September 17th and 18th marked the third qualifier and final stop of the professional musky tournament trail (PMTT) before the world championship tournament. Qualifier number three was right here in Madison, WI. 98 boats participated, and we fished against some of the best muskie anglers in the world. If I told you that I was excited Friday night before the tournament started, that would be an understatement. And if I told you that you needed to catch a 48” muskie just to place in the top 10, you would think I was lying.
Friday night at 5100 Bar in McFarland, WI was the start of the weekend muskie festivities. The pre-tournament meeting was held at 7pm after team registration. There you would find a room full of avid and talented anglers waiting to take their best shot at catching $14,000 worth of muskies. Anglers came into Madison from all over the US, most of which being surrounding Midwest states. Some of those anglers were local sticks that had years of knowledge on the fishery. While some of the multiple event competitors had only fished Madison Chain once or not at all. After the tournament director gave a quick rundown of the rules and dismissed us, it was time to go home and try to get a good night’s sleep (it never happens) before the 7am start time the next morning.
Fishing this muskie tournament was my first time fishing a PMTT event. I had fished several other local muskie tournaments, but not one of this magnitude. The entry fee was $600 per boat (each boat had a team of 2 people) and the top 10 finishes earn money based on a percentage of the total registered boats. The preparation for this tournament was very similar to many of the other bass tournaments I had fished. The day before usually entails several hours of gear and equipment maintenance and inspection, and if I’m being honest, a few good beers. Once the boat was loaded with all the freshly sharpened lures, spooled reels, and organized rods, it was time to finalize a game plan with my tournament fishing partner, Noah Humfeld.
For those that do not know, I fish exclusively out of a 23’ luxury Sylvan Fishn’ Cruise pontoon, equipped with a 40HP four stroke Mercury motor, 112# Terrova with Auto-Pilot link, and a 859 HDDI Humminbird at the helm. This fishing tank also features premium seats, ample storage, and superior boat stability in any condition. This may be jaw dropping for a few tournament anglers, but I assure you this is by choice and not by circumstance. Now the only part of my rig that actually impacted my tournament strategy was my outboard. With only a 40HP motor, my top end speed is about 14mph (with two guys and gear). This speed put a limit on how many spots I could effectively fish in the given tournament hours due to transit time. Despite the added strategic consideration, we decided to focus on one spot, and work it thoroughly, contrary to the other tournament strategy of “running and gunning.”
We spent most of our time both days of the tournament on the same lake as the tournament headquarters (Lake Waubesa). We had several weeks of pre-fishing and had determined a few key areas that were continuously producing nice size fish. We had a plan, and we stuck to it, but we could not fathom the mental fatigue that ensues from fishing the same small area for 15 hours. The combination of not seeing a single muskie the entire first day of the tournament and also watching many other boats catch fish right next to us was taxing. The silver lining was that despite our lack of success, seeing others produce nice fish right next to us meant we had chose the right area.
After an exhausting day one, we returned to the 5100 Bar for the half-time tournament update. We had a tough day, but many others caught plenty of quality fish. The 1st place team after day one caught 2 fish (40.5” & 48”) and the 10th Place team boated 1 fish (44”).
For frame of reference, the scoring system is a total points score for the team, with each fish having a designated number of points based on the length of the fish. For example a 30” muskie is worth 14 points. Then the point value goes up by 1 for every 0.25” until the next tens place is reached. Example being a 40” muskie is worth 54 points. You then add points together for multiple fish, thus creating a total points score. With this system, one large muskie over 40” would beat out two 30” muskies based on total points. You also get points for good (healthy) release of all fish caught. You also get disqualified from fishing that day for a muskie that fails to survive or be released successfully. Conservation is vital to the preservation of the sport, and I was happy to see this principle incorporated into the tournament rules.
We returned to the dock both physically and mentally exhausted. At the awards ceremony we were slightly relieved to hear that we were not the only boat that struggled to even see fish on the second day. However just like day one, plenty of people caught some prize wining fish. Day two saw a leader board change and many more fish over 45” boated from the Madison Chain. The winners took home just shy of $14,000 and caught three muskies (47.25”, 40.5”, & 36.25”) for a total of 209 points. 10th place overall was a team that caught one muskie (48”) for a total of 96 points.
The overall experience fishing the PMTT Madison Chain event was excellent. The tournament was fun and well hosted. Keyes Outdoors was there to fish and also film the event. Check them out on YouTube or on TV. The number and size of fish that were caught was astounding and is a strong testament to the DNR and Capital City chapter of Muskies Inc stocking and conservation efforts over the past several years. The number of 50” fish will be increasing every year, and the outlook for Madison, WI fishing is bright. The best years for muskie fishing here in Madison are yet to come.
For more information on tournament muskie fishing, check out the PMTT website. For more interviews and muskie media from the event, check out the muskie section of outdoorsFirst.com