A few days ago, professional fishing tournament angler Marianne Huskey made history by becoming the first woman angler to win a major walleye tournament.
Marianne was fishing against an all-male roster during a grueling 5-day Head2Head Pro Walleye Series qualifier on the Mississippi River. And she did it the hard way: defeating veteran walleye pros Mike Gofron, Paul Meleen, and Isaac Lakich during the stingiest bite of the year that left the rest of the field scratching their heads – including Mississippi River walleye guides Mike McCormick, Jerrad Fluekiger, and Brett King, all who saw their bite sink to the bottom after Day 2 of competition.
Many anglers agreed it was five days of tough fishing. Some factors that attributed to this were record-low water levels, lack of current, an abundance of baitfish, and a big mayfly hatch during the event made the fishing the toughest they had ever seen. With the 35 mile stretch of river fishing more like a lake, current seams were almost non-existent on the popular rocky points, bridge pilings, and wing dams. Several anglers could see walleyes cruising the surface slurping up bugs. As one of the H2H fans pointed out: “maybe it’s time to get out the flyrod!” (it works on inland lakes during bug hatches).
So what was Marianne doing to remain consistent throughout the competition days when other anglers were struggling? Marianne chose to fish a small pool off the main river with slight current flow and deep water close to shore. She also knew there were enough big fish and small fish in the area in case of DINKFEST to keep it consistent every day. She was right.
But several other things that shut down the river bite also worked in her favor. While most of the field was spot-hopping wing dams, Marianne stuck close to a stretch of productive shoreline. That decision also allowed her to take advantage of those tiny bite windows. That was a big decision on her part but would prove to be a crucial one. Brett King and Joe Okada also applied this strategy all five days, each fishing much smaller stretches than Huskey. Okada’s spot fizzled out, and King’s was vulnerable to barge traffic shutting down the bite, which happened.
However, simply having a good spot isn’t always enough. Although she had other anglers fishing the area the first two days, only Marianne caught enough walleyes to put her into the GREAT8. So how did she out-fish her competition those two days? By “reading” the water around her, she was able to tweak her presentation just enough to make a couple of big fish bite. Those subtle changes proved to be the difference.
But there’s more: After day 2, she noted that her fish didn’t turn on until 10:30-11:00, so she decided to fish the main river and not fish her spot until the window opened up. Marianne was confident that no one else would be in there. Although she didn’t boat a score-able fish in the river, this strategy allowed her fish to settle in after a night of feeding. The fish in her spot did not get spooked by her boat during the early part of the day. Spooking fish early in the day could shut them down the rest of the day. This observation proved accurate when she decided on the last day to fish there all day and caught one walleye before 10:30.
Finally, on Day 4, when her bite wasn’t going on the same lure and the presentation she was successful with the first three days, a change had to happen. Marianne decided to switch her stick bait out for a Walleye Nation Creations Shaky Shad, which was the right move. With the tournament now in DINKFEST, the smaller profile and her stop-and-go retrieve proved to be the difference. Marianne quickly boated two fish to win her match and put her into the championship.
You don’t always have to fish the perfect tournament to win. You just have to fish it better than everyone else. This is especially true during a tough bite. Marianne fished hard, stayed focused, made good decisions, trusted herself, and never wavered from the task at hand. These are all winning attributes of successful tournament anglers.
Congratulations Marianne Huskey on your historic victory!