Magic Wands for Tommy Skarlis’ and Jeff Lahr’s Win at the Cabela’s MWC World Walleye Championship
Pros credit St. Croix Rod sensitivity as huge advantage for capitalizing on tough bites
Escanaba, Michigan (October 18, 2018): Brutal winds. Rain. Sleet. Snow. This past weekend, Denver, Iowa-based walleye pro Tommy Skarlis and partner Jeff Lahr fought rough weather to place first for the second consecutive year at the World Walleye Championship, held this year on Bays de Noc out of Escanaba, Michigan. The World Walleye Championship (WWC) is the crown event on the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC).
In and of itself, the win is an amazing feat, but also follows the duo’s 2017 MWC Championship win on Minnesota’s Cass Lake Chain, making the duo’s accomplishments the first back-to-back MWC Championship wins in over 20 years. It also gives them a shot at a third title next year at 2019 Cabela’s MWC on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago, which would be a first in the sport.
Despite 20 mph-plus winds, Skarlis says several factors added to his ability to produce fish while the majority of teams struggled on some level to produce walleyes during the event. One was the “incredible” sensitivity of the St. Croix rods he and his partner employed during the three-day event.
Presentation-wise, Skarlis says he and his partner could feel the majority of bites despite the conditions and what’s typical with gliding baits.
“Most anglers say when you’re jigging baits like Moonshine Shiver Minnows, Jigging Raps, Johnny Darters, and Rapala Flat Jigs you don’t feel the bite, you pick it up and the fish is just there. But we felt 90% of the bites we had on the drop thanks to our St. Croix rods, used with a combination of 10-20 pound superline or 10-pound monofilament tied to the bait with a fluorocarbon leader. The walleyes were eating perch, gobies, alewives… so we caught them on metallic-colored, glow, and plain old goby-colored lures. There was no must-have color pattern.”
Skarlis says that “like a golfer,” he carries three or four rod choices for every shot he has to make—and with St. Croix Rods there are numerous tools for every walleye situation he encounters. “St. Croix makes five, six, or seven different choices to help you get the job done. I had three rods rigged up for each tactic at all times,” says Skarlis.
For vertical jigging glide baits, that meant St. Croix Legend Elite ES70MF seven-foot medium power, fast action models. “I like the fit and grip of the full cork handle, which allows me to keep my fingers on the blank and the opportunity to feel bites at all times.”
St. Croix’s Legend X gave Skarlis the “feel” to bag big walleyes at long distances.
For casting glide baits a long distance from the boat in the crystal-clear waters of Bays de Noc, Skarlis says he preferred the St. Croix Legend X (XLS70MF) seven-foot medium-heavy power, fast action model. “I really like how the split grip lightens the weight of the rod and allows me to fish longer and more comfortably, plus, I can really distance cast with this rod. For example, our big fish—the 7 pound 10 ouncer—hit my bait long distances from the boat. With this rod, I could still feel the bite, and it had the backbone to set the hook at that distance.”
Skarlis and Lahr also both carried numerous St. Croix (LXS70MF) Legend Xtreme rods, a model the two call “the goose that laid the golden egg” and is equally proficient as a vertical jigging and casting rod. “We were using it for both jigging and casting,” says Skarlis. “And I also kept a (LXS68MXF) six-foot, eight-inch medium power, extra fast action Legend Xtreme rigged for when the fish were really close to the bottom and I had to downsize baits and really finesse them.”
Skarlis and Lahr worked hard on Day One, locating walleyes both deep and shallow. Ultimately, it came down to time management, and they knew there was still hope when they finished at the scales in tenth place with 14-03, just behind fellow pros Larry Rhoads II and Dan Johnson, who weighed an 18-06 five-fish limit.
“We could have had a bigger weight, but we chose to focus on the really deep fish on Day One and I didn’t give us enough time to work those fish,” says Skarlis. “I told my partner, ‘We’re going to need to average 19 or 20 pounds a day to win this tournament.’ But we didn’t stub our toe the first day. We just had to work harder on Day Two and we climbed the board to fifth. Then we went out on the third day and I knew we needed a couple 24- to 29-inch fish that would go with the three unders around 22 inches.”
On Day Two the duo fought brutal winds by idling their big Evinrude into the wind, PowerPole Paddle deployed to slow down their drift while methodically jigging with gliding baits. “We were challenging two-to-three-foot waves with the back of the boat, but had located the fish we needed,” says Skarlis.
Concentrating deeper, by 11:30 a.m. on the final day, Skarlis and Lahr didn’t have any fish so they moved into 20-30 foot depths. “It was the move on Day Three when I started moving around and found fish, that really made a huge difference. It was similar to how we won the last championship on Cass Lake last year,” says Skarlis.
At the end of the three-day event, Skarlis and Lahr weighed 54-14 ounces for first place, edging out second-place finishers Larry Rhoads II and Dan Johnson by four ounces.
As the most decorated walleye pro in the history of the sport, Skarlis says switching to St. Croix Rods nearly ten years ago has made some weighty contributions to his tournament accomplishments. “Honestly, when I switched to St. Croix, the rods took my game to another level. The sensitivity is unmatched for numerous techniques, including jigging, live bait fishing, etc. Plus, with St. Croix’s handcrafted quality in each and every model, I have the confidence that they’ll perform under any adverse situations I face. They’ve been a real game changer.”