Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Ted Peck: Weighing rules revised to fishes' benefit

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Ted Peck
September 6, 2015

A new format used on the AIM professional walleye tourney trail holds great promise for the future of a big fish resource that is quietly depleted by tournament anglers seeking fame and fortune.

AIM is one of just a couple tourney trails which employ immediate, on-scene fish release, which quickly returns fish to their watery habitat. Most tournament trails require anglers to throw fish in a livewell where they can slosh around for hours while being transported to tourney headquarters miles away to be weighed and released.

There is a substantial penalty for weighing in dead fish. Any fish fortunate enough to survive a 20-mile bumpy boat ride in warm water are eventually set free at the tourney site. After-release mortality rates go higher than 50 percent. This is the truth. It is also tournament angling's dirty little secret.

Hope for the future made my almost-annual walleye trip to northern Door County perhaps the best trip to Wisconsin's thumb ever—even though I didn't boat a single trophy fish.

The last couple trips up there I had the privilege of fishing with guide and tourney angler Lynn Niklasch. This pro was still smiling over his AIM Championship win with partner Mark Kumorkiewicz just a few days prior. They won the two-day event with almost 101 pounds of walleyes in just 10 fish.

With the AIM format, contestants are given a bump board to measure fish and an SD card for their camera. When the pros catch a walleye, they take several photos and the fish is released. Weight is estimated on inches, which is fairly reliable with walleyes.

Many in the industry consider Lynn Niklasch the best spinner rig walleye angler on the water today. I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment.

Trolling spinner rigs and crankbaits is the best way to catch huge walleyes along the northern Door County peninsula in late summer. Conventional wisdom says the 18-pound state walleye record set in 1933 will eventually fall to a fish taken from these waters in late summer.

My biggest fantasy is being the lucky angler who rewrites this history. This is why heading to the Door Peninsula has been an almost-annual August trip for me for more than 20 years.

Buddy Tom Clearman had the only trophy walleye in Niklasch's 620 Ranger on this trip. Not quite 30 inches. With the AIM format, a 10 pounder.

We boated 34 walleyes in two serious days of fishing. Only four were small enough to keep for the pan. The other 30 were 'cookie cutter' 27-28 inchers. These were all quickly and carefully released.

There wasn't time to do my job and take a bunch of photos. The fishing was too good. Lynn took one of Tom and I holding four fish that hit at the same time, redefining the concept of a Chinese fire drill.

Tom caught his biggest walleye ever by snap-jigging an Echotail blade bait when we took a two-hour break from trolling to cast a submerged island. On the very first cast at this spot, I hooked a 27-incher on my signature series Echotail Teddy Cat.

Catching a big walleye on a lure you played a role in designing is sweet beyond description. Two casts later the rocks ate the only Teddy Cat I brought with me. This lure is extremely close to gobies in both color scheme and bait profile.

When our next major cold front comes howling in from the northwest, this bite will be over until next year. Niklasch will fish for world class muskies at the south end of Green Bay for a couple weeks, then head home to southeast Wisconsin where he'll chase 'skies on Pewaukee and other lakes until they ice up.

It takes 20 years to grow a walleye to trophy proportions in the cold waters of Green Bay. Hauling such a fish 50 miles to Lambeau Field for a moment of glory before eventual release nearby as is the practice in another popular walleye trail series just isn't right.

Mortality and redistribution of the resource is even more egregious in bass tournaments. The technology to correct this bread-and-circuses mentality is available.

The tournament format we've been using for decades is good for the local economy but bad for the resource and others who would enjoy it.

Because our drive for fame and fortune is so strong, old-school thinking will prevail. Maybe I should cash in on this mentality and contact Conibear traps on the prospects of a catch-and-release muskrat tournament trail.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at [email protected].

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