ESCANABA, Mich. – With only a few days of practice and a last-minute entry to fish in the event, Ryan Dempsey of Oneida, Wis., seems to have made a very wise decision. Along with co-angler Bruce Frevert of Centerville, Iowa, the duo brought the heaviest bag on day one to the scales with 27 pounds, 15 ounces. This gives them a very slim lead of only 4 ounces heading into tomorrow.
Amazingly enough, the Wisconsin native was not entirely set on even fishing the event earlier in the week.
“I came out here since it’s not too far from my house and checked just a few spots a couple days ago,” said Dempsey. “I really just wanted to see what the wind forecast was for the tournament before I made up my mind to fish. I didn’t really feel like getting beat up out in those big waves if the wind was going to blow. But as of right now, I couldn’t be happier.”
Dempsey – who is fishing in his third National Guard FLW Walleye Tour event – had a solid game plan and got to work early today.
“The early bite was absolutely on fire. I ran out deep to catch my big fish then headed shallow to catch my smaller ones. I had my limit by 11 a.m. and decided to pack it up and come in. I wanted to let the fish rest on my spots, but also wanted to make sure to take care of the fish in my boat. That’s why we came in nice and slow so that our fish wouldn’t get too beat up in the livewell.”
At this point in the tournament Dempsey would like to keep the details of his pattern secret, yet he did say that he is pulling spinners and Reef Runners like much of the field.
Despite getting off to a great start, Dempsey knows that on this body of water things can change fast.
“It’s Bays de Noc and the weather is going to change, and when it does so does the bite,” said Dempsey. “I’m just going to keep after it tomorrow and see what happens.”
Schilling, Riccio Jr. barely in second
With the Angler of the Year title to be decided this week, pro Chad Schilling of Akaska, S.D., who currently sits in fourth place overall in the year-end standings, made a very big step in the right direction after today’s competition. With the help of his co-angler Phillip Riccio Jr. of Huntley, Ill., the pair brought a solid bag of walleyes to the scales that weighed an impressive 27 pounds, 11 ounces. That weight is good enough to hold the pair in second place moving on to day two and positions Schilling for a legitimate run at the 2012 AOY title.
Parker, Dankert sit in third
Making an appearance in his first-ever FLW Walleye Tour event, Ranger pro Derek Parker of Skandia, Mich., and his co-angler Todd Dankert of Anoka, Minn., weighed in 26 pounds, 7 ounces to set the pair up near the top of the standings in third place.
“I started on my first spot not too far away and didn’t have any action,” said Parker. “So I picked up and moved 20 miles and started to catch fish. Probably one of my best decisions was to move to a new area when the wind would switch directions.
“When I got to my second spot and saw nobody was on it, I had a really good feeling because I knew it meant nobody has found what I did.”
Practice and preparation were two big players to help give the Ranger pro confidence this week.
“The wind changes direction a lot out here throughout the course of the day. So in practice I found a place I can catch fish in any type of wind, including no wind. Another thing that helps me is that I know a lot of guys on the Tour, and a lot of them are older guys who have been fishing here for a long time. This body of water is changing and I am able to adapt with that to find areas people don’t normally fish.”
Sprengel, Bay settle in fourth
Korey Sprengel of Beaver Dam, Wis., and his co-angler William Bay of Berlin, Wis., brought in the only other bag of the day that broke the 25-pound mark when they hit the scales with a 25-7 limit of walleyes. That will hold them in fourth place going into day two.
Minke, Reider slide into fifth
Evinrude pro Dusty Minke of Forest Lake, Minn., and co-angler Todd Reider of Fond Du Lac, Wis., are able to round out the top five with their limit of Bays de Noc walleyes that weigh 24 pounds, 13 ounces. For Minke, there was only one word to describe how he felt.
“Awesome.” chuckled the Evinrude pro.
“I had a short practice because of work, so really I just covered as much water as I could to find the right areas. Then, today, after we caught our limit early we left the area and went in search of new water.”
Anglers are allowed to keep two fish over 23 inches, and the rest must be shorter. And unlike many of the more typical qualifying venues, culling your fish out is allowed on Bays de Noc. Minke did not have to practice that today, though he hopes tomorrow he can cull fish out in order to upgrade.
“As long as the weather holds up, I think I can still catch fish,” Minke continued. “If the weather does get bad at least I don’t have to run too far.
“I had a blast out there with my co-angler Todd today. It is so nice to have someone like him in the boat. We just had a great time, talked a little hunting and caught fish. The day is so much nicer when you are catching fish.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 teams from day one:
6th: Stephen Paulsen of Peshtigo, Wis., and co-angler Kenny Brenner of Moline, Ill., 24-8.
7th: Brian Bjorkman of Fargo, N.D., and co-angler Steve Beasley of Macomb, Mich., 24-6.
8th: Ross Grothe of Northfield, Minn., and co-angler Isaac Bower of Mosinee, Wis., 24-5.
9th: Bill Shimota of Lonsdale, Minn., and co-angler William Ditto of Leaf River, Ill., 24-4.
10th: Ted Takasaki of Sioux Falls, S.D., and co-angler Randy Hummel of Jackson, Minn., 23-15.
Walleye fans take note
Anglers will take off from Escanaba Harbor located at Loren W. Jenkins Drive in Escanaba at 7:00 each morning. Thursday’s and Friday’s weigh-ins will be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday’s final weigh-in will be held at the Walmart located at 601 North Lincoln Road in Escanaba beginning at 4 p.m.