My 2002 Championship Win, Start to Finish, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series covering Keith Kavajecz’s win of the prestigious 2002 PWT Championship, in his own words. In this installment, Keith talks about his pre-fishing days leading up to the Championship.

On Sept. 14 at about 6:30 PM, I was awarded the title of Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) 2002 Walleye Champion in front of thousands of screaming walleye fans at the Bismarck ND Civic center. So here’s how it went – start to finish.

Pre-Fish Day One.


After hearing some rumors of fish being caught at the North Dakota/South Dakota border (the furthest south tournament boundary), I decided to start pre-fishing there. A fellow PWT angler Jimmy “Big Fish” Klick joined me. We started fishing the “hot tip technique” a bottom bouncer crawler in 8 to 12 feet of water. After a long pass with no success, Jimmy pitched a small jig minnow up shallow and caught a nice keeper – we figured in 4 or 5 feet of water. I slid the boat in a little shallower and Jimmy struck again – nice one (maybe 18 incher). Slid in shallower and we both started to catch “nice” keepers. The problem was it was slow covering water.

The next move was to put on the cranks and try to cover some water. Jointed Shad rap, #5 Shad Raps, Tail Dancers, RS Shad Raps, Baby ThunderSticks were all pulled – big winners #5 Chartreuse Shad Raps on FireLine, #5 Jointed Shad Raps on Iron Silk and #4 Jointed Shad Raps on lead core.  We ended up catching 14 weigh fish that day, including 2 over 20 inches, most in 4 to 6 feet. It was my best pre-fishing day ever at Bismarck.

Pre-Fish Day Two.

Back to the state line – fishing with a VIP partner that was assigned by the PWT. I should mention that Gary Parsons, Rick Olson (Ole) and I work together during tournaments to try to wire patterns. So we split up sections of the reservoir and started working the old Missouri River channel. Most of the fish were caught at the very top of the channel edge – usually 6 to 8 foot next to the sharp drop into 25 foot plus channel. I was trying to run as many rods as possible, so had two rods spread in outside rod holders. One with Iron Silk mono and one with 10-4 FireLine. I also had two rods down the middle of the boat with 18# Magibraid Lead Core and a ten foot leader of 10-4 FireLine. I was using Bass Pro Walleye Angler Signature Series 8&1/2 foot trolling rods with the Bass Pro Gold Cup reels.

One thing that started to become pretty clear was that the Jointed Shad raps were the most consistent – and it seemed the lead core setup was the best because you could control the crank baits depth by varying the speed. For example, with 60 total feet out,  (10 of FireLine and almost 2 colors of lead), at 3.1 mph the baits would run about 4 feet, at 1.8 mph they would go about 8 feet because the lead core could pull them down further at the slower speed. Also the #4 Jointed Shad Raps worked better than the larger #5 because they did not seem to get snagged as much – the smaller hooks seemed to bounce off of more trees (which there were plenty of on the channel edge). Interestingly, even though the fish were biting in less then 8 feet, the kicker engine did not seem to spook them.

The last thing I found that day was that even in the shallow water my Lowrance X-16 could mark fish. Most of them weren’t walleyes – we were catching 75 to 100 white bass a day – but after a while I realized that if I wasn’t marking some type of fish – I wasn’t going to catch any walleyes. That turned out to be critical for the tournament – it told me “when to stay and when to go”.

Pre-Fish Day Three.

Got a little late start, as I had to wait to call Bass Pro to get some more XPS Jigs, and call Rapala to beg/borrow/ or steal some more Jointed Shad Raps. Jimmy Klick was back in the boat and we decided to try the “river” section of the tournament boundaries. The current was great, the water clarity was great, the weather was rotten (soaking rain all day) and the fishing was, well – OK.
We dragged 3 ways in current cuts, vertical jigged in channel areas and pitched jigs up shallow. Final tally – 4 weigh fish 14”, 15”, 15”, 19”, all pitching shallow. So except for the 19” fish, nothing spectacular. Plus, I had found in past years that if the Corp of Engineers messed with the water levels at all (especially dropping them), the shallow water bite would go bad real quick. More than anything, this day kind of got the river out of my head – I’d be heading south for the tournament.

Pre-Fish Day Four.

Each day we drove our trucks 35 to 70 miles one way to get to the boat ramps down beautiful, hilly SD Hwy 1804. That paid a toll on Gary’s transmission as it started to blow out transmission fluid – of course I had no problems because I don’t run my stuff as hard as himJ. So Gary hopped in my boat while his rig was getting fixed and off we went back to the state line area. We checked more channel edges and found one stretch that seemed to hold some 15 and 16 inchers. That gave us about 6 “areas” that were producing – each 1 to 2 miles long. Ole had a couple more, so we had plenty of “spots” to fish for the tournament and the pattern seemed to be holding.

Pre-Fish Day Five.

Last day of pre-fishing, we had to be off the water at 1:00, so we decided to “run” the river from Hazelton (the official launch ramp) down to the state line. Now, I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the river was treacherous. The water levels (especially 10 miles down from the ramp) were at the lowest levels we’ve seen (this was our 6th tournament at Bismarck). Not only that but the current was moving fast so it would dig out new channels and deposit new sand bars daily.

On the lower end of the river, instead of worrying about sand, you had to dodge stumps and sticks that had reared their ugly heads as the water levels were at all time lows. This uncovered countless “land mines” or more appropriately “water mines”. After a while the strategy for running the timber turned to “If you can’t see it, it can’t hurt you”, a strategy I learned running the backwaters of the Mississippi when I lived in Rochester, MN. It worked most of the time.
Up to this point I had only got “stuck” twice. (“Stuck” being defined as times when you strip down to your underwear and push the boat off the mud). I had only grazed some water mines, so all was good – of course I hadn’t run the entire length of the river yet.
You might remember that last year I won the prestigious “Golden Shovel Award”. It is presented to the angler who scores highest in 3 categories: most speed hitting a sand bar, furthest up on a sand bar, and longest time spent on a sand bar. Last year on navigation day (one day before pre-fishing) I hit a sand bar that “appeared” during the day at 55 mph. I skipped up on up on it 200 feet (we know this because I had to buy a 200 foot cable to reach it with another boat). Then I  had to leave the boat on the bar overnight in order to recruit 8 guys to push and while 3 boats lined up nose to tail to pull. Needless to say, I was a little worried about making a 50 mile run – twice a day – this year.
Anyway, we made it all the way down and back. While running I put in about 100 Icons on my Lowrance GPS so I could follow the trail each tournament day. I guess I was ready.