UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Eufaula

The Plautz thickens

The Plautz thickens
Dan Plautz Sr. (left) and Jr.

Last April, during a Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Circuit event on the temperamental Detroit River, energy and ambition trumped experience for a rookie in the pro ranks. Daring the big water of Lake Erie when conditions allowed and returning to the river to pluck a fish here and there without ever giving up, Danny Plautz Jr. took second place and $25,000 - an enviable finish for anglers two or three times his age with hundreds of competitions to their credit, let alone for a then-19-year-old fishing his first big-time tourney.

"It was kind of disappointing, but also rewarding," Plautz said of his second-place, 35-pound, 2-ounce finish, edged only by Michigan pro Jeff Russell's 37-pound, 1-ounce final-day bag. "It was my first tournament, and I had just beaten some of the greatest fishermen in the world. I thought, `Hey, I could do this for a living.'"

That is precisely what Danny, a business student at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, is weighing - whether to stay in school or leave early to turn pro. If he chose to turn pro, the young man who is torn between an education and a fishing career would follow the lead of his father, Dan Plautz Sr., a business owner and pro walleye angler since 1987 who won last year's RCL event on Saginaw Bay. It's not bad lineage for one part-time and two aspiring Plautz pros - the aforementioned Danny Jr., 17-year-old Jimmy, who hopes to go pro next year, and 16-year-old Greg, who would rather fish than do just about anything else. According to family friends as well as the boys themselves, the Plautz sons' fishing preoccupation comes from time spent practicing with their father for tournaments as well as from a respect for him not entirely common in this day and age.

"I was born into it," Danny said. "My dad started me off at a really young age, and I always thought it was the thing to do. Instead of going to school dances, I went fishing."

Said Danny's uncle, Greg Gamalski: "The boys admire what Dan has accomplished in his business and in his professional fishing. I think they see their dad as a role model and hero, and that's a huge reason for them following in his footsteps. Young Dan sees his dad as what he wants to be when he grows up. Most kids want to be different, bigger, better. But not young Dan."

Danny's decision to save his $25,000 payoff is perhaps the best indication of his composure on and off the water as well as his devotion to fishing instead of fooling around. Talking himself out of a motorcycle for fear of "hurting myself," Danny has opted to put his winnings in the bank and wait to see how his career unfolds. In fact, Danny pays for his own fishing tournaments - no small feat with an entry fee of more than $1,000 and considerable travel expenses - except for what his father called "creative financing" before the Detroit tournament. Danny, you see, hit his mother up for a loan based on his forthcoming tax refund.

Fatherly advice

It isn't a stretch to say that Barb Plautz's loan to her eldest of five children (a brood that includes daughters Sandy and Cheryl) paid off in spades for Danny down in Detroit, where he made the right decisions in spite of the dicey weather and fishing conditions. On the first day of the tournament he allowed himself two and a half hours to motor 28 miles out into Lake Erie in 6-foot waves for a chance at magnum walleyes that had not yet appeared in the Detroit River. "I told my partner, `If we can catch two fish out here, they'll beat five river fish,'" Danny said.

Plautz Jr. and partner found luck at 9:30 a.m. when an 8 1/2-pounder struck a trolled Reef Runner crankbait, but by 1 p.m., as weigh-in time loomed closer, they still had nothing else in the box. After the long run, the pair squeaked one small keeper walleye out of the river with minutes to spare.

The next day, Danny again ran to the lake when the forecast called for calm. This time he managed three fish for 16 pounds on Erie, returning to the river with time enough for one drift - enough to bag a pair of 2-pounders and make the cut for the third day.

Danny drew upon the river the following day for 19 pounds, 3 ounces to make the fourth-day cut. His bounty included a walleye of nearly 11 pounds that his partner dove for with the net when it popped off on a jig next to the boat.

"That night my dad was giving me more information than I could handle," Danny said. "Everyone was telling me what he would do. I knew I wanted to talk to one person, and that person was my dad. He had been in this position before."

A last-minute father-son collaboration produced the decision that determined Danny's fate, and that decision, of course, was the right one. Although Junior was ready to jig the river on the final day, he was idling in the harbor when his father, who had failed to make the cut, started jumping up and down, waving his arms, on shore.

"My dad came flying over and started handing me the trolling rods," Danny said. "He said, `You know the lake better than anyone. It's calm - you can win it.'"

Alas, his big weight for five fish was not enough to beat Russell's even bigger bag from the river, but Danny's start was an auspicious one in a very young career.

All in the family

You'll undoubtedly be hearing more from the brothers Plautz in the future. Jimmy, who hopes to compete next year when he turns 18, has already been exposed to the rigors of the walleye world and, like his brother and father, has shown the composure needed to handle himself in the face of tournament duress.

Last year at the RCL Championship in Green Bay, Jimmy was paired with Indiana pro Rick Cole, who saw some of the Plautz's grace under pressure. "If anything impressed me at his age, it was his confidence and patience," Cole said. "He never lost faith, and he stayed with it all day. It was coming down to the wire, and he kept saying, `We're going to get them. Don't worry.' He never panicked.

"He started going through my CDs and said we needed a change to get them going. He put in AC/DC, we popped two fish for our limit and we went in."

Though it may seem that the Plautzes lead a charmed life, none of it has come without the hard work of their father, who began competing in walleye fishing during the sport's formative years in the late '80s, back when a big boat was a 17-footer with a 75-horsepower motor. That was also before the days of sponsorship, something the elder Plautz has cultivated with Lowrance, Crestliner, Yamaha and G. Loomis, among others. With their support, Dan has been able to cut loose from his janitorial business in suburban Milwaukee without shortchanging time with the kids or money for their education.

Ultimately, the Plautzes have shaped their family around fishing, time together and the outdoors, because a family that fishes together stays together. "Sometimes having three boys pre-fishing in the boat with you was something else," Dan Sr. said. "There'd be water fights, and they'd be dumping buckets of water over your head when it was 90 degrees."

The camaraderie and competition must have made an impression on all of the sons when you consider their aspirations to fish for a living. For his part, Danny is undecided on when to begin. Said Gamalski, a confidant to the boys: "I get the feeling right now that Dan is torn between pursuing pro fishing and finishing up school. He's trying to make a decision. It's tearing at him, and he doesn't know which way to go with it. And I'm not sure exactly which way he's going to go."

What Danny is certain of is that another pro tournament awaits in early October on the Mississippi River in Red Wing, Minn. Not unlike Barry Bonds Sr. and Jr., another story of a son following in a father's sporting footsteps, you can bet the second generation - to say nothing of the first - will be swinging for the fences.

Tags: dave-scroppo  magazine-features 

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