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.

Hoyer Hammers Away at NWT Mobridge

By Brett Carlson

MOBRIDGE, S.D. – John Hoyer, regarded as one of the best walleye sticks in the sport, isn’t used to being desperate. But after a lackluster second event on the 2021 National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, that’s exactly the situation he found himself in. Hoyer failed to catch a legal walleye in what ended up being a weather-shortened Green Bay event. That goose egg earned him zero points, which greatly hindered his chances at being one of the 40 pros to qualify for the no-entry-fee 2021 National Walleye Tour Championship. Today on Lake Oahe, Hoyer swung for the proverbial fence and didn’t just hit a home run; he knocked it straight out of the park.

“Green Bay was really frustrating, and I could give you all kinds of excuses,” Hoyer recalled. “The bottom line was that I knew I had to have a top 10 at Erie and Oahe.”

Hoyer took sixth at Erie, the season’s third event, and has continued to fish with his back against the wall.

“Not very often do you have the need to go for it, but it’s making my decisions more clear. I’ve never had to think like that in my career.”

In this event, anglers are allowed two walleyes per day longer than 20 inches. Culling, or upgrading, is not permitted, so there are difficult decisions to be made when catching an average-sized over, especially in the morning.

Hoyer caught both a 6- and a 4-pound over and threw them back without breaking a sweat. While that sounds like madness to most, it turned out to be an astute decision. The Simms pro later caught a 32-inch, 12-pound behemoth, a walleye he estimated was the biggest he’s ever caught in his life. Soon after, he paired it with a 30-incher that was a bit skinnier with not as many herring in its stomach.

“I knew I had about 22 pounds with just those two fish. Then I was debating making a long run south for slot fish. Based on the math, I ultimately decided not to.”

Hoyer explained that slot fish, walleyes under 20 inches in length, have been a struggle for him personally. He was able to cobble together three more keepers – a nice 19-incher and two 12-inch squeakers, but that was it. He finished the day with a limit weighing 24.23 pounds.

“Those 12-inchers probably only weighed 6 ounces a piece, but I will take them. They looked hilarious next to the big ones, but they count. My co-angler caught the last one, and I told him that those 6 ounces could end up being the difference; you never know.”

While qualifying for the championship is still top of mind, Hoyer plans to continue fishing aggressively.

“I’m going to try to win it, at least up to a certain time in the day. First things first, I need to get my two bigger ones, then I’ll decide what to do for my unders. The problem with the unders is they involve a lot of mileage and fuel. It would have to be perfect conditions, and I would need plenty of time. I’m planning on only keeping 8-plus overs. That way I don’t have to worry about catching unders.”

The Orono, Minn., native, who won the 2019 NWT Championship, explained that he dialed his big-fish pattern in during the last day of practice.

“I think the bigger fish have started coming out of the full-moon funk. There were some pretty serious changes recently. I found out where the fish moved to and where they are feeding. This is something I didn’t know the first six days of practice.”

Hoyer said he’s casting five different presentations – using both spinning and downrods. 

“It’s a run-and-gun thing. I have to credit my Lowrance electronics. I would mark these spots on my 2D sonar, and then come back with side imaging and throw at them. I figured out a few variables. If there’s three things happening on the spot, it’s game on.”

Lewin second

Sitting less than a pound back from Hoyer is Humboldt, S.D., pro Darin Lewin, who owns and operates Torrey Lake Hunting Lodge. 

“I grew up fishing Oahe a lot with my dad back in the day,” said the Ranger pro. “We went there just about every vacation we had.”

Like Hoyer, Lewin had two massive overs anchor his day-one stringer, which officially weighed 23.53 pounds.

“My biggest was 31 1/2 inches, and I bet it weighed 12 or 13 pounds. With two overs alone, I had 21 pounds. There are certain pods of fish that are active right now. At one spot, I saw three fish on my electronics, and two of those were my two big ones. If you can get on them at the right time, you can pull a couple.”

After getting his big fish early, he spent the rest of the day trying to find the right slots. With his final three measuring 14, 14 and 15 1/4, he felt he largely failed.

“I ran both north and south of Mobridge today, and I used everything in my boat. It didn’t work out on the slot fish.”

More specifically, Lewin said he used creek chubs, worms, Jigging Raps and crankbaits on leadcore.

“What I’m learning is that if you’re marking them on your electronics and they don’t go, you’ve got to leave. You’ve got to move on.”

Lewin will not start the day with a big run, and hopes to not have to make the long run south at all.

“There’s active fish closer; I really believe that. The pods aren’t as big, but I think guys are driving by fish. I’m hoping to fish for the W without running that far south.”

Abraham third

New Ulm, Minn., pro Tim Abraham entered the final regular-season event 34th in the standings. After catching 22.68 pounds today, Abraham has all but punched his ticket to the championship.

“I figure if I can come in with a limit of fish tomorrow, or with a couple good fish, I made the championship,” he said.

Abraham experienced an excellent practice both for slots and overs. On Tuesday, however, his walleyes disappeared and smallmouth took their place. He was thankful they returned in time for the tournament.

“I caught five fish in the first hour and a half, but we never improved after that. We had a 28 1/2, a 27 1/2, a 19 3/4, a 19 1/2 and a 14 1/2. I left the area with over 3 hours left and went back to Mobridge. I didn’t even do my Plan B today, which is trolling trees, but I’m confident in that too. I’ll know if Plan A is working in the first two hours tomorrow.”

Abraham said he traveled 55 miles each way to reach his primary area.

“What I’m doing is no secret. I’m fishing certain points that extend out further. I jump on them and graph on them. If there’s fish there, I Spot-Lock and spend about 15 or 20 minutes casting.”

Abraham’s bait of choice is the larger Rapala Jigging Rap.

“I think if I can come in with 20 to 22 pounds, I have a really good shot tomorrow. Eighteen or 19 might even do it.”

Hjelm fourth, Freeseman fifth

Rounding out the top five are South Dakota sticks Duane Hjelm and Josh Freeseman. Hjelm, the Pierre, S.D., pro, caught a limit weighing 21.10 pounds for fourth place. Walleye fans might remember that Hjelm won the 2017 NWT event on Lake Sakakawea. 

Freeseman, the Arlington, S.D., native, sits fifth with 20 pounds even.

Rest of the best

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

6th: Travis Coffey of Glenwood, Iowa., five walleyes, 19.33

7th: Todd Zemke of Red Wing, Minn., four walleyes, 16.88

8th: Jacob Ell of Bismarck, N.D., five walleyes, 16.87

9th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., five walleyes, 16.59

9th: Kent Andersen of Amery, Wis., five walleyes, 16.59

The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the full field takes off from the West Ramp at the Indian Creek Recreation Area. The final weigh-in takes place at Wrigley Square, beginning at 3 p.m.

Sutton solidifies second NWT title in Huron OH

By Brett Carlson
HURON, Ohio – In the past decade, tournament walleye fishing has undergone a transformation of sorts. A new generation of young sticks, who largely prefer casting to old-school trolling, has taken the sport by storm. Anglers such as Korey Sprengel, John Hoyer, Max Wilson, and Dylan Nussbaum have recently dominated the headlines. This week at the third National Walleye Tour event of the 2021 season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, that trend went in reverse. Day one on Lake Erie saw 66-year-old legend Gary Parsons troll up the early lead, and today 57-year-old Bill Sutton clinched his second NWT victory.

In 2015, Sutton notched his first win by employing three-way rigs in a small backwater of the Mississippi River. That win was somewhat ironic in that Sutton considers himself an open-water troller.

“This is by far more my style,” chuckled the affable Ranger pro. “Open-water fishing is where I’m comfortable, and I love Lake Erie.”

Practice for this tournament was not great, however. On the first day of competition, Sutton opted to run 80 miles east of Huron to an area he’d never even fished.

“The key for this one was trusting my teammates. I went to an area that I had only seen on my Lowrance units. Not only did it carry a heck of a fuel bill, but points for the championship were on the line too. I have to give a lot of credit to Matt Kleis and Brian Chandler, who found the spot. From there, it was a matter of staying and grinding it out.”

Not knowing the area, Sutton believes he was east of Fairport, but not as far as Geneva. After running 55 miles, he would opt to get gas in the morning. 

“With the fuel stop, it took about an hour and 45 minutes on the way there. Coming home I was allowing over 2 hours, and today it took me 2 hours and 10 minutes. The conditions were not easy; there were definitely rough patches in the afternoons. The southern winds were pounding us pretty good, but my Ranger 621 and 350-horsepower Mercury Verado handled them beautifully. Yesterday, I had close to 5 hours of fishing time, and today I got about 4 1/2.”

Fishing 5 miles offshore, Sutton then displayed his trolling skills.

“Normally you troll with the wind. The way this set up we had to trough it. Most of the time the wind was at a T, but sometimes the wind kind of wrapped us, and we had to troll into it. My second biggest fish came that way today.”

Sutton employed Deep Walleye Bandits with Church Tackle planer boards. He praised the planer boards for not sinking, despite the 3- and 4-foot waves. Sutton said at times the waves were crossing each other, creating a washboard effect. His trolling speed was typically 2.8 to 3 mph.

“We were trolling Bandits, both with stock and custom colors. The best color was Wild Thing, a bright orangish pattern. I was using the kicker for propulsion, but the electric trolling motor on the front for steering. I was also using the Power-Pole Drift Paddle to help me steer. It was all three at once.”

On day one, Sutton’s program was all 2-ounce snap-weights. Today, he literally played with fire and opted for long-lining with straight 10-pound Berkley Fireline.

“It didn’t take long to figure out that something wasn’t right today. The adjustment I made was putting the Bandits straight on 10-pound Fireline. It worked great, but it also gives you very little margin for error. The only forgiveness you have is in your rod. And the fish this week fought like they were on a triple dose of steroids. With every violent head shake, we were terrified. But it ended up being the right adjustment.”

Fishing a break between 38 and 42 feet, the Bandits were diving about 24 feet down. Sutton described the area as a trench.

“Yesterday we caught a lot of fish; it was steady. And then with 10 minutes to go I got a 28-incher, and that put us in 10th place. Today the first three fish were rapid fire, but all were under the 15-inch mark. That made me extremely nervous; I was almost in panic mode. Then my co-angler said we had one on the outside board, and it ended up being the 31-incher.”

Sutton then boxed a few more keepers, but not the quality he was looking for.

“At about noon, we got a 30-inch fish. Now I know I’m not leaving in the last little bit of time I have. We ended up upgrading two of the three smaller fish, but I still didn’t think it was enough. I figured I needed that third big fish. Low and behold, I didn’t.”

Sutton’s official weight Friday was 29.62 pounds. Combined with his 26.20 pounds from day one, the Salem, Wis., pro finished with a total of 55.82 pounds. For his second NWT win, he earned a Ranger 620FS Pro with a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 cash, plus an additional $2,461 of Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $93,756.

“After a while, I felt like the first one was kind of a fluke. In 2016, I finished high in the points standings, but after that, I started second guessing myself and my fishing career if you will. To come out and compete with these guys and then come out on top, that’s what feels the best. Knowing I can compete with this younger generation is gratifying. My nerves were nothing today; coming from behind is the way to do it.”

Berthold soars to second

After catching 22.42 pounds on day one, local pro Tyler Berthold was middling right around check range. Today, the 27-year-old made a serious run at the title – coming up less than a pound short. His day-two limit weighed 32.46 pounds, giving him 54.88 for the tournament. 

“I’m definitely bummed we didn’t win,” said the Columbia Station, Ohio, native. “We just barely missed, but it was a heck of a comeback, and overall, it was a great experience.”

Berthold was fishing roughly 15 miles north of Huron towards the Canadian border. On day one, he fished the well-known weather buoy, and today he fished just south of it.  

“Me and my co-angler (Devon Phillips) talked about it this morning. He was sitting in second place and wanted to go for the win. It was rough, but it was worth it. He won on the co-angler side, and I took second. The weather buoy is known to produce big weights this time of year, if the weather allows you to get to it.”

Berthold boxed five “pretty good” fish on his first pass. The action was steady, and late in the day he caught an 8-pounder out in front of Huron. 

“A couple weeks ago we won the Big Water Walleye Championship with 45 pounds. In comparison, the weights were down, but it just shows you what an incredible place this is.”

The 27-year-old was fishing 48 feet and his Deep Bandits were running 34 or 35 feet down with the assistance of 2-ounce snap weights. His best color was Neon Golden Boy, a custom hue from the Bait Doctor.

In his first NWT event, Berthold cashed a $30,000 check.

“There’s something about tournament fishing that’s just amazing. There’s a certain rush. You see that big head finally get in the net, and then you and your partner start going bonkers. That’s what it’s all about.”

Hendricks third

Like Berthold, local pro Steve Hendricks rallied hard on day two and finished the event in third place with a total weight of 54.14 pounds. On day one, the Wellington, Ohio, fisherman managed 23.80, and today he sacked 30.34 pounds.

“I’m happy with third, but I dumped an 8- or 9-pounder yesterday about 10 feet behind the boat,” said the 40-year-old director of operations for S.A. Comunale Fire Protection. “That’s fishing, but we were just about to net it, and then it shook its head and popped off.”

Hendricks also ran his Ranger east, but only about 18 or 20 miles. There he located a small pod of deep-water walleyes.

“We were trolling about 15 miles offshore. We were using Bandits and Reef Runners. Greens, chartreuses and purples were our best colors.”

More precisely, Hendricks said he oftentimes would mix and match with spinners. The outside boards would have the crankbaits, and the inside boards would have crawler harnesses (double willow, silver back and perch colors).

“Our speeds were about 2 mph, and with either Dipsy Divers or 2-ounce snap weights, that would bring our baits down 45 or 46 feet. The water in the area was 48 to 51 feet. The biggest thing was finding them and then staying on them.”

Dakota anglers finish fourth, fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Gary Maher and Jarrod Fredericks. Maher, the Menoken, N.D., angler, soared up the leaderboard today after catching a 33.32-pound stringer, the heaviest of the tournament. Combined with his 17.62 from day one, he finished the tournament fourth overall with a total weight of 50.94 pounds.

Fredericks, the Estelline, S.D., native, managed limits of 28.21 and 22.69. He finished fifth with a two-day total of 50.90 pounds.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2021 NWT event on Lake Erie:

6th: John Hoyer of Orono, Minn., ten walleyes, 50.72
7th: Dustin Kjelden of Brookings, S.D., ten walleyes, 50.63
8th: Ed Stachowski of Canton, Mich., ten walleyes, 50.48
9th: Zachary Jobes of Canal Fulton, Ohio., ten walleyes, 49.76
10th: Dean Arnoldussen of Appleton, Wis., ten walleyes, 49.38

Up next The fourth and final NWT qualifier is slated for July 29-30 on Lake Oahe in Mobridge, S.D.

Parsons puts on a Great Lakes clinic at NWT Huron

By Brett Carlson

HURON, Ohio – Lake Erie is known as the premier walleye factory in the country, and the opening day of the season’s third National Walleye Tour qualifier, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, only solidified that claim. The sheer numbers of walleyes swimming around the Western Lake Erie Basin and slowly, but surely, migrating east is astounding. This spring, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimated that there are more than 150 million walleyes in Erie right now that are at least 15 inches in length. The only thing more legendary than Erie itself is the pro currently on top of the leaderboard, Gary Parsons.

While Gary’s son Chase won the season-opening event on Lake Francis Case, dad still has the upper hand in overall accolades. The older Parsons is a three-time Angler of the Year, owns several tour-level victories, and is even a member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. At age 66 and currently battling inclusion body myositis (IBM), a degenerative muscle disease, one might assume his career is in the later stages. But once again, the angler more commonly known as GP is in contention to win on the biggest stage in walleye fishing.

“I knew the area held good fish; we had a couple other days in practice just like this,” said Parsons. “I’m fishing one large 5- or 6-mile square area. Today I just drove around until I found the marks I wanted.”

Walleye fans might remember that the younger Parsons bucked the trend at Francis Case and ran 65 miles south. Instead of sorting through dozens of fish like most competitors, Parsons was specifically targeting larger walleyes, knowing bites would be at a premium. Dad is employing a similar strategy this week on the Great Lakes.

“I bet we caught 25 walleyes or so. But I know I could have caught 60 or 70 in other places. But in this area, I don’t catch hardly any small ones. Most are 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-pounders. They’re not all giants, but there aren’t any small ones.”

On Parsons’s first pass, he coaxed one of his two kickers – this female measuring 29 inches. Soon after, he caught a few 24s. Then the fish shrunk to 22s, so Parsons got back on his main motor and drove around.

“I run my Lowrance graph on medium chirp with double the screen speed, and then I pump up the sensitivity. This allows me to drive around 26 or 27 mph. When you’re moving that fast, if there are any high fish, you see them. It’s a pretty good system. Once I saw the thick orange bands, I started to fish again.”

Parsons then tricked a 27-incher, drove around some more and finished his day with a 30-incher. His official weight for five walleyes was 31.36 pounds. 

“It’s a bummer that I had my short day, because I really believe that school of fish was just starting to fire up. That’s how it was in practice too. At 2 p.m., they start biting. With more time, I think I could’ve caught 40 pounds.”

Parsons revealed that he’s trolling with four different baits. 

“Keith (Kavajecz) and I have worked with Berkley for years. One of my best baits right now is a Berkley test bait, a prototype. It’s a 3D printed bait, and I only have a few. And to be honest, they’re more fragile, because they’re not the final plastic. It’s fun, but it’s nerve wracking. This bait won’t be out in production for a while, but it’s coming, and it’s going to be a good one.”

With Parsons’s medical condition and a strong southerly wind in tomorrow’s forecast, the pro leader is unsure if he’ll be able to reach his primary area.

“I’ll try. If it’s too dangerous, I’ll have to settle for staying closer. You have to treat these big bodies of water with some respect. With my condition, I do lean on my partners more than I used to. I can still fish, but I have to make accommodations. I’m keeping a positive mindset. I want to fish as long as I can, but I just don’t know how long. It’s nice to be in this position, and I really enjoy running with these younger guys.”

Rookie McQuoid second

The newest father-and-son combination on the NWT is Kevin and Eric McQuoid. While Kevin has been a mainstay on tour for years, Eric is just getting started at 21 years old. Today the rookie caught a limit weighing 29.03 pounds, and tomorrow he’ll have the chance to unseat one of the legends of the sport.

“It’s definitely exciting to be in contention,” said the pro. “It’s hard to put into words really. I just have to duplicate it again tomorrow. I know you can’t win it on day one.”

On McQuoid’s second trolling pass, he doubled up with a 6 1/2-pounder and a 4-pounder. An hour later, he coaxed another 6-pounder, and at noon, his 8 1/2-pound kicker bit.

“We lost one other big one that we didn’t see. Overall, we’re really happy with it. Coming into today, I was realistically hoping for 24 or 25 pounds. It was a small pod of bigger fish that made the difference. They’d turn on for a half hour or so and then the smaller ones would move back in. The big thing was changing depths and changing baits.” 

McQuoid said he spent 100 percent of his time trolling crankbaits. He didn’t reveal specific crankbaits, but described them as “nothing crazy.” His father, an expert troller in his own right, has been giving him guidance throughout his rookie season.

“We help each other out in practice, and he keeps me calm. I’ve picked up a lot of his habits – mostly good with a few bad ones mixed in too.”

Teal third

In third place is Detroit Lakes, Minn., angler Craig Teal with 28.93 pounds. While Teal is excited to be in contention, the bigger picture is qualifying for the 2021 NWT Championship, held on Otter Tail Lake, his home pond.

“If I don’t get to fish my home water I will be down in the dumps,” said Teal. “I’ve fished a lot of tournaments on Otter Tail; I have a lot of experience. I need to be in that top 40 (to qualify).”

Two days ago in practice, Teal caught a 28-incher and swiftly dropped a waypoint. Today he passed through that same waypoint and caught the biggest walleye of the tournament thus far.

“I caught a 21-incher right away,” he recalled. “Then low and behold we caught a 32-incher that probably weighed 11 pounds. It was just a brute. It had the head of a 14- or 15-pounder, and it had shoulders.”

Teal believes truly giant walleyes don’t roam with the pack. While he was fortunate to receive that bite, it wasn’t all luck either.

“Those big fish, the 28- and 32-inchers, like to be lazy. They don’t like to compete for food.”

The action then slowed as Teal made three additional mile-long passes and never caught another walleye. He stuck with his program of trolling crankbaits, but decided to move areas.

“At 11:30, I told myself that I need to fill out to get a decent bag. We moved to an area with more boat traffic, and we got four or five fish every pass.”

With minutes left in his day, Teal replaced two 21s with a 4 1/2- and 5-pounder. In fact, all his lines were in but one, and that last board went back just as his co-angler was about to reel it in.

“It was a very lucky day, and that’s fishing. I’m not a superstar like a Korey Sprengel or a John Hoyer. Erie has been good to me.”

Fredericks fourth, Arnoldussen fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Jarrod Fredericks and Dean Arnoldussen. Fredericks, the South Dakota pro, caught a limit weighing 28.21 pounds for fourth place.

Arnoldussen, the 2017 NWT Championship winner, sits fifth with 27.61 pounds.

“I love this place,” Arnoldussen said on stage. “We caught fish all day. It’s great to be back.”

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one on Lake Erie:

6th: Roy Vivian of McFarland, Wis., five walleyes, 26.56

7th: Kris Walcker of Minot, N.D., five walleyes, 26.47

8th: John Hoyer of Orono, Minn., five walleyes, 26.46

9th: Chase Cominsky of Hermitage, Penn., five walleyes, 26.33

10th: Bill Sutton of Salem, Wis., five walleyes, 26.20

The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Eastern time as the full field takes off from the Huron City Boat Ramp, located at 41 Cleveland Rd. E. in Huron. The final weigh-in also takes place at the Huron City Boat Ramp, beginning at 3 p.m.

Day 1 Huron Co Angler ResultsDay 1 Huron Pro Full Results & Media Wall Photo Gallery

Legendary Lake Erie to host third NWT qualifier

By Brett Carlson

HURON, Ohio – After a wild, windy tournament on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, is primed for another Great Lakes shootout. Instead of casting to rock piles and grinding for a handful of bites, the trolling sticks, planer boards, and long landing nets are expected to get heavy usage on Lake Erie. In other words, the third event of the 2021 season, held June 24-25, promises to be a catchfest. The challenge on Erie is finding something, anything, that will attain separation from a tight field of the best walleye anglers on the planet. 

Last October, the NWT launched out of Huron for its year-end championship. In that three-day tournament, Hard Core pro Jason Przekurat won with just over 73 pounds, averaging roughly 24 pounds per day. The consensus is that 24 pounds a day won’t be enough to bring home the hardware this year, and it’s not even close.

“The numbers are going to be good,” said Ranger pro Mike Defibaugh, who won the 2017 NWT event on Erie. “The number of fish in the system is just astounding; it will boggle your mind. The weights have been strong this spring and early summer too. I think it will take mid-to-upper 60s to win this tournament. It’s not in the same ballpark as last fall. The 2015 class, that’s what a lot of these nicer fish are. They’re now nine months older, and they’re bigger.”

Defibaugh currently sits second in the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race, trailing only Minnesota’s Drake Herd. While Defibaugh, who lives in Bellefontaine, Ohio, is excited to be competing on his home water, locating and staying on top of the 7- and 8-pound kickers can be taxing.

“The bigger fish are going to be more challenging, but not like last fall. No one really unlocked those bigger fish and that was odd. Those big fish were absent, or they just weren’t active (at the championship). I still don’t know what happened, but this spring, they were right back there again. They spawn in the western basin and then move their way back east. Right now, they’re sitting and holding where there’s bait, and then they continue the migration east, feeding along the way. Eventually, they want to live out east in the deeper water.”

At a recent local event, Defibaugh said seven bags over 40 pounds were weighed, and 37 pounds didn’t even cash a check. On the other hand, the recent warm weather might be pushing the fish along their migratory routes faster than usual.

“I think you’re going to see more long runs this June than last fall. The wild card is a really big run out east. In perfect conditions, 120 miles each way is not out of the question. I don’t want to make that run, but I’d rather fish for two hours on winning fish than spend eight hours on fish that aren’t giving me a chance. If that’s what it takes, I’m not going to hold back. Angler of the Year is the same way. If I focus on it, it’s going to impact the way I fish. I’m not a conservative fisherman, and I’m not going to fish that way.”

When Przekurat won last year, he trolled deep-diving crankbaits. This year, crankbaits such as Reef Runners, Bandits, and Deep Husky Jerks are again predicted to be major players. But trolling spinners with night crawlers could be equally popular.

“I think it will be almost 50-50 with cranks and spinners,” said Przekurat, fresh off a fourth-place finish at Green Bay. You can put spinners down until your arms fall off, but sometimes that means you’re dealing with smaller fish. I think there’s going to be guys doing both, and I also think there’s an opportunity to do well with a spinning rod in your hand.”

Defibaugh agrees with Przekurat and believes the jigging bite has potential. 

“I’ve been in the top 10 before after day one without touching a trolling rod. It is possible, but the reef complexes are so big, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s hard to get locked in on something specific, but it is possible. The tournament I won in 2017 – four of my fish came on a jigging rod. I will spend some time (looking for a jigging bite), but I also have to accept the fact that there’s a lot of structure out there.”

Przekurat sees the mega easterly runs as a similarly intriguing, but risky gamble.

“Those east fish are suspending walleyes that are relating to nothing. They’re just swimming around and chasing bait. It takes time to locate those kinds of fish, and when you’re running east, you just don’t have that much time. Could a person go west and catch a big bag? Absolutely, but it’s not as likely.”

“Lake Erie is a huge body of water, and you can drive as far as you want and catch fish,” concluded Defibaugh. “There’s not a direction you can go and not catch fish. The problem is that these fish are moving, and they’re going to continue to move. Maybe one day you’re on 6- to 8- pound fish, and then the next day you only get 20 pounds in the same place.”

“It’s going to come down to doing your homework, driving around and finding out where those big fish live,” Przekurat said. “It’s going to be fun catching; we’re going to catch a pile of fish. But it’s going to be difficult figuring out how to get that separation.”

Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Eastern time from the Huron City Boat Ramp, located at 41 Cleveland Rd. E. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at the Huron City Boat Ramp, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each day with the winner in each division being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight. The National Walleye Tour consists of four regular-season events and a no-entry-fee championship. Each regular season event is a two-day, pro-am tournament and delivers over a 100 percent payback. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers.

Woodke whacks 39 pounds of Green Bay gold

By Brett Carlson

STURGEON BAY, Wis. – Mother Nature did her best to make the fishing difficult on day one of the second National Walleye Tour event of the 2021 season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Despite temperatures plummeting into the mid-40s, blustery winds kicking from the northeast and periodic rainfall, nothing could stop Green Bay guide Danny Woodke from delivering on his home pond. After a lengthy morning run and the relocation of warmer water, Woodke whacked 39.44 pounds to take the day-one lead.

Walleye fans may remember that Woodke won the NWT Green Bay event back in 2016. That tournament, held at the end of June, was dominated by casting Rippin’ Raps. This time around, Woodke admitted that he’s once again on the casting program, but wouldn’t reveal this year’s choice baits.

“Right now, there are three different casting baits that I have confidence in,” said Woodke, a deputy sheriff for Oconto County. “Each day the go-to bait changes. I started with what I thought the go-to bait was, but didn’t finish with it. Right now, you just can’t rely on one thing; you have to be willing to change.”

When Woodke arrived at his first spot, he noticed the water had cooled down, which is never a good sign on the Great Lakes. He eventually found the warmer water and his co-angler, Trevor Parsons, almost immediately caught a 9-pounder. He ground out one more good one at that spot before making another adjustment.

“I realized the fish weren’t where we originally located them. Once I relocated them, they came pretty consistent. We had eight walleye bites, and we capitalized on six of them. Once we relocated them, it was better than we expected. I knew that weight was possible if things went right, but with the rollercoaster we’ve had, you just never know. Two weeks ago I had bigger fish located for a tournament and then all of a sudden, the bigger ones were gone, and the smaller ones moved in.”

In addition to his job as deputy sheriff, Woodke also owns and operates the Walleye Patrol Guide Service. On most weeks, Woodke is spending three or four days a week on Green Bay with either clients or family. He explained that Green Bay is a fickle beast, and the cold front only further complicates matters.

“The fish are moving this time of year and that’s tough as it is. Then we went from 80-degree temperatures to 40 degrees. It’s been frustrating and stressful. Every day is a little bit different. The warm water is moving around and the fish are relating to the warm water. I knew every bite was going to matter today, and I was just hoping to get five bites.”

Today Woodke sampled six different spots. Some are close to each other, while others require an additional 10 to 15 miles of running. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for continued nastiness, with blustery weather again bucking from the northeast. Woodke says with his Ranger 621 and 300-horsepower Mercury Pro XS, he’ll still be able to reach his primary area.

“I’m not concerned with getting to my fish. But fishability of the spot and the time you have plays a role. Right now, I’m prepared to go fishing tomorrow. The boat is full of gas and the rods are rigged. To be back in this position, to be in contention, it means a lot. With the caliber of fishermen behind me, I know I need five fish tomorrow.”

Hanson hanging in the shadows

While Woodke calls nearby Gillett, Wis., home, second-place pro Curt Hanson traveled 10 hours from Mayville, N.D., to fish Green Bay. Hanson took third at last year’s championship held on Lake Erie.

“I like the Great Lakes,” said the even-keeled Hanson. “I like Erie, but to be honest, the casting game is more my style. Devils (Lake) is mainly casting, so that’s what I grew up doing.”

After a long run north this morning, Hanson was excited with how the wind was positioning his fish.

“We were drifting with the wind and pitching Rippin’ Raps. The bite was good. We had four fish in our first four passes, and then we had our limit by 11 a.m. We had another hour and a half to fish, but my 30-incher and 29-incher were starting to look iffy. We hustled in because we didn’t want to lose any weight from dead-fish penalties.”

Hanson’s five walleyes officially weighed 35.66 pounds. 

“I’ve been in the top 10 a few times now, and it would be nice to go for the top spot tomorrow. As long as the wind is in the same direction, it should benefit me. Sometimes the big wind pushes them to the rocks, and it gets way easier. If they let us fish, I’m heading north again.”

Kostner trolling in third

In third place is Medford, Wis., angler Ken Kostner with 32.50 pounds. Kostner bucked the casting trend today and trolled up his five-walleye limit. He’s hoping that today wasn’t his last day of the tournament.

“Opportunities to go for a win are rare, and I certainly want to try and win,” he said.

Although he’s trolling, Kostner didn’t sort through numbers. He had two fish in the box before 10, and he caught his third at noon. He finished out his limit with two fish at 2:30 p.m. Like Hanson, those were the only five he caught.

“I was trolling today. I’m not going to say much more, but I will say I was using Elk River Custom Rods out of Phillips, Wis. The sensitivity of those rods made a big difference today, especially with the conditions we had.”

Przekurat fourth, Koepp fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Jason Przekurat and Nolan Koepp. Przekurat, the reigning NWT Championship winner and the only pro with two NWT Championship victories, caught a limit weighing 28.69 pounds for fourth place.

Koepp, the local fisherman from Two Rivers, Wis., sits fifth with 26.86 pounds. Koepp achieved his weight with only four fish.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one on Green Bay:

6th: Korey Sprengel of Beaver Dam, Wis., three walleyes, 26.44
7th: Danny Plautz of Lake Mills, Wis., four walleyes, 26.11
8th: Greg Ehli of Bismarck, N.D., four walleyes, 25.02
9th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., four walleyes, 24.98
10th: Jacob Kaprelian of Green Bay, Wis., three walleyes, 23.14

Boom-or-bust bite awaits NWT anglers at Sturgeon Bay

By Brett Carlson

STURGEON BAY, Wis. – At the season-opening National Walleye Tour event, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, nearly everyone brought five walleyes to the scale. While Lake Francis Case proved to be an incredible numbers fishery, pro winner Chase Parsons ironically was only receiving eight to 10 bites per day. While risky, he intentionally chose to target fewer, but larger walleyes after making a long run south. A similar strategy might unfold at the season’s second stop, where the best walleye sticks in the world have a difficult decision in front of them.

Launching out of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., the season’s second tournament takes place May 27-28. This is considered transition time as the Green Bay walleyes have completed spawning and are beginning to move to summertime structure. Instead of running south like Parsons did in South Dakota, pros are now debating a long run north. Two years ago, Simms pro John Hoyer ran north and wrangled over 80 pounds from the western shore. The difference is that that tournament launched out of Marinette.

“You can go either direction and catch a big bag, but I know a lot of the field will be wanting to run,” said pro Max Wilson, who spends nearly 200 days a year on the system. “There’s going to be fish caught not far from the launch, but there’s also going to be guys that gamble and go for the giant bag.”

Wilson, the 2018 NWT Championship winner, explained that while the weights on top of the leaderboard always look good on Green Bay, the end of May is hit or miss, especially if an angler chooses to run north.

“This time of year, you’re going to have to grind for it. Yes, the guys on top will have giant bags, but it’s not like you will be getting them every cast. This time of year can be mentally exhausting, and you need as much time as possible. A strong north wind cuts down your fishing time; it makes it that much more difficult. I can also tell you that there’s nothing more exciting than thoroughly picking apart a piece of structure and catching a Green Bay giant on a jigging rod.”

The younger Parsons, who like Wilson considers Green Bay his home lake, described the western arm of Lake Michigan as incredibly healthy.

“There are great year classes of fish, both for big and small walleyes,” said the Nitro pro. “The majority of fish are going to want to be in that warmer, dirtier water that’s found on the south end. Some guys will still roll the dice and fish structure up north. There’s not nearly as many fish, but they can be the right ones, the 7- to 9-pounders. Green Bay, without question, is one of the top walleye fisheries in the country.”

Wilson believes that the winner will likely be fishing north, although many pros will head south, especially with the new no-entry-fee championship in mind.

“The only way I could see it happening is if we get a ridiculous blow from the north and the water temperature tanks. There’s a ton of fish to the south, I just don’t think the size is there. Last year Korey dominated, and then the weights were fairly small for Green Bay. If something like that happens, then that southern bite could come into play. Otherwise, I think the winner will be within 50 miles of Sturgeon Bay to the north. There’s just so much risk involved with heading north. I bet about 75 percent of the guys going south will get a limit, whereas only 30 to 50 percent of the guys heading north will.”

Parsons believes it’s possible to win down south.

“Launching out of Sturgeon Bay at the end of May means it can be won north or south,” he said. “Those that choose to cast and fish structure will be fishing for only six, seven, or eight bites a day. A guy is going to have to decide if he’s going to sort through fish (down south), or if he’s going to grind for a few bites (up north). It opens up the entire system, which makes for an exciting tournament.”

Over the past decade, casting has taken Green Bay by storm. Instead of trolling over larger schools, anglers now use their electronics to precisely pick apart specific rock structure. Wilson and Parsons agree that casting lipless crankbaits, hair jigs and plastics will produce.

“That lipless bite is obviously pretty hot, but there will be other things coming into play,” added Parsons. “We’re right at the beginning of glide bait season. I can also totally see guys throwing heavier jigs with bigger split-tail plastics.”

Parsons said a wildcard in this event could be fishing northern structure, but staying on the less pressured eastern shore. Likewise, he said the wind direction is incredibly important this time of year as is understanding current.

“With a change in wind direction, I’ve seen an area cool down 10 or even 15 degrees overnight. If you’re not paying close attention, you can arrive at your spot and find it basically froze out. Then you’re stuck. and you have to start scrambling. That change in water temperature can be drastic. 

“The other variable is being able to understand current on structure and how fish are set up. On the Great Lakes, there is current, and on these structure areas, the fish position themselves accordingly.”

Those that opt to run south will likely be trolling crankaits such as Flicker Minnows, Husky Jerks and P10s.

“A tough prefish could see a bunch of guys run south to troll up a decent bag each day,” Parsons explained. “They know they won’t win, but they will survive and earn valuable points for the year-end championship.”

Wilson, the JT Outdoors Products pro, who finished third in 2019 with a two-day total of 71 pounds, predicts 80 pounds could be needed to win this year. 

“I think you’ll see the winner stay consistent. The low end (for winning) is 35 pounds per day. Thirty pounds a day will be in the top 10.”

“It’s going to be a great event with big bags and total bomb outs,” concluded Parsons.

Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Central time from Sawyer Park, located at 110 S. Neenah Ave. in Sturgeon Bay. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at Sawyer Park, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each day with the winner in each division being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight. The National Walleye Tour consists of four regular-season events and a no-entry-fee championship. Each regular season event is a two-day, pro-am tournament and delivers over a 100 percent payback. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers.

Parsons delivers another Dakota dagger

By Brett Carlson

OACOMA, S.D. – Tournament walleye fishing, especially at the highest level, can be a fickle endeavor. Sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the windshield. Day two of the 2021 National Walleye Tour season opener, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, saw many of the day-one windshields quickly turn to bugs. Capitalizing on others’ inconsistency, Nitro pro Chase Parsons shot up the leaderboard and stole another major victory in South Dakota.

Ten years ago on Lake Oahe, the then 27-year-old Parsons revealed a new technique to the walleye world – aggressively trolling bass spinnerbaits through deep, flooded trees. It was an eye-opening victory, one of several “The Next Bite” TV crew has become famous for. This time, now downstream on Lake Francis Case, Parsons took nearly the opposite approach, yet achieved the same result. 

After a mediocre prefish, Parsons and fellow Strike King pro Tommy Kemos decided to do something rare on the second to last day of practice – fish together. With time dwindling, they wanted to be thorough as they searched for one specific pattern. 

“We basically just started looking for a shallow pitching bite,” said Parsons. “With side scan, we  could see some packs of fish. We’re pretty confident in our pitching abilities, and most of the time when we’re pitching, we’re artificial guys. Tom threw an artificial, and I threw a fathead. Almost immediately I got a bite with the fathead. And then in the next 20 minutes, we caught five big ones on fatheads. All we did from then on was try and find similar spots.”

Parsons and Kemos were fishing 65 miles south of the takeoff location at Arrowwood Resort, just south of Snake Creek. 

“We were targeting the backs of creeks. I’m talking the back, back, where it comes up and it’s just sand. In practice, we caught some prespawners, and during the tournament we caught some postspawners. I assume that they were going back there to spawn. The water was dirty, but you could see the fish plain as day on side scan. Some of the bays had catfish, pike and smallies, and some of the bays had mainly walleyes. They were just sitting way back in the warmer water in 2 to 8 feet. It’s fitting we took first and second because we figured it out together. We sort of did the opposite of everyone else, and it worked.”

This pattern didn’t produce numbers of fish. Parsons knew other competitors were catching in excess of 60 walleyes a day. During each of the two tournament days, Parsons had only three walleyes in his livewell at noon.

“The scary thing was that we weren’t getting numbers and our bite was dying. Going into the tournament, I was not worried about getting overs, but I knew it was possible to come in without a five-fish limit. Today, we only caught six fish.”

The program worked largely because Parsons didn’t have to get gas. His 20-foot Nitro holds 65 gallons, and his 300-horsepower Mercury Pro XS would burn roughly 50 gallons on the daily 130-mile round-trip trek.

“I was pitching 1/4-ounce Strike King crater-head jigs (chartreuse color). I would give the rod only small whiffs, not popping them. They were super lethargic. On only about 20 percent of the bites did you actually feel the tick. I think they were just chilling back there; they would just mouth it a lot of times.”

Parsons, who lives in Denmark, Wis., now owns two major victories – both of which came in South Dakota.

“This entire Missouri River system is special to me and to my dad. The style of fishing just fits my eye. You have to move around a lot and adjust. I’m confident out here, and when you’re confident, you just fish better. It’s funny. At Oahe, I was using probably the most aggressive technique possible. And this week, it was the polar opposite. Instead of finding them with down scan and fishing fast (Oahe), we found them with side scan and fished slow.” 

Parsons went out this morning in fifth place thinking that 32 pounds or so had a chance at winning. He blanked on his first spot, blanked on his second spot, and hit the jackpot at spot No. 3.

“My first fish was the 7-pounder. Ninety percent of people wouldn’t have felt that bite, but I use Strike King braid and can feel the lightest of bites.”

Parsons then caught a 22-incher and a 17-incher. A two-hour dead period followed. He then caught a 21 1/2-incher, which he had to throw back. With 2 1/2 hours left to fish, he was still sitting on three, although two were overs. 

“I knew it was really dying, but I also thought I could still fill my limit there. I ended up catching two more 17-inchers. Then I ran back up and hit a spot 10 miles from weigh-in. With 10 minutes to go, I caught an 18-incher trolling leadcore.”

His best five Friday weighed 15.72 pounds. Combined with his 15.96 from day one, Parsons finished with a cumulative weight of 31.70 pounds. For his second South Dakota victory, Parsons earned a Ranger 2080MS with a 250-horsepower outboard, $15,000 cash plus $2,327 in Anglers Advantage money for a total purse of $81,922. 

“At Oahe, I was in by 10 a.m. every day. I knew I had that one won. This one I didn’t expect to win. I’ve had a rough last two or three years. This one lets me know in the back of my mind that I’m doing everything right. The best feeling of all is knowing I have my 7- and 9-year-old watching back home.”

Kemos catches four, retains second

Kemos, the 2014 Lucas Oil Angler of the Year, retained second place despite catching only four walleyes Friday. The Triton pro started his 2021 campaign with a bang – catching an over as his first official walleye of the new tournament season. Today he also started out hot with a 26-inch over. 

Kemos’ best five on day one weighed 17.60 pounds, and today he managed 12.60. His two-day total was 30.20 which tied Drake Herd, but Kemos claimed the tiebreaker (heaviest single-day creel). Like Parsons, Kemos was around quality, not quantity. They each had their own rotation, but would ultimately finish in the same bay each afternoon.

Kemos was also pitching 1/4-ounce Strike King crater-head jigs (chartreuse) with fatheads. The jig, which he designed, allows the bait to stand perfectly on the bottom. 

“The fish were basically belly to bottom and not real active. That hook standing up just kept the fathead up a little. It made it easier for them to track it down and hone in on it. The bigger fish wanted it real slow.”

The Triton pro was disappointed with his day-two execution. He landed four of the six fish he stuck, but he also missed a few bites.

“They bit weird today, but I just flat missed them. They would load up on the jig and then nothing, whiff. I also lost two perfect slot fish that were just out of net range. When I went to rebait, I had skin still on the hook. I think I was a little too amped up. 

“Coming in I was just disgusted with myself. Then I realized Chase was going to win. The sting of losing those fish kind of went away when Chase won the tournament. He not only kicked my butt in the tournament, he also beat me prefishing from the back of my own boat. I guess he deserved to win.”

Herd good with third

Also finishing a pound and a half behind Parsons was Herd, the Alexandria, Minn., pro. Herd was sitting in 32nd place after day one with 13.38 pounds. Today, he too took advantage of a topsy-turvy leaderboard and rose all the way to third with 16.82 pounds, the biggest sack of the day. His total weight for the two-day tournament was 30.20 pounds. 

“I’m super happy, especially to get off to a great start,” said the Lew’s pro. “Otter Tail Lake (host of the 2021 NWT Championship) is home to me, so obviously I want to qualify. We’re only one event into it, but I’m happy I got off to a good start. This gives me momentum going forward.”

This week Herd was dragging 1/8-ounce jigs (blue and white) with either fatheads or plastics. Herd, who owns and operates Renegade Outdoor Innovations, focused on the Crow River area, located 10 miles north of Arrowwood Resort.

“It was kind of a big inside corner. The females would pull up on the gravel spots, where it went from sand to gravel. I would just drift the jigs down with the current. I weighed mostly prespawners this week. I tried fishing south, but found those fish were spawned out. These fish were just a bit heavier.”

At 11:30 this morning, Herd’s unicorn 27-incher bit.

“That fish helped the nerves. We were done fishing at 1:45, and we couldn’t ask for a better day.”

Alverson fourth, Buddie fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Steve Alverson and Ryan Buddie. Alverson, the Chester, S.D., angler, caught limits of 13.94 and 15.22 to finish the tournament fourth overall with a total weight of 29.16 pounds.

Buddie, the Lake Erie stick from Amherst, Ohio, managed limits of 15.64 and 13.29. He finished fifth with a two-day total of 28.93 pounds.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2021 NWT season opener on Lake Francis Case:

6th: Mike Defibaugh of Bellefontaine, Ohio, ten walleyes, 28.63

7th: Ryan Rieger of Bell Vernon, Penn., ten walleyes, 28.30

8th: Troy Lorensen of Oacoma, S.D., ten walleyes, 28.27

9th: Travis Sanger of Pukwana, S.D., ten walleyes, 28.03

10th: Brian Bashore of Sioux Falls, S.D., ten walleyes, 27.97

Up next The NWT swings east for its second event of the 2021 season, held May 27-28 on Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay.

Rieger reigns opening day

By Brett Carlson

OACOMA, S.D. – Lake Francis Case lived up to its reputation as one of the Midwest’s best walleye fisheries on day one of the 2021 National Walleye Tour season opener, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. One hundred eleven pros brought a five-fish limit to the scale Thursday, an astounding figure considering South Dakota’s no-cull rules. While Francis Case is known more for numbers than big walleyes, pro leader Ryan Rieger had no problem coaxing a few Missouri River females. 

Rieger, the Bell Vernon, Penn., pro, officially leads the tournament with 19.29 pounds. Rieger drove 20 hours to get to the Chamberlain area and practiced for six straight days. Not once in those six days did he handle an over, a walleye longer than 20 inches. In this event, anglers (fishing as a team) are allowed to keep eight fish and weigh their best five. Culling is not permitted, and only two of those eight fish each day can be overs.

Walleye fans might remember Dylan Nussbaum making a similar 20-plus-hour trek to Devils Lake in 2018. At that event, Nussbaum stole the headlines and shocked the walleye world as the youngest pro to win a tour-level event. Rieger finished second to Nussbaum, and the two continue to travel and practice together. The common denominator between these two tournaments is not just the Dakotas, but also leadcore.

“The Kinzua Reservoir back home is where we figured out the leadcore bite,” explained Rieger. “We brought it to Devils, and we brought it here to this beautiful place.”

Rieger’s initial plan was to troll upstream to a jigging spot, but the trolling bite was so strong, he never pulled out the jigging rods. Instead, he caught 35 walleyes by 12:30 – the two biggest going 28 and 24 inches.

“I’m just a leadcore fisherman, and this seems like a leadcore place. Our best crankbaits have been Rapalas – Shad Raps and Shad Dancers. Today was better for both size and numbers, but to be honest, you don’t really know what you got until you beat it to death.”

While Rieger is new to Francis Case, he knew catching a single over, let alone two, was a game changer.

“The first over was 24 inches, and it was our first fish of the day. I was freaking trembling and shaking. Of course, that fish kept us there. A few passes later, we caught the 28. It’s an adrenaline rush like you wouldn’t believe.”

Rieger plans to employ the same game plan tomorrow, but does have a Plan B if necessary.

“The only problem with Plan B is that it’s 25 miles away, so I hope I never make it there.”

The fourth-year NWT pro will start the final day with nearly a 2-pound lead.

“It’s been a true dream of mine to win a National Walleye Tour tournament. That second at Devils wasn’t so bad because Dylan won.”

Kemos comes out swinging

Tommy Kemos, the 2014 Lucas Oil Angler of the Year, started his 2021 campaign with a bang. The Triton pro caught an over as his first official walleye of the new tournament season. 

“I didn’t catch a fish for the first hour and a half this morning,” recalled Kemos. “The water cooled down in my area, but I could still see them on my LiveScope, so I stuck with it.”

The persistence was worth it as he boxed all eight keepers before noon. His biggest fish was a 23-incher that bit around 10:30 this morning. He also had two near-perfect slot fish at 19 1/2 and 19 3/4 inches. Both of those slots were fat prespawners, something Kemos called “absolutely lucky.” His five best weighed 17.60 pounds.

“As the sun came up, they started to bite, but they were deeper than where I left them in practice. I did catch three overs today and had to throw one back.”

Kemos explained that he’s pitching Strike King crater-head jigs with fatheads. The jig, which he designed, allows the bait to stand perfectly on the bottom. Kemos said he’s pitching to intermediate depths and altering angles.

“I’m using my side imaging to locate the areas, then I’m actually looking at the fish as I cast at them. The fish are very lethargic right now. I just have to keep the jig in front of them and let that fathead do the work. With the electronics, you can sort of get a feel for what they’re up to.”

Kemos believes he’s around the winning fish, but tomorrow will be another day of difficult decisions.

“This is such a different season for us, because now we’re fishing for a true championship. You need to come in with fish every day. I’m going to swing for the fence, but with having three fish to play with, you don’t have to get crazy either.”

Courts cruises to third

In third place is veteran stick Mark Courts with 16.98 pounds. The Berkley pro experienced a strong practice and was optimistic, but the day still turned out better than anticipated.

“It was better than I thought, and I knew it was going to be good,” said the Harris, Minn., native. “I wasn’t sure it was going to be as good with the traffic. There is big-time traffic in the area, but there’s also an incredible amount of fish.”

Courts explained that he’s fishing a smooth flat with just clams and gravel. With his side imaging, he too can see the walleyes he’s targeting. Courts was done fishing at 1:30 p.m. with eight in his livewell, two of which were overs.

“I started out trolling, and then I switched to pitching. I caught one over on each. Berkley Flicker Minnows and Berkley Power Swimmers have been big. I bet we caught 50 fish today; it’s just a matter of sorting through them and getting them in the right order. Today I was fortunate to get the two key bites I needed.”

Lorensen fourth, Parsons fifth

Rounding out the top five are local pro Troy Lorensen and Nitro pro Chase Parsons. Lorensen, the Oacoma, S.D., angler, caught a limit weighing 16.49 pounds for fourth place.

Parsons, the “Next Bite” TV host and son of legendary pro Gary Parsons, sits fifth with 15.98 pounds.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one on Lake Francis Case:

6th: Max Wilson of Campbellsport, Wis., five walleyes, 15.90

7th: Brian Bashore of Sioux Falls, S.D., five walleyes, 15.79

8th: Ryan Buddie of Amherst, Ohio, five walleyes, 15.64

9th: Randy Hummel of Windom, Minn., five walleyes, 15.60

10th: Kevin McQuoid of Isle, Minn., five walleyes, 15.19

The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the full field takes off from Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center at Cedar Shore, located at 1500 Shoreline Dr. in Oacoma. The final weigh-in also takes place at the Arrowwood Resort Ramp, beginning at 3 p.m.

National Walleye Tour Deadline Approaches

By Brett Carlson

CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. – The National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, is set to commence the 2021 tournament season, a season filled with both intrigue and optimism. New for 2021 is a no-entry-fee championship in which only the top 40 pros and top 40 co-anglers qualify. Instead of three tournaments and a championship, the 2021 slate features four qualifiers and concludes with the most lucrative event in professional walleye fishing. The venue for the 2021 NWT Championship will be Otter Tail Lake, a smaller, yet diverse walleye fishery in western Minnesota. The season begins with another new and intriguing venue – Lake Francis Case in southern South Dakota.

With the coronavirus pandemic altering initial plans, the 2020 NWT season didn’t commence until July 23. The 2021 season officially kicks off April 29-30 on the Missouri River. While the weather will likely be cooler than last year’s opener, the spring walleye bite is expected to be hot.

“Francis Case is a great place to go to catch a lot of fish,” said Ranger pro Korey Sprengel, the reigning NWT Angler of the Year. “If it’s not too muddy from runoff, we’re going to catch a lot of walleyes.”

“I’ve been there three times around that time frame,” recalled Hardcore pro Jason Przekurat, who last fall became the first angler to win two NWT Championships. “The one thing I know is that we’re going to catch ‘em. It can produce 30 to 50 fish a day. It’s a weird system where you can pitch a jig in 2 feet of water or vertical jig out in 35 feet. Both methods will catch fish during the postspawn.”

Sprengel is thrilled about the new championship format, partially because the smaller championship field opens up new and interesting venues like Otter Tail, but also because it alters one’s approach to each and every regular-season tournament.

“It puts a whole ‘nother spin on your season,” he explained. “Now you have to qualify to get to the end. You can’t always swing for the fences. At some point in your tournament day, you have to scramble and get what you can because those points matter. It’s going to make guys change it up a bit. It adds a whole ‘nother layer of drama to the season.”

Przekurat likes the schedule’s mix of new and old venues. The traditional venues offer nostalgia, but the new ones level the playing field.

“As much as I’m looking forward to getting the season rolling at Chamberlain, I’m also excited for Sturgeon Bay at the end of May. The weights will look good, but it’s going to be super tough to catch five walleyes. You’re not going to catch 20 walleyes that time of year; you’re just not. Mentally, I like those tougher tournaments.”

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s pro Brian Bashore runs The Walleye Guys Guide Service, spending most of the spring on the 102,000-acre Francis Case. Bashore believes the timing for the season-opening event is excellent.

“The fishery is extremely healthy,” he said. “We caught over fish 50 today and had our three-man limit in just over an hour. It’s not always that easy, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see everyone in the field with a five-fish limit. Most of the walleyes are between 15 and 19 inches. In fact, I’ve caught only one fish under 15 inches in three weeks.

“We had an early ice out this year. Right now, they’re milking, and they’ll be spawning soon. By tournament time, they’ll be postspawn – scattering between deep and shallow.”

Bashore said the prominent patterns will include trolling leadcore in 20 to 30 feet and then pitching jigs shallow with either minnows or plastics.

“Shad is the main forage base, so your Flicker Minnows, Shad Raps and Flicker Shads will be popular. Guys will also do some rigging with live bait.”

With rocky shorelines, Bashore explained that the Fort Thompson Dam is a prime spawning location, and then the fish generally migrate south. With higher water and more current, the fish tend to linger near the dam. Right now, Bashore said there’s not much current, so the north end may or may not be a factor.

“As it stands, I think the field will split up pretty evenly between north and south. There’s 107 miles of river to explore, but there’s no place to get fuel except Cedar Shores, which is the tournament takeoff. I honestly don’t see the need to run more than 20 miles; I don’t think you have to make a mega-run.”

“More than likely, it’s going to be a rod-in-hand kind of event, at least for me,” Sprengel predicted. “We could be casting crankbaits, rigging or pitching jigs. I think there will be multiple rods on my deck. I know one of them will have a Berkley Half Head jig with a PowerBait Rib Worm and another will have the Berkley Hit Stick tied on.”

“The key is going to be finding two bigger fish each day,” concluded Przekurat. “I haven’t been there enough to know if the unders and the overs mix in the same places, or if you need separate big-fish spots. I do know that in South Dakota, those overs are everything. If you want to win, you’re going to need two overs a day.”

“This year, I’ve seen more big fish caught than the last several years,” explained Bashore. “The 20 to 22s are pretty common, but you need the 5-pounders, and they’re still hard to come by. The big-fish numbers are better, but they’re not like Mobridge or Oahe. The one-day tournaments are being won with about 17 pounds.”

“With southern South Dakota, it could snow 4 inches the first day of the tournament, and the next day it could be 70 or even 80 degrees,” Sprengel added. “That’s how fast things change there, especially that time of year, so you better be prepared.” Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Central time from Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center at Cedar Shore, located at 1500 Shoreline Dr. in Oacoma. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at the Arrowwood Resort Ramp, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each day with the winner in each division being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.