Sarley: Fishing pro’s thoughtful words still resonate

Last week, I wrote about an RCL walleye/sauger tournament on the Illinois River out of Spring Valley that I fished in as a co-angler a few years back. My first-day pro was horrible, and we caught no fish. We were one of seven boats out of 159 to score a big fat zero for a share of last place. My second-day partner was to be Ron Seelhoff, the all-time money winner in walleye fishing. When I dialed his cell to make arrangements for the next morning, he made it clear as to exactly how he felt about getting stuck with a partner who caught no fish. I hardly slept that night.

Seelhoff is a unique individual. He used to fish with his two pet schnauzers in his boat. When we fished, he had only one because he had accidentally run one over at a previous event. He had a reputation as being crusty and cranky with a short temper. A crabby dog lover? Go figure.

We met for breakfast and he asked me what my previous day’s partner had told me about him. I said that he told me that Seelhoff was nasty and wouldn’t talk to me in the boat. Seelhoff exploded. He told me that my first-day partner was a terrible fisherman and was the reason we caught no fish. He told me that he was very friendly and talkative and he’d prove it that day.

I felt a little better but only for a short while. While launching, I asked Seelhoff if he’d ever had a really bad co-angler and he said, “Ask me if I’ve ever had a good one. That is a much shorter answer. Co-anglers generally stink.” I was back to being scared.

We hit the river and trolled crankbaits. We scared up four fish that barely exceeded the 14-inch minimum length. We’d need a total of six for a limit. Seelhoff had a rough first day, as had I. He was sitting somewhere around 75 in the standings. That did nothing to help his mood.

After three hours Seelhoff decided to give up on pulling lures and told me that we would jig with minnows. Seelhoff ran the boat perfectly, slipping slowly along with the moderate current and keeping our presentations almost vertical. Yet, the walleyes and saugers did not want to cooperate.

We fished all day with no luck whatsoever. Finally with about a half-hour of fishing time remaining, Seelhoff headed to a new spot. The oxbow area was littered with tournament boats. Seelhoff told me to fish with two rods, one in each hand, one off both sides of the boat. I told him, “Ron, I prefer one rod. I’m not a multitasker. I have a hard enough time fishing with one.” His response was, “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. Use two rods.” Great.

All of a sudden, I felt a tap on the left-hand rod. I set the hook sharply and set down the other rod. It was a nice sauger and I reeled it in until it got to the surface about 6 feet from the boat. Seelhoff was next to me, waiting with net in hand when the fish shook its head and flipped itself off my hook. I was afraid to turn around to look at Seelhoff. I could feel his cold stare on my back. I heard him grumbling a long, steady stream of foul expletives. My hands were shaking. I hoped he wasn’t armed, I was that intimidated by him. I did nothing wrong but offered no excuses. I knew they’d fall on deaf ears.

We resumed fishing. Seelhoff shouted, “Got one!” I turned around to watch as he set the hook and began reeling. I was very nervous. I figured a fouled-up net job would cause me to be to be deposited in the muddy Illinois River for a long swim back. I didn’t have to worry about blowing the net job because Seelhoff’s sauger shook off his hook about the same distance from the boat that mine did.

I could barely stop myself from smiling, no, laughing. Redemption had come to me, at least in my own mind. Seelhoff swore at himself with the same vigor and passion that he had turned on me. I hate to say it, but it felt good.

We resumed fishing with about 15 minutes to go. I got a bite, set the hook and reeled in a 21⁄2-pound sauger. A nice fish to be sure.

Five minutes later a 31⁄2-pound sauger introduced itself to my bait and was in the boat in short order. We had caught our limit. I felt proud. I was no longer the angler who couldn’t catch a fish, I was a valuable contributor to Ron Seelhoff team’s efforts.

When we got on stage for the weigh-in, the emcee asked Seelhoff how the day had gone. He answered, “We got our limit. I guess I should say that my partner got our limit. He was the one that caught the fish. I was just the guy who drove the boat and handled the net. We wouldn’t have gotten near a limit if it wasn’t for Steve here.”

When all was said and done, Seelhoff finished the tournament in 27th place, which was good enough to win a small check that covered his entry fees and expenses. My excellent second day vaulted me from dead last all the way up to 122nd place. Nothing to brag about on an overall basis, but Seelhoff’s kind words will be etched in my memory forever. It was a remarkable experience.

Northwest Herald outdoors columnist Steve Sarley’s radio show, “The Outdoors Experience,” airs live at 5 a.m. Sundays on AM-560. Sarley also runs a website for outdoors enthusiasts, OExperience.com. He can be reached by email at sarfishing@yahoo.com.

Hunting/fishing report

Northern Illinois: Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait and Tackle in Crystal Lake reports: “The first week of November is what archery hunters wait all year for. Big bucks are on the move and make mistakes while looking for does. Use estrus scent to place that big buck in your shooting lane. I have had great results will a rattle bag in combo with a bleat call this next week. Remain scent-free and use the wind to fool the deer’s nose. Muskie time is going to end soon, so get out and drag big suckers before it’s over.” Call 815-455-2040 for updated reports.

Honest John from C.J. Smith’s resort on Grass Lake sends word, “This is our last week for this year. Our last day will be Nov. 4, but the honor box will be available for launching and shore fishing. The walleye action is good with several having been caught at the Spring Lake channel bridge. Lake Marie over the sandbar is also producing some nice fish along with the north side of Bluff Lake in 8 feet near the channel to Lake Marie. XL fathead minnows and nightcrawlers are working well. Crappies are biting in the Spring/Petite Lake channel in tight under piers. Small fathead minnows tipped on a Mini-mite jig bouncing just off the bottom is the trick. Bluegills have been aggressive along piers in channel areas. Try using wax worms, trout worms or redworms. Muskie are active on suckers in Channel Lake and Lake Catherine and also near Airport Bay and the east mouth of Bluff Lake. Stripers are being found in Bluff Lake using small minnows on Mini-mite jigs. Catfish are being taken from the channels and night crawlers are your best bet. Some largemouth bass are biting in the Spring Lake channels. Try golden roaches, nightcrawlers, plastics or crank baits for some great action.”

For up-to-the-minute water conditions on the Fox Chain and Fox River, visit foxwaterway.state.il.us/ or call 847-587-8540.
Lake Michigan – southern Wisconsin:
Racine trollers had some success with Dipsey Divers and flies along with trolling spoons anywhere from 30 to 70 feet down in 50 to 100-feet of water. Anglers fishing the harbor mouth and boat launch basin areas were having some action for Chinooks, coho, and browns using skein spawn under a float, 10 feet down. Large bright spinners or crank baits were also productive in these areas.

Geneva and Delavan: The lakes are virtually boatless with the foul weather that was a by-product of Hurricane Sandy. Still, this is a great time to get out for some big fish if Mother Nature allows it. Big baits are in order. Use the biggest suckers for both Geneva and Delavan monster pike. Catch your own bluegills and perch to use for bass. Remember that this is only legal if you use the fish on the same water that you catch them. You cannot transport these fish for use as bait.

Call Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan Fishing Hotline at 414-382-7920 to hear the latest fishing information for Lake Michigan and its tributaries.

Deer season

Through Oct. 28, Illinois archery deer hunters harvested a preliminary total of 21,313 deer. Last year’s preliminary harvest for the same period was 20,430, and the five-year average for 2007 to 2011 was 20,847. The harvest to date consists of 63 percent does.

Males comprised about 46 percent of the past week’s harvest. Top five counties to date are Pike (799), Fulton (641), Peoria (489), Jefferson (453), and Madison (419). The totals for a couple of Northern Illinois counties showing 2011/2012 are: Kane – 112/108; Lake 124/122; McHenry 190/233.

Wisconsin, whose drivers have an astounding 1-in-79 chance of colliding with a deer any month of the year, sends a friendly warning and some tips from its DNR. (An Illinoisan’s odds are 1-in-162)Collisions are even more likely during October and November when bucks are running wild now actively moving into their mating season, known as the rut. Chief Warden Randy Stark says the increased deer movement, both day and night, due to the breeding season being under way requires drivers to be especially cautious in the next month. This is particularly true at dusk and at dawn. “This is when the deer are on the move from where they’ve spent the night to where they are going to eat. Deer are the most active when feeding and chasing potential mates,” Stark said. “Deer are not looking for cars, which is why drivers must look for deer. If you see one deer, it’s likely there are more. “It’s important vehicle operators drive defensively and anticipate the presence of additional deer when they see a deer along the roadway.”

• Be on the lookout for deer, eliminate distractions while driving, and slow down in early morning and evening hours.

• Always wear your safety belt. There are fewer and less severe injuries when safety belts are worn.

• If you see a deer by the side of the road, slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten the deer away.

• When you see one deer, look for another one—deer seldom run alone.

• If you see a deer looming in your headlights, don’t expect the deer to move away—headlights can confuse a deer and cause the animal to freeze.

• Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path.

• Do not swerve—it can confuse the deer as to where to run and cause you to lose control.

• The one exception to the “don’t swerve” advice applies to motorcyclists. On a motorcycle, you should slow down, brake firmly and then swerve if necessary to avoid hitting the deer. If you must swerve, always try to stay within your lane to avoid hitting other objects.

• If you hit a deer, get your vehicle off the road if possible, and then call a law enforcement agency. Walking on a highway is dangerous. Stay in your vehicle if you can.

• Don’t try to move the animal if it is still alive. The injured deer could hurt you
Walleye winner

Congratulations to walleye pro Danny Plautz of Madison, Wisconsin for his big win at the National Guard FLW Walleye Tour Championship on the Mississippi River out of the Quad Cities this past weekend. Plautz’s victory won him $85,000 for his efforts on the water. Plautz said, “There are so many great anglers on this circuit that have never had the opportunity to win this championship. This is my eleventh year fishing as a pro, and so many of these guys have been doing it for much longer than I have. This is an amazing honor to get to hoist this trophy. I’m sure when I’m sitting in my deer stand over the next couple of weeks it will finally sink in for me just what I accomplished today. My goal this week was to find the current. I came up with the game plan of fishing the power dams. I knew the bait fish were in there real thick, and that was a key for me. I was fishing real shallow, in 4-feet of water or less, just casting crankbaits. ” This was Plautz’s first tournament win in his FLW career.

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