2023 NWT Registration OPENS at 9am, Tuesday January 10th!!!

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (January 5, 2023) – The National Walleye Tour is back in 2023 and offers another exciting season to the most premiere walleye tournament anglers in the world! 2023 features some new tournament venues and promises big fish catches, exciting tournament action, and will end be crowning the best-of-the-best at the National Walleye Tour championship. Registration will officially open to Pro- and Co-Anglers on Tuesday, January 10th at 9am central time.

“We are excited to get the 2023 season underway and are looking forward to showcasing the best walleye anglers across the country”, says tournament director Jeff Helm. “After months of planning and preparation, we are ready to open registration and officially get the season going. We look forward to seeing lots of new and familiar faces at the first event in March.”

Along with registration, National Walleye Tour will be announcing exciting contingency programs available for anglers to sign-up for very soon. For special announcements and tournament details throughout the 2023 season, anglers are highly encouraged to sign up for the email and newsletter on the National Walleye Tour website.

To register for the 2023 National Walleye Tour tournaments, please read the updated 2023 RULES and then follow this link to get registered: https://www.nationalwalleyetour.com/national-walleye-tour-register/

2023 National Walleye Tour Schedule:

  • March 21st-22nd Spring Valley, IL Illinois River
  • May 17th-18th Oshkosh, WI Lake Winnebago
  • June 22nd-23rd Pickstown, SD Lake Francis Case
  • July 27th-28th Sault Ste Marie, MI St. Mary’s River
  • September 6th-8th Devil’s Lake, ND Devil’s Lake

For more information on the National Walleye Tour, including the 2023 tournament schedule, and photos and official tournament results from past events, visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com. Subscribing to the NWT e-newsletter is the best way to receive up-to-date information, registration announcements, sponsor incentives, and Outdoor TeamWorks news.

About National Walleye Tour

National Walleye Tour (NWT) is part of the Outdoor Team Works family of fishing tournaments. The OTW brand offers a wide range of fishing events from professional tournaments to grassroots fishing derbies. All events are supported by some of the top companies in the nation and include on-site activation and activities, as well as extensive media support. For live updates and information, follow NWT on Facebook and Instagram or visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com to catch up on all the action.

National Walleye Tour announces 2023 schedule

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (November 3, 2022) – The National Walleye Tour (NWT) presented by Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s is excited to announce the 2023 season schedule, which includes stops at some of the most popular tournament walleye fisheries in the country, as well as its new robust Angler of the Year program.

In the upcoming year, each of the regular season events will feature a boat-and-motor combination first-place prize, as well as payouts for teams owning a variety of boats, motors, and other gear. Ranger Boats, Nitro Boats, Triton Boats, Garmin, and other brands will reward eligible anglers with additional prizes based on their finishes in regular season events.

The 2023 season kicks off on the Illinois River in Spring Valley, Ill. – a popular springtime location among top walleye tournament anglers. The NWT then travels to one of the most popular walleye fishing states in the country with its second stop taking place in Oshkosh, Wis. Moving into the summertime, the regular season ends with stops in South Dakota and Michigan. This year’s tour stops are promised to reel in big catches and exciting action throughout the year.

Taking place September 6-8, the NWT Championship will take place on Devils Lake, ND. At the conclusion of the event, the NWT Angler of the Year on the boater side will be announced and awarded a new Ranger 620FS powered by a Mercury PRO XS 250hp motor. Also at the championship, the winning pro of the championship will win a 2023 Nitro ZV20  powered by a Mercury Pro XS 225hp motor. Making the 2023 National Walleye Tour Championship the largest payout in history!

Additional information on the events, contingency prizes, and more exciting announcements will be shared soon. For more information on updated angler qualifications, please visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com.

2023 NWT scheduled events:
March 21-22 – Illinois River, Spring Valley, Ill.
May 17-18 – Lake Winnebago, Oshkosh, Wis.
June 22-23 – Lake Francis Case, Pickstown, S.D.
July 27-28 – St. Mary’s River, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

2023 NWT Championship:
Sept 6-8 – Devils Lake, ND *pending permit approval*

National Walleye Tour events are made possible through the sponsorship and continued support of these well-respected brands: Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Ranger Boats, Nitro Boats, Triton Boats, Mercury, Garmin, Power-Pole, AFTCO, Sunline, Valley Fashions, T-H Marine, Atlas, G-Juice, and Duckett Rods.

Texas Team Trail and National Walleye Tour are part of the Outdoor Team Works family of fishing tournaments. The OTW brand offers a wide range of fishing events from professional tournaments to grassroots fishing derbies. All events are supported by some of the top companies in the nation and include on-site activation and activities, as well as extensive media support. For live updates and information, follow TXTT and NWT on Facebook and Instagram or visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com to catch up on all the action.

 

NWT Insider Report: Hoyer again hoists championship hardware, Hjelm rallies for AOY

By Brett Carlson

 

DUNKIRK, N.Y. – Lake Erie is known as the Walleye Capital of the World and its population is currently at an all-time high. So it was no surprise to see the best anglers in the world hauling in walleyes hand over fist at the 2022 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. However, the modality used to trigger many of the larger walleyes was downright shocking. Lake Erie is the one venue, perhaps the last traditional walleye factory, where trolling still dominates. That all changed this week when John Hoyer and Duane Hjelm unlocked a shallow-water casting program and blew away the competition. The end result was Hoyer’s second championship victory and Hjelm’s first Lucas Oil Angler of the Year title.

It was no secret that the Eastern Basin of Lake Erie possesses more structure than the Western Basin, where many springtime tournaments are held. In practice, several pros sampled this deep-water structure with glide baits and jigs. Fish were caught, but it was generally deemed inefficient, if not grueling. Eight days before the championship commenced, Hoyer identified some intriguing vegetation and investigated on a whim. What he experienced instantly gave him flashbacks to the 2019 NWT Sault Ste. Marie event, where he took second by ripping swimbaits through cabbage.

This time around the vegetation was eelgrass, but otherwise the pattern was the same. Using a Berkley PowerBait The Champ Swimmer, Hoyer would cast into the eelgrass, snap the bait as hard as possible to clear the grass, and they’d bite it on the fall. His best colors were HD Bluegill and HD Yellow Perch.

“I was letting it freefall as fast as it possibly could, and they would absolutely inhale it,” said the Orono, Minn., native. “I would use a 1/2-ounce up to a 1-ounce Fusion 19 swimbait jighead depending on the current. With the heavier jighead, it falls even faster and they hit it even harder. That snapping action is the most fun way to catch a walleye – end of conversation. To see how fast they come and hit it on ActiveTarget is literally breathtaking. The only rod I used was a 7-foot medium heavy Fenwick World Class. That rod was rigged with 10-pound Fireline and a 15-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader.”

Hoyer explained that the prevailing current is what protected his areas, therefore allowing weed growth. While most pros were trolling in 70 feet, the weed-bed depth was only 6 to 12 feet. Hoyer remarked that nearly all the walleyes had a golden color to them, making him believe they’re resident fish.

“We found probably 18 or 20 weed beds, but some were just in bays. The best spots were the classic Canadian rock-weed combos. Today it was weird; the current was raging. It was so fast it was pulling you against the wind. You could see the fish sitting behind the weed clumps, using them as a break in the current. From there, it was a matter of dissecting the spot with ActiveTarget.

Hoyer described these weed beds as a milk run with some up to 5 miles apart. Round trip, he would travel 80 to 100 miles each day.

“It was a struggle early today. I started fishing around 8 a.m., and I put my fifth fish in the livewell at 10:30, but that limit only weighed around 20 pounds. On our third spot, we caught a couple of 5-pounders to move us up some. We kept moving, and finally I hit a spot that I thought could produce maybe two nice walleyes. I got there, and I saw four fish on the graph and assumed they were rough fish. I pitched in there, and it was like hitting a stick of dynamite. I had an 8 1/2-pounder just blow up on it. Then it just got crazy. At the very end of the day I got bit 10 times on my last 15 casts. I literally left them biting at the biggest tournament of the year. I was 40 miles from takeoff with 30 pounds. It was time to just roll in.”

Hoyer’s official day-three weight was 31.73 pounds, giving him a whopping 102.33 for the tournament. For winning the Super Bowl of walleye fishing, the Berkley/Simms pro earned an upgraded boat package, for being a part of the Ranger Cup program, Ranger 621FS Pro with a 300-horsepower Mercury outboard, plus $30,000 cash and $3,474 in Anglers Advantage money for a total purse of $129,469. After not qualifying for last year’s championship, he’s now only one of two anglers with two NWT Championship wins. His margin of victory was over 11 pounds.

“I’m still in the moment where it hasn’t set in. I do think this one means more than 2019 because of how we did it. It was a dream come true to win it this way. This is just my favorite way to fish. To have those calm, fishable conditions for three days is just unbelievable. As a caster, you envision something like this happening, but so many things have to line up.”

Walleye fans might remember Keith Kavajecz winning the 2014 NWT event on Lake Michigan’s Bays de Noc. It was the first major tournament won via casting and Great Lakes fishing was forever changed. This event could be a similar game changer on Lake Erie.

“I hope so because it’s way more fun than trolling. I mean, honestly, the cat is out of the bag when you have a camera guy in your boat for two days. This is like when Kavajecz and Parsons won Shivering. But we milked it for all it was worth.”

Hjelm sacks 30 plus, slams door on AOY

After soaring up the leaderboard yesterday, Hjelm still had some work ahead of him to secure Angler of the Year. As he has all season, he delivered when it mattered most. His day-three limit weighed 30.82 pounds, pushing his total to 90.87 pounds. With three top 10s and 904 points overall, Hjelm was the most dominant and most consistent angler throughout the 2022 season. In the last three NWT events, Hjelm has finished second, first and second. Earlier this month, he also won the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Team Championship on Lake Oahe.

“Winning Angler of the Year is definitely an honor,” said the Dakota Lithium pro. “Everybody that does this, this is the award you’re striving for; it means everything to me. I’ll be honest though, it was the last thing on my mind coming into the event. I didn’t think it was even possible. Then as the tournament went on, things started shaping up.”

While Hoyer uncovered the shallow weed pattern, Hjelm helped expand it.

“After John discovered this, we built on it to where we had about eight spots. We didn’t exactly know the true potential, but we knew it had some good ones. Because it was John’s deal, I went and trolled the first day. On day one, he got all that weight from only one spot. So from then on, I joined. I took half, and he took half. We just rotated through the spots. It was a big enough area where we never saw each other. In fact, I never saw another boat.”

Hjelm would cast the larger 4.6-inch Swimmer in HD Bluegill while his co-angler would throw the smaller 3.8-incher in HD Yellow Perch.

“We started by finding the edges with SideScan. Then we’d drop waypoints and pick our way through. Rocks weren’t a big deal. It was more a matter of finding the right weed beds. There was bait, probably shiners or little perch, and they would use those weeds for cover.”

Hjelm would rip the swimbait and then let it completely free fall. Half the time they’d hit it on the fall, and half the time they’d hit it on the rip.

“You’re ripping it through the grass, and it’s cleaning your bait off too. At times, I would change my cadence as I could see them chase on my ActiveTarget. This might be my new favorite way to fish. It was an unbelievably fun tournament.”

For winning AOY, Hjelm receives paid entry into each of the four qualifying events of the 2023 season. His second-place championship finish earned him an upgraded boat package, for being a part of the Ranger Cup program, Ranger 620FS with a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard, plus $15,000 cash and $2,460 in Anglers Advantage money for a total payout of $107,455.

“The money and the boat packages, that stuff all comes and goes. It’s about the trophies that will forever sit in my house for everyone to see. Every time I look at those, I’ll have the memories of this tournament and this year. That means more than anything to me.”

Senior Przekurat third

Until today, Jason Przekurat was the only pro with two NWT Championship victories. The Stevens Point, Wis., native was happy to let go of that distinction.

“I’m happy for John,” said the Ranger pro. “He’s a great friend of mine, and now he can say he’s a two-time champ. He found something that’s never been done before on Lake Erie. It’s going to open a lot of eyes. You’re not supposed to catch walleyes that shallow out on Lake Erie in August.”

Przekurat himself ran 45 miles west of Dunkirk towards Erie, Pa.

“What I found is that there were a lot of fish near the shoreline structure in 60 to 70 feet of water. Once you went deeper than that there was basically no activity at all. It was like a dead zone. The biggest fish were right at the edge in 70 to 72 feet.”

Przekurat would pull spinners at about 1 to 1.2 mph with a 3-ounce Offshore Guppy weight.

“Where I was fishing, the thermocline was right at that 55-foot mark. It was pretty obvious to see the marks right above the thermocline. For colors, I was using your standard whites and purples. This was a real slow presentation. The goal was to simply keep it in their face and turn the blade. It’s an easy meal for a lazy walleye.”

For third place, Przekurat will collect a $25,167 payday, of which $10,000 is paid for being a part of the Ranger Cup program, and hurry to La Crosse, Wis., to watch his son, Jay, compete in the final Bassmaster Elite Series event.

“Third place feels like a win for me. I say I won the other tournament, the trolling tournament. Hoyer and Dewey won the casting tournament.”

This was Przekurat’s third consecutive top-10 at the year-end championship. His son is only two days away from clinching the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year award. Last month, the 23-year-old became the youngest angler to ever win an Elite Series event. He also became the first Elite Series angler to enter the Bassmaster Century Club (for catching more than 100 pounds) with solely smallmouths.

“This week proves the old fart can still catch a few too. In all honesty, I knew I was on a pretty good school of fish, but I’m extremely pleased with third.

Kavajecz fourth, Ragotzkie fifth

Rounding out the top five are Wisconsin sticks Kavajecz and Austin Ragotzkie. Kavajecz, the aforementioned pioneering pro, finished fourth with a cumulative total of 81.12 pounds. Fishing in his second NWT Championship top 10, Kavajecz steadily improved each day. On day one, the Mercury pro boated 25.15 pounds, and on day two he sacked 27.85. Today, he managed 28.12 pounds, the heaviest stringer among the trollers.

Ragotzkie, the Edgerton, Wis., resident, finished with a three-day total of 80.40 pounds. He started the event with a 29.56 stringer and then slipped to 24.41 yesterday. Today, he improved to 26.43.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros on Lake Erie:

6th: Adam Andersen of Amery, Wis., 15 walleyes, 77.25

7th: Craig Sleeman of Victor, N.Y., 15 walleyes, 75.39

8th: Max Wilson of Campbellsport, Wis., 15 walleyes, 70.97

9th: Bill Shimota of Northfield, Minn., 14 walleyes, 65.43

10th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., 15 walleyes, 65.12

 

The National Walleye Tour resumes action March 23-24, when the 2023 season kicks off on the Illinois River in Spring Valley, IL

 

Full Results and Photo Gallery can be found HERE!

NWT Insider Report: Hoyer holds the line, ‘Dewey’ delivers AOY drama

By Brett Carlson

 

DUNKIRK, N.Y. – Day two of the 2022 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, saw uncharastically calm waters, allowing anglers to run around on the relatively calm Eastern Basin of Lake Erie. While no one neared 40 pounds, two bags over 30 pounds were weighed. One came from day-one leader John Hoyer, who held (and slightly increased) his 10-pound lead, and the other came from Duane “Dewey” Hjelm, the hottest stick in walleye fishing, who unofficially took the lead in the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race.

Hoyer and Hjelm sit first and second after two intense days of competition. Hoyer and Hjelm are also friends, travel mates and the two are fishing a similar, yet unconventional Erie pattern.

“People might not believe this, but I’m ripping a Berkley plastic to trigger strikes with a heavy jig,” said Hoyer, the Orono, Minn., pro. “It is my No. 1 favorite way to fish for walleyes. I haven’t trolled, and I haven’t caught a fish deeper than 15 feet in two days. I was marking them again with my Lowrance ActiveTarget and then picking and choosing.”

While his morning was slower than yesterday, Hoyer still boated a dozen walleyes.

“I had another one of those unicorn 29-inchers that weighed over 8 pounds. Then I had a 6 1/2, a 6, a 5 and a 4 1/2.”

Altogether, those five walleyes weighed 30.79 pounds. On day one, the Berkley/Simms pro registered 39.81. With a total weight of 70.60 pounds, Hoyer has accumulated an unthinkable 10.55-pound lead.

“It’s awesome; I’m exactly where I want to be. It would be a lot cooler if my partner, who is the hottest guy in fishing, wasn’t on the same class of fish.”

This morning, Hoyer was so confident with how his pattern and the forecast aligned, he removed all the trolling equipment from his Ranger.

“I’m probably going to put it back in tomorrow, just in case. It’s a strong pattern, but it’s not a sure thing for either of us. When it’s flat, calm and sunny, they post up, and they’re sitting ducks. On day one, I caught two giants out off the edge. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, I’ll probably spend more time out off the edge.”

Hjelm rallies to second, leads AOY

The Angler of the Year picture became more clear as it’s down to two pros – Hjelm and Max Wilson. While Hjelm caught 35.68 pounds today, the second-heaviest stringer of the championship, he only has a 2-point lead over Wilson. Wilson sits in fifth overall and has room to move up, while Hjelm would have to unseat Hoyer to move up.

“I trolled the first day, but I never trolled today,” said Hjelm, who won both the final NWT qualifier of the year on Green Bay and the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Team Championship on Lake Oahe. “John’s the one that found this deal. I didn’t know how many fish there were to go around, so I played it safe on day one. After a mediocre day, I knew that I had to have a huge bag, and I didn’t feel like I could do that trolling.”

Hjelm said he caught 12 to 15 keepers today, and that he too is intentionally targeting big fish on his Lowrance ActiveTarget. After two days, his cumulative total sits at 60.05 pounds.

“I had two fish today that were around 28 to 29 inches. Then I weighed two 27s, and the smallest I weighed was 26.”

Hjelm now finds himself in the rare situation of attempting to simultaneously win the biggest event in walleye fishing and AOY, the most prestigious title in walleye fishing.

“I don’t know if it’s possible to catch John. I do know that I’m not going to take my foot off the gas. He’s got a huge lead though; I don’t think he needs that much to seal the deal. After my day one, I would be ecstatic to take second place and secure Angler of the Year. I’m going to fish as hard as I possibly can tomorrow.”

Today’s bright and calm conditions were ideal for Hjelm’s casting program. Tomorrow’s forecast is in stark contrast.

“My trolling deal and casting deal are in different directions. At this point, I’m committed to casting. If I could pick, I wish tomorrow was just like today. It was the perfect day for doing what we like to do.”

Andersen retains third

In an otherwise dynamic tournament, Amery, Wis., pro Adam Andersen continues to demonstrate remarkable consistency. After catching 30.03 yesterday, he managed 27.87 today to retain third place.

“A guy always wants more, but I’m happy, especially to stay in third,” said Andersen, who took second on Lake Oahe in 2021.

Unlike the two pros above him on the leaderboard, Andersen is committed to trolling in water 75 to 82 feet deep.

“Yesterday was mainly deep-running cranks on leadcore, and today was mainly shallow runners on Dipsys. I have an area they are in, and the right fish are grouped up to some extent. The name of the game is to get what you can get as fast as you can get it. Today I actually caught a few more fish than yesterday.”

This is the elder Andersen’s third top 10 out of the last four NWT Championships.

Przekurat fourth, Wilson fifth

Rounding out the top five are Wisconsin sticks Jason Przekurat and Wilson. Przekurat improved his weight on day two and rallied to fourth with a 28.46-pound stringer. Combined with his 27.71 from day one, the two-time NWT Championship winner has a total of 56.17 pounds.

While this marks Przekurat’s third consecutive top-10 at the championship, his son Jay is the one who has garnered most of the headlines lately. In July, the 23-year-old became the youngest angler to ever win a Bassmaster Elite Series event. He also became the first Elite Series angler to enter the Bassmaster Century Club (for catching more than 100 pounds) with solely smallmouths, and he’s currently leading the Rookie of the Year race.

Wilson, the Campbellsport, Wis., pro, improved his weight from 25.83 on day one to 28.25 on day two. In the process, he rallied from 16th to 5th with a cumulative weight of 54.08 pounds. With one day left, Wilson sits 2 points behind Hjelm in the AOY race.

“Dewey has the tiebreaker, so I have to basically beat him,” said the Blackfish pro, who won the 2018 NWT Championship on Lake of the Woods. “I’m all over the place right now. On one hand, I just had my best day on Lake Erie in years. But on the other hand, I thought I had enough to win AOY, and then I found out Dewey had 35 pounds. I kind of got the rug pulled out from under me. I’ve been obsessed with AOY all year, and now I feel like it’s out of reach.”

Wilson described his Erie pattern as “jigging the abyss” in 100 feet of water, where boat control is extremely difficult.

“I’m emotionally and physically beat up, and tomorrow the weather is supposed to be much worse. I will say that if anyone is going to beat me, I’m glad it’s Dewey. He’s one of the nicest guys out there.”

Rest of the best

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

6th: Austin Ragotzkie of Edgerton, Wis., 10 walleyes, 53.97

7th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., 10 walleyes, 53.53

8th: Craig Sleeman of Victor, N.Y., 10 walleyes, 53.28

9th: Keith Kavajecz of Deerbrook, Wis., 10 walleyes, 53.00

10th: Bill Shimota of Northfield, Minn., 10 walleyes, 52.98

 

The third and final day of competition begins today at 7 a.m. Eastern time as the top 10 takes off from Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay Marina, located at 30 Central Avenue in Dunkirk. The final weigh-in will take place at the Dunkirk Pier, which is located at 2 Central Avenue, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The winner in each division is determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.

NWT Insider Report: Hoyer returns to championship stage with vengeance

By Brett Carlson

 

DUNKIRK, N.Y. – A host on the popular “The Next Bite” television show, John Hoyer is one of walleye fishing’s most noted and respected sticks. His 2019 season on the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, will live in perpetuity as one of the greatest the sport has ever seen. After winning the second qualifier of the year on Green Bay, he subsequently took second at Sault Ste. Marie. He culminated the incredible season with another victory at the year-end championship on Devils Lake. Last year, however, Hoyer’s name was noticeably absent from the championship field of 40 pros. Hoyer finished 42nd in the points; his undoing was a double zero at the season opener on Sturgeon Bay. This year, he’s back with a vengeance and a whopping 9-pound lead on Lake Erie.

Like many of today’s top walleye fishermen, Hoyer is not a fan of trolling. He’d prefer to cast and feel his bites while utilizing forward-facing sonar. But Lake Erie is the one venue, perhaps the last traditional walleye factory, where trolling still dominates.

“I tried to troll with the salmon gear in practice, but I was a disaster; there were snags everywhere,” said the Berkley/Simms pro. “There were all these signs that I should not be trolling in the biggest tournament of the year. I finally realized that there was no way I could out-troll this caliber of fishermen.”

With his decision made, the Orono, Minn., pro eventually identified 10 different casting spots during practice.

“I knew I was around the right quality, but I very minimally sampled my areas. My first hook set today was about 10 minutes into it, and it was a 31-incher.”

While they were thin, Hoyer caught two other giants in the 30-inch range. The two smallest fish in his limit were 5 1/2 and 6 pounds. With 39.81 pounds in his Ranger livewell by noon, Hoyer opted to lay off rather than try to continue to improve.

“We were only fishing for about a 2 1/2-pound upgrade. Plus, there’s the possibility of those earlier fish dying (and having to take a penalty). I decided to Cadillac it home and save those fish for the next two days. Of my 10 spots that have potential, I only fished one today. It was a short day, but it was one of the top five fishing days of my life.”

With so much at stake, Hoyer was understandably tight-lipped about his unique Erie casting program.

“All I can say is that I was marking them with my Lowrance Active Target and then picking and choosing. There were no trolling passes. I’m proud to say I didn’t troll an inch today.”

Hoyer’s main concern at this point is the weather. Tomorrow looks nearly perfect for his program, but Friday’s forecast calls for morning thunderstorms and potentially strong winds.

“Honestly, I haven’t done this pattern in rain, overcast, and wind. Sunny and calm is key. My plan tomorrow is to not save anything. I’m going to try to destroy them.”

AOY takes unexpected turn

After Hoyer’s dominant day, the next major news item was the abrupt change in the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race. Kevin McQuoid came into the tournament with an 11-point lead over Max Wilson and a 12-point lead over Duane Hjelm.

After uncharacteristically finishing the day in 39th place, McQuoid opened the door for some major drama. Unofficially, Wilson, who sits in 16th place, now has an 8-point lead over Hjelm, an 11-point lead over Korey Sprengel, and a 12-point lead over McQuoid, but a lot can change tomorrow.

Red-hot Maher second

In June, Gary Maher clinched his first NWT victory on the Mississippi River. Fishing with momentum on his side, the Menoken, N.D., cattle rancher sits second with 30.69 pounds.

“This is a totally different approach to fishing,” said Maher. “I’ve never trolled this deep in my life. I had a few really good days of prefishing, so I knew it was possible to weigh over 30 pounds. I was fortunate enough to get them to bite today. Overally, I’m feeling good. When you win a tournament at this level, it’s absolutely a plus. You feel more confident in what you’re doing and the decisions you make.”

Maher said his fish are moving, and depending on the day, it can be arduous to relocate them.  On average, he’s catching about a dozen fish per day. Today was better than normal with 15 walleyes reaching his Ranger.

“We caught some fish right away, but my best spot is my late afternoon spot. That’s where we caught two of our biggest fish. We had one that was 29 inches and almost 9 pounds.”

Maher said he’s trolling with two different tactics.

“I’m using something that most people would probably never use. I’m using some stuff that I’ve had in my box from probably 8 or 9 years ago. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t need a big wind to get my bite going, but I do think the sun really helps.”

Elder Andersen third

Adam Andersen and his brother Kent are renowned trollers, but they’re typically backtrolling along contours and structure. This week on Lake Erie, they’ve found success trolling the deeper Eastern Basin.

“We’re trolling crankbaits with Dipsy Divers and leadcore,” said the Amery, Wis., angler. “I’ve been using leadcore since I could walk, but this is my first time with the Dipsy Divers. It’s always kind of fun trying something new. We’re using shallow runners with the Dipsys and deep runners on my leadcore.”

Andersen, who owns the construction company Lake Country Builders, said he caught roughly 20 walleyes on the championship’s first day. His five biggest weighed 30.03 pounds, good enough for third place.

“There were flurries today. You’d hit a little pocket of fish and get a few. Then you’d turn around and get one or two more. It started out pretty strong this morning. Within the first 15 minutes we had a 6 1/2-pounder, and that helps take the edge off. We had four of our weigh fish on our first long pass. The rest of the day was mediocre.”

Andersen said Hoyer’s megabag won’t change his game plan going forward.

“Hoyer is a hammer to start with, but even doing 30 pounds for three straight days is tough. I’m not trying to beat John Hoyer. I’m just trying to catch as much as possible with my program. He’s got his thing, and I’ve got mine.”

Ragotzkie fourth, Sieverding fifth

Rounding out the top five at the year-end championship are Wisconsin pros Austin Ragotzkie and Justin Sieverding. Ragotzkie, the Edgerton, Wis., native, caught a limit weighing 29.56 pounds for fourth place. Sieverding, the Malone, Wis., fisherman, managed 29.47 pounds for fifth.

Rest of the best

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

6th: Craig Sleeman of Victor, N.Y., five walleyes, 28.85

7th: Matthew Reber of Granger, Iowa, five walleyes, 28.63

8th: Bill Shimota of Northfield, Minn., five walleyes, 28.29

9th: Brett King of Hager City, Wis., five walleyes, 28.01

10th: Jason Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., five walleyes, 27.71

 

The second day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Eastern time as the full field takes off from Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay Marina, located at 30 Central Avenue in Dunkirk. The day-two weigh-in will take place at the Dunkirk Pier, which is located at 2 Central Avenue, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The full field fishes each of the first two days with the top 10 advancing to the third and final day. The winner in each division is determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.

NWT Insider Report: Slugfest expected at Super Bowl of walleye fishing

By Brett Carlson

 

DUNKIRK, N.Y. – The top 40 professional walleye anglers in the world are busy practicing for the 2022 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Hosted by the City of Dunkirk, the most lucrative event in walleye fishing takes place on legendary Lake Erie, known as the Walleye Capital of the World. The three-day event, which features no pro entry fee, commences Aug. 24. While many of the pros are new to Erie’s Eastern Basin, they’ve now received a few days of on-the-water experience.

Kevin McQuoid currently leads the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race with 717 points. McQuoid has had four days on the water, and he’s largely impressed with what he’s seen.

“Erie is not going to disappoint,” said the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s pro. “There’s a lot of fish in the system right now, but there’s a lot of bait too. With the right combination, they are pretty willing (to bite). For Angler of the Year, I don’t have to win the tournament, but I have to make the third day. If I make the top-10 cut, mathematically they can’t catch me.”

McQuoid reported water temperatures of 73 or 74 degrees, which is warm for such a massive Great Lake.

“With the warmer water, the fish are definitely deeper. It just feels different than a springtime Erie event. With high metabolisms, they’re moving around and feeding heavily.”

McQuoid predicted all 40 pros will have five-fish limits.

“We’re catching some 6- and 7-pounders, but there’s a lot of 4- to 4 1/2-pounders. I think there’s going to be a lot of guys in that 25-pound bracket, and I think 27 pounds a day will get you inside that top-10 cut.”

McQuoid also reported that there’s a bit more structure on Erie’s Eastern basin. He spent one day sampling it with glide baits, but was largely unsuccessful.

“I’m comfortable trolling open-water style, but a structure bite is possible. There’s also the possibility of a spinner bite shallow. You might not get as many bites, but it could be a key to catching bigger fish. That’s what scares me right now. Can you catch the kickers when it counts? Overall, it’s a great walleye fishery. I want to thank the City of Dunkirk. They’ve welcomed us with open arms; this is a fun place to be.”

Trailing McQuoid by 11 points is Max Wilson, the winner of the 2018 NWT Championship on Lake of the Woods. Wilson prefers a six-day prefish and thus has spent only one day probing the deeper Eastern Basin.

“There are just so many fish in this system,” said the Blackfish pro. “At times today it was really fun, but I’m just not a troller. I can troll, but this is a whole ‘nother world of trolling. This extremely deep style of trolling is so much different. It feels more like salmon fishing.”

Overall, Wilson was pleased with day one.

“It took me about 2 hours before I started to dial it in, then we caught a good number. I first wanted to get a look at a new body of water. Second, I wanted to locate a couple of schools and get a feel for the trolling bite. I didn’t have a crazy weight, but we did that. I’ve got some confidence, and now it’s time to start expanding and building on that.”

Wilson has built a strong reputation as a jigger who deftly utilizes forward-facing sonar.

“I did look at a few pieces of structure, and I will try again eventually. A jigging bite could be had; a lot of that depends on the weather. A lot of that structure is over on the Canadian side, which is a long run. If it’s rough, it’s just not feasible.”

Like McQuoid, Wilson envisions many bags right around 25 pounds.

“That one 9-pound kicker will get you in the 28- or 29-pound range.”

In third place, just one point behind Wilson, is Duane “Dewey” Hjelm. The Pierre, S.D., native won the fourth qualifier of the season on Green Bay. Earlier this month, he also won the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Team Championship on Lake Oahe with Tyson Keller. He’s had 2 1/2 days of practice on Erie thus far.

“There are fish literally everywhere,” said the Dakota Lithium pro. “It seems like most of the fish are out really deep, and you can go pretty much anywhere and catch fish. I’m still just trying to figure it out, and the biggest deal is finding the bigger fish. Today was super windy, and they didn’t even call for a lot of wind. To be honest, I didn’t get a lot accomplished today.”

Hjelm, arguably the sport’s hottest stick, reported his biggest walleye from practice so far was 26 inches and weighed roughly 6 pounds.

“I believe in momentum, and I’ve been making good decisions, but I’m not on anything crazy. One thing I’ve learned about Lake Erie is that it can make you feel incredibly small. I’m going to work my butt off the next four or five days. It’s definitely going to be a shootout.”

The top prize package in the championship is a Ranger 620FS Deep V Boat with a Mercury 250 XL Pro XS valued at $89,995 + $30,000 with second place earning a Ranger 2080MS with a Mercury 250 XL Pro XS valued at $76,995 + $15,000. The top prize for co-anglers is a Ranger VS1882 Angler valued at $44,995 + $6,000.

Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Eastern time from Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay Marina, located at 30 Central Avenue in Dunkirk. The daily weigh-ins will take place at the Dunkirk Pier, which is located at 2 Central Avenue, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The full field fishes each of the first two days with the top 10 advancing to the third and final day. The winner in each division is determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.

The public is invited to attend the daily weigh-ins, and there will be a kids fishing clinic after the weigh-in on Aug. 25. Prior to the tournament, a community meet and greet is scheduled for Aug. 21 at 5 p.m. in the field between the Clarion and Tim Hortons where the anglers will have a chance to show off their vessels and answer questions.

The National Walleye Tour consists of four regular-season events and a no-entry-fee championship. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers. For more information on rules and tournament payouts, visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com.

Insider Report: Walleye fishing’s biggest event set for Lake Erie Dunkirk

By Brett Carlson

 

DUNKIRK, N.Y. – After four qualifying events that spanned the Midwest, the top 40 pros and top 40 co-anglers are set to compete in the 2022 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. The no-entry-fee tournament takes place Aug. 24-26 on legendary Lake Erie. Not only is it the sport’s most lucrative event, awarding three fully-rigged boat packages, but it also determines the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year, the most prestigious title in walleye fishing.

Professional walleye anglers are accustomed to trolling Erie’s world-class waters, but typically the events are held on Erie’s Western Basin. The city of Dunkirk, N.Y., located in scenic Chautauqua County, is hosting this year’s championship. The location is intriguing for several reasons. First, it’s common knowledge that Lake Erie walleyes spawn early in the springtime in the Western Basin along the shallow reefs. As the water warms throughout the year, those fish disperse and migrate east – some traveling past Dunkirk as far as Buffalo. Secondly, only a few of the 40 pros competing in this year’s championship have much experience probing the Eastern Basin. In short, Eastern Lake Erie is the perfect playground for the biggest event in walleye fishing.

“I’m really looking forward to having the championship in Dunkirk,” said Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s pro Kevin McQuoid, who currently leads the AOY race, and whose son, Eric, won the 2021 NWT Championship on Minnesota’s Otter Tail Lake. “I’ve never fished (Erie) out of Dunkirk, and I know only a small number of guys have. Lake Erie has a record number of walleyes in the system, and with only a 40-boat field, it’s possible to not see another tournament boat all day; it’s that vast. Plus, the sheer number of 5-pounders in the system is going to make it an awesome event.”

“The City of Dunkirk is excited for the opportunity to host the 2022 National Walleye Tour Championship,” said Mayor Wilfred Rosas. “Lake Erie is one of the country’s top walleye destinations, and this will be a great event for our local fishing community. The area has great attractions that everyone can enjoy. We welcome the anglers and their guests to come experience a beautiful New York summer.”

“With a great deal of excitement and gratitude, the people of Dunkirk are proud to welcome the eighty anglers that are competing for the National Walleye Tour Championship in August,” said Vince DeJoy, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Dunkirk. “What an incredible opportunity we have to deliver a positive experience for the anglers and their families, and to the many people that will visit and discover Dunkirk and will make it a point to come back again.”

“Lake Erie is a unique walleye destination,” said Jim Steel, who along with his wife, Diane, serve as the Innovative Outdoors Walleye Challenge tournament directors. “Eastern Lake Erie is popular for its deep-water trolling. Anglers can also be successful in shallow water. We expect that the anglers will use a variety of techniques to land some heavy walleyes. It’s not uncommon to land a 10-pound walleye this time of year. We are looking forward to what these professional anglers bring to the scale.”

The National Walleye Tour events are televised on the Pursuit Channel, the World Fishing Network and are available to stream on demand through several platforms. The top prize package in the championship is a Ranger 620FS Deep V Boat with a Mercury 250 XL Pro XS valued at $89,995 + $30,000 with second place earning a Ranger 2080MS with a Mercury 250 XL Pro XS valued at $76,995 + $15,000. The top prize for the Co Angler in the Championship is a Ranger VS1882 Angler valued at $44,995 + $6,000.

Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Eastern time from Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay Marina, located at 30 Central Avenue in Dunkirk. The daily weigh-ins will take place at the Dunkirk Pier, which is located at 2 Central Avenue, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The full field fishes each of the first two days with the top 10 advancing to the third and final day. The winner in each division is determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.

The public is invited to attend the daily weigh-ins, and there will be a kids fishing clinic after the weigh-in on Thursday, Aug. 25th. Prior to the tournament, a community meet and greet is scheduled for Aug. 21 at 5 p.m. in the field between the Clarion and Tim Hortons where the anglers will have a chance to show off their vessels and answer questions.

The National Walleye Tour consists of four regular-season events and a no-entry-fee championship. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers. For more information on rules and tournament payouts, visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com

In addition to the National Walleye Tour Local sponsors listed below we would like to thank the local Dunkirk sponsors: Stanley Star, Chautauqua County Partnership For Economic Growth, CCIDA, Holiday Harbor, EZ Dock, DFT Communications, H&K Services, Inc., Lake Shore Savings Bank, Graf Realty, 4 Centre Drive Associates LLC, Burgess & Niple, Inc., Clarion Hotel and United Rental.

 

Event No. 1: Detroit River, Trenton, Mich. – Pro champion: Paul George (nine walleyes, 40.94 pounds)

 

Event No. 2: Missouri River, Chamberlain, S.D. – Pro champion: Dustin Kjeldon (10 walleyes, 31.76 pounds)

 

Event No. 3: Mississippi River, Prairie du Chien, Wis. – Pro champion: Gary Maher (eight walleyes, 27.02 pounds)

 

Event No. 4: Green Bay, Marinette, Wis. – Pro champion: Duane Hjelm (10 walleyes, 73.40 pounds)

 

Event No. 5: Lake Erie, Dunkirk, N.Y. – Aug. 24-26

Insider Report: Dewey doubles down, dominates Marinette

MARINETTE, Wis. – Green Bay is known as perhaps the premier big-walleye fishery in the country, but catching a five-fish limit can be difficult. This week at the fourth and final qualifying event of the 2022 National Walleye Tour season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, bait was abundant, which meant coaxing walleyes to bite was downright baffling at times. In these challenging conditions, the cream of the crop always rises to the top. For the second time in his young career, the best of the best was 35-year-old Duane “Dewey” Hjelm. By doubling down, Hjelm proved he’s not just a Missouri River stick; he’s one of the best in the business.

Lately, Green Bay tournaments have been dominated by fishermen who run north and structure fish. Casting and reading forward-facing electronics is a thrilling way to target huge walleyes, but it’s also nerve wracking as the anglers know they’ll be lucky to receive a handful of bites. For that reason, Green Bay leaderboards are notorious for flip-flopping. Proving their mettle, Hjelm and others at the top stayed remarkably consistent this week.

Hjelm said he drove his Ranger 30 to 40 miles north from Marinette – staying on the west shore and heading up towards Big Bay de Noc. There, he sampled offshore structure or what he called resting spots.

“They are starting to set up on their summer homes,” said the Pierre, S.D., native, who first won on Lake Sakakawea in 2017. “We were keying in on areas that didn’t have as much baitfish. There was tons and tons of baitfish around, but up there, there wasn’t hardly any. It wasn’t like it was everywhere else; they seemed more friendly.”

While there was some rock in his area, rock wasn’t exactly the deal.

“It was basically little shoals or little knobs that had current deflections. Walleyes could get in front of it or behind it, depending if they were resting or feeding. Rocks were a good thing, but if it didn’t have rock, we didn’t rule it out.”

In gin clear water, Hjelm’s fish were suspended 2 to 10 feet off the bottom in water 18 to 24 feet deep. At times, he would slide up as shallow as 14 feet.

“I wasn’t making a cast unless I saw a fish. I had my head down on my Lowrance ActiveTarget the whole time. You knew you were casting on or around fish. I never really understood it until I fished Green Bay, but these walleyes never stop moving. They are constantly on the swim, and you can just watch them come and go on the graph. You’ll get super excited, and then they’ll completely vanish.”

Hjelm threw a variety of glide baits in natural colors to catch his fish. He had trolling gear with him, but never caught one trolling in the tournament.

“We had our trolling rods ready in case the wind and weather wouldn’t let us execute. But the conditions were almost perfect for glide baits. We would let it hit bottom, then rip it up. You get most of your bites right before it hits bottom or near the top of the stroke. Sometimes when you go to lift up again they already have it. The action at the top of the stroke, it just makes them super mad.”

When Hjelm, the Dakota Lithium pro, sat on his primary area this morning, he instantly started seeing fish. However, the first five or six schools weren’t interested at all. Then, they’d experience a 45-minute bite window where they’d catch three or four. Then a lull. Then another bite window. Hjelm’s co-angler, Michael Yarema, caught a 30-incher as their sixth and final fish. At that point, Hjelm still had four hours to ease back to Marinette. The end result for his best five was 41.72 pounds. Combined with his 31.68 from day one, Hjelm finished the tournament with a cumulative total of 73.40 pounds.

“The key to this one was putting in a lot of hard work and long hours. At first, it was figuring out water temperatures, current, baitfish and all that stuff. I was just trying to figure out what the heck was happening with the lake. Then, it was trying to figure the fish out and duplicate it in spots A, B and C. Lastly, it was about relying on and trusting my equipment, especially my graph.”

For his second NWT win, Hjelm earned a Ranger 620FS Pro with a 250-horsepower Mercury Pro XS, plus $15,000 cash and another $2,327 of Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $101,322. Hjelm also tightened the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race. Kevin McQuoid leads with 717 points. Eleven points behind McQuoid is Max Wilson, and Hjelm sits one point behind Wilson.

“Winning any of these tournaments is a huge accomplishment. I don’t take any of this for granted. I’m super blessed and super grateful. I know what it takes to win one of these, and to walk away with another one is crazy. Two weeks ago I married my longtime girlfriend Valerie, and my parents have been traveling with us for the last few events. It’s overwhelming the amount of support I’ve received lately. They all plan on coming to Dunkirk too.”

Sprengel satisfied with second

Korey Sprengel, known by many as the Green Bay GOAT, finished second with a two-day total of 61.27 pounds. On day one, the Berkley pro caught 30.14 pounds, and today he improved slightly to 31.13. Sprengel dominated the 2020 and 2013 NWT events on Green Bay, his home pond. In 2020, he won the event by over 17 pounds. This week, however, he was content with second.

“For the first time and maybe the only time, I’m happy with second,” said the Beaver Dam, Wis., native. “Dewey just put it out of reach. I’m glad he crushed them or there would’ve been a lot of things I wished I did differently.”

This morning, Sprengel debated a mega run north. It was a gamble, and he ultimately opted against it. While he still ventured north, he only went roughly 20 miles from Marinette.

“Part of me really wanted to swing for it this morning, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t do it. I knew it was a tougher bite, and I knew in these other areas I could catch fish.”

Sprengel’s pattern was essentially the opposite of Hjelm’s. Instead of casting glide baits, he trolled standard crawler harnesses.

“I trolled the whole time. The thing with glide baits is that you lose about half the fish that bite. In a tough-bite tournament, that’s everything. I know with a crawler harness, my odds of losing them are a lot slimmer.”

Sprengel said his harness setup was an octopus hook up front and a treble below. Golds, purples and chartreuses in both Colorado and willow blades produced.

“To be honest, there was nothing that stuck out this week. It’s just what I have confidence in. It’s the presentation that kind of made my career. I can manipulate depths, up and down, deep and shallow, to trigger a bite.”

Sprengel’s speeds were 1 to 1.5 mph. He wanted the crawlers near the bottom in 15 to 20 feet.

“It’s a fine line. You want to be close to the bottom, but you can’t touch it or it’s over with the moss, zebras and gobies down there. Some were rock breaklines. Some were just big-boulder spots. On these tough bites, I key on short passes and fish the high-percentage spots. Some of these passes were as short as 200 yards. Right now, they’re so full of alewives, so it’s tough. With a tough bite, sometimes curiosity wins. You pull a crawler harness slow enough, it’s going to follow it, smell it and then eventually eat it.”

Side Imaging helped Sprengel identify the structure. His vessel itself also assisted with fine-tuning his trolling program.

“I had to go sideways through the wind, but my Ranger tracked straight, and it didn’t swing around with that deep keel. It’s one thing a lot of people overlook, but it made a big difference.”

Sprengel will head to the year-end championship fourth in the points, seven behind Hjelm.

Wiesner up to third

The biggest move of the day belonged to local Fond du Lac, Wis., fisherman Josh Wiesner. After catching four quality walleyes on day one that weighed 24.46 pounds, Wiesner caught four giants Friday that weighed 36.52 pounds. Despite not weighing a limit either day, Wiesner took third with 60.98 pounds.

“Yesterday I caught all the big ones trolling crawler harnesses, which I never do,” said Wiesner. “Today we made the same run north. We got around the bend and the fish were there, but it just wasn’t working. We pulled in two boards, and there were two marks on the LiveScope. I dropped down and caught one of my two big ones.”

Wiesner said that first fish quite possibly could’ve been the biggest walleye of his life.

“I didn’t measure it, and I didn’t weigh it, but it could’ve been 12 pounds.”

Like Hjelm, Wiesner did his damage today with glide baits in 16 to 20 feet. His best was a No. 9 Jigging Rap that was painted by Hot Shot Customs.

“We had four fish in the boat by 11, but we never could get the fifth. There were other areas south of Marinette where I could’ve caught a smaller fish, but I tried for the win and came up short. Yesterday, I lost a 5-pounder next to the boat on the second net attempt. That would’ve had me in second. Considering I didn’t find these fish until the last day of practice, I’m absolutely thrilled with third.”

Herd retains fourth, McQuoid up to fifth

Rounding out the top five are Minnesota pros Drake Herd and Eric McQuoid. Walleye fans may remember that Herd and McQuoid stole the show at last year’s championship on Otter Tail Lake. Herd clinched Angler of the Year in front of family and friends while McQuoid became the youngest pro to ever win a tour championship.

This week on Green Bay, Herd was remarkably consistent. On day one, the Alexandria, Minn., pro caught a limit weighing 28.18 pounds. Today, he improved to 31.63 pounds, finishing with a total weight of 59.81 pounds.

McQuoid, fresh off a team victory on Green Bay, also improved as the tournament continued. On the first day, McQuoid caught a limit weighing 25.60 pounds, and today he managed 32.91. Combined, the 22-year-old had 58.51 pounds for the week.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros on Green Bay:

6th: Ryan Dempsey of Green Bay, Wis., seven walleyes, 51.01

7th: Max Wilson of Campbellsport, Wis., eight walleyes, 50.32

8th: Tom Huynh of Moorhead, Minn., nine walleyes, 45.11

9th: Kevin McQuoid of Isle, Minn., 10 walleyes, 44.43

10th: Matt Schiefelbein of Marseilles, Ill., nine walleyes, 42.94

Up Next

The final event of the 2022 season is the NWT Championship, the most lucrative event in professional walleye fishing. Only the top 40 pros and top 40 co-anglers qualified to fish the no-entry-fee tournament, which takes place Aug. 24-26 on Lake Erie out of Dunkirk, N.Y.

Insider Report: Dewey does it again, leads day one in Marinette

MARINETTE, Wis. – When Duane “Dewey” Hjelm won the 2017 National Walleye Tour event presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s on Lake Sakakawea, he proved his mettle on the Missouri River system. While he’s registered several solid tournaments since, his recent string of success demonstrates another level of versatility. In early June, Hjelm took second on pools 9, 10 and 11 of the Mississippi River out of Prairie du Chien, Wis. Back in Wisconsin this week, he’s moved up to the top spot after day one on the more expansive Green Bay.

Two weeks ago, Hjelm married his longtime girlfriend. Along with his mom and dad, the three have recently formed an informal support trio that has allowed Hjelm to relax as he battles the mental side of high stakes tournament fishing. If his hot streak continues, this might have to become a permanent arrangement.

Hjelm said he received eight or nine bites today, which is impressive considering the difficult conditions. He started quickly and ultimately finished his day early. His five weigh fish registered 31.68 pounds, giving him roughly a pound and a half lead over second place pro Korey Sprengel.

“It’s been tough,” said the Pierre, S.D., native. “There’s tons and tons of bait around. The alewives are thick, so thick in some places you can almost walk across the dead ones. There’s bug hatches and tons of gobies too. Your presentation has to be nearly perfect for them to eat. Right now, they can pretty much swim around with their mouth open and get an easy meal.”

During practice, two- and three-fish days were the norm.

“It was so tough at times it was hard to keep your focus, hard to keep your head in it. In that type of bite, tons of thoughts go into your head. I do think the bite is getting better though. In another two or three weeks this place will be on fire.”

Hjelm said he didn’t travel far to catch his tournament-leading stringer.

“I stayed close. It was a combination of being the best spot in practice, but me also knowing how quickly this place can turn. By staying close today, I was able to maximize fishing time. There hasn’t been much traffic around me either. During practice, I was starting to think I was in the wrong area.”

Hjelm’s preferred technique is casting. He said he has both a casting and trolling pattern going this week.

“Trolling is definitely working, and I feel like I’m around the right fish to win it. But there’s lots of areas in this lake where you can be around the right fish. Right now, it’s more about how active they are. Overall, I’m hopeful and optimistic. In this area, we don’t catch many small ones. With how tough the bite has been, I won’t gamble and throw back a 4-pounder tomorrow, especially early.”

After registering his weight today, Hjelm has unofficially punched his ticket to the 2022 National Walleye Tour Championship. He’s also in serious contention for the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year award. He started the event fourth in the standings, 20 points behind Kevin McQuoid.

“Angler of the Year is possible, and it’s a goal of mine, but I’m just taking it one day at a time, and then one tournament at a time. It can be hard to duplicate weights on Green Bay, so I know I have my work cut out for me.”

Sprengel safely in second

The 2022 tournament season has been steady, yet unspectacular for Sprengel, arguably the sport’s most accomplished walleye angler. Like Hjelm, he’s still in contention for Angler of the Year as he currently sits seventh in the points. Today, the Berkley pro seemingly took his foot off the gas, yet still sits second with 30.14 pounds.

“I only caught five fish today, but that’s OK,” said Sprengel. “I played it somewhat safe. I didn’t want to risk too much and swing too much. You can’t win the tournament on the first day. I’m just super happy nobody came in and weighed 40 pounds.”

Sprengel knows plenty about winning big tournaments. In addition to capturing the 2014 NWT Championship, Sprengel dominated the 2020 and 2013 NWT events on Green Bay. It’s not only his home fishery, it’s his home pond with history. For example, he won the 2020 event by over 17 pounds.

“I was more nervous for this one,” said the Beaver Dam, Wis., pro. “I almost felt it was mine to screw up. I evaluated the situation and made sure I didn’t mess it up on day one. Sometimes I need a reality check. I have to remind myself I don’t need to have 40 pounds.”

Sprengel was somewhat tight-lipped about his location and presentation. All he would allow is that he’s structure fishing with crawler harnesses and purposely targeting larger fish. The area he chose today was part of the safe play.

“Practice was tough, but not impossible. I can catch them. I sort of like these tougher tournaments because it represents a real opportunity to separate yourself.”

Sprengel’s next decision is whether or not to swing tomorrow. After all, playing it safe currently has him second.

“If I play it safe and come in with another 30 pounds, I’ll probably be in the top three and maybe have a chance at winning. But if I swing, I can eliminate a lot of questions and just slam the door. I do have a longer day tomorrow, and it’s supposed to be a bit calmer.”

Wilson third

Like Hjelm, Blackfish pro Max Wilson was in contention at the prior NWT event on the Mississippi River. The 2018 NWT Championship winner is once again in the hunt after catching a 29.47-pound stringer.

“I went out today knowing there was no in between,” said Wilson, who finished 8th in a team tournament on Green Bay last weekend. “It was either going to be great, or it was going to be terrible. I could’ve gone and played the numbers game, especially with AOY on the line, but I didn’t.”

Wilson said he caught only four fish all week in practice. He caught six today, but none of them came where he practiced.

“I just knew about this spot; I knew what caliber was there. I left the crowds and went there today because it was my best chance. It was nerve wracking coming into this.”

Wilson explained that the number of walleyes in his area is impressive, but getting them to bite is a chore.

“Where I’m fishing, it’s a five-bite-a-day deal. It’s all-out war. It is just so hard to get them to bite.”

With one fish in the box, Wilson’s plan was to abort at 11 if they didn’t catch another. No. 2 came in at 10:52, and the rest of the day followed suit. For the second half of the day, Wilson had to fish with his outboard running as the voltage on his starting batteries was running low.

“We just grinded it out and found a way to make it work. I’m mainly pitching at individual fish, and I have a one-two punch. We caught four fish off one bait today and two fish off the other. Today we both trolled and jigged.”

With seasoned sticks ahead of him, Wilson knows he’ll have to repeat today’s performance to reenter the winner’s circle.

“Sprengel is the GOAT on this system, but I’m not worried about him or what he’s catching. I  have to worry about myself. Quite simply, I have to back it up.”

Herd fourth, Ragotzkie fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Drake Herd and Austin Ragotzkie. Herd, the reigning Angler of the Year from Alexandria, Minn., caught a limit weighing 28.18 pounds for fourth place.

Ragotzkie, the fisherman from Edgerton, Wis., sits fifth with 27.01 pounds.

Rest of the best

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

6th: Kris Walcker of Minot, N.D., five walleyes, 26.93

7th: Karl Wenckebach of Lake Villa, Ill., five walleyes, 26.80

8th: Dustin Minke of Forest Lake, Minn., five walleyes, 26.77

9th: Keith Kavajecz of Deerbrook, Wis., five walleyes, 26.37

10th: James Campbell of Oregon, Wis., five walleyes, 26.02

The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the full field takes off from Menekaunee Harbor, located on Ogden Street in Marinette. The final weigh-in also takes place at Menekaunee Harbor, beginning at 3 p.m.

Insider Report: Maher’s megabag brings him first NWT title

By Brett Carlson

PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. – River tournaments are notorious for changing conditions, and perhaps no walleye fishery is more dynamic than the Mississippi River. This leads to a tournament phenomenon called flip-flopping, where the leaderboard undergoes all kinds of chaotic changes. On day two of the National Walleye Tour event, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, pools 9, 10 and 11 were generous to some and stingy for others, allowing veteran pro Gary Maher to stun the field and steal his first NWT win.

When the day started, Maher sat in the middle of the pack with a nondescript 7.40 pounds. By noon, he had nearly 20 pounds in his Ranger livewell as he completed an improbable comeback. The Menoken, N.D., pro experienced a mediocre practice, but there was one spot, located 12 miles south of the takeoff in Pool 10, that he believed held potential.

“I was fishing an island break that swung next to the shore in a secondary channel,” explained Maher. “I would put the Spot-Lock on and work the current seams back and forth in 12 to 14 feet. It was a transition area where they could visit coming out of a back bay or the main river. On the bottom, it was a mix of rock and clams. I thought they would eventually show up, and they did.”

Maher is accustomed to fishing the Missouri River back home, and he’s always enjoyed reading moving water and deciphering current breaks. This was his first time on pools 9, 10 and 11, but his river acumen paid dividends. 

“You just develop a sense of where you think the fish should be. That’s what led me to this spot. You could see it wouldn’t be as affected by all the possible river variables.”

On day one, this honeyhole was not firing immediately. With just one keeper, the Mercury pro left, but noticed a series of no-wake buoys that were recently placed. Not wanting to waste valuable minutes idling to and from, he turned around and returned to his primary area. 

“I ended up catching two more quality keepers, and we lost a few as well. It gave me more confidence to stay. All eight of my fish came from that spot.”

On day two, it was still difficult to get bit as Maher managed only five keepers. However, four of his walleyes were perfect slots between 19 1/2 and 19 3/4 inches, and his 27 1/4-inch over was every bit of 8 pounds. His five fish Friday weighed 19.62 pounds, giving him a two-day total of 27.02 pounds.

“We figured it out better today. Everything we caught came on willow cats and live-bait rigs with slip weights. The heavier the current, the bigger the weight. We had to feel bottom and stay in that perfect zone.”

For over 20 years, Maher has competed at the sport’s highest level. While he’s had many successful tournaments, this was his first pro-am victory.

“I’ve been up there quite a few times,” he said. “I’ve been waiting all my life to do this. It took me a lot of years, but it finally happened, and it’s incredible. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of, but never truly expected. Even when I came in today, I never expected to win. You’re fishing against the greatest walleye guys in the world. I’m honored.”

The 59-year-old cattle rancher will head back to North Dakota with a Ranger 620FS Pro with a 250-horsepower Mercury Pro XS, $15,000 cash, plus $2,293 of Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $101,288.

Hjelm up to second

South Dakota stick Duane Hjelm, the winner of the 2017 NWT event on Lake Sakakawea, nearly became a two-time NWT champion this week. After crossing the 16-pound mark on day one, Hjelm caught a solid limit of slot fish today weighing 10.33 pounds. He finished the week with a cumulative total of 26.36 pounds.

“Practice was difficult, and we spent most of our time trolling back channels in 2 to 6 feet of water,” explained the Pierre, S.D., pro. “We were trolling No. 4 and No. 5 Berkley Flicker Shads. What happened is that we learned these channels really, really well. When you’re trolling, you see certain holes and sweet spots.”

By tournament time, Hjelm basically put the trolling rods away and rotated between three small sweet spots in Pool 9, located roughly 30 miles north of takeoff. Each spot was about a half mile from the next.

“We found one trough that was near shore. The water dropped down to like 10 or 12 feet, and there were trees overhanging it and giving it shade. I could see maybe 40 or 50 fish laying there on my Lowrance, but it was still only one fish every 20 minutes or so. As the tournament went on, I got more dialed in, but it was never fast and furious.”

In river tournaments, some anglers usually end up racing to specific, well-known spots. Hjelm was able to get away from the crowd in Pool 9, where he never saw a single tournament boat. It would take roughly an hour and a half to get there, depending on the timing of the lock, but it was worth it.  

“At first, I was just focused on trying to get a limit of 15-inchers up north,” Hjelm added. “Then you sort of learn the potential of your spots as you fish them hard. I’m happy with second, and I’m super happy for Gary. I actually bought my first Ranger boat from Gary way back when. I talked him into giving me this 14-foot rod with it. I still carry that rod in the boat to this day, and I used it a lot in this tournament.”

Of Hjelm’s 10 weigh fish, three came on a jig and crawler, and seven came on live-bait rigs and willow cats. Hjelm said the willow cat set up was similar to a Carolina rig with egg sinkers.

“Overall, I have no regrets. I didn’t make any bad decisions; there were no lost fish. I just wish he would’ve beat me by 10 pounds.”

Lampman third

Robert Lampman caught the second heaviest stringer of the tournament today and soared to third place. Lampman’s limit on day two weighed 18.63 pounds. On day one, he boated two keepers weighing 4.98 pounds. The De Soto, Wis., river rat finished the tournament with 23.61 pounds. 

Walleye fans may remember Lampman winning the 2005 FLW Walleye Tour Championship on the Mississippi River. Affectionately known as “Big-fish Bob,” Lampman has spent over 40 years fishing the Mississippi and still guides today. 

“We had a high river, but then it was gradually dropping,” he explained. “When it drops, the fish start moving. There were a few days where the water stabilized, and they bit. In general, falling water can be frustrating with how it moves the fish. They should’ve been back in the sloughs, but the bigger fish weren’t there.”

Lampman expected to have a big bag the first day. While he caught 13 fish, only two were scorable. He estimated the average size was 24 inches. Included in those 13 was a heartbreaker that measured just shy of 27 inches.

“I was dealing with big fish and big fish only. That’s what I was trying to put together for this one. I never caught a fish under 18 inches.”

Lampman opted to stay in Pool 10 during the tournament, although he had spots in Pool 11 on standby. 

“I didn’t have any boats around me. I was totally to myself. At times, I almost forgot I was fishing a tournament.”

On day two, everything came in the right order. His 28 1/2-incher over, which bit at 11 a.m., was his fifth fish, and he decided to weigh in early. 

Lampman was targeting shelves with three different presentations – willow cats, creek chubs and jigs with plastics.

“I was anchoring in 22 to 25 feet of water. I would cast up to 2 or 3 feet of water, and they were sitting in 6 to 7 feet, so it’s a pretty steep drop off.”

Lampman uses ringworms, paddletails and flukes as plastics, but the flukes produced best this week.

“There were a lot of great fishermen in this tournament out there who can do the job, so I’m happy with where I finished. I know I was in the right location to do the job. Day one should have been equal to day two, but that’s river fishing.”

Miller retains fourth, Lester fifth

Rounding out the top five are fellow river rats Harry Miller and Dave Lester. Miller, the Bellevue, Iowa, angler, started and finished the day in fourth place. On day one, he weighed 12.29 with only three walleyes. Today, he managed a limit worth 11.20, giving him a total weight of 23.49 pounds.

Lester, the Onalaska, Wis., fisherman, climbed up the leaderboard after catching 13.30 pounds today. On day one, Lester boated a 9.55-pound limit. He finished the tournament fifth with 22.85 pounds.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros on the Mississippi River:

6th: Dwayne Smith of East Moline, Ill., nine walleyes, 22.497th: Chad Osthoff of De Soto, Wis., 10 walleyes, 21.448th: Wayne Van Dyke of Spruce, Mich., eight walleyes, 21.349th: Mike Zell of Huron, S.D., 10 walleyes, 20.8410th: Randy Hummel of Windom, Minn., 10 walleyes, 20.41

Up Next

The fourth and final regular-season event takes place July 14-15 on the Bay of Green Bay in Marinette, Wis. The season’s final qualifier determines the top 40 pros and top 40 co-anglers who qualify to fish the no-entry-fee NWT Championship.