MARINETTE, Wis. – Giant stringers were predicted at the 2017 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship and Green Bay delivered on day one. Leading the charge at the premier event in professional walleye fishing is Triton pro Tommy Kemos, who had no qualms about his presentation. After a long run up north, Kemos “shivered” his way to a 46.49-pound stringer and nearly a 4-pound lead.
“I had a phenomenal practice,” said the 2014 Lucas Oil Angler of the Year. “After the first day of practice, I wanted the tournament to start the next day. It sounds crazy, but I honestly would have been disappointed with much less than that. Everything came together with the pattern I’m fishing.”
For those not aware of the latest craze in walleye fishing, casting has overtaken traditional trolling as the most popular way to put Green Bay pigs in the boat. Kemos said he used a Moonshine Lures Shiver Minnow to catch his megasack, one of the more popular casting baits on the market.
“The spots I’m hitting are where the fish live. It’s just a matter of getting the right cast on them. I got on them early in practice, and that gave me the advantage of getting dialed in on color. That’s important because as soon as the light changes, their color preferences change. Today we were done at about 1:30 p.m. That was only our fifth fish, so we had one to play with, but we decided to play it safe. My wife still hasn’t forgiven me for last year at the championship when I was six or seven minutes late on day two and it cost me (making) the cut. Realistically, the best I could have upgraded today was 2 pounds. And I could’ve lost those fish and incurred a penalty.”
After his long run north, Kemos sampled both the east and west sides of the bay. When the weather is calm, he can see the walleyes on his electronics as he casts to them.
“The tournament will be won off one of the areas I’m fishing. I’m just hoping I’m the one that wins it.”
Walleye fans may remember Kemos and his teammates Chase Parsons, Gary Parsons, and Keith Kavajecz first introduced casting at the 2014 NWT event on Bays de Noc. Kemos described his day-one pattern as “very similar” to what occurred three years ago. Kemos is so confident in his casting program that he took the trolling rods out of his boat and even removed the kicker engine.
“The only problem is that with the weather that’s forecasted, there’s a pretty good chance I’m not going to get back up to my spot.”
Chase Parsons, the son of Gary Parsons, sits in second place with 42.79 pounds. Parsons, like Kemos, is adept at the Shiver Minnow casting game. He’s using the same pattern as Kemos, but the two are fishing roughly 10 miles apart.
“We had nine bites and caught seven fish today. We’re fishing a rock stretch that’s not as wind dependent as you might think. Both my co-angler and I used the Shiver Minnow. Tommy was the one who figured out the pattern, and quite frankly, we just tried to expand on it.”
Parsons explained that his spots don’t possess huge numbers of fish, but if you get a bite, it’s likely over 7 pounds and there’s a good chance it’s 8-plus.
“I feel like I have a chance at winning this tournament. It’s funny to say that though because I know Tommy’s fishing the same type of stuff. And the guys behind me have won big on the bay.
Okada and Sprengel are two of the best sticks on Green Bay.”
Even if the weather gets rough, Parsons is committed to casting.
“We’ve caught them casting in 6-footers. At no time in the five days of practice did we use a trolling rod – not for one second. It’s crazy how Green Bay has transformed into a caster’s paradise. The only thing that makes me concerned is getting there.”
Okada mixing it up
In third place is Cambridge, Wis., pro Joe Okada with five walleyes weighing 42.49 pounds. Like Kemos and Parsons, Okada is casting. But he’s also mixing in some periodic trolling.
“I basically pretended it was a one-day tournament and it worked,” said Okada. “With the forecast, we may or may not be fishing later this week.”
Okada started and ended his day trolling. When he casts, he targets specific spots with Rippin’ Raps, Shiver Minnows, and other vertical baits.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary.”
Okada too is making a long run north. He explained that while the overall biomass on the northern end is lower, the walleyes are bigger on average.
“I’m only getting three to six bites per day. It sounds cliché to swing for the fence, but these are areas where you don’t get many bites. I just have a good comfort zone up there.”
Sprengel fourth, Arnoldussen fifth
Rounding out the top five are heavyweight pros Korey Sprengel and Dean Arnoldussen. Sprengel, the winner of the 2014 NWT Championship on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago, caught a limit worth 41.92 pounds. Arnoldussen, the Appleton, Wis., veteran, managed five keepers that weighed 39.89 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2017 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship on Green Bay:
6th: Nick Schertz of Tomahawk, Wis., five fish, 38.44
7th: Jay Epping of Blaine, Minn., five fish, 37.06
8th: Mark Courts of Harris, Minn., five fish, 36.31
9th: Gary Parsons of Glidden, Wis., five fish, 36.05
10th: Max Wilson of Wales, Wis., five fish, 34.23
The second day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the championship field takes off from Menekaunee Harbor in Marinette. The day-two weigh-in will also take place at Menekaunee Harbor, 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.