March 2006 10 / OutdoorIllinois March 2006 OutdoorIllinois / 11
Kaczkowski, executive director of the
MWC and an active outdoor writer,
learned of the fine Illinois River sauger
fishing from the late John Husar of the
Chicago Tribune. The two linked up
and the rest is history.
In 1984 MWC meant Manufacturers
Walleye Council. Kaczkowski didn’t like
the original name but wanted to keep
the MWC logo, so it was agreed to
change it to the Masters Walleye Circuit.
When Guerrini and the business owners
became involved in 1987, the communi-ty
ran the tournaments, taking care of
registration, payments, rules, decisions
and media contacts.
The Masters Walleye Circuit celebrates 20 years on the
Illinois River and claims fame as the oldest consecutively run
professional walleye tournament remaining in the country.
Why do nationally known out-door
writers, fishermen and
experts declare the Peoria
pool of the Illinois River the
“Sauger Capital of the
World?” A combination of a successfully
run walleye fishing tournament and an
innovative conservation program have
put Spring Valley on the map.
Twenty years ago Bill Guerrini, then
president of the Spring Valley Busi-ness
Owners Association, was looking
for a project to promote the communi-ty.
At the same time, Bob “Kaz”
In 1990, the Spring Valley Walleye
Club was founded by the local fisher-men
who had run the three previous
events and they took over the responsi-bility
of the tournaments. Guerrini
remains the Club’s executive director.
The North American Membership
Group, the world’s largest lifestyle affini-ty
club and media corporation, pur-chased
the MWC in 2001 giving the
tournament an infusion of media and
Kristine Houtman, present director of
the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit
said: “The Spring Valley Walleye Club
leaders did such a great job with the tour-nament
that it became the standard other
locations strived for. The strength of the
Story and Photos
By Debb Ladgenski
With its March 2006 anniversary, the
MWC Spring Valley tournament
becomes the oldest consecutively run
professional walleye tournament
remaining in the country.
“With the entry fees increasing and
the field size consistently high, the
Spring Valley tournament has one of the
highest team format payouts—and a win
carries great honor in the industry,”
Has the MWC Spring Valley tourna-ment
benefited the community as orga-nizers
envisioned? Over the years
anglers have spent thousands of dollars
in the Illinois Valley area. MWC and
walleye club monies have been used to
dredge the river, improving the Barto
Landing Launch facilities and kept its
usage free. These highlights, coupled
with the restocking, undoubtedly fulfilled
Summing it up, Houtman said, “Good
fishing, community support and sold-out
attendance makes Spring Valley a desti-nation
that we want to come back to
each year. I feel that the Cabela’s
Spring Valley MWC tournament is the
Daytona 500 of walleye fishing.”
entire club—an active volunteer group—
really makes everything run so smoothly.”
But what made Spring Valley such a
prime location for a walleye fishing tour-nament?
At the same time the Spring
Valley MWC was becoming established,
efforts to clean up the Illinois River and a
restocking research program by South-ern
Illinois University were taking place.
Pollution and angling exploitation
had contributed to the collapse of the
sauger and walleye population in the
“Some of the first fish sampled in the
1980s were mutilated, had open sores,
scoliosis and signs of water pollution,”
stated Ed Hansen manager of the
Department of Natural Resources’
(DNR) LaSalle Hatchery.
Bringing anglers and researchers
together has created a model, volun-teer-
led program that has re-established
the sauger population to the Illinois
River. Tournament-caught fish are kept
in roomy, plastic bins and water-filled
raceways until final judging. After trans-port
to the LaSalle Hatchery, milt and
eggs are stripped from the fish and then
fish are returned to the river.
“It’s a win-win situation,” boasted
To date, the DNR Illinois River tour-nament
restocking project has produced
61 million fry (1 inch or less) and 5 mil-lion
fingerlings (2 inches or more).
Restocking efforts have not been lim-ited
to the Illinois River. The Des Plaines
River and Carlyle and Springfield lakes
have profited, and sauger milt has been
shipped to Indiana, Oklahoma, Colorado
and Pennsylvania, producing millions of
saugeye for sport fishing opportunities
throughout the nation.
“Colorado also has participated in an
exchange program with the state,”
Hansen went on to say. “They give wall-eye
fry to other Illinois fisheries to con-tinue
“Both MWC corporate and MWC
anglers love working with the local com-munity
and fishery officials to make the
Illinois Run the best possible fishing it
can be,” stated Houtman.
Another often overlooked advantage
of the Spring Valley MWC tournament
was the introduction of the MWC Con-servation
Fund, now named the Bob
and Bev Kaczkowski MWC Conserva-tion
Fund in recognition for the years the
Kaczkowskis served as executive direc-tors.
Monies raised from a portion of
every entry fee and direct contributions
are returned to each tournament site for
programs ranging from fish stocking and
fish telemetry to construction or recon-struction
of launch sites and dam
repairs. And each year, nearly $5,000 in
equipment has been donated to the
Debb Ladgenski is the economic direc-tor
for the City of Spring Valley.
Kristine Houtman, director of the Cabela’s MWC,
announces winning weight totals at the 2005
Spring Valley Tournament.
The weather in late March is unpredictable. One
year, Saturday dawned with wind chills of 5
degrees, and by 4 p.m. the temperature was 55
degrees. The following day, the temperature was
in the 70s, but a blizzard broke out during clean-up.
Another year, anglers were met with 70 mph
wind gusts and 5-foot waves.
The success of the 20-year history of the
Cabela’s MWC tournament in Spring Valley can
be attributed to former directors, Bill Guerrini
(left) and Bob “Kaz” Kaczkowski. Their dedica-tion
and hard work has resulted in an unbeaten
partnership between the community, anglers and
the Department of Natural Resources.
MWC and SV Walleye Club monies have been
used for river dredging, making improvements to
the Barto Landing Launch facilities and keeping its
usage free for everyone.
(Photo by Spring Valley Walleye Club.)
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