DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – After a weather postponement on Thursday, the 2019 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, resumed competition Friday. While the weather was still blustery, a shift in direction from the northeast to the northwest allowed the anglers to safely compete. For some, the change in wind resulted in improved fishing, but for most, it was a major curveball. Minnesota pros Dusty Minke and John Hoyer adapted to the changing conditions and are essentially tied as walleye fishing’s premier event moves to its final stage.
Minke and Hoyer are good friends and teammates who travel together on tour. Surprisingly, they’re fishing opposite ends of the sprawling Devils Lake.
“He’s way over on the east side, and I’m staying close and fishing some of the west side,” said Minke, the Ranger pro. “It’s fun to be in this position. Our goal is to finish one and two. John is fishing so confidently right now. I guess some of his confidence has bled into me.”
“Today it was a leadcore trolling deal with crankbaits. I never had to go to that yesterday. I did catch one casting a Slurp Jig and plastic shallow. The one spot I thought was special never fired. I’m going to check again tomorrow, but I won’t spend as much time there. Today I fished some of the most public spots on the lake. There’s no secret to that. Tomorrow I think I have to commit to the west and let John have the east.”
Minke weighed only four walleyes Friday, but two of the four were giants – an 8-pounder and a 7-pounder. His official weight was 18.11, which pushed his total to 43.18 pounds. Minke also lost a good fish trolling, one that would have given him some cushion.
“I’m still confident. For some reason, I’ve been really confident all week. I’ve made an effort to stay positive no matter what, and it’s working.
“Last year at Lake of the Woods I had an awful championship, and it made me so mad because I love that place. It feels great just to prove I should never be where I was last year. Now I’m just trying to get ready and go have some fun tomorrow. My whole life I’ve wanted to win a major and a championship.”
Hoyer flying high
Fresh off a second-place finish at Sault Ste. Marie and a win on Green Bay, Hoyer looks nearly invincible. On day one, he boated 22.19, and today he caught 20.95 for a two-day total of 43.14 pounds.
“To tell you the honest truth, my head is so blurry; it’s just spinning,” said the Simms pro. “I have zero pressure. I’ve already had the best season of my life. I feel like I have nothing to lose. It’s an amazing feeling. I think I’m happier for Dusty than I am for myself.”
Hoyer is once again finding success with a casting program. He’s fishing water 4 to 12 feet deep on sand-to-rock transitions.
“Today was a lot different with the wind ripping. I wasn’t able to touch any of my big-fish areas, so I can’t wait for tomorrow. I want one of those big Jim Carroll bags.”
Hoyer said he’s employing several different casting presentations including glide baits, crankbaits and soft plastics.
Kemos soars to third
Tommy Kemos wasn’t one of the 16 pros to surpass 20 pounds on day one, but he was close. He officially recorded five walleyes for 19.49 pounds. Today he soared to third place after weighing 23.22 pounds. With a two-day total of 42.71, he’s positioned less than a pound off the lead.
“I like where I’m sitting,” Kemos said. “I’m fishing a new jig I designed for Strike King. It’s a vertical jig, but with a twist on the traditional ball head. It has a concave design that allows the jig to glide more, and when it lands, it lands with the hook up, so it fishes clean, which is important in this snag-infested lake.”
Kemos said he’s pitching the jig in current 4 to 15 feet deep.
“I’m fishing a variety of plastic tails in different colors, switching it up. I can actually see the fish move up and down on my graph. I saw two that were positioned about 4 feet off the bottom come and absolutely smoke the jig. It’s been a fun way to fish.”
Kemos said he rotates between three spots – hoping to manage his fish and time the bite correctly.
“I’m pretty excited. I’ve got the area all to myself now. It’s an area that’s tough to get in to. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good opportunity. I’m fishing jigs, and that’s what I do.”
Andersen, Ehli round out top five
Rounding out the top five are pros Kent Anderson and Greg Ehli. Anderson, the son of the late David Andersen, caught a limit today weighing 22.82 pounds. Combined with his 19.62 from day one, the Amery, Wis., pro starts the final round with a total of 42.44. Ehli, the Bismarck, N.D., angler, has been remarkably consistent – catching limits of 20.82 and 20.26 for a cumulative weight of 41.08 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2019 National Walleye Tour Championship on Devils Lake:
6th: Adam Anderson of Amery, Wis., 10 fish, 40.29
7th: Robert Crow of Paterson, Wash., 10 fish, 38.38
8th: Tom Keenan of Hatley, Wis., 10 fish, 37.69
9th: Paul Meleen of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., 10 fish, 37.10
10th: Zak Jobes of Barberton, Ohio, 10 fish, 36.00