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W.A.T. Season Resumes at Clinton
CLINTON, Iowa — The Walleye Anglers Trail returns to the challenging waters of the Mississippi River at Clinton June 25 for the second combined W.A.T./Illinois Walleye Trail event of the 2017 season.
A field of more than 60 boats is expected for the catch-record-release event on Pools 13, 14 and 15 of the big river. It’s also the third of four qualifying events for the W.A.T. leading up to the Oct. 8 W.A.T. Championship in Dubuque.
Illinois Walleye Trail anglers Gary Merkel and John Smith top the points standings after the first two events of the season. They won the combined I.W.T./W.A.T. season-opening tournament on the Illinois River at Spring Valley, Ill., and were 10th at the April 2 tournament on the Mississippi River at Genoa, Wis.
Dubuque’s Marty Berns and Jason Hancock are second in the season standings with Genoa winners Tommy Skarlis and Jeff Lahr third.
When the W.A.T. visited Clinton last season, Clayton Freiburger and Bob Freiburger grabbed the win with a four-fish catch of 29.37 pounds. Maury Schmerbach and Mike Glynn took second with a five-walleye limit of 26.26, and Don Pape and Tony Pape were third at 23.16 pounds.
A video weigh-in for the June 25 tournament will take place at 5 p.m. at Wild Rose Casino, which will also be the location for a seminar featuring walleye pro Tommy Skarlis Friday, June 23 at approximately 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to both events.

GENOA, Wis. — Tommy Skarlis has won at the highest levels of competitive walleye fishing.

From the Professional Walleye Trail, Anglers Insight Marketing circuit and Masters Walleye Circuit to the FLW Tour, Full Throttle series and Walleye Anglers Trail, Skarlis has won everything from individual events to season championships.

Many of those titles came with shiny trophies and cardboard paychecks, but Skarlis will always value the April 2 W.A.T. victory he and partner Jeff Lahr pulled off on Pool 9 of the Mississippi River above them all.

On Nov. 6, Skarlis fell from a tree stand while deer hunting in Northeast Iowa and suffered a broken neck. He was air-lifted to La Crosse, Wis., where doctors told him he was lucky to be alive and even luckier not to be paralyzed. Skarlis, a Waterloo native who now lives in Denver, underwent extensive surgery and a grueling rehabilitation that continues today, but a little more than four months after the accident, he was back in the boat for the W.A.T. season-opener at Spring Valley, Illinois.

Now he’s back in the winner’s circle after he and Lahr solved a tough bite with a five-walleye limit of 27.39 pounds. Dave Lester and Scott Napiecek finished second with four fish for 14.47 pounds, and Jon Habel and Bryce Nannenga took third with five fish for 13.9 pounds.

“The first tournament I ever won when Chad Kincaid and I won the MWC at Big Stone in 1996, that was a huge one, and the FLW in 2012 on the Mississippi River stands out,” says Skarlis. “But we got 10th in a crappie tournament last week in Grenada, Miss., and that little plaque and this one rank right up there because they are part of my recovery.

“There are still days when I wonder how much further I will be able to progress. Right now I need a lot of help. If I run the trolling motor for 15 minutes, I start to hurt and I have to sit down and take a break.”

Skarlis and Lahr know what to expect on Pool 9 in April. They won the W.A.T. event there in 2015, were second in 2013 and took third last year. For this year’s tournament, they targeted prespawn female walleyes and coaxed them into biting using double Rapalas on three-way rigs with Do-It Corporation sinkers they make themselves.

“My philosophy is you’re not going to win this tournament fishing for male fish,” said Lahr, who lives in Dubuque. “What you have to do is try to figure out where those females are that are waiting to go spawn or moving through areas to get to the spawning areas. Once you figure out those spots, you just have to sit on them long enough for the fish to show up.

“If you can hang a Rapala in their face and wiggle it just right and pull it forward and then drop it back in their face, they’re going to eat it. It’s like playing ball with a kitten. You pull it away from them and then tease them with it and they pounce on it. Rapalas are pretty deadly this time of year.”

Skarlis and Lahr adjusted from bright colors that produced for them the day before under sunny skies to darker colors under the overcast skies on tournament day. They had three big fish in the boat by 8:30 a.m. and were well on their way to the victory.

“Most of it was due to the fact that Jeff really knows how to control that boat,” said Skarlis. “Boat control played a huge part of it.”

Lahr was as happy for Skarlis as he was for himself.

“I really felt good about my partner catching some fish because he’s on the mend and it’s not easy for him,” said Lahr. “That was a life-threatening experience he went through breaking his neck. In less than five months, he was back fishing. It’s pretty amazing how far he has come back in that short of time.”



GENOA, Wis. — The Walleye Anglers Trail returns to the Mississippi River and Genoa, Wis., Sunday, April 2 for the second qualifying tournament of the season.

A field of 30 teams or more is expected to compete for a first-place payout that could top $3,000 with the addition of the W.A.T.’s new optional side pot.

The W.A.T. kicked off the 2017 season March 12 on the Illinois River at Spring Valley, Ill., in a combined venture with the Illinois Walleye Trail that drew a field of 61 two-person teams. The circuit returns to its traditional format when it visits Genoa for the sixth straight spring.

Five different teams have captured victories at Genoa the past five seasons using a wide range of techiques ranging from trolling stickbaits and crankbaits to rigging, vertical jigging, pitching jigs and dragging jigs.

Last April, Harry Miller and grandson Mason Jackson carded a five-fish limit of 26.97 pounds in the catch-record-release format, including an 11.03-pound trophy, to win. In 2015, Tommy Skarlis and Jeff Lahr put together a 20.23-pound catch for the victory. Gerry Oberbroeckling and Tim Ware were the winners in 2014 with 24.04 pounds, Maury Schmerback and Mike Glynn finished at the top in 2013 with 21.15 pounds, and Kevin Oyen and Steve Kopp were the 2012 champions with 15.90 pounds.

The video weigh-in for the tournament will take place at Tuna’s Bar in Genoa at 4:30 p.m. April 2. The public is also invited to Tuna’s Friday, March 31 for a 6:30 p.m. social and seminar with many of the W.A.T. anglers.


Combined IWT/WAT opener a hit
SPRING VALLEY, Ill. — Mother Nature didn’t bring her ‘A’ game, but a field of 61 teams did for the March 12 Walleye Anglers Trail season opener on the Illinois River at Spring Valley, Ill.
The tournament was a combined venture between the Illinois Walleye Trail and the Iowa-based W.A.T., the first of two this season as both circuits seek to grow participation and increase payouts.
Anglers dealt with unseasonably cold temperatures that started in the teens and topped out in the 30s, but stable conditions on the country’s premier sauger fishery produced both quality and quantity at the scales. All of the 61 two-person teams weighed in at least three sauger (minimum size was 14 inches) while 54 teams put together six-fish limits.
Nobody did it better than Gary Merkel and John Smith of Spring Valley, who weighed in six sauger for 17.58 pounds. Tom Giachetto Sr. and Tom Giachetto Jr. from nearby Ladd, Ill., were second at 14.71 pounds with Jim McDonald and Jeff Wennerstrom of Fox Lake, Ill., third at 14.06 pounds.
Merkel and Smith, tournament fishing partners for the past six years, put together a trolling pattern using leadcore line for their victory and a payday that totaled almost $6,500.
“It went amazing,” said Smith. “We had a limit of fish in 15 minutes, and we didn’t stop catching them all day. We probably went through 75 fish.”
Merkel and Smith got their program dialed in during the days leading up to the tournament.
“Friday was really good prefishing,” said Merkel.
“We were expecting 18 pounds to win,” added Smith. “We didn’t know if we’d get it, but that’s what we thought it’d take to win.”
Among the W.A.T. anglers, Neil Hammargren of Waterloo and Doug Newhoff of Cedar Falls were seventh overall with 12.99 pounds, a catch anchored by a 3.66-pound walleye. Art Lehrmann and Bob Thill were 10th (12.71), Marty Berns and Jason Hancock 11th (12.70)  and Doug Schumacher and Dusty Herbst finished 13th (12.53).
By most accounts, the combined venture was an overwhelming success.
“I think it went really well,” said tournament director Adam Sandor. “We had a great turnout and great fishing.”
The W.A.T. heads next to Genoa, Wis., for the second qualifier of the season April 2. For more information, visit the W.A.T. website at