Fishing & Boating News

Legend Crucial to a Living Legend

St. Croix Pro Tommy Skarlis owes MWC World Walleye Championship to rod performance, and, of course, some tactical deftness

by: Leslie Sundahl, Traditions Media

Photo by courtesy St. Croix
Photo by courtesy St. Croix
(Oct 5, 2017 - Park Falls, WI)  It’s been 29 full seasons since Walleye Tournament Pro Tommy Skarlis started fishing professionally. It was 6 years before that when he bought his first St. Croix rod; a 7-foot 6-incher.

So what do those two milestones have in common with each other? 

In the nearly three decades the Denver, Iowa, resident dropped everything work wise to make tournament walleye (as well crappie) fishing his fulltime career, amassing top-honor finishes while on the job… And St. Croix Rods have been in his hands for many of those years…

And when he and his tournament partner, Jeff Lahr, of Dubuque, Iowa, won the Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC) 2017 World Walleye Championship on Minnesota’s Cass Lake Chain September 14 through 16, 2017, it was the ultra-sensitivity of St. Croix’s Legend series of rods that was the make it over break it for top honors. 

“Without the sensitivity and hook-setting power of both the Legend Elite and Legend Xtreme in our hands, we would have never been able to catch the fish that we did,” says Skarlis. “And I mean that. The weather was less than ideal and the walleyes were finicky. The rods were the crucial pieces that finalized the puzzle for the win.”

Two techniques stood out for Skarlis and Lahr during the derby: Making long casts with jigging minnows, such as Moonshine’s Shiver Minnows and Rapala Jigging Raps, and snap-jigging them back to the boat, as well live bait rigging with creek chubs and red tail shiners. 

During prefishing, the duo found fish along several steep breaklines throughout the chain of lakes, from 22 to 34 feet of water. After dissecting what they saw on the Raymarine, the duo realized the fish bellied to bottom and the ones suspended five feet or higher were not feeding; instead, the fish one to two feet off the lake’s floor were the ones they needed to be looking for. 

“We tried vertical jigging, but the fish would not have any part of that,” Skarlis asserts. “Instead, we found the fish spooked easily — with nothing more than the lure dispersing some of them — and had to back way off, make extremely long casts and then start snap-jigging the lures back. And this is where the 7-foot medium-power fast-action Legend rods really stood, out.”

With so much line out after casting, Skarlis claims it would have been impossible to feel a hit without super-sensitive, fast-action rods. And many of those strikes would come as the jig fell during the initial cast. Even with the aid of brightly-colored superline, the dark skies, wind and rain made it difficult to see a strike just by watching for the line to twitch. Instead, they made sure their line was always taut, and would solely concentrate on feeling the telltale “tick” telegraphed through the super high-modulus SCV graphite blank. And they had to set the hook the very second they felt a strike or the fish would spit it and not hit again.

“The backbone of the Elite series played another important part as the water was warm [in the low 70’s] and the fish acted like they were on steroids once hooked,” adds Skarlis. “We had to get those feisty fish in fast, which wasn’t easy with so much line out. All our fish were barely hooked in the skin of their lips; in fact, the hook came out of every fish as soon as it hit the net.”

When the snap-jigging bite would slow is when the duo would drift live bait rigs with chubs and shiners; which is the technique that took their kicker fish for the win near the end of the last day. 

With both 7-foot 6-inch medium-light-power, extra-fast-action Legend Elite and Legend Xtreme rods in their hands, the two-man team would lip hook the minnows with a size-2 octopus-style single hook and drift along the steep breaklines with homemade ¾- and 1-ounce slip sinkers five feet ahead of an 8-pound-test monofilament leader.

The sensitivity of the Legend Elite and Legend Xtreme rods was fundamental in hooking the fickle ‘eyes while rigging, as well. Like when snap-jigging, the fish would suck up and then spit out the minnow with one flare of their gills. Every fish caught was telegraphed as the minnow started panicking when a fish was eyeing them up, which allowed the anglers to prepare to set the hook. 

“I’ve made it to the MWC’s World Walleye Championship every year since I started, but the win was the one thing that had eluded me until this year,” Skarlis said. “I had it in my grasp several times, but it always slipped away. I truly believe Jeff and I could not have done it without using St. Croix’s rods. There’s not a finer rod built. And to this I owe them a debt of gratitude. 

About St. Croix Rod
St. Croix Rod is a family-owned manufacturer of high-performance graphite and fiberglass fishing rods headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin. The company offers a complete line of premium, American-made fly, spinning and casting rods under their Legend Elite,® Legend Ultra,® Legend Tournament,® Avid Series,® Premier,® Wild River,® Tidemaster,® and other trademarks through a global distribution network of full-service fishing tackle dealers. The company’s mid-priced Triumph,® Mojo, Imperial® and Rio Santo series rods are designed and engineered in Park Falls, Wisconsin and built in a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Fresnillo, Mexico. Founded in 1948 to manufacture jointed bamboo fishing poles for a Minneapolis hardware store chain, St. Croix has grown to become the largest manufacturer of fishing rods in North America.
Photo by courtesy St. Croix