RED WING, Minn. – With his wife and two boys in attendance, Jason Przekurat’s illustrious professional walleye career came full circle Saturday. Fishing his best with the $100,000 first-place purse on the line, the 2003 Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year caught five Mississippi River walleyes that weighed a staggering 27 pounds, 3 ounces.
While the other pro finalists battled 4- and 5-foot waves on Lake Pepin, Przekurat simply tied up to his beloved tree and ignored the difficult conditions. Despite two consecutive days of blustery weather, this year’s weights were better than last year’s. The big females were aggressive, and Przekurat found the ultimate stomping ground for postspawn fish. He spent each of the four days of competition in one Pool 4 area called Katrina, located right off the Bay City flats on the bottom end of the Wisconsin channel.
“I was fishing what I called the gauntlet,” he said. “It was a spot right outside of a backwater lake. The fish were spawning in that lake, and they would move out and stage up on this spot after they were finished. I had a steady stream of fish coming out. They seemed to be replenishing themselves every day. If I could just get my jig through the heavy cover without snagging up, I knew I was pretty much going to catch a fish.”
Although he lives three and a half hours away in Stevens Point, Wis., this is Przekurat’s second major victory on the Mississippi River in Red Wing, Minn. His first came at the Master’s Walleye Circuit Championship in 2000. That event lit his fire for competitive walleye angling. A thriving career with seven top-10 finishes has followed, complete with an AOY award in 2003. With his first Walleye Tour win and $100,000 cash, his career has come full circle in Red Wing.
“This is everything I expected and more,” said Przekurat of his first victory. “When I was able to tie up to my tree this morning, I looked up to the sky and said `thank you.’ From there it was fast and furious.”
Indeed it was, as the BP pro caught three 7-pound walleyes in a period of two hours. His presentation was really two separate presentations. With two of his rods, he would dead-stick three-way rigs with willow cats. The other two rods were jigged by himself and his co-angler partner. The 1/4-ounce purple-bodied jigs were tipped with leeches. Przekurat estimates 90 percent of his fish came from the jig-leech combo, although two of his three kickers on day four were caught on cats.
“The MWC Championship was a major steppingstone in my fishing career. But this is the toughest circuit out there. To win against the caliber of anglers we compete against, it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Przekurat’s four-day combined weight was 89 pounds, 15 ounces, which surpassed Jeff Ryan, the 2006 Red Wing champion by 2 pounds, 11 ounces. The 89 pounds, 15 ounces is also an unofficial four-day weight record on this stretch of the river. Przekurat came in to day four with a 7-pound, 7-ounce lead. As the scale closed for the final time Saturday, he had blown the competition away by over 20 pounds. To be exact, the margin of victory was 20 pounds, 13 ounces, also a Walleye Tour record.
Up next for Przekurat is a shot at the $2 million Forrest Wood Cup through the Ranger Owners tournament held on Table Rock Lake in Kimberling City, Mo. He and fellow Walleye Tour pro Eric Olson will put away the willow cats and planer boards for a weekend in an attempt to qualify for the richest championship in the history of professional bass fishing.
With only four fish on day four, Nick Johnson was the closest pro to Przekurat. Although he missed out on becoming the first Walleye Tour pro to notch three wins, Johnson was pleased with his performance. Despite only keeping four fish, the Elmwood, Wis., native registered the second-heaviest catch of the day. Of the four, three were walleyes and one was a sauger – together they weighed 17 pounds, 13 ounces.
“With the loose pattern I was running, I’m surprised to get second place.”
Johnson burned a lot of gas this week running and gunning between big-fish areas. His best spot was located in Pool 4, approximately a half-mile south of the Bay City flats and four miles south of Bay Point Marina. There he worked willow cats on three-way rigs. Occasionally he would troll leadcore line, which was how he caught the sauger.
For a final weight of 69 pounds, 2 ounces, the Castrol pro earned another $40,000.
Gilman grabs AOY lead, retains third
Chris Gilman held down the third spot among the pros with a weight of 13 pounds even. The Chisago City, Minn., resident used mainly Northland floaters and No. 5 Shad Raps. With those techniques, he accumulated a four-day total of 68 pounds, 4 ounces.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” Gilman said. “I’ve fished from dam to dam. At times we got a little lucky. The highlight of the tournament was when we got a 7-pounder and a 9-pounder within the first five minutes Thursday morning.”
Walleye fans would be interested to know that Gilman caught several big fish in the Vermillion River, the same general area where Ryan won the tournament last season. Those larger females helped Gilman earn $25,000 for third.
Thanks to back-to-back top-10 finishes, Gilman is the current Angler of the Year leader with 295 points.
McGillivary finishes fourth
Finishing in fourth was Watertown, S.D., native Rock McGillivary. McGillivary brought three huge walleyes to the scale Saturday, weighing 17 pounds, 4 ounces, to bring his four-day total to 66 pounds, 12 ounces.
He spent the majority of his time in Pool 3, trolling leadcore line with fire-tiger-colored crankbaits. His parents arrived for a visit to the Red Wing area Thursday night. On Friday, McGillivary caught a 26-pound, 4-ounce limit, which drew huge applause from his family and launched him into the top 10.
“I think they now understand my passion,” he said.
McGillivary’s fourth-place finish earned him $18,000.
G3 pro Nate Provost earned $13,000 and finished in fifth place with a four-day total weight of 66 pounds, 10 ounces. Provost’s day-three catch of 17 pounds, 1 ounce kept him fifth among a field of 150 pros.
To trigger his bites, the Green Bay, Wis., pro used Northland jigs, Northland floaters and three-way rigs to present a variety of live bait that included leeches, night crawlers and willow cats. Each day he fished in the same small area as the pro winner, the two respectfully sharing water.
“I was just happy to get the bites I did,” said Provost, who’s getting married in June. “The way my prefishing went, I definitely didn’t think I’d be here today.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pro finalists at the FLW Walleye Tour event on the Mississippi River:
6th: Scott Fairbairn of Hager City, Wis., 63-0
7th: Larry Snow of Kenora, Ontario, 60-12
8th: Rick Franklin of Bemidji, Minn., 58-12
9th: Don Marx of Rockford, Minn., 52-13
10th: Jeff Seyka of Milford, Mich., 47-7
With two of the four qualifying events completed, FLW Walleye Tour competition resumes June 6-9 on Devils Lake in Devils Lake, N.D.