BAY CITY, Mich. – While Brett King lives on the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin, he’s learned to love the open waters of Green Bay. Lake Michigan is where King perfected his trolling skills, but lately he’s been fine tuning a new technique. Instead of covering vast amounts of water with crankbaits or spinners, King has mastered the hottest technique in walleye fishing – casting. King proved this week on Saginaw Bay that casting can be applied not just on Lake Michigan, but also on Lake Huron. After two days, 10 walleyes and nearly 50 pounds, King reigned the second Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event of the 2018 season.
At the conclusion of the day-one weigh-in, King had an inkling that the stars were aligning. He had a productive area to himself, the right bait, and most importantly, the right conditions to make a long run and fish specific rock structure precisely.
After an 80-mile trek, King arrived at his first spot, located on the west side of the outer bay, just before 9 a.m. By 10:30, he had four walleyes in the box, but only two were quality fish. With the bite on his primary area shutting down, he left at 11:45 to fish deeper rock piles. Those proved to be unproductive, and King knew he was going to have to improvise fast.
“With this crazy program, I wanted to be out of there and heading back by 1:30 p.m.,” said the Hager City, Wis., pro. “So I went to spot No. 3 and caught my fifth fish, which was about a 4-pounder. That gave me about 18 or 19 pounds, which I knew wasn’t going to cut it.”
“At that point, I decided to fish a hump I never touched on day one. I figured if nothing else, it’s on the way back. In practice, I caught a few 3- and 4-pounders there. I can’t remember if it was my first or second cast, but I caught a 7-pounder that culled out a 2-pounder. On my very next cast, I caught one over 6 pounds. I fished for about five more minutes, and at 1:30, I decided to head in.”
King said the reason he chose to venture so far away from Bay City was quality. Other anglers were catching dozens of walleyes, but most were in the 12- to 19-inch range. But even in the best conditions, the run was treacherous and required a fuel stop.
“I knew if I could go up there and get five bites, it would beat anything I had going anywhere else. Yesterday, I literally caught five. Today, I caught seven.”
Earlier in practice, King managed over 25 pounds trolling crankbaits. While it was closer than his winning area, he was never able to expand or duplicate his trolling success.
“I just about got lead astray by the trolling bite. But when I saw the weather forecast, I decided I was going casting. I just always feel more comfortable with a rod in my hand. I’ve pitched so many jigs and blade baits on the river. It’s my Zen; it’s what I love to do. If at all possible, this is how I want to fish in a tournament. You’re not trolling a basin. You’re working a specific target. That’s just where I’m comfortable.”
King’s casting bait of choice was the No. 7 Rapala Rippin’ Rap. His best colors were Chrome Blue and Chrome Green.
“Most of the time my boat would sit in 20 to 24 feet, and the top of the pile would be in the mid-teens where they were relating to a specific type of rock. These clear-water fish were skittish, so we’d make long casts. Then, we’d let it hit bottom and rip it back up. When you’re limited on time, you’ve got to fish clean.”
The walleyes were chomping gobies on all of King’s best spots. Unlike Green Bay, the Saginaw gobies would not hit King’s Rippin’ Rap.
“If I got a bite, it was almost a guarantee that it was a walleye over 3 pounds. Occasionally, it was a lake trout, and today I caught two smallmouths for the first time. Knowing it was a walleye made it really fun. Plus, Saginaw Bay has such a clean bottom. It’s an awesome place to cast.”
King said the key to his first NWT victory was playing the conditions.
For claiming the second event of the 2018 season, King earned a Ranger 1880MS with a 150-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 cash, and another $2,360 in Anglers Advantage cash. His total winning purse was $59,355, and his official weight was 49.83 pounds.
“We were supposed to start the year in my backyard on the Mississippi. I didn’t get to fish my backyard, so I fished angry at Winnebago and figured some stuff out. I came out of there with confidence. I hadn’t been to Saginaw since the PWT came here 15 years ago. To come in and put it together, it’s awesome. It’s definitely right there at the top. At the same time, it’s bittersweet. I wanted to win, but it was painful to knock my good friend (Joe Okada) off the podium. As happy as I wanted to be, I still felt bad.
“That dude is going to win. He’s going to win, and he’s going to win a lot. I’ve got my sights set now on winning Angler of the Year, but I’ve got a great young stick right behind me.”
Okada casts to second
Cambridge, Wis., pro Joe Okada worked the same program as King in generally the same area. The two are friends and practice together on the NWT. However, King and Okada each had their own specific spots during the tournament.
“I only fished one spot today,” said an exhausted Okada. “Once you’re there, you can’t waste time hopping around. At least I can’t do it that way; I have to fish more thoroughly.”
Okada said he probed one isolated rock pile that was located 80 miles from takeoff on the west side. After the long run, Okada would have only 3 1/2 hours of fishing time.
“The rock pile was almost 100 yards long, but only one small section of it held fish. It was 15 feet on top of the pile, but it was adjacent to deep water. The fish could come and go. They would stop, hunker down, and snack on some gobies.”
Okada also used a No. 7 Rippin’ Rap in Blue Chrome, just like he does on Green Bay. He described his casting cadence as the standard “rip and let it fall.” The irony is that Okada almost decided to head in the opposite direction. He had a successful day of practice on the east side of the outer bay, but he was worried he couldn’t trigger the necessary bites fast enough.
“Finishing second is not what I was expecting. I was expecting to take a beating and just hopefully scrounge up some points. I was seriously debating running 60 miles in the other direction.”
For a two-day total of 49.71 pounds, Okada earned $19,204. His 26.08 today was the heaviest five-fish stringer of the tournament. Officially, he finished only .12 pounds behind King.
“I’m fine with second; I really am. Brett was the minister at my wedding a couple months ago. For what I put him through and how nervous he was, this is the least I could do to return the favor.”
Great Lakes stalwart Tom Keenan finished the event in third-place with a two-day total of 47.45 pounds. On day one, Keenan led with over 24 pounds, and today he sacked another 23.28.
“I feel fortunate to take third, but the disappointing part is that you only get in position to win so many times,” said the Ranger pro. “I fished a great tournament; I just needed a couple more big bites. Sometimes when you win, the guys on top slip up. Today, the big dogs didn’t slip. Joe and Brett are great fishermen.”
Like King and Okada, Keenan caught all his fish on a No. 7 Rippin’ Rap in either black/purple or purple/gold.
“The fish were eating gobies, and the water is so gin clear up there. I just didn’t want a real bright bait. Black purple wasn’t quite as flashy.”
Keenan explained that in today’s calmer conditions, he had to rip the bait extra aggressively to get the walleyes to react to it.
“I was trying to throw on the rock transitions and have my co-angler work the edge. I would make a long cast, let it hit bottom, and rip it up. I was just basically ripping it.”
In two tournament days, Keenan put 360 miles on his Ranger-Evinrude. He fished north of Tawas City and would run 68 to 80 miles from takeoff, depending on the spot.
“I fished five or six different rock piles in 12 to 21 feet. When it was gin clear, I’d start on the deeper piles.”
Stachowski fourth, Vandemark fifth
Rounding out the top five are Michigan pros Ed Stachowski and Steve Vandemark. Stachowski, the Canton, Mich., angler, was steady both days, catching a 23.51-pound limit on day one and a 22.95-pound limit on day two. Stachowski finished the tournament fourth with 46.46 pounds.
Vandemark, the local angler from Linwood, Mich., had a bit tougher day two, catching 19.53 pounds. On day one, Vandemark caught 21.78 pounds. With a two-day total of 41.31, the Cabela’s pro took fifth.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2018 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event on Saginaw Bay:
6th: Matthew Dubs of Auburn, Mich., 41.12
7th: Mike Defibaugh of Bellefontaine, Ohio, 37.89
8th: Ryan Buddie of North Ridgeville, Ohio, 37.19
9th: Dusty Minke of Walker, Minn., 36.37
10th: Keith Kavajecz of Kaukauna, Wis., 35.88
In the Co-angler Division, Terry Hora took top honors with 43.19 pounds. On day one, the Iowa City, Iowa, angler caught 23.63 pounds with Okada. Today, fishing with Kavajecz, he managed 19.56. Combined with a $1,500 boat bonus, Hora earned $7,500.
The third National Walleye Tour event is scheduled for July 26-27 on Devils Lake in Devils Lake, N.D.