all the tackle that hadn’t been used since last season. The options on the river would include jigging, hand lining, pole lining and trolling with leadcore line. All those techniques require taking more tackle than some of the other tournaments that I fish, and being six hours from home I’d have to take it all since there aren’t any quick trips home to get something I didn’t think I would need.

We arrived at around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday after a pleasantly uneventful trip. Any time you tow the boat six hours at 70 you’re grateful when the trip doesn’t involve any mechanical failures. After talking to our other four teammates that had arrived earlier in the evening it was off to bed.

With sunrise around 7 a.m. we hadn’t planned on early starts, but the combination of sleeping in a motel and the excitement of the first tournament of the year led to waking up before the alarm. Breakfast at the motel started the day off and then it was off to the river to find the best areas leading up to game day. I like the Illinois River because it’s a fairly small system that you can nearly always fish on unless it’s flooding or storming. Unlike my home waters of Lake Erie, wind and waves aren’t a concern. As long as you dress for the weather you’ll rarely have to worry about conditions.

The river provides easy travel, making it possible to hit all five areas we were focusing on every day to try and figure out where the best bite was. Both pre-fishing days went well and we felt like we knew which spots were going to produce. We spent time in all our favorite spots both days and we were back at the ramp around 3 p.m. to fuel the boat, work on equipment and meet up with teammates to discuss the day and have dinner.

The dinners usually produce some of the best memories from the trips, with all the usual fish stories that happen over an adult beverage, followed by the good-natured (some might say juvenile) joking that goes with it. A waitress with a good memory doesn’t hurt.

The next day, my partner and I started the tournament by weighing our first 10-pound limit of five sauger in the Illinois River. We had come close before, but this was our first day with over 10 pounds. That put us only in 34th place of 87 teams, but we were in good position for a finish in the top 10 or 20. Most years we’ve struggled on day one and then had too much ground to make up on day two. This time we had our limit before 9 a.m. and then had the rest of the day to look for upgrades. Fortunately our first five fish weighed over 9 pounds because the rest of the day only produced one upgrade that got us over the 10 pound mark.

With day one working out well we decided to start out in the same area to catch another quick limit before looking for big fish. The plan failed when we caught just one legal fish over 14 inches and another 10 or so that were too short. We were struggling. We finally finished out our five-fish limit that included a 16-inch walleye, but we only had a total of 6 pounds and it was already after 1 p.m. We went to a traditional big fish area with a little over an hour left, and I immediately lost a bite that felt like a big fish. I caught a big one about 20 minutes later, which culled our smallest fish and got our total to 8 pounds for the day. That was our last bite.

In a tournament that saw the highest weights since we started fishing the Illinois River, our 18-pound total dropped us down to 50th. Our decent first day made the finish disappointing, but as usual we learned a lot about the river and feel even more confident for future trips.

Between being worn out from four days on the water and losing an hour heading back into the Eastern Time zone, the trip home felt a lot longer than 6 hours. It wasn’t complete until we got pulled over for a trailer running light issue. Thanks to the friendly Indiana state patrol officer I now know that it is legal to travel at highway speeds with your four-way flashers on if your trailer running lights aren’t working. The day ended after midnight having no trouble falling asleep after a very enjoyable tournament experience.

The entire tournament experience is hard to put into words to accurately describe to anyone that hasn’t fished in one. I often catch myself nearly missing some of the enjoyable moments as it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of worrying about how many fish you lost just beyond the net or what the right move is when fishing gets tough.

Top image: FishSens Pro Travis Hartman won’t let a disappointing finish get him down after a tournament weekend full of good times. (Courtesy Travis Hartman)

About Travis Hartman

FishSens pro Travis Hartman is a two-time WBSA Lake Erie Walleye Trail points champion and 2015 Cabela’s MWC World Walleye Championship qualifier. He has 21 top 10 finishes and is also a licensed charter captain.

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