MARINETTE, Wis. – After a record 165 boats fished the season-opening event, the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, heads north along U.S. Highway 41 with major momentum on its side. While the conditions were tough on the Winnebago system, the bite on Green Bay has the potential to be lights out. The pro-am tournament, which offers the most lucrative purses in competitive walleye fishing, takes place May 30-31.
“July or August, that’s typically primetime for Marinette,” said Mercury pro Gary Parsons. “But Green Bay fishes differently every May. Some years it’s tough, some years it’s great. A May tournament is perfect because there are so many different options. I really see it as a tournament where everyone spreads out; it will be wide open. And that can mean boom or bust.”
Evinrude pro Tom Keenan, who took sixth at the season opener, agreed with Parsons.
“This one is going to be fun,” Keenan exclaimed. “There is a combination of two factors at play. One is that there are no alewives to contend with, and two is that the fish are postspawn and ready to eat. If the weather is good, it’s almost like a perfect scenario. For true quality, Green Bay is probably the best fishery in the Midwest. Erie will be back in a few years, but right now, Green Bay is at the peak. It has little fish, big ones and giants.”
Good weather on Green Bay means avoiding the dreaded northeast wind. The city of Marinette serves as an ideal launch location as anglers can run in three directions, all of which are viable. While the wind can deteriorate the bite, it more so prohibits long runs.
“With nice, stable weather, guys can run 50 miles in each direction,” Keenan added. “Bays de Noc is reachable to the north, and so is the mouth of the Fox River. I don’t think Sturgeon Bay will be a factor to the east, but there might even be a river bite. Someone could go 1 mile in the Menominee River and catch a big bag. The sky is the limit.”
Although trolling crankbaits is predicted to be the dominant technique, casting paddle-tail swimbaits and lipless crankbaits could play a role.
“I’m anticipating there’s going to be a fair number of shallow fish,” Parsons continued. “Many guys will be using the Strike King 2 Tap, the Rippin’ Rap and the Berkley War Pag. Bigger 5- and 5 1/2-inch paddle-tail swimbaits are deadly up until the middle of June. That’s what makes May kind of a cool time; all methods come into play.”
Keenan and Parsons agree that weeds and rock are the primary structure. Anglers opting to stay on the north end will find productive weedlines that can be trolled, casted and jigged.
“By having it in May, there’s no slam dunk,” said Parsons. “There are a whole bunch of potential techniques in play. The one thing that won’t be a player is the Shiver Minnow. For that to work, water temperatures have to be over 60. To trigger the winning fish, you have to have bait that is at least three inches long. Plus, in May, those fish are not down in the 25- to 40-foot depth. In May, those fish are shallow, and the Shiver just falls too fast. In the summer, those fish will go after a fast-moving bait. When I fish Green Bay, 60 (degrees) is my indicator. If it’s under 60, I don’t even have the Shivers out. But as the water approaches 70, then the Shiver becomes a major player.”
Keenan wasn’t ready to dismiss the Shiver Minnow and other glide baits as options.
“I still think trolling crankbaits and spinners will be the most common, but I would never go to Green Bay without a Rippin’ Rap, Shiver Minnow or Jigging Rap. On Green Bay, the wind determines most of the patterns. It will be different each day if the weather changes.”
While the field will certainly spread out, Parsons and Keenan both presume more anglers will venture south.
“The water temperatures are a little colder or on the cooler side,” Parsons said. “On the south end, the water is warmer and not as clear. You’ve got Fix River fish dispersing out in the southern basin. Typically, those mud fish don’t win. But in May, those southern basin fish can be as big as the fish up around Marinette. As the summer rolls on, those bigger fish slide out.
“On the other side, guys will follow the west shoreline and run all the way up to the Cedar River. That’s the reason May is an interesting time. Someone’s going to weigh in a huge bag, and the fun part is no one is going to know where it came from.”
“I would guess the bulk of the field will be in Wisconsin waters,” said Keenan. “But that’s no sure thing. I’m telling you right now that the wildcard could be rivers. With how high and cold the water is, there’s no reason right now for them to come back down. I will prefish it. Overall, if you do your homework, you shouldn’t be fishing by anyone else.”
Parsons put the two-day winning weight between 60 and 80 pounds.
“An 8-pound average can be done. I don’t anticipate a lot of weights will be up that high. But with stable weather, it can be done.”
Keenan agreed, but narrowed his prediction range.
“I would say 68 to 72 pounds will win. To get 40 pounds two days in a row is next to impossible. Right now, the fish are at their smallest weight of the year. What we need is good, warm weather. Then the fish will really start feeding. If that happens, there’s going to be numerous fish caught over 30 inches.”
Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Central time from Menekaunee Harbor, located on Ogden Street in Marinette. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at Menekaunee Harbor, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each day with the winner in each division being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.
The National Walleye Tour consists of three regular-season events and a year-end championship. Each regular season event is a two-day, pro-am tournament and delivers over a 100 percent payback. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers.
Registration is ongoing for the Green Bay event. The deadline for guaranteed entry (by signing up with a pro or co-angler) is May 13. Registration can be taken over the phone at 501-794-2064 or online by visiting www.nationalwalleyetour.com/tournaments/register/. For more information on rules and tournament payouts, visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com.