By Steve Weisman
For the past 29 years, the weekend after Labor Day weekend has been the annual PIGLIFT tournament at the Iowa Great Lakes. That’s the Pocahontas Iowa Great Lakes Invitational Fishing Tournament, and each boat consists of three anglers, one of whom must at some time in his/her life been a resident in Pocahontas.
For the past 27 years, I have been lucky to be a part of this tournament, along with Bill Elling (former teacher in Estherville) and John Amick (former teacher in Estherville), who grew up in Pocahontas. Hence, our Poky connection. The director of PIGLIFT is Howard Pattee (John Amick’s brother-in-law), and with his leadership the tournament always has between 20-30 teams with this year’s number at 23. A good sign for the future of the tournament is that there are teams of younger anglers (in their 20s and 30s) entering.
I really believe that it is Howard’s passion for fishing and this tournament that keeps everything so consistent from year to year. Yes, it is competitive, but at the same time, there is comradery among teams and lots of good old fashioned ribbing and joking.
Teams have the opportunity to fish walleyes, of course, and a panfish (perch, bluegill and crappie) division. The walleye division is set up so that a team can only win that division one of the two days, and they can only win the big fish of the day one of the two days. The panfish division is set up with each team weighing in the 10 largest panfish each day. The team with the heaviest weight for the two days is the winner.
Because of the threat of exotics such as zebra mussels, walleye fishing the past few years has been limited to Big Spirit Lake. All length and slot rules are in effect, plus a self-imposed 14-inch minimum length rule is enforced. It is catch and release for the walleyes with the weigh-in taking place at the Templar Park steps at the dock on the lakeside. The walleyes are brought in water filled bags, weighed and quickly released back in the lake. Any big walleyes over the slot are weighed on the water and immediately released.
Panfish can be caught on any lake, but they must be transported in a cooler or bucket, and obviously, no water can be brought to the weigh-in from any other lake. Panfish are kept and cleaned and not returned to the lake.
One of the really enjoyable parts of the weekend is the steak supper and meeting at McKeen’s Pub and Grill on Saturday evening. Of course, it’s always the weekend of Iowa/Iowa State, so the place is really rocking! Following the meal, Howard always gives out a lot of great door prizes thanks to the help of Pure Fishing, Scheels and Kabele’s Trading Post.
2017 Walleye Results
This year 48 walleyes were weighed in over the two days with several five-fish limits brought to the scales. Biggest walleye was just over four pounds. Pattee figures another 25-30 keeper walleyes were boated and released along with a number of sub-14 inch walleyes.
Mention PIGLIFT and people know that the teams really know how to pull crankbaits. And I do mean they are very, very good at it. Although the five-fish limit is what the teams can bring to the scales, a lot more fish are caught and released. For instance, on Sunday, one team caught 14 walleyes between 14-17 inches long, several slot fish and others shorter than 14 inches.
Largest walleye of the weekend was slightly over four pounds, while the five-fish winning weight on Saturday was 7 pounds-9 ounces and an even 7 pounds on Sunday.
As usual, the teams worked at least 18 feet of water and out into the main basin. The two top crankbaits were Storm’s Wiggle Wart and Bomber. Of course, with the strong south winds on Sunday, the crankbaiters were definitely rocking and rolling.
2017 Panfish Results
As we have for the past 27 years, our team fished the panfish division. We are not good at crankbaiting, and we simply love to fish for panfish. Since I live in Arthur Heights on East Okoboji, we fished out of my pontoon in Browns Bay on West Okoboji on Saturday and caught probably 50 bluegills, but our 10 best could only muster 4 pounds-8 ounces, which only put us in 5th place. Shuck’s Jigger Minnows tipped with Belgian worms worked best for us. The first day leader weighed in a 10-fish limit of crappies (West Okoboji) that weighed 7 pounds-9 ounces, while the second place team had 10 crappies (East Okoboji) weighing 6 pounds-10 ounces.
On Sunday, we chose to head to Big Spirit and fish for perch out of Bill’s pontoon. We ended up with a 10-perch limit weight of four pounds-12 ounces. It was better, but we only had four really nice perch, and didn’t do any advancing. Again, we used the Jigger Minnow tipped with a tiny crappie minnow.
The first day leaders caught another 10-crappie limit weight of 7 pounds even and walked away with the panfish title by over three pounds. The big crappies were taken in Millers Bay trolling white twisters at about 1 mph. The second place team worked the docks on East Okoboji casting small jigs tipped with minnows.
The bottom line: it was one fun tournament. It always is! At the group photo at Sunday’s end, lots of handshakes and pats on the back took place. It’s really quite a tournament. If you are interested in trying it out, all you have to do is find a Poky connection, pay your entry fee and you are in!