The challenge was figuring out how to divide their time between the two types of fishing, which require vastly different approaches.
Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Mo., and Mike Gofron of Antioch, Ill., leaned heavy on the bass side to win gold medals Saturday in the inaugural Freshwater Doubles competition.
"Coming into this thing, I thought the walleye bite was going to be tough," Gofron said. "I really felt like we had to concentrate on bass." Brauer, the 1998 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion and the all-time BASS money winner, took Gofron's suggestion and ran with it.
Gofron, the No. 2 all-time money winner on the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail, supplied a limit of walleye on the first day of competition. With Brauer putting the team on bass limits both competition days, they ended up with 30 pounds, 5 ounces, to capture gold medals.
"We had a pattern and stuck with it," Brauer said.
Mike Iaconelli, the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion from Runnemeade, N.J., and Bill Ortiz, the 2003 PWT Angler of the Year from Dodgeville, Wis., jumped from fourth place to silver medals with a two-day weight 24-14. The team had Saturday's heaviest catch at 13-4, which included three bass and a walleye.
Gerald Swindle of Hayden, Ala., the reigning CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year, and Dan Plautz of Muskego, Wis., the 2003 PWT champion, dropped one place Saturday with a 23-8 total to earn bronze medals.
Six teams of pros, one each from the BASS and PWT circuits, fished together for two days on the Madison Chain of Lakes, which includes Mendota and Menona lakes and several smaller bodies of water connected by canals.
Freshwater Doubles rules allowed anglers to catch three walleye and three largemouth or smallmouth bass on each day of competition. Varying size restrictions for the walleye and a no-culling rule for bass forced anglers to make difficult decisions. Once a fisherman put a bass in the livewell, he had to keep it for the rest of the day.
"It was kind of a strategy game," Brauer said. "You had to throw back some fish that you might normally keep. It was just a gamble you had to take." It didn't hurt that Gofron led the team to a limit of walleye on the first day, including a nearly 5-pound walleye that was the biggest of the tournament. They trolled a ridge in 20 feet of water for the first day's walleye limit.
For their first bass limit, Brauer put the team on a contour line in 10 feet of water on Friday, when largemouths turned on strong behind a series of thunderstorms that moved through the area.
"When that system hit, the fish went absolutely stark, raving crazy," Brauer said. "It was almost a fish on every cast." Conditions turned tougher Saturday, when the previous day's rain and cloud cover gave way to blue skies and bright sunshine. Brauer and Gofron targeted fish in 2 to 5 feet of water around boat docks.
"They really weren't wanting to bite, but if they'd react before they knew what was going on, we did pretty well," Brauer said.
Brauer and Gofron used half-ounce, blue and black Strike King jigs, picking up most of their strikes as the jig dropped to the bottom.
"If they didn't hit it on the way down, you just brought it right back in and did it again," Brauer said.
But the team's best bass on the final day, a chunky smallmouth, came when the pair was trolling for walleye.
Another key was covering a lot of water, Brauer said.
"It reminded me of two machines going down a dock pier fishing for bass," Gofron said. "We worked well together."
Iaconelli and Ortiz made their turnaround by fishing for bass on the outside edge of weeds, specifically targeting areas where rock piles made a break in the vegetation. Iaconelli and Ortiz also had Saturday's heaviest walleye at 4-3.
"That one fish took us from fourth to second," Iaconelli said.
Many anglers said the best thing about the Freshwater Doubles format was learning more about one another's sports. Brauer said when he returns home to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, he'll put to use some of the knowledge imparted to him by Gofron.
Gofron said he'll probably do more bass fishing, too.
"Denny taught me a lot," he said. "I will definitely apply it when I'm on vacation next time."
Admission to the Great Outdoor Games is free. The Games will be televised on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC from July 14 through July 19.
Top outdoor athletes from around the world compete for entry into the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, held in Madison, Wis. July 8-11. The ultimate championship of outdoor sports features one-of-a-kind, head-to-head competition in timber and target events, sporting dogs, and fishing. While entertaining large crowds on site, the ESPN Great Outdoor Games also draws a worldwide television audience airing on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC Sports.
The Games are sponsored by Dodge, Miller Brewing Co., Stihl Inc., Valvoline Durablend, CITGO, Eukanuba, Johnsonville Brats, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Tinactin, and Beretta USA Corp.
For additional information, contact ESPN Outdoors Communications at 608.256.1463 or visit www.espnoutdoorsmedia.com.