Walleye pros ready to tap Lake Erie’s riches in tournament


PORT CLINTON — Joe Whitten will spend the next few days trying to avoid breaking any mirrors, opening an umbrella indoors, or walking under any ladders. He needs to do whatever he can to keep Lady Luck on his side when he fishes in the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event in Port Clinton this weekend.

For more than a decade, Whitten has been taking part in pro walleye tournaments on Lake Erie. This season, he is fifth in the Cabela’s points standings as the tour moves to Port Clinton, where the fish average much larger than at any other site the pros will visit.

“My goal is to leave here leading in the points,” Whitten said, hoping to make a rich haul from Erie’s walleye bounty. To do so, he will have to put a halt to a string of bad luck that has hexed him in recent tournament outings on the big lake.

“I don’t know what happens, but I’ve been jinxed here. The luck hasn’t been on my side,” he said. Whitten lost the electronics on his boat in last year’s event, and another time there was mechanical issues with his craft.

Despite the fact he is a Toledo native who has fished Lake Erie all his life, and he keeps a condo here at the epicenter of the walleye fishing world to maintain an even tighter link with the action, Whitten doesn’t feel like he will enter the start of the two-day tournament with any kind of “home field” advantage.

“I think it is just the opposite — you are actually at a disadvantage on a lake you are so familiar with, because you tend to overlook some things,” Whitten said.

The 49-year-old, who will spend the days before the tournament pinpointing the locations he wants to hit during the event, said that hometown anglers also tend to get very impatient with their favorite fishing hole.

“You know the lake, so you think it should produce right away. While other guys might try a spot for 20 or 30 minutes, you give it 10 minutes and you’re ready to move on,” he said.

Whitten, who hasn’t had a real vacation in 14 years because all of his time off is spent fishing in tournaments, said a two-day total of about 85 pounds might be needed to win. The previous tour stop in Minnesota was won with a two-day maximum of 10 fish weighing just under 27 total pounds.

“I’m willing to gamble to win this thing,” he said. “This tournament means more to me than anything on Earth.”

Local pro Ross Robertson, who frequently works as a charter captain/guide taking clients out on Lake Erie, said he has to dramatically shift gears when it is tournament time. With customers in tow, a successful day usually means a filled limit.

“But a successful day in a tournament is 180 degrees different — it’s all about quality, not quantity,” he said. “You can’t catch an 8-pounder when you’ve got a 4-pounder on the line, so it’s just a matter of trying to figure out what the big ones want.”

Robertson said Erie has been a bit of a puzzle this spring, and more of a moving target than usual.

“This year has been a roller coaster so far, but over the last 10 days or so, things have settled down and guys have been catching fish in Lake Erie from Pennsylvania to the Detroit River,” he said. “But you have to be well-dialed in to consistently catch big fish. The little things will really make a big difference in this tournament.”

The pros taking part in the Cabela’s event will fret about the weather, worry over the wind, and sweat about what might be coming over the horizon, but Robertson said he doubts that the walleye are really bothered by it that much.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that fish don’t really care what is going on above them. The fish just do what they do — they do their thing — and it’s up to us to figure out just what that is.”

The pros will be competing for cash and prizes, including a fully-rigged Ranger boat plus a cash payout for a total value of $57,000 going to the winner. The tournament takes place Friday and Saturday.

BASSMASTERS AT NETCRAFT: Jann’s Netcraft, the Toledo-based fishing tackle supplier that traces its roots back more than 70 years, will host two of the hottest names on the pro bass fishing circuit Saturday when Ish Monroe and John Crews visit the store to hold an instructional and informational clinic. Monroe, a California native, has 24 top-10 finishes in his pro career and has won four B.A.S.S. tournaments. Crews is from Virginia, and he has 16 top-10 finishes in his career and one B.A.S.S. title.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the duo will share bass fishing tips, demonstrate proper use of certain tackle, and conduct question-and-answer sessions with anglers. Netcraft is located at 3350 Briarfield Blvd. in Maumee, near the I-475/U.S. 23 interchange with Dussel Drive and Salisbury Road. More information about the appearance is available by calling Netcraft at 419-868-8288.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.