BAUDETTE, Minn. – Lake of the Woods, known to many as the Walleye Capital of the World, delivered in a big way on day one of the 2018 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship. Leading the star-studded field is Wisconsin pro Robert Blosser, the two-time Angler of the Year. At his first spot this morning, Blosser caught a 9-pound pig and spent the rest of the day cobbling together four nice unders. The end result was a 17.75-pound stringer and the day-one lead at the biggest event in walleye fishing.
In practice, Blosser was confident that he could catch quality unders. However, he wasn’t sure if an over was realistic or not.
“I thought I had a chance at a good over, but I’m not on a huge pod of overs,” explained the pro leader. “The day really went the opposite way. I caught the big one early in the morning; she was my first fish in the box. But I struggled to get quality unders.”
In this event, all walleyes between 19 1/2 and 28 inches must be released. Anglers are allowed to keep one walleye over 28 inches in length, hence the term “over.” Likewise, fish less than 19 1/2 inches are called “unders” or “slots.”
Blosser was mainly focused on unders, but he knew big fish were mixed in.
Blosser acknowledged that he’s targeting Lake of the Woods’ deep mud bite.
“I’m pulling leadcore and using pretty decent-sized baits. I’m also using the new JT Outdoors Ascendant Trolling Rods. I’m able to see the bait work and see subtle bites. I know exactly where my bait is going to be.”
After catching the 29 1/2-incher, Blosser hopped around for his unders. He finished the day with one perfect under at 19 1/4, one 18-incher and two skinny 17-inchers. In total, he boated approximately 25 legal walleyes.
Coming into the championship, many pros surmised that an over each day would be necessary to win the three-day event. Blosser is unsure and feels unders are equally important.
“I think two overs in three days will probably do it. It’s possible to catch 12 pounds of just solid unders. But if you don’t have the solid unders, you’re going to need three overs. Overall, I just love championships because you’re not fishing for points. I promise I won’t be playing it safe the next two days.”
Olsons occupy second and third
In second place with 17.71 pounds is Thompson, N.D., rookie Michael Olson. While Olson lives three hours from Lake of the Woods, it has become his home away from home.
“This is the lake that I cut my teeth on,” Olson said. “I’ve fished several tournaments here, and I’ve learned to love the lake. When the schedule came out last year around this time, I decided to take the leap of faith.”
“Today I caught two overs in the first two passes. One was 28 1/4, and the other was 29 1/4. I feel that I have two real bite windows, and the first bite window is the most crucial.”
After getting an over, Olson targets his unders in a completely different location. Throughout practice and day one, he’s been averaging around 25-plus fish per day.
“We’re trolling leadcore, but that’s about all I can say for now. I was a little worried going out this morning with the wind switch. I was very happy to see my fish were still there. With calmer winds, I foresee more big fish being caught tomorrow. It’s a good start, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”
The other Olson is veteran tournament pro Rick Olson, who sits in third with 17.51 pounds. The Mina, S.D., angler is competing in the last event of his storied career.
“This is my last hurrah, and I’m really hoping to go out on top,” said the 61-year-old Olson. “I had a really good practice; I had an over pretty much every day. But it’s still scary whether you get one or not. I’ve been getting a lot of 26s and 27s. But crossing the 28-inch line is much more difficult.”
“I’m trolling all leadcore, but I’m using different baits for the overs. I’m basically using bigger baits for the bigger fish. I’m also fishing different areas. After catching the big one this morning, I ran to my best slot spot, but they disappeared. I had a spot where I thought I could catch 19-inchers. I spent over two hours looking for them, but I could never reconnect with those fish. Instead I hopped around and slowly upgraded all day.”
Shimota fourth, Carroll fifth
Rounding out the top five are heavyweight pros Bill Shimota and Jim Carroll. Shimota, the Northfield, Minn., river rat, caught a limit worth 16.91 pounds.
“I didn’t go out knowing for sure that I’d get an over, but I knew I had a pretty good chance,” Shimota said. “My plan was to be aggressive and fish for an over until I got one. Thankfully I caught an 8-pounder around 10:15 this morning.”
Shimota explained that the key to his success was making short passes and paying keen attention to his Lowrance StuctureScan 3D.
“I’m using all leadcore, both for slots and for big fish.”
Carroll, the Minot, N.D., pro, fresh off a third-place finish at Devils Lake, managed five keepers that weighed 16.50 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2018 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship on Lake of the Woods:
6th: Ed Stachowski of Canton, Mich., five fish, 16.45
7th: Nick Schertz of Tomahawk, Wis., five fish, 15.79
8th: Rich Mealey of Westerville, Ohio, five fish, 15.60
9th: Chris Gilman of Chisago City, Minn., five fish, 15.53
10th: Josh Vanderweide of Jenison, Mich., five fish, 15.08
After the first day of the championship, the Angler of the Year race has a new unofficial leader. Brett King, who came into the event third, is now leading with 742 points. Sitting two points behind King is Tom Kemos. In third place with 737 points is Joe Okada, who came into the championship with a slight lead.
The second day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the championship field takes off from Wheelers Point in Baudette. The day-two weigh-in will take place at Sportsman’s Lodge, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each of the first two days and is cut to the top 10 for the third and final day with the winner being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.