Walleyes are back as Illinois River hosts MWC opener; 2018 championship to be in Quad Cities

Marty Berns and Maury Schmerbach with two of the larger walleyes they caught on the Illinois River this past weekend.

A sure sign that spring fishing has arrived in Illinois was this weekend’s Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit at Spring Valley on the Illinois River.

But there was a bonus for local walleye fans: The circuit announced that the 2018 Cabela’s National Team Championship will be held in June 2018 on the Mississippi River out of the Moline/Quad Cities area. This will be the first time the championship will be held in Illinois or on the Mississippi River.

As for the 2017 season opener, a total of 735 walleyes and saugers weighing 1,536 pounds, 10 ounces crossed the scale at the Spring Valley Boat Club. DNR biologists were on site collecting fish caught during the tournament for stocking programs that benefit anglers on the Illinois River and across the state.

Marty Berns and Maury Schmerbach, both from just across the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa, rallied to win the 2017 opener. The pair was tied for 23rd place after pulling in an 11-pound, 5-ounce, 5-fish limit on Friday. But on Saturday they caught a 22-pound, 10-ounce limit to top the leaderboard with a 33-pound, 15-ounce total weight. Their second day catch was anchored by an 8-pound, 9-ounce walleye that ended up being big fish of the tournament. They also had another kicker that pushed the scale to 7½ pounds.

“We felt pretty good after catching the first big walleye,” Schmerbach said. “When we got the second big one, we thought we just might have a chance to win.” To which Berns added, “It feels pretty good to end up on top. We’ve both been in the money but never won an MWC here before.”

According to the post-tournament report, Berns and Schmerbach pulled three-way rigs with a mix of jigs, floaters and minnowbaits upstream along channel edges at speeds of .5 to .7 mph.

“We got one big walleye in 16 feet of water and the other in 28 feet, 20 miles away,” Schmerbach said, noting the water temperature was 42.7 degrees, the river was clear and low, and the bite was definitely on.

The winners collected $13,700 in cash and prizes.

Rounding out the top five, in order, were Corey Blair-Kevin Hanson, 27 pounds, 12 ounces; J.J. Debernardi-Mike Hanson, 26 pounds, 6 ounces; Joe Miller-Mark Barden, 26, pounds, 2 ounces; John and Jena Dalzot, 25 pounds,15 ounces.

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