TRAVERSE CITY — Scott Rhodes and Jeff Koester are back on top.
The duo captured the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit’s season-opener over the weekend in Spring Valley, Ill.
Rhodes, who resides in Interlochen, and Koester, who lives in Indiana, finished the two-day, artificial-only tournament with a catch of 26 pounds, 4 ounces — more than two pounds ahead of Wisconsin’s Heath Bohman and Minnesota’s Gordy Powers.
The catch was also nearly eight pounds better than last year’s winner in this tournament on the Illinois River.
For Rhodes and Koester, it was their fourth win on the circuit, but first since 2008.
“It sort of validates our existence again,” Rhodes said.
The two-person teams — 89 in all — were allowed to weigh five walleyes, saugers or saugeyes per day. Rhodes and Koester went to the top of the leaderboard the first day with a catch of 14 pounds, 6 ounces. The take included a 4-pound, 15-ounce walleye — the largest of the tournament.
“It’s a sauger fishery,” Rhodes said. “There’s a small population of walleyes that are in it. The walleyes tend to be large by their standards, but not large by our standards on the Great Lakes. Our weight for the two days was the heaviest they’ve had in five years.”
The two came in with a catch of just under 12 pounds on Sunday.
“That’s always the challenge in tournament fishing, putting two days together,” Rhodes said. “We’ve had many (tournaments) where we’ve had a great first day, been right up there, and then fell on our faces the second day.”
Rhodes, who just turned 50, said the strategy both days was “to get five fish in the box, regardless of size,” as soon as possible.
“We wanted to take the pressure off,” he said. “Without catching five, you don’t have a chance. You have to make sure you get your limit.”