MARINETTE, Wis. – On day one of the 2017 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship, casters dominated as huge stringers were caught from the far north end of Green Bay. After two cancellation days due to dangerously windy weather, the bite changed and trolling took center stage. Wisconsin pro Dean Arnoldussen, who has been cashing checks on the Great Lakes for years, was quick to capitalize. Instead of gliding and shivering, Arnoldussen trolled crankbaits over a flat on the south side of Chambers Island. The old-school technique earned him an $85,000 payday and his second major championship victory.
Truth be told, Arnoldussen had every intention of playing the casting game that Keith Kavajecz and the “Next Bite” TV crew introduced at the 2014 NWT event on Bays de Noc. In fact, Arnoldussen estimated that 75 percent of his practice time was allocated to casting. Everything changed on Monday night when Arnoldussen and teammate John Gillman briefly met to swap equipment and talk strategy. Their central meeting location was the south end of Chambers. While they were there, Arnoldussen convinced Gillman to reassess the area with one last pass.
“This is a flat I’ve fished for probably 15 years,” recalled Arnoldussen. “I’ve won a couple tournaments there in years past. It’s weird though. Sometimes they just show up and I don’t exactly know why. Thankfully, they showed up two days before the tournament.”
Gillman checked the school again Tuesday morning and confirmed their presence. On day one, it was fast and furious as Arnoldussen had his 39.89 pounds in the livewell by 10:30. After two cancellation days and several wind shifts, Arnoldussen remained confident.
“The guys that fished up north, Kemos, Parsons, Okada and Sprengel, their spots were really beat up by the wind. My spot was just consistent. So I felt good about that going into the last day. Those guys had big fish going, but not numbers.”
When the final day arrived, Arnoldussen made his 10-mile run and caught a 27-incher right away. An hour later he boxed a 25-incher and after another hour he boxed a 28-incher. At 11 a.m., he moved a quarter mile to a weed line and lost one on his first pass. His second pass yielded a 26-incher. With four fish in the livewell at 12:30, he ran back to his primary area and caught a 21-incher, which he immediately threw back. At 2 p.m., he put the winning fish in the boat, a 28-incher. After catching one more, a 23, he decided to head in, not wanting to incur any potential penalties for dead fish.
During the 30-minute drive back, Arnoldussen figured he would finish somewhere around fifth.
“I figured if I could get over 30 pounds, I should be in the top five. I wasn’t even thinking about winning. Then I saw Chase come in with two fish and then Sprengel with three and I realized their fish didn’t go. Then I heard Kemos and Okada didn’t have them and I realized there’s nobody that can beat me.”
While Arnoldussen would occasionally pull a board in and cast to specific fish he graphed, all 10 of his weigh fish came via trolling. His crankbait of choice was a purple (custom painted) No. 9 Berkley Flicker Minnow.
“I would troll with my Off Shore planer boards at 1.4 to 1.5 mph and the crankbaits would dig into the bottom. There was 80 or 90 feet of water and it came right up to 22 feet with a mix of sand, gravel and zebra mussels. If you got in 18 feet, you would foul up and get clumps of zebra mussels. The first day I made 1/4-mile passes and the last day, when the wind switched, the passes got longer. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why they showed up. There’s a ton of gobies and I know they’re feeding. But I think it’s the first spot they hit as they come from the south. It almost seems like it’s a stopping point as they travel north.”
To get this crankbaits to the bottom, the pro winner used 2-ounce snap weights. Arnoldussen said the keys to his success were his LakeMaster chips in his Humminbird units and the stow-and-deploy feature on his Ulterra.
“With the LakeMaster chips, it was easy to follow the contours. With the Ulterra, I deploy it from my locator. It was amazing how much time I saved.”
For his second major championship, Arnoldussen won a Ranger 620FS with a 225-horsepower Evinrude G2 engine, plus $15,000 cash and another $1,658 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $85,053.
“I was due; I had a little dry spell. But the fishermen are getting better and better and the technology is getting better. There are no secrets out here anymore. It’s funny, trolling was my fallback plan. But trolling can still get it done.”
Kavajecz soars to second
After finishing day one in 13th place, Kavajecz was simply aiming for consistency after two blow days, figuring a solid final-day stringer would result in a top-10 finish. To his surprise, that consistency rallied him all the way to second place. Officially, Kavajecz weighed 33.71 on day one and 34.33 today for a two-day total of 68.04 pounds.
To no one’s surprise, Kavajecz caught his fish “shivering” up north. While this tournament was held in Marinette, Kavajecz ran 45 miles north and visited one of the same spots he won on in 2014.
“The difference for me was that I would actually drive around and graph,” he explained. “Most guys were casting to structure, but I wouldn’t throw the bait out unless I saw a fish on the graph.”
On day one, Kavajecz found those fish in 22 to 25 feet of water. Today, he graphed for 30 minutes and never saw a walleye at that same depth. As he was about to leave, he slid further out and discovered them hanging tight near the bottom in 32 to 34 feet.
“I was fishing a shoal where it tapers to deep water,” said Kavajecz. “With the wind we’ve had, I thought they would be shallow, but they weren’t; it was the opposite. That’s the beauty of using your graph. Tommy (Kemos) had several fish on today, but Chase (Parsons) only had three bites. The wind moved the fish around in those two days. For me, it moved them deeper.”
Kavajecz estimated that he triggered half the fish he marked on his Lowrance HDS 12 and HDS 16 to bite. To entice those strikes, he employed the larger No. 3 Shiver Minnow in a variety of purple shades. His best color was Shell Bell, which is purple on top, pink on the belly and white on the sides.
“I would make a bigger stroke and let it cruise to the bottom. They wanted the bait crashing into the bottom. When it’s crashing, I think it looks like a goby. After it hits bottom, you snap it and then give it slack and it goes right back where it came from. That’s something no other glide bait does.”
For second place, Kavajecz earned a Ranger 1880 powered with a 150-horsepower Evinrude G2 outboard, plus $1,326 in Anglers Advantage cash.
“I’m ecstatic with second. I was thinking if I had the same weight as day one I would be somewhere around fifth through seventh.”
Finishing third with a total weight of 67.85 pounds was Fargo, N.D., native Brian Bjorkman. The veteran pro tallied 31.44 pounds on day one and today tallied 36.41.
“We were casting both Shiver Minnows and Jigging Raps,” said Bjorkman. “It was about 50-50.”
Bjorkman used the No. 3 Shiver Minnow and the No. 7 Jigging Rap. When the sun was out, holographic colors worked best. Otherwise, he found success with solid purples and blues. Bjorkman targeted rock humps and rock piles as he fished a milk run that extended from Marinette up to 40 miles north.
“We were on consistent fish all week, which is why I really wanted a three-day tournament. What we found is that the bigger rocks held the gobies. When the gobies were there, the walleyes were mixed right in there too.”
For third place, Bjorkman earned $14,408.
“I came in four hours early the last day. My last fish was a 26-incher and in hindsight, I think I could have improved that. That was a gamble I should have taken because second place was reachable. I just didn’t realize the bite was as difficult as it was. Plus, I wasn’t ready to be done. I was having so much fun fishing.”
Schertz, Minke round out top five
In fourth place was Nick Schertz of Tomahawk, Wis., with a two-day total of 66.28 pounds. Schertz whacked 38.44 on day one and managed 27.84 today. Rounding out the top five was Minnesota pro Dusty Minke who demonstrated remarkable consistency. Minke opened the championship with 34.19 pounds and sacked another 31.93 to finish with a total weight of 66.12 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2017 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship on Green Bay:
6th: Tom Kemos of Oconomowoc, Wis., 64.71
7th: John Hoyer of Orono, Minn., 64.47
8th: Roy Vivian of Madison, Wis., 64.36
9th: John Gillman of Freeland, Mich., 62.93
10th: Jay Epping of Blaine, Minn., 62.22
Day claims co-angler championship
Local Waupun, Wis., fisherman Kevin Day was victorious in the Co-angler Division with a two-day total weight of 74.84 pounds. On day one, Day fished with fellow Wisconsin angler Max Wilson and the two caught a 34.23-pound limit. On day two, Day drew Illinois pro Mike Gofron and they improved to 40.61.
“Both days we used nothing but Shiver Minnows,” said Day. “I fished them anywhere from 40 feet to 4 feet. It’s an awesome way to catch them on the bay; it’s a fantastic bait.”
During both days of competition, the co-angler champion fished rock reefs. Today, No. 3 in lime green was his most productive size-color combination.
“With the size of the No. 3, you really need to figure out the cadence. Keeping contact with the bottom is so important. Sometimes I would snap it up immediately after it hit bottom, sometimes I would let it sit for a second or two.”
For the win, Day hauled in a Ranger 1682 powered by a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard, plus a $1,500 Triton boat bonus and $739 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $28,539.
“Every co-angler comes into a tournament hoping to hook up with awesome pros. Every pro that I’ve fished with has been fantastic. If you don’t learn something from a pro, you’re not paying attention. It has made me a better fisherman by far. This is the only format in the country that allows me the chance to learn from the pros and win a boat.
“This is awesome, just mind-boggling. I loved Green Bay before this tournament and I love it even more now.”
Blosser becomes first two-time Lucas Oil Angler of the Year
Wisconsin pro Robert Blosser rallied today to clinch the prestigious Lucas Oil Angler of the Year award. After a 16th-place finish at the championship, Blosser became the first two-time NWT AOY. Blosser’s first AOY win came in 2013. For his latest feat, he earned paid entry fees into the 2018 National Walleye Tour events.
After day one at Green Bay, Blosser unofficially trailed Korey Sprengel and Eric Olson, two proven sticks.
“Korey is such a phenomenal angler, especially on the bay, and Olson has proven he can catch them,” said Blosser. “When you’re trying to make up ground on those guys, you get a little nervous.”
Blosser tapped his wealth of Green Bay knowledge and decided to make a midday run to the west shore to target casting fish.
“My first cast there was a 6-pounder and I was able to fill the bag and get back on time. I still wasn’t sure I had the title. I thought I would need 35 pounds and I had 31. I was still nervous until it was announced.”
Blosser reflected on his second NWT AOY and third overall.
“Being able to say I’ve done it three times against this caliber of anglers is pretty special. Without the support I get from my family and my teammates this never would have happened. My wife allows me to do this and is genuinely happy for me to do this. And my teammates, we all trust each other to the point where we can send someone out to a spot blind.”
Blosser’s next goal is to win the championship, something he’s come close to several times.
“I’ve been the bridesmaid so many times in championships; I very badly want to win one. Winning a tournament is more financially rewarding, but this, winning Angler of the Year, is more personally rewarding.”