One of team walleye tournament fishing’s oldest rites of spring returns March 29-30, when the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit opens its 2014 season with a qualifying event on the Illinois River at Spring Valley, Illinois.
The tournament marks the circuit’s 28th-consecutive season opener on the Illinois, which offers winter-weary walleye and sauger fans the chance to compete for thousands of dollars in cash and prizes in a professionally run team format. And in an exciting twist for 2014, this year’s tournament will be an “artificial-only” event-with extra winnings at stake as anglers put their favorite crankbaits, spinners, Berkley Gulp!-type softbaits and other man-made presentations to the test, while live bait such as minnows and nightcrawlers are off limits.
The artificial-only concept emerged thanks to a partnership between Berkley Gulp! and the Cabela’s MWC, with Berkley kicking in an additional $2,500 in prize money for the anglers. When the Circuit held a similar event on North Dakota’s Devils Lake in August of 2013, anglers embraced the effort as registrations soared and teams recorded stellar catches on a variety of artificial presentations. In the end, South Dakotans Travor Diegel and Paul Steffen claimed victory with a 45-pound, 10-ounce total weight, taken on spoons and hardbaits sweetened with minnow-flavored Berkley Gulp! Alive! Marinade.
“These types of artificial-only challenges force anglers to think outside the box, and when they do, they often find unique ways to catch more fish than they would have landed with traditional live bait tactics,” said Cody Roswick, field marketing manager for Berkley and Pure Fishing. “I can’t wait to see what the teams come up with at Spring Valley, and at the MWC’s next artificial-only event on the Mississippi River in May.”
Roswick also noted that artificial-only events level the playing field for all anglers by eliminating the search for hard-to-find types and sizes of live bait. “The same artificial baits are available to everyone,” he said. “As a bonus, anglers don’t have to worry about transporting or caring for expensive live bait.”
Two-person teams will be allowed to weigh five walleyes, saugers or saugeyes per day, and the team with the heaviest two-day total weight will be crowned the tournament champions.
Cabela’s MWC payouts are based on the number of teams entered in each event. Plus, the MWC Big Fish Pot, along with sponsor bonuses including Ranger Cup, Berkley Baits, Lowrance, Optima True Blue and Rockstar Hitch-Mounted Mud Flaps add thousands more to the total. For example, at the 2013 Cabela’s MWC Illinois River tournament, first-place finishers Clayton Freiburger and Mike Bisdorf collected more than $20,000 in cash and prizes. As an added incentive, the first-place team will win a $1,000 Cabela’s National Team Championship Prize Package including paid NTC entry, travel stipend, team jerseys and plaques. T
he public is invited to the weigh-ins, which begin at 4 p.m. daily at Barto Landing in Spring Valley. The Cabela’s MWC, National Professional Anglers Association, Pure Fishing and Zippo Outdoor Brands will present a Youth & Family Fishing Clinic immediately after Saturday’s weigh-in. The first 50 youths will receive rods and reel combos courtesy of the NPAA.
Under the umbrella of The Walleye Federation (TWF), the Cabela’s MWC is open to avid walleye anglers from all walks of life. The 2014 trail includes 10 stops spread across seven states in the Walleye Belt. Teams showcase their skills-and sponsor products-at world-class venues such as the Illinois, Detroit and Mississippi rivers, Green Bay, Big Stone Lake, Kinzua Reservoir, Cass Lake and Lake Erie.
Along with great payouts at each event, teams fishing three or more tournaments battle for coveted berths in the 2015 Cabela’s MWC Championship, set for October 2015 on Lake Erie out of Huron, Ohio. Teams fishing at least three qualifiers also compete for Team of the Year awards, including a $25,000 “Living the Dream” sponsorship package, which includes fully paid entries to the Cabela’s National Walleye Trail as a pro and co-angler, use of a 600 series Ranger boat, travel stipends and more.
Entry fees are $650 per tournament, of which more than 100 percent is returned to anglers at the qualifiers, World Championship and Team of the Year races. Registration remains open through the Monday prior to each tournament. For more information, visit masterswalleyecircuit.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (580) 765-9031.
Logo courtesy Cabela's MWC