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Todd and Edie Wilkinson caught the only limit to win the Starboard Choice Big Bass Challenge on the St. Joseph River at Constantine Sunday.

The winners had 7 pounds, 15 ounces caught on a toad, Texas-rigged craw and a jig in 8 feet of water.

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Top finishers in the Arjay’s Weeknight Circuit event at Coldwater Lake last week made it a family affair.

The tournament drew 22 boats and four of the top five teams consisted of family members.

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Michigan River WalleyeIf results from the recent Michiana Walleye Association (MWA) tournament were an indication of how the St. Joseph River has responded to stocking efforts, the answer is “very well!”

Thirteen teams competed on the stretch between Twin Branch and Elkhart during the eight-hour event. They caught 70 legal walleyes measuring 15 inches or bigger, not to mention more than 250 sub-legal walleyes.

That’s pretty darn impressive when you consider that state stocking efforts have fallen off the past decade and walleye fishing was on the downswing.

That’s why the local walleye club stepped up the past few years to help pick up the slack. The club annually conducts fund-raisers to help buy walleyes from a private hatchery to supplement the DNR’s stocking. Every nickel the club raises goes back into the river.

And that’s what made last week’s tournament so rewarding.

“The numbers were very impressive and the fish were extremely healthy,” said MWA spokesman Ed Szymczak. “We hope other anglers will help us conserve this fishery and carefully return most of the fish they catch.”

The club practices catch-and-release during tournaments, which means its fish swim away after weigh-ins.

Last week’s tournament didn’t produce any giants, but the number of keeper fish caught was impressive.

Shawn Kintigh (Goshen) and Doug Burkhead (Osceola) took the top prize ($248) with five fish weighing 9.09 pounds. They caught their fish on jigs with curly tail grubs while working them up and down the breaks in the 7- to 16-foot depths.

Barry Ukele (Mishawaka) and Don Shelton (Berrien Center, Mich.) were second with 7.99 pounds caught on crawlers rigged on gold hooks and split shot along a 12-foot break leading into deeper water.

Third place went to Carl Schnaible (Mishawaka) and Robert Stutzman (Mishawaka) with 7.90 pounds caught in 8 feet of water on jigs and crawlers near the bottom. Steven Szymczak (Osceola) and Jordan Felton (Osceola) won big fish honors ($240) with a 2.40-pound walleye caught in 13 feet while dragging a jig and crawler.

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