Sturgeon Bay. When’s the last time any big tourneys were there? Hmmm, lemme think. Oh yeah — a few weeks ago! And anyone with eyes, ears or a phone knew a couple things from that deal: stay in Sturgeon Bay and use Berkley MaxScent Flat Worms. And that’s kinda what Rusty did. Deets:
Going in and practice
> “I was excited for the [MLF] format. I have [pro] friends that do it, I’m a fan, I watch it. And really there’s no better time to learn a new format than when you get a guaranteed check to start with [all Title guys got a check = #stout]. I was all for it. I like the challenge of it.
> “Obviously we had a lot of fairly fresh stuff to look at [the BPT tourney]. One thing I noticed was they catch the dog outta them there — the guys who have a chance to win do. That’s on your mind.
> “I didn’t get too overly concerned about where [the BPTers] caught ’em. I couldn’t figure it out anyway from looking at the video…. So I tried to show up with an open mind.
> “We only had 2 days of practice. I went north one day [Gull Island, Sisters Island, Sisters Reef area] and did a little fishing. The 2nd day I was in Sturgeon Bay, Little Sturgeon Bay, that area.”
He decided on the bay.
> “My plan was to try to live through the first 2 rounds of competition and not over-catch my fish. But then after day 1 I realized I brought a knife to a gun fight. Guys were catching 100+ lbs and I had 20, and I’d worked hard to catch them. [One of the group leaders had 100+, and Rusty was in 16th with 20-01.]
> “Day 1…6 fish for 20 lbs. I did lose 1. I was learning. I hadn’t quite figured out what was going on….
> “I’d start on a stretch — I didn’t really have spots, I had areas. I realized after a day and a half, every time I did get bit I was real close to a mark I’d made. Then I started realizing if I Spot-Locked there, hung out, mixed it up my baits a little and fished really thorough, I could turn that 1 bite into 2-5 bites.
> “By the time day 3 started, my plan was not not leave this one area — 350 yards long, maybe 100 yards wide, just a big shoal. …was going to attempt to commit there and I did.
> “…beginning part of 3rd period…where I needed to be weight-wise. I was about 25 lbs over 10th place, floating between 5th and 7th. That was good enough for me…so I took off and went practicing.” [Reminder that under the MLF format weights zero after day 3.]
Day 4 was tough — windy, and because of the wind they got a late start:
> “…held us for a good 40 minutes, then adjusted all the time periods so we got a little longer breaks…gave us a little more time to move around…for safety because they knew guys would get out and fight the wind and fish. [The longer breaks] gave us the opportunity to move when we weren’t under the clock so we didn’t have to do things so dangerously. All great ideasthat worked well for all of us.
> “Under those conditions you don’t know…luckily my fish were biting in the morning. I started catching them and ran up to 1st pretty quick…battle was on…. It got harder and harder to fish. Super tough.
> “I went a long period of time without a bite, so with 30 minutes left I made a move. My trolling motor [batteries] was done…. I made a move to an area where I caught a couple keepers throughout the tournament…by no means did I think I could catch a big one there.
> “Immediately I caught a short [non-keeper] — 1-14 and it had to be 2 lbs to count. After that I caught a 2-15, then 15 minutes later I caught that 4-14 that let me win the tournament.
> “The way I remember it, by the time I put a new weight on [after the 4-14] and stood up to make a cast, had 7.5 minutes left. It was nerve-wracking…it felt like 3 hours.”
> “I was on quality all week, even both practice days — I didn’t see any [non-keepers] til the competition started. Say your average fish is 3.5 lbs. If you can stay on 3.5-lbers you can win on that — you just need to catch one every 6 minutes.
> “All days I launched in Little Sturgeon Bay and the whole time fished within 2 miles of where I launched. I had 10 little areas where I thought I could get a bite.
> “They all had a good break. Some the breaks were maybe 7-8′ down to 14′ ish, some were 11-12′ down to 20′. Just natural rock formations. I called it a ‘curve break’ — something to break up the current.
> “[The bottoms on these spots had] no commonality to them…some were a 100′ long sheet of rock, some were cobblestone-size, some were bowling ball-size. It wasn’t all that important. But one key was to have bait [alewives] around.”
> Dropshot baits: Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm (light crystal clear belly, and when darker out gp or gp green purple flake). “The last day I caught all but my 2 biggest ones on the MaxScent Flat Worms. They were key. I got them from Wade [Strelic] — he was out of the tournament so I took all his stuff. Maybe with the real windy conditions they could find [the MaxScent] because of the smell. Low light and heavy wind — maybe [the fish] start relying on [scent more].
> #2 dropshot hook, 3/16- (preferred if the wind allowed it) and 3/8-oz Kanji or Ark teardrop weight, 7′ 4″ Ever Green Brett Hite Combat Stick Spinning Rod (“that thing was amazing, it was still fairly new to me”) and Daiwa spinning rods, Daiwa Steez Reels (2500), 12-lb Sunline FX2 Braid to 7-lb Sunline Sniper fluoro (10′).
He said he didn’t really drag it because of the mussels and gobies, so he’d make a cast, let it hit the bottom and soak it for a good 30 seconds. He might move it a little, but otherwise he’d reel in and cast 20-30 yards off the last cast.
> “One of the biggest surprises was just how professional and well-managed everything was. I dIdn’t see it going that smoothly. Boat officials, camera guys, the normal [FLW] people I’m used to working with plus all the MLF people there — it was unbelievably smooth. It was really really good.
> “Early in the tournament I had a swimbait and a Ned Rig going. I didn’t do much damage on either one, maybe a fish per, so I stopped even pulling them out of my rod locker.”
> Shout-outs: “Ranger, Mercury, Humminbird, Power-Pole — the people who do what they can for me. Also Tackle Warehouse and Anglers Marine: I’ve been with them for over 25 years and they always help me out.”
> Follow him on the ‘gram at @Rusty.Salweke.Fishing.