Insider Report: George gets it done on the Detroit River

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by Kyle Wood

TRENTON, Mich. – While the fishing improved on the Detroit River for day two of the National Walleye Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, it still wasn’t an easy tournament. Cold, dirty water had the bulk of the walleye population in the river shut down, making just getting a single bite quite the accomplishment. That’s where the local advantage can really shine and shining the brightest this week was Paul George of Trenton, Mich., who took the lead on day one and never looked back. Catching four worth 18.50 Friday, the Michigan pro caught a limit today that hit the scale at 22.44 giving him a 40.94 total to win by over 5 pounds. 

Being his first NWT event, George was determined to make the most of, especially considering on of his best friends and former walleye pro Josh Vanderweide was part of the reason he signed up. 

“I always said I wanted to fish one of these if it came to the Detroit River and Josh (Vanderweide) sent me the link to this tournament and I couldn’t believe it,” said George. “Josh told me to enter and thought I’d do phenomenal, so I did, and the end result I can’t say enough about. I feel so privileged.

“There was a lot of luck involved in this tournament, but I ground it out and put a lot of time into. I dedicated over a week pre-fishing alone.”

Given the conditions, George knew what hunkering down in areas that held fish would be the best use of his time. That’s why he focused on the Trenton channel, and more specifically, about a half mile from takeoff at Elizabeth Park Marina. 

“My No. 1 spot I targeted were walleye in the Trenton channel, because a lot of people overlooked it,” George said. “I was fishing a break and the fish were just stacked in there. It was anywhere from 15 to 20 feet. 

“My second spot I was fishing a break, but the fish were stacked on the break and at the bottom of it anywhere from 15 to 30 feet.”

To catch his fish, George employed a Detroit River staple – handlines. While he doesn’t claim to be an expert at, he has learned a few tricks over the years that helped separate himself from the pack this week. 

“You have to present your baits where the fish are,” he stressed. “A lot of people can go out and handline but not catch anything. Well, there’s variable reasons for that, but I think people don’t usually look at how you can use it to put your bait right in the fish’s mouth. 

“You have to rig your leads up right on your rigs. Just because there are places on your leads to put your lines doesn’t mean you’ll be in the zone to catch the walleye that you’re targeting. When you’re going slow like I was, .8 to 1 mile per hour, your baits won’t dive to where the fish are. So I used a lighter weight on my handline and put my leads lower on my shank. I busted a couple bills off some baits, but hey, I caught some big fish too.”

For his crankbaits, while others downsized because of the conditions, George went bigger. Running stock-colored (anything with chartreuse or orange and bleeding hot olive) Rapala Original Floaters in the No. 11 and 13 size was the ticket. The only customizing he did to his crankbaits was changing the stock hooks to Gamakatsus. He figured big, pre-spawn females would want a bigger meal to make it worth their while, and he wasn’t wrong.

“This morning I had a fish in the boat with two pumps of the handlining reel,” said the 41-year-old pro. “And in five minutes setting down at our secondary spot we had a fish over 7 pounds in the boat, I must have hit it right in the head and got lucky.”

A customs officer by trade, George isn’t looking to leaving his day job anytime soon, however bringing home a new Ranger 2080MS with a 250 hp Mercury and over $17,000 cash with a total purse of $88,215 isn’t bad for a few days of work. 

“I can’t be happier, this is pretty amazing,” said George of the win. “I do want to thank the people of the Downriver Walleye Federation here in Detroit. The organization is top-notch and full of some really good and nicest guys around. I was a member for so many years as a tournament director and I met so many guys and learned so much about how to catch walleye on the river and Lake Erie. I can’t be thankful enough for those guys.”

Bjorkman rallies for second

After sitting in 19th place with two fish for 6.56 on day one, Brian Bjorkman put on his rally cap for day two and sacked the biggest bag of the event – 28.55 – to settle in the runner-up position. 

The Detroit River has treated Bjorkman well throughout his career so it’s not a surprise to see him finish near the top, though it kind of was to him, especially considering the conditions. 

“Any time you can take second place with the field of anglers we have here it’s certainly an accomplishment,” Bjorkman said. “This was some of the worst conditions I think I have ever seen on tour. With the frigid cold temps and high winds, it was nuts all week.”

Sticking to his game plan all week, Bjorkman was all-in on handlining despite being a relative newcomer to it. 

“I felt handlining was going to put me in a position to catch fish even as the water was cleaning up,” he said. “Day one I went to spot I caught them in practice and I just couldn’t run the baits. There was so much grass floating and debris that I couldn’t keep any of the crankbaits from fouling up. 

“I went back down there this morning and things were getting a little better and I could keep the baits cleaner and the fish cooperated for the most part.”

Catching nine keepers today, Bjorkman ran textbook handline crankbaits. 

“I was just using original No. 9 Floating Rapalas. That’s just kind of what people run in that river. I was trying to work the structure a little more with that handline than other people by moving it up and down the break line. It seemed like it helped trigger some of the bites. 

“Handlining for me is pretty new. I’ve been doing this a long time, but never really had the opportunity to handline. I’ve owned handlines for a long, long time, so I was thankful I was given the opportunity to use them.”

Allred locks in third

Local and fellow NWT rookie like George, Chris Allred took advantage of the tough conditions to skate away with a third place showing. After catching just two fish, though good ones, on day one worth 11.53, the Michigan pro caught a limit today that hit the scale at 22.30. With 33.83 total, Allred is more than happy with how things went. 

“For this being my first [NWT] I’m ecstatic with taking third place,” said Allred. 

With years of experience on the river, Allred already knew the program he thought he needed to run and after practice, he confirmed it. 

“I knew where the fish should be for this time of year and where they should load up first, and that played a big role,” Allred said. “With this being a cold year, I knew it would keep the females from spawning and they’d be down in that deep water and it worked out in our favor.”

Running about eight miles from takeoff into Canadian water, Allred handlined in 24 to 34 feet of water to catch his limit today. Though jigging produced his fish yesterday, he had to roll with what the river gave him on Championship Saturday to get bit. 

“I went back to the spot that was loaded with fish yesterday where I caught them jigging and actually had about 2 feet of visibility,” he said. “But our fish disappeared. I made four or five passes through it and didn’t pull a fish. So, I went to my second spot and it was clean and usually good for at least one big one and nothing. Got to my third spot, the water and garbage like the weeds had cleared out and we were able to pull wire through there and caught six fish total, but five pretty good ones.”

Reluctant to disclose too much about his pattern with another big tournament coming up next week, Allred did say that custom-colored No. 11 and 13 Rapala Original Floaters were the ticket. 

“We caught all of our fish on one bait all week and couldn’t get them to go on stock colors,” he said. “We only had two of these baits with us, and there’s three boats that we fish together on our team. One of my tournament partners and really close friends drove home Thursday back to Linwood and painted 16 of those baits we could all have some.

“A lot of work went into this tournament.”

Lenz, Ragotzkie round out top five

 Eric Lenz of St. Clair Shores, Mich., takes the fourth spot after catching one walleye weighing 5.76 on day one and a limit worth 23.04 today. With 28.80 overall, Lenz is happy to pocket over $13,000 for his efforts. Meanwhile, Austin Ragotzkie of Edgerton, Wis., locks down fifth by adding 19.68 to his 7.22 day-one weight.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2022 NWT event on the Detroit River:

6th: Benjamin Teets of West Fargo, N.D., six walleyes, 25.63

7th: Kevin McQuoid of Isle, Minn., five walleyes, 25.54

8th: Matt LaFreniere II of Tawas City, Mich., six walleyes, 25.03

9th: Dustin Minke of Forest Lake, Minn., six walleyes, 24.78

10th: Dale Helgeson of Delavan, Wis., seven walleyes, 22.96

Insider Report: George leads NWT Detroit River grinder

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By Kyle Wood

TRENTON, Mich. – Tough would be an easy way to describe both the fishing and conditions for the season-opener of the 2022 National Walleye Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s on the Detroit River. With freezing temperatures during practice and heavy winds forcing the cancellation of Thursday’s original start, it was certain that whoever caught them in this event was going to work for it. Besting the conditions and the rest of the field in the opening round was local pro Paul George of Trenton, Mich., weighing four fish worth 18.50. 

This is George’s first NWT event and the fact that he can sleep in his own bed every night and has tons of experience on the river are certainly helping him along this week. 

“How do you even compare yourself, being a local guy who’s never fished one of these, to these tried-and-true pro anglers that are that good on every body of water,” said George. “It just so happens Detroit is my home ground and when the conditions are the toughest I feel like I might be fortunate enough to do the best. But we’ll see, it’s all about patience and grinding it out. Luck was on my side today.”

One of the most unique aspects to being a local in this tournament, or at least having history on the Detroit River proper, is that the tournament waters are confined to just the river. That means Lake Erie, where many NWT held here in the past have been won, is off-limits. 

Given the heavy winds yesterday that thrashed the river and caused the water to dirty up significantly, knowing areas that hold fish year in and year out can save the day.

“The water’s cold and with the weather conditions it just kept the fish negative,” he said of his day. “There’s not as many fish in the system and they’re probably just staged out at the mouth (of Lake Erie). That’s why you have to grind it out and key on those areas that hold fish. You can’t panic and run all over the river because you’re burning time. 

“I only had four bites today and didn’t lose any. I didn’t find my fish until late, late morning. I hit four spots and went to my big-fish spot first and didn’t get any bites. The water is just nasty all over the place, so I went to two go-to spots for some small fish hoping I could get lucky and even though the water looked better it didn’t happen. So, my last spot I went to late morning and I liked what I saw and I knew it had fish from pre-practice. I got better bites today than I did in pre-practice, so I stayed there and ground it out.”

George focused his efforts on very precise areas where he caught his fish, noting he wasn’t making long drifts at all. With less wind in the forecast tomorrow, some more sunshine and slightly warmer weather, George is hopeful he’ll be able to get dialed sooner in the day. 

“I think if the weather would just stabilize, you’d see an uptick in bites,” he said. “The water could clean up, and that’ll help. But I’ll definitely have to find and catch some fish if I want to keep my position.”

Minke in second

Riding out three quality bites that hit the scale at 15.97, Minnesota’s Dusty Minke is employing two river staples to get his bites. 

“I’m just doing a bit of jigging with my new Elliott rods and pulling some crankbaits on handlines,” said Minke. “The Detroit River is known for both of those and before you get here you have to have that kind of tackle.”

While Minke has fished events out of the Detroit River throughout his career, he doesn’t have much experience fishing the actual river. However, he’s thankful he’s made a few trips here in the past that may have given him a leg up this week. 

“My experience here on the Detroit River is I got to do some pre-fishing back in the day with my co-worker and walleye tournament angler, Chris Gilman,” he said. “Maybe I’ve been lucky to have been here in the past and see a few of the tactics they use, then I got here this week and refined them a bit.”

Catching just under 16 pounds in three fish may seem like Minke is on something, but when all three of those bites came off different spots, Minke knows he’s still got a lot of work ahead of him. 

“I think for me, today, it was about trying to find the right water. I wasn’t getting enough bites to stay in one spot, so tomorrow I’ll let the fish tell me what to do. The nice thing about fishing this river is we can run around. The fish are congregated in really about a 10-mile stretch, so I’ll focus on some of my spots and I’d really like my first spot to pan out so I don’t have to move around much. But I won’t be too stubborn and I’ll move around if I have to.”

Allred third

Another local to get off to a good start, Chris Allred caught two quality Detroit River specimens for his 11.53. 

“I fish the Detroit River all the time and I can tell you this is some of the toughest fishing I’ve fished on this river that I can remember,” Allred said. “Being a local in this type of event is playing to my advantage just because you know so much more of the river. It makes you fish spots longer than you would if you’re not from here because you know what they can do. 

“That’s exactly what it was today. We caught our fish in the same spot, just seven hours apart.”

Coming off a really good pre-fish for this event, Allred had high hopes, but after yesterday’s weather dirtied the water, it quickly crashed his dreams. 

“It’s one of those dirties that you can handline in dirty water and catch fish just as good as you can jigging when its clean, but sometimes it’s that type of dirty water where the fish don’t do anything. That’s kind of what it was today. The fish are there. I could see the fish down there, they just did not want to do anything. You have to find those very, very few active fish on days like today and we got lucky to find two of them.”

Allred is also hoping for better conditions tomorrow ­– namely better water clarity – and if that’s the case he thinks we might see some of the bags the Detroit River is known for.

“If we can get some clean water, we should see some 25- to 30-pound bags. This time of year, 30 to 40 pounds is not out of the question.”

Gordon fourth, Hanson fifth

Sitting in fourth place is Josh Gordon of Augres, Mich., who caught three walleyes weighing 11.46. Behind him, Curt Hanson of Mayville, N.D., rounds out the top five landing one massive walleye hitting the scale at 11.33.

Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one on the Detroit River:

6th: John Kopcok of Maidstone, Ontario, two walleyes, 10.72

7th: Craig Sleeman of Victor, N.Y., five walleyes, 10.35

8th: Jake Lapine of Oshkosh, Wis., four walleyes, 9.87

9th: Kal Ustishen of Chesaning, Mich., two walleyes, 9.85

10th: Ed Stachowski of Canton, Mich., two walleyes, 9.25 Tomorrow’s final day will launch and weigh in (3:30pm) at Elizabeth Park Marina in Trenton, Mich.

McQuoid slams the door, Herd claims AOY at NWT Championship

By Brett Carlson

OTTERTAIL, Minn. – With over a 7-pound lead, it would have been understandable for rookie pro Eric McQuoid to take a conservative approach on the final day of the 2021 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Instead, McQuoid went big again and caught the fire out of the Otter Tail Lake walleyes, bringing in an astounding 19-pound stringer. In what was predicted to be a nail biting, grinder tournament, the 21-year-old McQuoid blew the doors off the competition – winning the biggest event in walleye fishing by over 13 pounds. 

The McQuoid family is well known in tournament walleye circles as Kevin, the patriarch, has been competing for the better part of 30 years. In addition, Karen McQuoid has held her own as a team partner of Kevin’s on the MWC. But lately, the youngest member of the family has garnered the most headlines. Today, McQuoid became the youngest pro to win a major championship – narrowly besting Max Wilson by a few months in age.

The Bemidji State junior said he experienced a poor practice, catching only seven or eight walleyes in total. He was grateful for some pointers, and some basement lodging, from newly crowned Lucas Oil Angler of the Year Drake Herd, who lives in Alexandria and fishes Otter Tail often. While Herd was fishing extremely shallow, McQuoid chose to slide out deeper and stick with his confidence bait – an Acme Hyper-Rattle. 

“It was a 1-2 punch for me this week,” explained McQuoid. “No. 1 was using the Garmin Livescope to find them. No. 2 was the Hyper-Rattle. One of my buddies at Bemidji State got me on to it. Ever since, it’s been my go-to bait. My practice was terrible, so I just went back to what I had confidence in, and it’s that bait.”

McQuoid used the bigger 30 gram Hyper-Rattle, and he said his preferred color was white perch. All but one of his 15 weigh fish came on the Hyper-Rattle, the lone outlier coming from his co-angler, who was rigging chubs. Fishing in 8 to 16 feet, McQuoid would identify the fish on his Livescope, then position the bait 5 feet above their head.

“You rip it once and then catch it. Then you rip it again and watch their reaction. Sometimes I would let it fall all the way to the bottom just to get their attention. There were times they would chase it, but not grab it.”

While his slot fish were mostly suspended, all but one of his overs came near the bottom.

“My biggest fish of the tournament looked like a giant rock on the bottom. I probably made 20 casts before she eventually bit.”

Fishing a flat on the southeast side of the lake, McQuoid traveled 7 miles from Beach Bums to his primary area.

“Drake’s fish were up shallow on the top in like 3 to 6 feet. I tried that, but it didn’t work for me, so I just started going around it. There were a ton of perch there – just balls of bait that seemingly go on forever.”

Despite cooler temperatures and a change in wind direction, the bite this morning was still strong. At 10 a.m., his biggest fish of the day, a 27 1/2-incher, struck. By 10:30, he had a limit and started having thoughts of heading in early. While he certainly didn’t need it, he put another 26-incher in the box at 2 p.m. for good measure. The result was a final-day limit weighing 19.21 pounds. Combined with his 15.62 and his mega 23.72 sack, he finished with a cumulative total of 58.55 pounds.

“I want to credit my dad. I’m a rookie on the NWT, but I’ve been fishing tournaments with my father since I was eight. I’ve learned a lot – especially how to stay calm and how to fish what your confidence is.”

For winning the Super Bowl of walleye fishing, the Bannick Primary pro earned a Ranger 621FS Pro with a 300-horsepower Mercury outboard, plus $30,000 cash and $1,540 in Anglers Advantage money. The 21-year-old will head back to school with a prize package worth $121,535.

“It hasn’t sunk in it. It’s just so amazing it’s hard to find the words for it. I couldn’t have written a better script for my rookie season. I’m never going to forget this.”

Herd officially clinches AOY

After qualifying for the top 10 yesterday, Herd unofficially ended any drama in the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race. When the tournament ended today, it became official. With four top 10s and 902 points overall, Herd was the most consistent angler throughout the 2021 season. 

“First and foremost I want to thank my wife for letting me go chase my dreams,” said an emotional Herd. “Coming into this tournament, I honestly didn’t know if it was possible. But I love this lake. I’m just ecstatic; it’s an awesome feeling.”

Herd receives paid entry into each of the four qualifying events of 2022 season.

“I’ve looked up to these guys for years. To finally give it back to them feels awesome. With four top 10s this year I can’t complain one bit. It’s been an awesome experience. I couldn’t be happier.”

Huynh solidifies second

While the leaderboard shows a dominant victory, McQuoid wasn’t the only pro to take home a lucrative boat package. Multispecies angler Tom Huynh took home a Ranger 2080MS with a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard, plus $15,000 cash, $1,242 in Anglers Advantage money and a $1,000 Nitro bonus for a total payout of $88,237.

“I’m super happy with the result,” said the Moorhead, Minn., pro. “I almost feel like I won the tournament. Eric had it so far out of reach; I was basically competing for second.”

Huynh too fished the southeast side of the lake in the same general area as McQuoid and Herd. With 1/16 and 1/8-ounce Gamakatsu finesse jigs, Huynh was touching bottom in 8 to 15 feet.

“I was tipping my jigs with redtail chubs,” said the owner and operator of three Polished Nail Spa locations. “It was a slow fall, and the fish were really picky. With the warm weather, they were still in the grass eating minnows. They were hitting it on the bottom, but that’s where it’s tricky. There’s so much sand grass on the bottom. With a bigger minnow and a short-shank hook, you had to let them have it for a while. It worked so well because those Gamakatsu hooks are sticky sharp.”  

Huynh essentially ran the same program all three days. Today he made a late, gutsy move – venturing away from his primary area.

“We went to a tiny little spot with boulders and a mix of grass. It looked like a smallmouth spot, but my co-angler caught our biggest over there. That solidified second for us.”

After experiencing success on three different walleye circuits, Huynh has introduced himself as a future contender. 

“I’m competing against the guys I learned from on TV, on YouTube. I can’t explain the feeling, but I’m humbled by it.”

Stachowski third

Ed Stachowksi, the 2016 Angler of the Year, finished the week in third place with 43.88 pounds. Stachowski’s best day was the first one when he sacked up 15.70 pounds. Yesterday he managed 14.57, and today he weighed 13.61.

“We caught them on a 3/8-ounce jig and a piece of plastic,” said the Canton, Mich., native. “We caught 25 fish each of the first two days, but today it was a little tougher. I bet we caught 15 walleyes or so. We were ripping the bait so hard after a while it felt like your elbow was going to fall off.”

Stachowski was fishing bare sand, targeting walleyes that were up feeding shallow on small perch. At times he could see the fish inhale his jig. He would cast as far as possible, and then rip and pop the jig all the way to the boat.

“You wouldn’t believe how aggressive these fish were. They were up shallow for one reason – to kill stuff. They were almost knocking the rod out of your hand. Sometimes they’d miss it, and then come back up and just smash it. Anyone who says walleyes don’t fight hasn’t experienced a shallow bite like this.”

Stachowski’s plastic of choice was a split tail made by Erie Advantage. 

“It’s a heavier plastic that has a faster fall rate. It’s different than your normal flexible plastic. It’s more durable, but this plastic also makes the bait dance around and dart.”

While Stachowski fished a clean, impressive championship, it’s yet another near miss.

“I’ve had close calls in the past, and I go into every tournament trying to win, so it’s bittersweet. My hat is off to McQuoid. It’s almost impossible to beat that.” 

Andersen fourth, Wilson fifth

Rounding out the top five are tour stalwarts Kent Andersen and Max Wilson. Andersen, who won the regular-season finale on Lake Oahe, finished fourth with a cumulative total of 43.63 pounds. While Andersen demonstrated consistency with limits each day, his weights slowly decreased throughout the week. On day one, the Mercury pro boated 15.90 pounds, and on day two he sacked 14.80. Today, he managed 12.93 pounds. This was Andersen’s third consecutive top 10 at the year-end championship.

“I was hanging chubs all week,” said the Amery, Wis., resident. “We were backtrolling along breaklines, just sliding up and down the breaks. We had a great week; we just didn’t have the overs we needed today.”  

Wilson, the 2018 NWT Championship winner, finished with a three-day total of 39.24 pounds. He started the event with a 14.14 stringer and then slipped to 11.67 yesterday. Today, he improved to 13.43. After McQuoid’s win, Wilson no longer owns bragging rights as the youngest pro to win a championship. Dylan Nussbaum (20) still holds the record for the youngest pro to win an NWT event.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros on Otter Tail Lake:

6th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., 15 walleyes, 37.00

7th: Wayne Van Dyke of Spruce, Mich., 15 walleyes, 36.77

8th: Brian Bjorkman of Fargo, N.D., 14 walleyes, 36.65

9th: Jason Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., 14 walleyes, 35.75

10th: Jarrod Fredericks of Estelline, S.D., 15 walleyes, 34.35 The National Walleye Tour resumes action March 31-April 1, when the 2022 season kicks off on the Detroit River in Trenton, Mich.

McQuoid weighs mega bag at Day 2 NWT Championship

By Brett Carlson

OTTERTAIL, Minn. – The McQuoid family is well known in tournament walleye circles as Kevin, the patriarch, has been competing for the better part of 30 years. In addition, Karen McQuoid has held her own as a team partner of Kevin’s on the MWC. But lately, the hottest stick in the family has been 21-year-old Eric McQuoid, who today shocked the west-central Minnesota crowd with a 23.72-pound stringer. The younger McQuoid now carries over a 7-pound lead heading into the final day of the 2021 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s.

McQuoid called his second day on Otter Tail Lake “a dream come true.” On his first pass, he caught near-perfect slots that measured 19 1/2, 19 1/2 and 19 3/4 inches. Around 11 a.m., he spotted an absolute giant on his Garmin Livescope. After making several unsuccessful casts, a TV cameraman came aboard. Shortly after, the big girl bit, and she was every bit as big as she looked on McQuoid’s graph.

“That big one weighed about 9 1/2 pounds,” said the rookie pro. “It all went down with the camera guy recording. It was so intense I had to take a second to gather myself afterwards. Then I got back up front, and the next cast was a 6 1/2-pounder. It was truly one of those days you dream about.”

At 11:10, McQuoid had all his weight, so he spent the rest of the day prefishing. Specifically, he looked for spots that would jive with tomorrow’s strong northwest winds. In the end, he boated a total of 12 to 15 walleyes.

“It’s nice to have a few more options for tomorrow, but I hope I won’t have to hit them.”

In other words, McQuoid is doing his damage mostly from one spot, a spot he believes will reload.

“The wind is going to crash into there, which is good because the wind sort of loads them in. It’s possible it’s going to blow too much though. My batteries are definitely going to get a workout.”

While not revealing specifics, McQuoid shed some light on his pattern.

“We’re targeting specific fish – mainly throwing glide baits and pulling some live bait. There are four of us in the vicinity, so I don’t want to give away too much.”

On day one, the Bannick Primary pro registered 15.62. Combined with his 23.72 today, he has a total weight of 39.34 pounds.

“All of practice I only caught seven or eight walleyes, and I never saw a walleye over 20 inches. I caught three over 20 yesterday and three over 20 today. It’s just been crazy. I think if I go out there and catch five tomorrow, I’ll be right there.”

Herd unofficially claims AOY

Hometown hero Drake Herd may have slipped on the leaderboard from fifth to sixth, but more importantly, he secured the coveted Lucas Oil Angler of the Year award. When the championship concludes, his AOY win becomes official. 

“Coming into this tournament, I honestly didn’t know if it was possible,” said an emotional Herd. “But I love this lake. I’ve looked up to these guys for years. To finally give it back to them feels awesome.”

The lowest Herd can finish is 10th, but the potential to make a major move still exists.

“I just wanted to make the top 10, and I did that. It’s time to have some fun tomorrow.”

Huynh second

Despite another amazing performance, multispecies pro Tom Huynh slipped to second. After weighing 15.68 pounds, Huynh has an opening-round total of 31.84 pounds. 

“I’m mostly happy with where I’m at,” said the Moorhead, Minn., angler. “Of course I’d still like to be leading, but Eric went out there and put on a show today. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime bag for a Minnesota lake with a slot limit. When I heard what he had, there was disappointment. At the same time, I’m still super happy to have made the top 10. I’m not beating myself up; I’m just ready to do it again.”

Huynh believes he still has a puncher’s chance.

“Overall, I just want to maintain and be consistent. It’s going to be extremely tough to catch Eric. He has a really good cushion, but anything can happen. We’ve seen 23-pound bags, and we’ve seen legends of the sport zero this week.”

Huynh revealed that he and McQuoid are fishing near each other at times.

“I think we’re using similar techniques to locate fish too, but our tactics are different. But both tactics are working. I just think he found some good fish that slid out deep today. I love fishing deep; that’s normally what I do, but I just couldn’t find them deep. I’m in the mid-depth range, and he’s out deeper than I am.” 

While Huynh alluded to unorthodox methods yesterday, today he backpedaled.

“I’m using live bait and a very simple method for this tournament. I’ve used those before, especially on Leech Lake. They’re just super picky right now.”

Andersen third

Amery, Wis., pro Kent Andersen continues to backtroll along breaklines, and walleyes continue to pile up in his vessel. After catching 15.90 yesterday, he managed 14.80 today.  

“I was happy with what I got,” said the Lake Oahe champion. “Yes, 8 1/2 pounds is huge, but no lead is safe. That was a monster bag for Otter Tail Lake, but it doesn’t change how I fish tomorrow.”

Andersen revealed that he’s rigging red tails and creek chubs. He caught some fish in water as shallow as 5 or 6 feet, while others have come as deep as 35 feet. Typically Andersen is working the deeper water, and his co-angler is working the top of the break with a spottail shiner. 

“I just keep sliding up and down the breaks. I’m looking at my Humminbird electronics, and every once in a while, you’ll get a peak at them.”

Andersen is a bit concerned with tomorrow’s forecast, particularly the change in wind direction.

“The wind is going to rip tomorrow, and it’s going to be a completely different day. My worst day of practice was when it was cloudy and the wind was from the northwest, so hopefully it’s not a repeat.”

While he currently sits third in place, this event marks Andersen’s third consecutive top-10 finish at the year-end championship.

Stachowksi fourth, Przekurat fifth

Rounding out the top five are veteran sticks Ed Stachowksi and Jason Przekurat. Stachowski slipped from third to fourth despite catching a 14.57-pound stringer today. Combined with his 15.70 on day one, the 2016 Angler of the Year has a total of 30.27 pounds.

Przekurat climbed up the leaderboard from ninth to fifth after catching 14.60 pounds. His two-day weight was 27.50 pounds. While it’s a tall task, Przekurat will have the opportunity to repeat as NWT Championship winner.

Rest of the best

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

6th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., 10 walleyes, 26.84

7th: Brian Bjorkman of Fargo, N.D., nine walleyes, 26.26

8th: Max Wilson of Campbellsport, Wis., 10 walleyes, 25.81

9th: Wayne Van Dyke of Spruce, Mich., 10 walleyes, 25.13

10th: Jarrod Fredericks of Estelline, S.D., 10 walleyes, 22.28 The third and final day of competition begins tomorrow at 8 a.m. Central time as the top 10 takes off from Beach Bums Bar & Eatery located at 35776 Co. Hwy. 72 in Battle Lake. The final weigh-in will also take place at Beach Bums Bar & Eatery, beginning at 4 p.m. The winner in each division is determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.

Huynh hustles to early Otter Tail lead Day 1 NWT Champ

By Brett Carlson

OTTERTAIL, Minn. – In Minnesota, September is known as transition time. Sometimes the weather and the walleye fishing resembles summer, and sometimes the temperatures plummet and it feels like fall. This yo-yo effect oftentimes confuses the fish and leads to sluggish, unpredictable behavior. Day one of the 2021 NWT Championship on Otter Tail Lake was a grind for some, but the cream of the crop still rose to the top. Leading the most lucrative event in professional walleye fishing is multispecies pro Tom Huynh, who took a unique approach in catching his 16-pound stringer. 

While the weights at the top of the leaderboard were strong, the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race took an unexpected turn. Mark Courts came into the tournament with a 12-point lead over Chase Parsons and a 16-point lead over Drake Herd. After uncharacteristically failing to catch a legal walleye, Courts opened the door for some major drama. Parsons didn’t do himself any favors either, as he caught only one fish and sits 39th out of 40. Unofficially, Herd now has a 17-point lead over Greg Ehli, but a lot can change tomorrow. 

“First and foremost, I wanted to get off to a good start, and I did that,” said Herd, the local pro who calls Otter Tail his home lake. “I’m confident in what I’m doing, and I’m feeling good. We’ve still got a long ways to go, so we’ve got to keep battling. I fully expect both Chase and Mark will have great days tomorrow.”

Herd set his sets at about 12 pounds today and ended up with 15.38.

“To get anything above 12 is huge. My main focus is to get into the top 10. I just want to be there on the third day.”

Like Herd, Huynh has been on a roll lately. After fishing the Bassmaster Opens for three years, Huynh first tried his hand in competitive walleye fishing last year. A few wins and a Team of the Year title later and the walleye world is officially on notice. What’s peaking everyone’s interest is that Huynh claims to be using unorthodox walleye tactics. By rule, that means he’s not trolling; he’s casting like a bass fisherman.

“I would call my method aggressive finesse,” said the Moorhead, Minn., pro, who owns and operates three Polished Nail Spa locations. “It’s not traditional; I won’t do traditional. I will troll, but pretty much only on Lake Erie. My goal is to figure out how to catch these fish my way. That’s why I was a bass fisherman in general.”

Huynh’s biggest fear is that a television camera will be in his boat tomorrow. That means his unorthodox secrets will eventually be revealed.

“I’ll just say that it’s unique technically speaking. I think people are going to be surprised.”

Huynh chose to fish three different walleye circuits in an effort to prove last year’s success was no fluke. After weighing 16.16 pounds today, he’s officially leading the Super Bowl of walleye fishing.

“I just don’t believe it’s happening. Even with my success on other circuits, I can’t believe it’s happening on this tour. I’m competing against the guys I learned from on TV, on YouTube. I can’t explain the feeling, but I’m humbled by it. I’m the person I used to look up to. I knew I could go catch fish, but I just don’t believe it. I surprised myself with that weight today. I was shooting for 10 to 12 pounds.”

Huynh said he caught eight or nine legal walleyes today, and that he intentionally pulled off productive spots with management in mind.

“I think I can go out there and catch a limit again tomorrow. Now getting 16 pounds again is a tall order.”

Red-hot Andersen second

Fresh off an emotional win at Lake Oahe, Kent Andersen is fishing with momentum on his side. Andersen, who now lives in Amery, Wis., grew up down the road in Alexandria. While he’s adept at structure fishing, he doesn’t have much experience on Otter Tail.

“To be honest with you, I’ve fished Otter Tail a total of three times in my life,” he said. “This is not my home body of water. But that being said, I’m no stranger to natural Minnesota lakes.”

Andersen, who utilizes a tiller boat, admitted he’s backtrolling structure. He said the specifics of his program will have to wait.

“I can tell you that I’m going backwards with my Mercury, and it’s all about boat control. I was keying on the fish with my Humminbirds. Some bit, some didn’t.”

Like Huynh, Andersen only caught eight fish. Those came from six different spots.

“It’s a grinder bite, and that’s more or less what I expected. We’re about 10 days away from these lakes taking off. I’ll be honest, the way this is setting up is right in my wheelhouse. The next three or four weeks is my favorite time of year to go fishing.”

With 15.90 pounds, Andersen is in position to potentially go back to back.

“I’m happy to do well, but I’m not one to get cocky because those fish have kicked my butt more than I’ve kicked theirs. It’s going to be a grinder bite again tomorrow.”

Stachowski third

Michigan pro Ed Stachowski is in third place with an official weight of 15.70 pounds. The 2016 Angler of the Year sampled more than a dozen spots on Otter Tail today. 

“We caught numbers of fish today,” said the Canton, Mich., pro. “We were upgrading throughout the day – one here and one there.”

Stachowski came into the first competition day with high expectations. He finished with two nice overs and three 19-inch slot fish.

“Fifteen pounds a day is the goal. We got it done today, and 15 pounds is the goal again tomorrow. I expected to do fairly well. You put the work in, and the luck comes to you. It’s an amazing lake. There’s a ton of walleye in it. There’s a ton of everything in it.”

McQuoid fourth, Herd fifth

Rounding out the top five are Minnesota sticks Eric McQuoid and Drake Herd. McQuoid, the rookie pro and son of tour veteran Kevin McQuoid, caught a limit weighing 15.62 pounds for fourth place.

Herd, the new unofficial AOY leader, sits fifth with 15.38 pounds.

Rest of the best

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

6th: Sheldon Meininger, five walleyes, 15.00

7th: Max Wilson, five walleyes, 14.14

8th: Dustin Kjelden, three walleyes, 13.00

9th: Jason Przekurat, five walleyes, 12.90

10th: Wayne Van Dyke, five walleyes, 11.35 The second day of competition begins tomorrow at 8 a.m. Central time as the full field takes off from Beach Bums Bar & Eatery located at 35776 Co. Hwy. 72 in Battle Lake. The day-two weigh-in will also take place at Beach Bums Bar & Eatery, beginning at 4 p.m. 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.

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.