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Walleye magic strikes twice for Whitten

06/13/2014, 12:00am EDT
By MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR
Walleye magic strikes for Whitten

Toledo angler Joe Whitten, left, and teammate Ronnie Rhodes from Sheffield Lake, found big fish in numbers off Lorain and won the Lake Erie Walleye Trail event.

HURON, Ohio — Walleyes are alternately skittish and aggressive, reclusive and bold, finicky and indiscriminate, predictable and temperamental.

They are also creatures of habit — just ask Joe Whitten.

The Toledo angler, who has been fishing in pro events for nearly 15 years, got a reminder of just how committed to returning to their comfort zone walleyes can be in the recent Lake Erie Walleye Trail event here.

Whitten did not get to scout or prefish prior to Saturday’s start of the two-day tournament due to his work schedule, so he decided to fish a site that had been productive in another event a year ago.

“It was the same, exact spot, same conditions, same approach,” Whitten said about the plan he and teammate Ronnie Rhodes intended to employ. “I log everything in a book — water temperature, clarity, weather — everything — so I had the information on what worked in the past and where. We just hoped the fish would be there again.”

They were.

On the opening day of the tournament, Whitten and Rhodes motored to their intended destination, a hump off Lorain that rises up from the bottom of the lake to a depth of about 36 feet.

Whitten estimates the duo caught 25 fish that went over eight pounds in just a few hours, but since the format allowed them to keep just five fish total each day, they could be very selective. When they headed back for the weigh-in, three hours early, their five keepers weighed just shy of 50 pounds.

“At one point, we had four fish on at once, and we landed all of them,” Whitten said. One of those four was an 11.33 pound beast that ended up being the largest of the tournament.

“It was unbelievable,” Whitten said. “We just had an incredible day.”

Whitten and Rhodes, who also won the LEWT Lakevue event in early May, put a stunning number on the board here that first day, and the rest of the field of 44 two-person teams had a big deficit to make up. On the final day of the tournament, some of them resorted to questionable conduct in their quest to challenge the leaders.

“When we went out the second day, half of the field was at our spot,” Whitten said. “It was raining and nasty that day, so these weren’t locals – this was a bunch of guys from the tournament. I wasn’t too happy about it. I would rather catch zero fish and do it with class, than come in on somebody like that. But we just had to stick to the game plan.”

After a slow start, Whitten and Rhodes had the mojo working again. When their five fish from Sunday were added to their first day’s catch, the duo registered 93.59 pounds in their 10-fish official catch, beating their nearest competitors by more than 10 pounds.

“We wanted to put 100 pounds on the board,” said Whitten, who works in transportation for the City of Toledo. “That was our goal — to put up a number that wouldn’t be touched, hopefully in our lifetimes.”

Whitten said he and Rhodes, who is from Sheffield Lake in the Cleveland area, fished Reef Runner lures in purple and ghost patterns, but that speed was the critical element in their approach. They were trolling at 1.8 miles per hour initially, but when Whitten slowed the boat to 1.4 mph, all four rods were engaged at the same time.

“Playing the current there was a key,” said Whitten, who added that he and Rhodes fished the lures 120-160 feet back. “We wanted to put it close to the fish, but not right on their nose. We had to find the more aggressive fish, and then catch them.”

Whitten said winning a second LEWT event this season means a lot, since the field is composed of only anglers from this region who are very familiar with, and skilled at Lake Erie walleye fishing.

“This LEWT competition is the toughest, because these are all locals and all they do is fish Lake Erie,” he said. “They are good, and to win by that much — it still blows my mind. We just took a gamble that the fish would be there again, and fortunately, they were.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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