Andersen family completes NWT Oahe ascent

MOBRIDGE, S.D. – The Andersen family is revered in tournament walleye circles for their ability to precisely troll and rig deep structure. The late David A. Andersen, a boat control master, was both a gentleman and a fierce competitor, and those qualities are apparent with his sons Kent and Adam. This week at the final regular season event of the 2021 National Walleye Tour season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, the Andersen boys made their father proud. While Kent rallied from ninth to win the tournament, older brother Adam finished second and claimed the final spot in the 2021 NWT Championship.

Lake Oahe is special to the Andersens for several reasons. When Kent was 15, dad allowed him to travel along to the Missouri River impoundment on his first tournament trip. Sadly, the last place Kent saw his father alive was also Oahe, at New Evarts, the same resort the Andersens stayed this week.

“With my father being a professional angler, I was always dreaming about this back when I was a kid,” reflected Kent. “I was always telling mom that I was going to be a professional angler when I grew up. I’ve cashed a lot of checks, had a handful of top 10s, but to finally win one, it’s amazing. To do it on Lake Oahe, it’s extra special. The last tournament my dad fished was here back in 2016.”

While most of the field was casting glide bites over deep structure, the Andersen boys stuck to their roots and trolled the cottonwood trees. These trees, located in water 85 to 100 feet deep, would top out at 45 or 50 feet. Adam had a productive spot north of the U.S. 212 Bridge, while Kent had one south of the bridge. At times they would fish together, but they both ran identical programs.

After a solid opening day, where he caught 16.59 pounds, Kent had a difficult decision to make this morning.

“I started on my brother’s spot, and we were the only two boats there. My first fish was a 23-incher, and I knew I couldn’t win with that. At the time, it was difficult to throw back, but I didn’t want to throw in the towel and give up. On that same pass, not even a half hour later, we caught the 32-inch tank.”

In this event, anglers were allowed two walleyes per day longer than 20 inches. Culling, or upgrading, was not permitted, so there were difficult decisions to be made when catching an average-sized over. Anglers were permitted to keep eight fish in total and weigh their best five. 

“I just knew there was no way I was going to win if I boxed that 23-incher. My next fish was a 28-incher, which was also a no-brainer.”

With around 20 pounds in the livewell at 11, Kent then ran 10 miles south to his spot, which had a mix of both slot fish and overs.

“When I got down there, there was more traffic, almost 30 boats, which told me it was the right decision to start on Adam’s spot. We put our lines in and got two right away. Then it slowed, but we were able to get our limit. We still had two 15-inchers that we didn’t want to weigh.”

With just minutes left in the day, Andersen made a quick stop at Blue Blanket, a flat near takeoff recommended by Rick Olson. Andersen started trolling the breakline, then shifted his Mercury Pro XS to neutral, which temporarily halted his crankbait. When he resumed, there was an 18 3/4-inch walleye on.

“Then it was time to go in. I guessed I’d be in the top five, but I thought I needed 2-pound slots to win. I’m glad everybody else stumbled.”

Andersen trolled two rods (in front) with leadcore and two off the back with 8-ounce snap weights. He ran 12-foot leaders of 10-pound Berkley Fireline, and his trolling speeds were 2 to 2.3 mph. 

“Most of my big fish came on the leadcore. I had 200 yards of straight leadcore on.” 

Andersen used Jointed Shad Raps, Berkley Flicker Minnows and Flicker Shads. Of the three, he pinpointed Flicker Minnows as the top-producing crankbait. He said color was not important.

“It was more about putting the bait in front of their face. I could see the fish on my Humminbird. It looked like lights on a Christmas tree. Some trees are in 45 feet, some 50 feet with an occasional high one. I think the fish were keying on that 40- to 50-foot range. That’s where the most active fish were. I knew if I went and trolled the trees for six hours, I was nearly certain I was going to get two of those big, big bites each day.”

Andersen’s Friday weight registered 24.16 pounds, giving him 40.75 for the tournament. He earned a Ranger 2080MS with a 250 horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 cash, plus a $1,000 Mercury bonus for a total purse of $79,595.

During the weigh-in, Andersen got emotional when addressing his wife back home in Amery, Wis.

“It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got one.”

Older Andersen second

Finishing 2.70 pounds behind his younger brother was Adam Andersen. Like Kent, Adam’s second day was much better than his first. On day one, Andersen caught a 14 1/2-pound limit. Today, he put 23.55 pounds on the scale, the second heaviest stringer of the day. Like his little brother, he also threw back a 23-incher early in the day.

“It honestly wasn’t even a tough decision,” he said. “No. 1, I knew I needed a top 10 to make the championship. That was the biggest thing in the back of my mind. And I knew what kind of fish were there. I threw back another 21-incher, then I caught a 27 1/2, and then a 32.”

On the tournament’s first day, Adam caught roughly 30 walleyes, and today that number was trimmed in half. 

“Kent and I, we did everything the same. If I had to go back out there tomorrow with just one bait, it would be a Flicker Minnow, either a No. 9 or No. 11.”

Qualifying for the championship as boat No. 40 is extra special for Adam, who grew up in Alexandria.

“I’ve had a top 10 two years in a row at the championship, and now I get to try and keep that streak going.

“It’s pretty cool to go one and two with my brother. It’s hard to imagine that even happening. We’re kind of beside ourselves. And we get to go fish one more tournament, which should be a structure tournament, right up our alley. It was a heck of a week for us.”

Herd third

Alexandria, Minn., pro Drake Herd caught a 21.13-pound limit Friday and rose to third. Combined with his 16.59 from day one, he finished the event with a total weight of 37.72 pounds. Herd accomplished his goal from the start of the season, which was qualifying for the championship, located on his home pond. Now he’ll head to Otter Tail Lake third in the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year points race, just 4 points behind Chase Parsons and 16 behind leader Mark Courts. 

“I’ve had three top 10s in four tournaments; it’s been an awesome season,” reflected Herd. “To have a chance to finish it out on my home lake is almost surreal. This will probably be the only time where I get to sleep in my own bed.”

Herd also recognizes the pressure that goes with being the local favorite. Not only is the biggest tournament in walleye fishing at stake, but also AOY, the most coveted title. 

“My first goal is to win the thing. If Angler of the Year happens, that’s great. There’s obviously some pressure; I’ve been hearing from the guys all year, but I’m just going to try to make the best of it and let the chips fall where they may.” 

This week on Oahe, Herd started with a two-pronged approach – trolling the trees and ripping glide baits. As the tournament commenced, he solely focused on casting glide baits.

“I was fishing deep points and humps in 30 to 45 feet,” Herd said. “I was using the No. 9 Jigging Rap. Bright colors did not work for us; it was the more natural perch colors.”

Herd’s approach didn’t yield numbers like the Andersens. On day one, he caught 10 fish, and today he managed nine. 

“For the overs, there were certain spots where the big fish would get out of the current. They were off by themselves. For the unders, you just had to find the big schools. When they were grouped up tight together, they would bite.”

After running 60 miles to the south, Herd would drop his trolling motor down and put his Garmin LiveScope to work.

“We were casting at specific fish – fish that looked more aggressive on the LiveScope.”

Ell fourth, Defibaugh fifth

Rounding out the top five are veteran pros Jacob Ell and Mike Defibaugh. Ell, the Bismarck, N.D., native, finished the tournament fourth with a two-day weight of 36.27 pounds. On day one, Ell managed 16.87 pounds, and today he improved to 19.40. The ever-consistent Ell also punched his ticket to the 2021 NWT Championship. 

Defibaugh, the Great Lakes stick from Bellefontaine, Ohio, placed fifth with a cumulative weight of 35.37 pounds. Defibaugh also improved his catch from day one to day two. On day one, he sacked 16.54 pounds, and today he rallied to 18.83. Like Ell, Defibaugh will be one the 40 pros competing in the year-end championship. 

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros after day two on Lake Oahe:

6th: Dylan Nussbaum of St. Mary’s, Penn., 10 walleyes, 35.37

7th: Duane Hjelm of Pierre, S.D., 10 walleyes, 35.32

8th: Josh Fresseman of Arlington, S.D., 10 walleyes, 33.38

9th: Chase Parsons of Denmark, Wis., 10 walleyes, 33.24

10th: Eric McQuoid of Isle, Mnn., nine walleyes, 32.15

The final event of the 2021 season is the aforementioned no-entry-fee NWT Championship, held on Minnesota’s Otter Tail Lake Sept. 22-24.