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Versatility Ė The Critical Element
By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson

One fishing season is over. The next will soon begin. Nowís a great time to ask a very key question; How can I become a better fisherman? Itís a query thatís important to tournament anglers and weekend warriors alike no matter what species they prefer. For one group, it means the chance to win more cash. For the other, it means more fun on the water. Everybody likes to catch more fish. For Jason Przekurat, the answer is summed up in just one word; "Versatility," said the 2003 RCL Angler of the Year. Too many fishermen excel at one or two techniques, he said, but what happens when those tactics fail? "If I have to stand on my head and do cartwheels from the front of the boat to the back to catch a walleye, I will," said Przekurat, 33, who works at Gander Mountain in Wausau, Wis. His boss is Tom Keenan, the RCL Champion for 2003. "Thatís the attitude you have to have. Itís really about being open-minded. If you want to be versatile, youíd better be willing to use any tactic there is. There are no rules in this game," he said. Przekurat grew up fishing the Wisconsin River at Stevens Point. He bought a boat after his high school graduation. After time spent as a muskie fanatic, he decided to broaden his fishing knowledge and concentrate on learning more about walleyes.

From his boyhood, he knew how to handle current and how to slip jig below the boat. He also knew how to cast crankbaits or drift slip-bobber rigs with one-sixteenth or one-eighth-ounce Fuzz-E-Grubs or bare hooks and minnows and leeches over flats where walleyes feed and spawn. But, thatís about where his walleye knowledge ended. So, he created his own version of Walleye University; * He read every article he could find on walleye fishing. He paid particular attention to new tactics and to fish locations at various times of year * He built a library of walleye-fishing videos * When he saw someone catching fish, he wasnít afraid to ask how they did it ē He attended tournament weigh-ins and listened when the top competitors talked about what techniques they used Next, came time on the water with a twist. If he wanted to learn how to troll lures on leadcore in rivers, he left the jigging rods at home. In that way, he avoided the temptation to resort to tried-and-true methods if the new ones didnít pan out as fast as he thought they should. After all, it took time to learn the nuances, like using long monofilament leaders with leadcore in clear-water lakes and reservoirs and shorter leaders of braided line in rivers to control depth and to see when debris fouled the hooksÖthe rod tip stopped vibrating.

The same was true when he learned open-water trolling with planer boards and crankbaits or spinner rigs on bottom-bouncers or snap weights. Using them now is second nature. "I can drop the rig down and know exactly where my baits are," he said. He began fishing tournaments as soon as he gained a little knowledge. Even when he didnít do well, he saw what the leaders did and vowed to master it. "Every tournament I fished in the first three or four years, even if I didnít do well, I was there to learn," Przekurat said. "I listened. Thatís why they gave us two ears and one mouth. Youíre supposed to listen more than you talk." He also kept notes on what worked where and when. "It gives you an idea of where to start next time." The jigging rods were left at home again when he and Masters Walleye Circuit teammate Eric Olsen decided to learn how to learn how to hand-line. They first used it in a competition at the MWC tournament at Spring Valley, Ill., on the Illinois River in late March, 2000. They landed the biggest one-day stringer of the event ó 16-1/2 pounds for five sauger. "We had 18 fish over 3 pounds that day." The next time they used the tactic was a few months later at Red Wing, Minn., on the Mississippi River to win the MWC Championship in 2000. Przekurat also learned other subtleties of the sport like when to stay on a spot and when to move.

He tends to focus on learning one or two spots well instead of five or six haphazardly. Then during the tournament, he gives each spot more of a chance while other people race from spot to spot. "Otherwise Iím spending more time behind the wheel and not enough time with a line in the water. If I catch fish pre-fishing and conditions havenít changed that much, then they should still be there. There is no reason they left." After climbing toward the top of the race for the RCL angler of the year with each passing year, 2003 was the year when versatility paid off in a big way. At the RCL at Spring Valley, Przekurat hand-lined. At Lake Sharp, S.D., below the Oahe dam where current varies from 1 mph to 4 mph, he cast one-quarter and three-eighths-ounce Fuzz-E-Grubs with fatheads onto shallow sand flats along channel breaks where walleyes were spawning. At Lake Erie, walleyes were post-spawn. He trolled Reef Runners on planer boards along the edges of the last structures in the Western Basin which walleyes passed as they migrated east. A slight adjustment from being on the edge in 15 to 18 feet of water to 80 yards farther out over slightly deeper water meant the difference from smaller fish and weighing five walleyes that totaled 41 pounds in one day.He was in fifth place in the angler-of-the-year race when he entered the final tournament at Devilís Lake, N.D. Walleyes were very aggressive during pre-fishing, where he caught a 3-pounder and released it. Then he looked down into the clear water and saw the same fish hovering a few feet below the boat. He dropped a jig again, and the fish inhaled it. But, during the tournament on the first day, he only had two small fish by mid-day. Thatís when he gambled and moved 20 miles to a secondary spot, where he used Thill slip-bobber rigs 5 feet down in 10 feet of water within standing timber. In a half hour, he had one walleye over 6 pounds, another over 5 pounds and another over 4. He moved to another set of trees and had another 5 pound walleye and one over 3 pounds. Next day, when his other spots failed to produce, he headed to the windy side of the lake and used yet another tactic ó casting crankbaits at shallow walleyes huddled near rocks. He had 23 pounds on back-to-back days on his way to angler of the year Want to go to the head of the class? Become versatile. Never stop learning. And, never expect to graduate from Walleye University.

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