Probing the heartbeat of a river requires a fine set of instruments. Some dudes call them “structure-scopes”—ultra-precision fishing rods that ping pebbles, sand and mussel beds, and even transmit what legendary angler Ron Lindner calls “drive-by’s”; those subtle walleye nudges that barely brush the bait.
When St. Croix Rods walleye pro Tommy Skarlis visited Red Wing, Minnesota, for the National Guard FLW Walleye Tour event last week, he brought with him a virtual golfbag of fishing rods, knowing in advance that success would likely hinge on versatility in the perpetually changing current conditions. “I wield fishing rods like pro golfers use clubs,” said the perennial walleye winner. “Prerequisite to consistent success, you’ve got to have access to a full range of rod lengths, actions and powers. And there’s no doubt that St. Croix gives me the most complete bag of walleye rods I’ve ever used.”
On the pivotal first day of the event on Pool 4 of the Mississippi River, Skarlis sacked a bodacious limit of walleyes, including heavyweight postspawn females of 11, 8, 8 and 7-pounds. His first day weight of 36-pounds, 12-ounces fairly decimated the field, leading his nearest competitor by the equivalent of a 9-pound hawg. Although the veteran river pro from Waukon, Iowa, relied on several presentation programs, his epic first day was all about precision three-way rigging with Rapala minnowbaits. “I towed #7 to #13 Original Rapala Minnows behind custom made Do-it Molds pencil sinkers on 10 to 12-pound test Trilene XT leaders. The Rapalas were definitely key to triggering the big fish, but we had to change up colors and sizes in different spots, depending on sun penetration, current and water clarity.”
Skarlis keyed on current seams associated with bottom transitions, as well as rock piles and wing dams to bag solid limits each day of the tournament. Central to Skarlis and his partners’ success, however, were an arsenal of sharply sensitive St. Croix rods, which effectively measured each spot’s pulse. “My partner clutched a 7-foot Legend Tournament Walleye Series Bounce-N-Troll rod, which gave us just enough separation from the boat and other baits to remain constantly in the zone, while the softer rod tip provided some room for error. My other combos consisted of 7- to 7-foot 2-inch LegendXtreme, Legend Elite and Eyecon trolling rods coupled with 10 and 20-pound test SpiderWire Stealth. These are the most sensitive rods on the planet, but they’re also backed up with the power to tame big fish; without them, there’s no way we could have felt every rock, mussel and sand transition in the river—much less brought them to the net fast.
“In the tournament, the more of these transitions you could put together and ID on the river, the more big fish you were going to catch. Once we zeroed in on one of these key zones, we’d use the rod tip to hover the three-way and Rapala almost in place in the current—in the right spots it was effortless. Also amazing was that with these rods, we could detect those super-subtle ‘push’ strikes. On one pass I felt a walleye nudge the Rapala twice, which gave me the confidence to stay after the fish. She came back a third time and I tagged her, a 10.5-pounder that helped seal the deal.”
For Skarlis, who won the three-day event with 72-pounds, 8-ounces, it was sweet redemption, having barely missed a win just downstream during the 2011 AIM event in Dubuque, Iowa. “These St. Croix rods have elevated my game to another level,” he concluded. “It’s incredible how much they have amplified my sense of feel, not to mention improved my ability to present baits and fight fish. For me, it’s been like hefting an old metal golf club, and then swinging away with a Ping titanium driver.”