WALKER, Minn. – It is official. As of 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2010, Chris Gilman is no longer the best tournament walleye angler never to have won a tour-level championship. It was 20 years in the making, but it was more than worth the wait for the Chisago City, Minn., pro.
Gilman, with multiple PWT wins and an Angler of the Year title on the FLW Walleye Tour, has long been considered the most consistent pro in the sport. But he’s always coveted a championship victory, and Leech Lake proved to be the perfect venue.
Gilman ran a two-tier program this week – targeting overs in Walker Bay’s deep water and unders in the shallow Goose Island Flats area. According to a state-enacted slot limit, anglers had to release all walleyes 18 to 26 inches in length. In addition, only two fish over 26 inches in length could be kept each day. On the final two days of the tournament, anglers could keep only four fish and weigh one over 26 inches.
Coming in, Gilman thought getting consistent overs would be a tall task, yet he managed five of the allowed six during the four-day tournament. On day one, he sacked a steady 10-pound, 4-ounce limit. On day two he managed two overs and improved to 15-8. Day three was the pivotal day as he caught a four-fish limit weighing 9 pounds, 4 ounces. But more importantly, the pros ahead of him failed to catch an over and his deficit shrunk from 5 pounds to 5 ounces.
“Coming off the water that day, I really thought I had a good chance at winning,” Gilman recalled. “Pat (Byle) had had a tough day, and all of a sudden I realized I wasn’t that far out of it.”
With confidence on his side, Gilman sacked 7 pounds, 15 ounces on the final day. His over came in the boat at 10 a.m. at a spot he had hardly fished. But once he left Walker Bay, he found the “under” fishing extremely difficult. In fact, he managed only one of his three allowed unders.
“This afternoon when I brought in only one 14- to 18-inch fish, I thought I had blown it. When I saw my name on the screen, I was stunned. I truthfully thought I blew it.”
Gilman described his techniques as nothing fancy. When he rigged in Walker Bay, he used a 1 1/2-ounce Wing It slip sinker, a 6-foot leader and redtail chubs. His main line was Sufix braid and his leader was 8-pound Sufix fluorocarbon.
When he jigged, he used 8-pound Sufix Seige with an 1/8-ounce VMC Dominator jig. While he always rigged with bigger chubs, he jigged with both smaller redtails and rainbow minnows. While the rigging spots were mainly deep boulder humps, the shallow jigging spots had green elodea weeds.
“Watching my locator was real important, as I did not fish very much unless I saw the right marks. I have a Lowrance HDS 10, and it was real easy to see which spots had fish on them. I pretty much knew if I was going to get one or not by looking at my locator.”
Gilman, a legend in the sport for his focus and determination, then reflected on his latest milestone.
“It‘s an accomplishment I’ll always be proud of and I’ll never forget. I think winning Angler of the Year last year was a harder accomplishment, but, man, this is something I’ve always wanted. You know how much time and effort (Gilman breaks up) – it‘s just amazing how much work all of the anglers put into this sport, and to have it pay off is just so gratifying that I can’t even explain it.”
For winning the FLW Walleye Tour Championship, Gilman earned $40,000 plus an additional $2,676 from the optional pot.
Filkins slips to second
Heading out as boat No. 1 this morning, rookie pro Terry Filkins paid no attention to his chasers and instead focused on his pattern, a pattern he said he wasn’t going to change no matter what. Filkins stayed true to his word and grinded out another over weighing 6 pounds, 9 ounces. He caught another eight fish or so, but all fell between the 18- to 26-inch protected slot.
“I just could not get the small fish,” he said. “It would have been great to win, but to finish second against all these guys – that’s a fabulous feeling.”
To catch his fish, Filkins rigged with 1/2- and 3/4-ounce Wing It slip sinkers and big redtail chubs. His primary area, and essentially his only area, was a deep-water saddle in Kabekona Bay. While this area received considerable pressure, Filkins plainly outfished the crowd. He would work up and down the saddle at approximately .4 mph, fishing in water as shallow as 22 feet and as deep as 35 feet.
Early in the tournament, Filkins’ fish were positioned a foot to a foot and a half off the bottom. But during the final round, they were pinned to the bottom.
“I was trying to stay as vertical as I could. That’s why I struggled a bit yesterday without my bow mount. The kicker engine was surging too much. And this was such a finesse bite that I had to be able to feel my way through the bites.”
Filkins finished with 41 pounds, 14 ounces and earned $5,000 for his second-place finish.
Byle rebounds for third
After taking a zero on day three, day-two leader Pat Byle rebounded with a three-fish catch weighing 9 pounds, 7 ounces, the heaviest stringer of the final day. Byle finished the year-end championship with 40 pounds even, earning $12,000 thanks to $8,000 in boat and motor contingencies.
Fishless at noon, Byle finally ran into a school of four big arcs. Moments later he had his over in the boat. The Colgate, Wis., native fished many of the same Walker Bay areas as Gilman. Byle, however, did not spend nearly as much time on the main lake. In particular, he had one spot in Walker Bay that was absolutely loaded. He described it as two small humps the size of a living room on a deep flat. To trigger these deep fish, Byle rigged with redtail chubs.
While the spot was incredibly productive, Byle took several dead-fish penalties as oftentimes happens with deep fish.
“I’m thrilled with third,” Byle said. “I did the exact same ting today as I did yesterday. I just couldn’t control my boat yesterday in that weather. Today I decided to sit on my spot until I got an over.”
Meleen misses opportunities, finishes fourth
As the water temperature dropped, Paul Meleen became increasingly confident in his shallow-water program. Although he, too, sampled Kabekona, Meleen did most of his damage spot-hopping on the eastern side of the main lake.
Meleen would sample up to 40 small rock reefs in a day. As the week progressed, he was able to trim that number to 18. Once there, he’d snap-jig with giant 8-inch chubs.
“That wind just electrified those areas,” Meleen said. “Leech Lake is one of the most wind-driven fisheries in the world. Without it today, it was much more difficult.”
Meleen still had his chances early this morning. He had several bigger overs pinned up, including one he estimated at 11 pounds, but lost all of them.
The Isle, Minn., native finished with a four-day total of 38 pounds, 15 ounces and earned a fourth-place check worth $7,500 plus $803 in optional pot money.
“My Side Imaging allowed me to fish much faster. When I came up to a spot, if I saw fish, I’d fish it. If I didn’t, then I was on to the next spot. And if you drive over these areas, the fish spook. So having Side Imaging was really key.”
Like Meleen, National Guard pro Mark Courts was employing a shallow-water program on the main lake. His primary area consisted of a small section of shoreline lined with boulders and gravel. In windy conditions, the spot was almost perfect. But on day four the calm conditions cleared up the water. And shallow-water walleyes are typically shy when the water is clear. The two fish he caught Saturday weighed 2 pounds, 4 ounces, bringing his total weight to 31 pounds, 15 ounces.
“A lot of guys didn’t think about the shallow water,” Courts said. “But as long as there was wind, the points and rock humps were effective. I know a lot of guys hated that weather yesterday, but I absolutely loved it.”
Unlike Meleen, Courts slowly worked a Northland Shiner jig with rainbows – oftentimes barely moving his bait.
Thanks to $3,000 in contingencies, Courts earned $5,500.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pro finalists at the FLW Walleye Tour Championship on Leech Lake:
6th: Scott Steil of Richmond, Minn., 30-7 (four-day total), $2,000 + $1,750 Evinrude bonus
7th: Dean Arnoldussen of Appleton, Wis., 27-1, $1,500 + $1,500 Evinrude bonus + $669 optional pot
8th: Brian Brosdahl of Max, Minn., 25-3, $1,250 + $1,250 Evinrude bonus + $535 optional pot
9th: Don Loch of Iron Mountain, Mich., 20-0, $1,000
10th: Kevin Merrill of Pierre, S.D., 18-7, $750