Skarlis & Lahr Win 2017 Cabela’s MWC World Walleye Championship on Minnesota’s Cass Lake
Monday, September 18, 2017
In his 24-year professional walleye career, Raymarine pro Tommy Skarlis has won a dozen major walleye titles across AIM, NWT, PWT—and now, MWC circuits. Add myriad club and charity event wins, a Crappie Master National Championship win in 2013, the world record for largest professional walleye tournament weight,
and you begin to understand why Outdoor Lifenamed him one of the “Top 10 Anglers on the Planet.”
Adding to that impressive résumé, this past weekend the Hawkeye State duo of Tommy Skarlis and Jeff Lahr took top honors despite difficult weather at the 2017 Cabela’s MWC Championship on Minnesota’s Cass Lake Chain.
Following cancellation of Day 1 fishing due to fog, the duo weighed 16-8 on Day 2 and 11-11 on Day 3 for a total of 28 pounds, 3 ounces, including biggest walleye both tournament days. Their winnings totaled $12,000 in cash; $1,500 in contingency and bonus money; plus trophies and MWC Championship rings.
“I’ve dreamed of winning an MWC Championship my entire career,” says Skarlis. “It’s phenomenal. I’m humbled and feel absolutely blessed.”
Skarlis credits his electronics for a competitive edge. He runs two
Raymarine Axiom 9 units at the console and two
Axiom 9s at the bow of his Ranger 620VS, all networked to share waypoints and sonar data.
“I’m seeing more fish and can decipher bottom content better than I ever have. It’s like having bad eyesight and putting on glasses for the first time,” says Skarlis.
Not only are his electronics showing him more, he says they’re easier to use, which has changed his pre-fishing regimen.
“I used to burn through fish in practice. But now, like the pro bass guys, I’ll run around and just map and mark hard-bottom areas in SideVision, no stinging fish. A lot of us were mapping Cass during practice with Navionics SonarChart, so having accurate
1-foot contours was huge. Then, glancing at my sonar, I could tell walleyes were anywhere from 22 to 30 feet, so I knew I could shade those areas come tournament time to stay in the money zone and find fish that particular day,” says Skarlis.
It’s this change from fishing “spots” to “zones” that Skarlis believes is making him a more efficient and effective angler.
“Wind direction was changing, so you had to respond quickly. That’s where getting married to GPS coordinates can really hurt you, especially on lakes like Cass where the fish are nomadic, making frequent moves in relation to wind and food, which is changing all the time.”
That meant fishing deep structure at specific angles in relation to wind direction. “It came down to fishing perpendicular to the windward side of structure or downwind 25-35 degrees from it. The stronger the wind, the more active the walleyes were.”
Although the duo marked a lot of walleyes, it came down to finding specific, actively-feeding fish—not just any mark on the screen.
“On Cass, there were walleyes 4’-6’ off the bottom that you couldn’t get to eat; the fish on the bottom were a little neutral. But the fish that were 1’-2’ off the bottom were easy to catch. Where
RealVision 3D is going to shine is being able to differentiate those active biters from the rest, besides showing you structure in 3D. It’s going to come down to driving around looking for the right-colored spheres on your screen. RealVision has the potential to be a real tournament game-changer.”
He adds: “Another cool thing about
Axiom is the mapping is lighting fast. With a finger pinch I could zoom in or out of my screen—just like a smartphone—and look at the fish-holding contours in detail, then zoom out and find another area just like it.”
He also champions the
Axiom’s CHIRP 2D Sonar—which pings at 60 frequencies—for its excellent target separation, detailed returns, and allowing him to see his bait and fish when fishing vertically from the console or bow position.
Productive baits included #9 Jigging Raps and #3 Shiver Minnows—bright colors when the sun poked out and dark patterns when it was overcast. The duo kept nearly a dozen rods rigged with different colors for immediate deployment.
To that end, Skarlis prefers 12 lb. braid with a five-foot section of 12 lb. fluorocarbon leader fished on a 6’ 8” to 7’ medium-fast or medium-extra-fast St. Croix spinning rod.
“I’d drive along at 5-30 mph, mark a fish, back off the structure, jump on the bow-mount, and cast. They didn’t want big rips and a lot of the fish were hitting on slack line. But if I could mark ‘em, I could catch ‘em,” says Skarlis.
The team also turned to rigging red-tail chubs on #2 red Daiichi Awesome Walleye Octopus Hooks and homemade Do-It Molds egg sinkers toward the end of Day 3. This system produced a well-needed kicker for the team shortly before weigh-in.
“We’d been so close to winning this event in years past—and when Jeff hooked that fish I knew we had a shot,” says Skarlis.
Despite the recent MWC win, Skarlis says every day on the water is a new challenge, something that will never change. But his approach is changing, too—and he feels good about that.
“I’ve always been a catch ‘em in practice, then come back and catch ‘em in the tournament
kind of guy. But that only works so often with walleyes. I now have the technology to help me adapt quicker to what’s going on that particular day, hour, minute… and that’s what really wins tournaments.”