Fishing duo Jeff Koester and Scott Rhodes added another bullet point to their long list of walleye tournament accomplishments—the title of Team of the Year with the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC). The two were firing on all cylinders this year, starting with a win on the Illinois River in March. Koester and Rhodes also sealed two fourth place finishes at Kinzua Reservoir outside of Bradford, Pennsylvania and Lake Erie out of Huron, Ohio. These stellar performances were the three-legged stool in their season, holding up a 63rd place finish on the Detroit River. Their goals are the same for every tournament they fish: 1) have fun and be safe 2) learn something new from a body of water, and 3) fish hard and compete well.
This duo always succeeded (and subsequently fished with great confidence) on Lake Erie. Rivers, however, needed improvement. A circuit like the MWC pushed Koester and Rhodes outside of their comfort zone; that was the ticket to becoming better river anglers. To take a win at Spring Valley was especially sweet with its long-standing reputation. “With the tournament called artificial only, that played a little more into our hands,” said Koester from Brookville, Indiana. “We have been fishing that event for the last few years with artificial only anyway. We fell back on plastics and crank baits.”
Kinzua Reservoir forged new waters for Koester and Rhodes, but in some ways, it felt very familiar.“As a reservoir, Kinzua was very similar to the body of water where I live,” said Koester. “We applied tactics and techniques as we would at home, and immediately during practice we started catching fish and putting a program together.” Then heavy rains and dirty water changed things up for day two. “Debris came down the river into the reservoir, we changed up strategy to get on fish the second day.” They brought in the heaviest fish of the tournament on day two at 8 lb. 7 oz. “We only got one more to go with that nice big one,” said Rhodes, who calls Interlochen, Michigan home. “We had an exact 15” fish we decided to put back. We did not want to jeopardize our whole basket if it measured short.
The final event of the season fell into this team’s wheelhouse. Lake Erie is a body of water the duo has had tremendous success in past fishing tournaments. “Our confidence level is high anytime we put the boat on the water to fish an event there,” said Koester. “We knew we needed to finish in the top five or six to have a shot at the title.” Heavy winds and difficult fishing brought challenging prefish conditions. “It was one of the most difficult fishing I personally have ever experienced on Lake Erie,” said Koester. “During that practice time, I was only able to catch three walleyes: one 16”, one 18” and one just over 7 lbs.” The seven-pounder brought a new arsenal into their strategy. They would target seven to nine feet of water and fish the shallow rock piles. Not a typical Lake Erie bite, but with a strategy to fish for points and get in position for a top five finish, it was a solid plan to look for resident fish. Since their entire group of friends struggled during prefish, they wondered if getting fish to go on these rock piles would pay dividends. It did. They weighed 20.9 lbs on day one and it landed them in 4th place. The difficult bite prevailed. They were able to grind out another limit on day two and then searched for some upgrade fish in open water. Even if it wasn’t a winning strategy for the tournament, their fourth place finish solidified team of the year.
With one challenging tournament at Detroit River, they still accomplished one of their goals: learn something new about the water. “This was the first time that we fished predominantly in Canadian waters,” said Rhodes. “We learned a lot in some new areas of the river.” They jigged with plastics or trolled crankbaits.
Jeff and Scott owe a great deal of gratitude to a tremendous group of sponsors and to members of their tournament team: Matt Davis, Dan Gies, Shawn Ritchie, Travis Hartman, Mark Brumbaugh and Mike Robertson. “This really meant a lot to us, because we’ve won individual tournaments or Championships before, but we hadn’t put a consistent year together to be in the running for Team of the Year,” said Rhodes. “We used several techniques and stretched ourselves outside of our comfort zone at times. It definitely paid off.” Scott Rhodes’ sponsors include Yamaha, Yarcraft, Columbia Sportswear, Minn Kota, Humminbird, Church Tackle and Optima Batteries.
“This is a most rewarding accomplishment,” echoed Koester. “We started the season with a goal to win a qualifying tournament and stay in contention for Team of the Year. Without a great group of sponsors and incredible teammates to work with, this honor would not be possible.” Koester’s sponsors include Crestliner Boats, Mercury Outboards, Parkside Marine, Minn Kota, Humminbird, Cannon, LakeMaster, Optima Batteries and Church Tackle.
Parkside Marine at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image courtesy Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit