UPCOMING EVENT: YETI College Fishing - 2019 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir


Courts capitalizes on morning flurry

National Guard pro Mark Courts and co-angler Jimmy Cox hold up part of their 15-pound, 14-ounce stringer.

WALKER, Minn. - Leech Lake is one of the best fisheries in the walleye-rich state of Minnesota. And June is considered prime time for marble `eyes in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Combine that with a steady easterly wind and day one of the National Guard FLW Walleye Tour event was supposed to be a slugfest. But with only four stringers in the teens, it was anything but.

Blame the cold spring, blame the recent yo-yoing temperatures or blame the slot limit. Whatever the case, the bite was a little disappointing Thursday. The exception to that rule was Mark Courts. For the National Guard pro, the fishing was phenomenal. While most anglers target either overs or unders with an 18- to 26-inch slot limit, Courts had the luxury of fishing for both simultaneously.

Pro leader Mark Courts holds up a nice Leech Lake "The area I'm in holds both," said Courts, who finished fifth at the 2010 FLW Walleye Tour Championship held on Leech. "The spot I started on hasn't had a lot of pressure - we've stayed off it all week. I just started there with the confidence that it held the right fish."

Courts' limit consisted of two 26 1/2s, two 17 7/8s and a 17 1/2. He upgraded one under but other than that everything else came early. He finished the day with a total weight of 15 pounds, 14 ounces.

"It's Leech Lake and that means it's all about playing the wind. I love this lake, love being back in Minnesota. This is how I grew up fishing - jigging and rigging with a Dobyns rod in my hand. Those are my roots."

Courts doesn't just have one spot, but it's clear he believes his primary area stands above the rest. He's excited because he had no company today and believes the spot can replenish with the right conditions.

"I think my first two fish were an 18 1/2 and an 18 1/4. That's heartbreaking, but at the same time they tell me I'm in the right area. If there are 18 1/2s and 25s, there are also more 17 1/2s and 26s."

Meleen second

Second-place pro Paul Meleen managed two nice overs on day one. Reigning Angler of the Year Paul Meleen caught a limit weighing 15 pounds, 7 ounces for second place. Like Courts, Meleen had considerable success at last year's championship - finishing third. While the overs were no problem last fall, a lack of unders kept him from claiming the title. With that in mind, he switched his strategy today.

"I went and got five slots and then I went to some of my bigger fish spots," said the Isle, Minn., pro.

Meleen then caught a 28-incher and a 26 1/2-incher for his two overs. His next fish was a 30-inch giant that he estimated at 9 pounds.

"With two overs already in the box, I had to put it back. I lost about 3 1/2 pounds because of that rule and I'm not too happy about it. But it is what it is."

Meleen sampled eight spots today, some of which are the same from last year. He has three additional areas he never got to.

"I caught fish everywhere I went, from 8 feet to 28 feet of water. And I had a great prefish too, so it's setting up pretty good."

Rigging and jigging were the two primary techniques for the second-place pro as he sampled weeds, sand, rock piles and drop-offs.

"I love this lake and I've been fishing it for a good part of my life. I've been right there so many times. Maybe this is my turn."

Kriese's persistence pays off for third

Pro Duane Kriese and co-angler Dan Soehren hold up their two In third place is Shakopee, Minn., pro Duane Kriese. Kriese started this morning intent on targeting overs. It took nearly all day, but he got those two overs and combined they weighed 13 pounds, 14 ounces.

"I basically told myself I was going to go big or go home and I stuck to it," he said. "We fished a lot of spots and it took some persistence, but we got them."

Kriese's overs weren't just ordinary 26s. They measured 28 1/2 and 29 1/4 and were unofficially two of the biggest fish of the day.

"My goal was to go for big fish right away and then look for slots. I just ran out of time looking for slot fish. But overall the bite was good. We caught a lot of fish - a lot of 25s, 24s, 23s and 22s."

His second year on Tour, this is Kriese's first time in the top 10.

"I'm a little wound up, a little anxious. I'm ready to go fishing again tomorrow."

Carstensen fourth
Fourth-place pro Kevin Carstensen holds up his biggest fish from day one.
In fourth place is Merrill, Wis., fisherman Kevin Carstensen, who caught a limit weighing 13 pounds, 5 ounces.

"We caught four good slots and one over," said Carstensen. "I have one sort of secret spot that was just loaded today. We caught slots, unders, doubles - it was crazy. In the afternoon we went back to our starting spot and on our third pass we caught the 27 1/2."

Overall, Carstensen is pleased with his position.

"I usually struggle on this lake; it's just not my style. You have to fish old-school stuff. But I force myself to do it because my kind of fishing ain't working."

Ernst fifth
Pro Matthew Ernst and co-angler Randal Sterr caught three walleyes Thursday weighing 12 pounds, 10 ounces.
Matthew Ernst of North Oaks, Minn., brought in a three-fish sack weighing 12 pounds, 10 ounces, which was good enough for fifth place in the Pro Division.

"I caught my first over (26 1/2) in Walker Bay about an hour after takeoff," said Ernst. "Then I had one in there come unbuttoned. At 10:30 or 11 a.m., I left for the main lake and caught a 16-incher immediately. Then it slowed. I was about to leave, my trolling motor was even up and we caught that 27 1/2. That fish came from a slot spot, so it was a nice surprise."

Ernst thought the slot fish would be automatic today, but the wind in his area was almost too strong to stay precisely on the spot.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros on day one on Leech Lake:

6th: Richard Zachowski of Milwaukee, Wis., five walleyes, 11-15
7th: Tom Keenan of Hatley, Wis., five walleyes, 11-14
8th: Bill Shimota of Lonsdale, Minn., five walleyes, 11-13
9th: Scott Larson of Mayville, N.D., five walleyes, 11-9
10th: David Kleszyk of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., five walleyes, 11-8

Cox takes co-angler lead

Jimmy Cox, a seven-year veteran of the FLW Walleye Tour, is in the lead after catching 15 pounds, 14 ounces on day one. Cox was paired with Courts and the two wasted little time after takeoff.
Co-angler leader Jimmy Cox holds up a nice Leech Lake walleye with his granddaughter.
"We had five in the box early," said the Bono, Ark., native. "I think we caught 19 walleyes total and six of them were keepers. Fishing with Mark is a pleasure. He's organized and has the right program."

Cox has five top-10 finishes in FLW Outdoors competition but has never won. Perhaps his wife and granddaughter, who traveled with him from Arkansas, are providing the extra luck needed.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top five co-anglers on day one on Leech Lake:

2nd: Dave Smith of St. Joseph, Minn., five walleyes, 15-7
3rd: Dan Soehren of New Ulm, Minn., five walleyes, 13-14
4th: Brian Speckmann of Downers Grove, Ill., five walleyes, 13-5
5th: Randal Sterr of Oconomowoc, Wis., three walleyes, 12-10

Day two of FLW Walleye Tour competition on Leech Lake begins as the field takes off from Walker City Park at 7 a.m. Central time Friday for the second day of the opening round.

Tags: brett-carlson  headline-story  2011-06-09-leech-lake 


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