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Fishing: Bleeker, Stayberg win national tournament

Chad Bleeker and Carl Stayberg hold up the check they won after winning the AIM National Championship Shootout Friday and Saturday, June 2 and 3 in the Mississippi River near Hager City. Photo courtesy of Carl Stayberg

It’s all in the prep work.

Fishing takes practice and understanding of how the body of water being fished works.

The Mississippi River -- which is a powerful and challenging river to navigate, let alone fish -- had a wrench thrown into it in late May and early June after the region saw an abundance of rainfall.

Chad Bleeker and Carl Stayberg, each originally from Hudson, did enough pre-fishing to be prepared for the conditions in the AIM National Championship Shootout Friday and Saturday, June 2 and 3. The team, sponsored by Forever Barnwood, caught 44.19 pounds of Walleye to win the championship, which included a Warrior fishing boat valued as a $50,000 prize.

“We are the national champions. We are No. 1 in the nation,” said Stayberg as if he was still trying to convince himself that it had happened. “That was a pretty good feather to stick in our hat.”

The waters had been disrupted by recent storms and familiarity with the water was a major key. Bleeker said the water was perfect if you could get to the right areas.

“The water was great when we could get to some of the backwaters,” Bleeker said. “We were fishing little cuffs and we had to know where the current was flowing because the Mississippi can be a tricky river.”

Stayberg and Bleeker were fishing in backwaters of the river that other fishermen didn’t know had walleye and also that they didn’t know was accessible.

Because of the storms, they had to go to those nooks and crannies of the river.

“The visibility was almost zero,” Bleeker said. “If you put your hand in the water one inch, you wouldn’t see the fish.”

It would be an overstatement to say it was easy for Bleeker and Stayberg to have success fishing waters that they call home waters, but Stayberg said there was a lot of added pressure because of it.

“This is familiar to us, you like to think that gives an advantage, but I tell you what, all of our local fans rooting for us to perform makes it tough because it’s easy to go out and stumble in front of all those people rooting for you,” Stayberg said.

Being home had obvious advantages, though.

“The key was for us to actually find some clean water,” Stayberg said. “With all the rain that we’d had, the river was really water. We were able to find some cleaner water. We fished the edges of the cleaner water to the muddy water.”

Clean, clear water was key to see the walleye on the edges of the current where they hang out and relax waiting for food to come to them.

“Walleyes are opportunists, they’re looking for the easy meal. They sit in ambush spots,” Bleeker said. “We just learned to read water and judge where the fish are going to be.”

That’s where the pre-fishing comes into play.

“The fish travel in schools and you have similar size fish within the schools,” Bleeker said. “So we want to locate the schools of fish that we want to find on gameday.”

Walleye stay in a similar place for the fishermen to return to find them when it matters most.