Mercury Powers Sprengel’s AOY Season

Wisconsin pro tops National Walleye Tour standings by nearly 30-point margin

Korey Sprengel’s dominating performance on the National Walleye Tour (NWT) in 2020 was one of the least-surprising, most-normal aspects of a season that was otherwise wrought with change and uncertainty. The Mercury Pro Team angler from Wisconsin has never finished below 10th place in the NWT standings since the tour launched in 2013, and he’s only finished below sixth once in that span. This year, after the season’s start was delayed from April until mid-July and the entire schedule was revamped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sprengel breezed to his first NWT Angler of the Year title. His 28-point margin ahead of second place is the largest in NWT history.

While the season will be remembered by fans for the impacts of the pandemic and for Sprengel’s AOY dominance, the anglers who competed might recall 2020 as the year of long runs. At Green Bay, where Sprengel finished in first place, several pros ran 70 miles in each direction. At Sault Ste. Marie, champion Peter Schaefer ventured 86 miles each way to reach key waters of Lake Huron. Likewise, on Lake Sakakawea, pro winner Cody Northrop executed 60-mile one-way runs. Some anglers also explored mega-runs during practice for last week’s NWT Championship at Lake Erie, but in the end, even running 20 miles proved plenty daunting in October’s fickle conditions.

Sprengel was no stranger to long runs himself this year. With his Ranger 621FS PRO powered by a 400-hp Mercury Verado outboard, Sprengel confidently ran 40 miles each way to win the season opener on Green Bay. That trend continued at Sault Ste. Marie, where he finished 39th thanks to a long-distance strategy that incorporated horsepower and clever planning.

“At Sault Ste. Marie, a lot of guys were focused on being super fuel efficient so they didn’t have to get gas,” explained Sprengel. “They were backing off on their engines and conserving. I took the opposite approach. I went out as boat 15 on day one, and I ran 63 or 64 mph and passed every boat on the way down. Yes, I got gas, but that only took me eight minutes, so I was actually more efficient. At the end of the day, I also had the peace of mind to know I could ride wide open.”

Sprengel traveled 40 miles each way en route to finishing 11th at the regular-season finale on Sakakawea. At the championship on Erie, his farthest spot was only 20 miles out near the Canada border, but Sprengel did considerably more running as he pinpointed schools of walleyes that eventually earned him a runner-up finish.

“On Erie, just because you were there, that didn’t mean you were done driving. You had to drive around for 20 minutes or a half-hour to find the school that was just right,” Sprengel said.

Once he found the right school of walleyes, Sprengel used his 15hp Mercury EFI ProKicker to troll crankbaits.

“I would troll ‘troughing’ the waves,” said Sprengel, referring to trolling in the trough that forms between two parallel waves. “I push the boat with my ProKicker, and then I steer with my bow-mount trolling motor.”

Speed is key in any walleye trolling scenario, and Sprengel’s system gave him the best combination of speed control and steering. He set his ProKicker to troll between 1.6 and 2 mph and mixed in occasional bursts to 2.5 mph to try and trigger fish. Once the speed was set, all he had to do was steer using his bow-mount electric motor’s remote control.

This style of trolling is equipment-intensive, and Sprengel said the reliability of his equipment was a constant in an otherwise haywire year. That’s huge for winning Angler of the Year, but that’s not something exclusive to just this season.

“To win Angler of the Year, you need to be flawless with your decision-making, but your equipment has to be flawless as well. Like I’ve said before, I’m most proud of my Angler of the Year average. Over the last eight years, I’ve had zero mechanical issues that would take me out of the Angler of the Year running. My equipment has never failed me during my entire NWT career.”

You can see more from walleye pro Korey Sprengel by following him on Facebook and Instagram.

Insider Report: Przekurat becomes first to win two NWT Championships

HURON, Ohio – Four years ago, Jason Przekurat won the National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, on the Missouri River. It was the missing piece on an otherwise stellar angling. Not one to rest on his laurels, Przekurat padded that impressive résumé today, becoming the first pro to win two NWT Championships. To win on walleye fishing’s biggest stage this year, he had to fend off Korey Sprengel – his friend and the 2020 Angler of the Year.

Przekurat now possesses two pro-am championship wins, a team championship win, and two Angler of the Year titles. When he won his first championship, he was forced to abandon his primary area on the final day and make an afternoon adjustment. It was a difficult, yet critical move. This year, he had to make a similarly difficult decision – but right away in the morning.

“I don’t think I even went 4 or 5 miles out,” said the Hard Core pro, whose primary area was 18 miles north of Huron near the weather buoy. “It was just nasty, and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to do what I needed to do once I got there. I just changed game plans right out the get go. It was a difficult call; you’re leading the tournament, and you can’t get to where your fish are.”

Przekurat instead ran 7 miles north to his back-up area. His choice quickly proved to be the correct one as he caught two 4-pounders and a 5.11 on his first trolling pass. 

“That gave me the confidence right out the bat that I could catch them there.”

While Przekurat sampled other areas later in the day, he was never able to upgrade.

“I eventually came back to that spot. It was a just a little 1/2-mile area, but we caught every fish there today. With 30 minutes left, we caught one more good one that give us a 1/2-pound upgrade. Without that fish, it’s incredible close; it probably sealed the deal.”

Przekurat fished the same depths at both the weather buoy spot by the U.S. – Canadian line and the closer spot – 44 to 46 feet.

“A lot of my fish came 25 to 33 feet down. We were using 2-ounce Off Shore Guppy weights. With the snap on, it was 100 feet back total.” 

While others caught fish high in the water column on Friday and Saturday, Przekurat only went weightless on day one. 

“They never did come high for me on day two or day three. Everything was snap weighted and down in the column.”

Przekurat trolled at speeds of 1.5 to 1.7 mph with his bow-mount Minn Kota Ultrex – using an interesting method of boat maneuvering.

“The whole thing was erratic driving and erratic speeds. It was making quick S-turns constantly to speed the boat up and then slow it back down. They’re raising up; they’re going down. They’re turning left and then turning right. You’re trying to cover all the depths at one time. To do it, you drive erratically. I was using the Ultrex with High Speed Bypass to avoid the kicker engine noise. When you’re fishing in a pack of boats, that’s how you get extra bites.”

Przekurat said he ran standard deep-diving crankbaits – noting that purples are typically productive on Erie.

“The only thing different with my baits was that golds took my bigger fish this week. When I was in my primary area the first two days, I was trolling around the perimeter of the bait. You don’t want to be fishing where there’s a lot of bait, and there was a lot of bait out by the buoy. I would just slide outside until the bait started disappearing. With my Humminbird Helix 12 on the dash, I can run around on plane and differentiate between baitfish and walleye marks.

“It’s funny; I was fishless at 10:30 the first day. Then I put my first five in the box, and they weighed about 9 pathetic pounds. To end up winning after how I started, that’s pretty ironic. To have 9 pounds halfway through the first day, that’s not a good place to be on Lake Erie.”

For a three-day total of 15 walleyes weighing 73.25 pounds, the Stevens Point, Wis., native earned being Ranger Cup qualified a fully equipped Ranger 621 FS Pro with a 300-horsepower Mercury outboard plus $15,000 for a total purse of $97,905.

“This one means more than any one of my other titles,” Przekurat concluded. “I’m 50; I’m getting up there in age. There are a lot of young guys that are really good sticks; they know their stuff. This tells me that I’m still here; I can still compete, and I’ve still got some good years ahead of me.”

Sprengel retains second, claims first AOY

Considering all his impressive accolades, it’s surprising that Sprengel has never won the NWT Angler of the Year award. That emphatically ended this week, as Sprengel left no doubt with a second-place finish. Sprengel came into the event with a three-point lead over David Kolb and a five-point lead over John Hoyer. While Kolb and Hoyer managed limits both days, Sprengel comfortably achieved the separation he stressed about heading into the event. 

“I’m still not sure it’s happened,” said the Berkley pro. “I was almost content that it was never going to happen. I’ve had a great run of events, and I’m proud of my Angler of the Year average, so I could live with not getting it. It still hasn’t sunk in yet because I’ve been so focused on the tournament. I wanted to make sure if JP slipped today, I was there to take it. Honestly, I don’t know where this title ranks. It’s towards the top for sure, but I’m not going to say it’s at the top.”

Sprengel hasn’t exactly identified his next goal. He knows he wants to increase his television visibility through “The Next Bite” and stay on top of his tournament game. In fact, he’s worried that without a goal, he’ll lose his competitive edge.

“Pursuing Angler of the Year pushed me to be better; it pushed me to try and be flawless. I’ll never say that I’m a better angler than anyone else. But a lot of this game is about decisions. I can say with confidence that I can make some good decisions.

“I’m honestly trying to think of my next goal, and right now, I’m not sure. What I’m really looking forward to is next year’s schedule. Now if you want to fish the championship, you better make sure you have enough points to qualify.”

This week on Erie, Sprengel wasn’t focused on certain schools. Instead, he trusted himself to read the current conditions and adjust on the fly. Like Przekurat, his main area was located about 18 miles north of Huron, but each day he’d intentionally drive slower so that he could mark fish along the way. 

“I learned real quick that this event wasn’t about being different than someone else in terms of baits. I didn’t care where I caught my fish either. I knew what to look for on my electronics. The graph could be loaded with marks, but it had to have the right combination of everything. In my primary area, there was a lot of bait, so you’d have to slide out to the side and mark fish that were without all the bait.”

On day two, driving slower paid major dividends. Sprengel left his crowded primary area at 11 a.m. and moved to a spot closer to the ramp.

“I was dropping waypoints the whole way out, so I stopped at the furthest one and started fishing. That’s where I caught the 7 1/2-pounder, and I caught another 5-pounder too.”

Sprengel stayed in that area, located 7 miles from takeoff, all day today.

“Today it got really nice and clean, and those fish decided to bite. I knew I was going to need stuff to fall back on, and it played into my hand.” 

The Mercury Pro Team angler fished water 45 to 50 feet deep. He would target the top 20 feet of the water column with No. 11 Flicker Minnows – flashy purple candy and flashy chartreuse were his best colors. He would also use deep-diving crankbaits down to 35 feet.

“Every morning they started down low. Around 10:30 or 11 they would start moving up to 18 to 20. It was a little different every day. Today and yesterday, they were only 12 to 15 feet from the surface. With those higher fish, you would see them on plane graphing, but not when you’re actually fishing; you almost had to forecast where they were going to be. Every pass was different, and every school was different, but it was critical to mark them with speed – that’s how I knew were were in the high percentage zone. The ones by no bait were the easiest to catch.”

When he was graphing, Sprengel would travel with his Ranger on plane at 30 to 35 mph. When he was trolling, he would move between 1.6 and 2 mph. In the mornings, he would troll on the slower side. Like Przekurat, he would use erratic turns. 

For second place, Sprengel earned a fully equipped Ranger 620 FS Pro with a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard, plus $595 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $76,590.

“AOY was my No. 1 goal this week. Wherever I had to finish in the tournament, that’s what I was focused on doing. It’s a great finish to the year.”

Hanson climbs to third

North Dakota pro Curt Hanson made the long drive to Lake Erie worth it this week, and he also received a little championship redemption. At last year’s NWT Championship, Hanson sat in second place after day one, only to tumble down the leaderboard with a zero on day two. This year, he was remarkably consistent.

“I had heard a lot about how the fish were smaller, but on my first day of practice I went 100 yards and then caught a 27-incher,” recalled Hanson. “Then I trolled another 100 yards and caught a 26-incher.”

Hanson, who fished east of Kelleys Island, then had his water trashed by a northwest wind. Slowly the water quality improved and so did the bite.

“Today I really figured it out. We were trolling No. 11 Flicker Minnows up high and No. 12 Husky Jerks and Bandits down deep. Custom purples and pinks worked well. Firetiger and some of the UV colors worked well with the Husky Jerks.”

Hanson believed most of his bigger fish came from deeper water.

“I know there were a lot of weigh fish caught up high with no snap weight. For me, the bigger ones were in that 40-foot range over 49 feet of water. The highest one I caught was 18 feet.”

Hanson’s trolling speeds were 1.6 to 2 mph. Like the other top finishers, the Mayville, N.D., pro used lots of big turns to trigger bites.

With a three-day total of 15 walleyes weighing 72.48 pounds, Hanson earned $10,040.

“It’s pretty awesome just to be up standing next to those guys. They’re the best walleye fishermen around. This has been probably the toughest tournament season for me. It feels great to end it on a high note.”

Reber, Andersen round out top five

Moving up one spot to fourth was Matthew Reber. The Granger, Iowa, pro caught limits of 22.34, 25.17 and 21.66 for a three-day weight of 69.17 pounds. The younger Andersen brother, Kent, moved up to fifth after catching a 22.25-pound limit today. Combined with 23.18 from day one and 23.11 from day two, the Amery, Wis., pro finished with 68.54 pounds. This is the second consecutive season where both Kent and Adam have made the top-10 cutoff at the championship.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2020 National Walleye Tour Championship on Lake Erie:

6th: Justin Sieverding of Pierre, S.D., 15 fish, 68.14

7th: Brett King of Hager City, Wis., 15 fish, 66.97

8th: Brad Davis of Jackson, Wis., 15 fish, 66.93

9th: Adam Andersen of Amery, Wis., 15 fish, 66.70

9th: Justin Schneider of Chilton, Wis., 15 fish, 66.70

2020 NWT Championship Results & Photo Gallery

Insider Report: Next Bite crew hunting next championship

HURON, Ohio – As predicted, nearly everyone competing on day one of the 2020 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, was able to coax a limit of Lake Erie walleyes. After all, the Walleye Capital of the World is teeming with fish. With an extremely tight leaderboard, the challenge was, and still is, finding kickers, something bigger than the cookie cutter 3- and 4-pounders. Some anglers insisted finding larger walleyes was simply a matter of sorting through numbers and receiving good luck. Pros Keith Kavajecz, Gary Parsons, Tommy Kemos and Chase Parsons took just one day to emphatically debunk that theory.

It’s no coincidence that the current top four are some combination of friends, family members, and co-hosts on the popular “The Next Bite” television show. In fact, they’ve been filming and fishing together for over nine years. The elder statesmen, Kavajecz and Parsons, pretty much wrote the book on open-water trolling and have worked together for over 30 years.

Those two lead the charge with five-fish limits weighing 25.49 and 24.68 pounds, respectively.

Kavajecz did not experience the strong morning bite that several others did.

“It was slower for me the first few hours,” said the veteran Berkley pro. “Around 10 a.m., I found some that looked like the right marks, so I spent some time experimenting with different colors, weights, and lead lengths. The big marks eventually turned into bites.”

By noon, Kavajecz had a limit in the box with four good ones. He finished the day targeting deeper water and was able to trick a 5-pounder with half an hour left.

“That was a nice cull of about a pound. All my fish today were just really fat.”

After day one of the biggest tournament in walleye fishing, Kavajecz understandably wasn’t ready to discuss specific baits.

“All I can say is that we’re trolling crankbaits with a combination of Off Shore snap weights and Off Shore boards. We’re trying to run the baits about 3 feet above the marks.”

Kavajecz explained that this is not the Erie of old. While it’s true that the population has never been greater in number, the famous Erie giants are unmistakably absent.

“I think the biggest fish weighed today was a 7-pounder; that’s just unheard of on Lake Erie. When I came in, I knew I had a good day, but I didn’t think I’d be leading. I’m really surprised nobody had an 8-, 9-, or 10-pounder.”

After reflecting on the day, the Kaukauna, Wis., native is more optimistic that his program and his area could deliver a championship victory.

“Coming into the tournament, the best I could do was catch 23- to 25-inchers. I looked far and wide for bigger fish, but we never came across them. If nobody stumbles into a big one, who knows; we’ve been catching this size fish all week. I will say that after today I’m a lot more confident that it might be enough.”

Parsons second

Parsons trails his brother-in-law by less than a pound. He too, is feeling a surge of confidence after a successful opening day.

“When you have all four of us there at the top, it tells you there’s a certain quality of fish,” said Parsons, the Bass Pro Shops pro. “It’s not a confidence. It’s the result of a lot of hard work during practice. We found some better quality fish, and we got lucky our area didn’t get too muddy. All four of us are fishing this larger area, and we’re all running slightly different setups.”

Parsons explained that there were a few other boats in the area – most of which were charter captains. 

“Today I found a pod of big fish at the end of the day and had it all to myself. I lost a really good one too – around a 6- or 6 1/2-pounder.”

While Parsons no longer cares for Erie’s relentless waves, he reminisced to the 1991 PWT event held on Lake Erie in April.

“Back then, they didn’t start trolling yet. They were still fishing the reefs. We went right to the open water and pretty much dominated. We’ve had some really good runs out here on Erie. We have enough experience to know where to look.”

Kemos third

Tommy Kemos, who finished second at last year’s championship, sits in third place with 24.55 pounds. Kemos explained that he’s trolling the same general area as his teammates, but each angler has plenty of space.

“It’s a big 8-mile stretch,” said Kemos, the Strike King pro. “I think I saw each of them for about five minutes today. We’re all pretty well spread out. It’s just a matter of staying on the individual pod of fish and making sure you’re staying in the right color water.”

In terms of technique, Kemos said he’s trolling bigger, deep-diving stickbaits.

“There’s nothing that we’re doing that I would call super special. We’re running crankbaits with different lead lengths. Sometimes we’ll go with no snap weight; sometimes we’ll add one. It’s just kind of the area that we’re in more than anything. I don’t think it’s getting as much pressure. The nice part was there wasn’t any crazy run to be made. We’re fishing fairly close – within 30 miles or so of takeoff.”

Kemos said he experienced a strong morning bite. On his first pass, he filled his limit with two above-average fish. In this event, Kemos considers anything over 4 1/2 pounds to be a good one. 

“I had no giants today, just all slightly above-average fish. In fact, all week the four of us have only caught two fish over 25 inches.”

Kemos doesn’t believe tomorrow’s blustery weather will ruin his area.

“The beauty about this area is that it has survived the big winds before, and I think it will survive this one as well. I’ll be flat-out shocked if one of us doesn’t win this tournament.”

Younger Parsons fourth, Schertz fifth

Rounding out the top five are Wisconsin pros Chase Parsons and Nick Schertz. Parsons, the Denmark, Wis., pro, managed a limit worth 24.37. Schertz, the Tomahawk, Wis., native, caught five walleyes Wednesday weighing 24.09 pounds.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2020 National Walleye Tour Championship on Lake Erie:

6th: JR Carter of Mandan, N.D., five fish, 24.07

7th: Corey Heiser of West Fargo, N.D., five fish, 24.01

8th: Dusty Minke of Walker, Minn., five fish, 24.00

9th: Mike Defibaugh of Bellefontaine, Ohio, five fish, 23.70 

10th: Ryan Buddie of Amherst, Ohio, five fish, 23.66

AOY Update

Berkley pro Korey Sprengel strengthened his Angler of the Year lead after day one of the championship. He came into the season-ending event with a three-point lead over David Kolb and a five-point lead over John Hoyer. Sprengel currently sits in 12th place while Kolb is 26th and Hoyer is 40th. Unofficially, Sprengel leads with Mike Defibaugh sitting in second.

The second day of competition begins tomorrow at 8 a.m. Eastern time as the full field takes off from the Huron Boat Ramp, located at 41 Cleveland Rd. East in Huron. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at the Huron Boat Ramp, beginning at 4 p.m. The full field fishes the first two days and the top 10 pros and top 10 co-anglers fish the final day. The winner in each division is determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.

2020 NWT Day 1 Championship Results & Photo Gallery

National Walleye Tour Presented by Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s Closes Season on Lake Erie

Over 100 percent payback plus significant boat and engine contingencies available

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (October 6, 2020) – Competitive walleye anglers will converge at Huron, Ohio, October 14-16, for the championship event of the 2020 National Walleye Tour Presented by Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s. The championship will feature some of the country’s best walleye anglers in a pro-am style format and guarantees over 100 percent payback, including three fully rigged Ranger boats.   

NWT logo

The championship event begins with Tuesday, October 13, with an online meeting. Procedures will be emailed to anglers. Pro- and co-angler pairings will be texted to each angler. Boats will take off from Huron River Boating Access Ramp (41 Cleveland Rd., Huron, OH 44839) each day of competition with weigh-ins set to begin at 3:00 p.m. each day. Spectators are asked to watch live streaming at NationalWalleyeTour.com or download the Outdoor Action app.

The winning pro at the championship will be awarded a fully rigged Ranger 620FS Pro, valued at $75,995 plus $15,000 cash. Second place will be awarded a Ranger 2080MS, outboard and trailer package valued at $64,595. First place for the co angler will be a Ranger VS1882 package valued at $39,000. 

NWT anglers that are Ranger Cup qualified are in for some additional cash as well as upgrades on the prize boat packages.

Anglers that fish all three regular-season events, in addition to the top points leaders, will qualify for the three-day, entry-fee championship. 


The National Walleye Tour includes unmatched television and media coverage, allowing a national audience to watch the action unfold from each event throughout the season. Airing on multiple national and regional networks, the NWT will be seen on the Pursuit Channel, CBS Sports Network, Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, Wild TV Canada, and the World Fishing Network. Additionally, NWT has a large digital presence where episodes can be seen 24/7 on Outdoor Action TV, Pursuit UP, Fishing TV, and others; plus all weigh-ins are streamed live on Outdoor Action TV, our website, and social media.  

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, Mercury, Lucas Oil, AFTCO, Triton Boats, Power-Pole, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Sunline, Valley Fashions, T-H Marine, Atlas, G-Juice, Powertex Group. Special thanks to Fish Huron OH for local their support. 

For more details, anglers are encouraged to call 612-424-0708 or check out the website at www.nationalwalleyetour.com. From here, site visitors can learn more about the NWT, view the TV schedule and learn more about what’s in store for 2020 season.

2020 NWT scheduled events:

Championship

Oct. 14-16 – Huron, Ohio

T-H Marine Invites Boaters to Join in 45th Anniversary Fun

Huntsville, AL – October 2, 2020 – T-H Marine Supplies, Inc, of Huntsville, Alabama, is making the most of its 45th year serving the marine industry as a family business, despite the impact of COVID and having to shift anniversary plans to the fall. At the heart of it all, T-H Marine is giving thanks to those who have been part of the journey, especially the remarkable boatbuilders, distributors, dealers, tackle shops, customers, and pro staff who have helped T-H Marine to prosper since its humble start.



“I was just a kid at the time, but I vividly remember how T-H Marine began in 1975,” said T-H Marine CEO, Jeff Huntley. “It was my dad, two of his buddies, and a vision for an innovative new product that would change the industry forever. Since I was about seven years old, I had already helped put together fishing lures for my dad and his company, Bumble Bee Baits. Now, I got to help out with boat parts as that business got started and grew. You could say I was part of the business operations from the beginning.”

Jeff Huntley’s dad, Bill Huntley, may have worked a day job at the local hospital diagnostics lab, but he could be seen fishing Pickwick Lake several nights a week and he even started a bait company eight years prior to founding T-H Marine. It was second-nature for him to involve his friends and family as he developed gear for the sport he loved.

“He wanted to improve the boating and fishing experience,” Jeff Huntley added. “At first, it was through custom fishing baits, followed by an idea about how to enhance the throttle control with a built-in trim handle. The T and the H in ‘trim handle’ inspired the company name as well as an ever-growing catalog of innovative products. My dad started with just some ideas to make his experiences better when he was boating and we have continued to try to have that same focus as a company — to make excellent products that allow everyone to better enjoy their passion on the water.”

Just as Bill fished with his father, he shared the tradition in a way that continues through the family to this day. This is true with both recreational and business pursuits, as Jeff Huntley serves as CEO and Jeffery Huntley, Jr. serves as VP of Operations. 

“It’s hard to keep us off the water,” Jeff Huntley said. “Our whole family loves boating and fishing. We love it on a pontoon boat on the lake, on a bass boat racing down the river to our favorite fishing holes, or on a center console fishing in the ocean. I’m very thankful that I was able to learn the love of being on the water from my dad and then to share that legacy in so many ways with my kids and my grandkids, just like my dad did — and he still does. Even though Dad has retired from the business, he still fishes almost every week!”

As for the legacy of the business, many boat owners might not even know their boat is built with T-H Marine components, but brand awareness is on the rise. T-H Marine gives credit to industry partners for helping with that along the way and T-H Marine is determined to keep it going with modern techniques, like making their customer-oriented social media and website a top priority. 

Those facets are an important part of the 45th Anniversary celebration, too, as boating and fishing enthusiasts are invited to take advantage of the following sales and giveaways:
 

  • $100 gift card giveaways throughout the month of October
  • G-FORCE® Customer Appreciation Sale: 10/1/2020 through 10/7/2020
  • ATLAS® Outboard Performance Boost: 10/8/2020 through 10/14/2020
  • HYDROWAVE® Feeding Frenzy: 10/15/2020 through 10/21/2020
  • BLUE WATER® LED Fall Install Special: 10/22/2020 through 10/28/2020

For a complete list of 45th Anniversary events, updates, and details, be sure to visit thmarine.com and follow T-H Marine Supplies (@thmarineteam) on social media.

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About T-H Marine

T-H Marine is celebrating its 45th Anniversary of business and has grown to be one of the largest manufacturers of boating and fishing accessories in the U.S. T-H Marine provides parts to virtually every boat manufacturer in the country and distributes them through virtually every major distributor and retailer of boating and fishing products. To learn more about T-H Marine, please visit thmarine.com/about-us.

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For More Information About T-H Marine’s 45th Anniversary Events

For additional information about T-H Marine’s 45th Anniversary Events, as well as company history, and information about T-H Marine’s many products, please visit us at thmarine.com/celebrate. Media outlets are also welcome to use the contact information provided below. 

Contact: Derek Trovillion
Email: dtrovillion@thmarine.com
Phone (FOR MEDIA ONLY): 317-517-5435
For all customer service-related matters, please call (256) 772-0164 (Monday-Thursday 7am to 5pm CT) or visit us anytime atthmarine.com/help

Abu Garcia Expands on its Successful Launch of Virtual Rods with the Addition of Virtual Combos

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Anglers looking for a way to take their fishing to the next level have been spending this season putting the Abu Garcia Virtual rods to the test. These innovative rods have given anglers the ability to plan, record and improve their fishing success by gathering real-time fishing data like waypoints and catch records with the push of button, linking the rods to the ANGLR™ app via Bluetooth-enabled cell phones. Now, Abu Garcia is making it even easier for anglers to pair their cutting-edge rod technology with custom-matched reels through the new Virtual combos.

The new Virtual combos are designed for all-around performance regardless of species being targeted or whether anglers are fishing from a boat, a personal watercraft or the bank. The combos feature baitcast reels with eight bearings, a 6.4:1 gear ratio and 18 pounds of max drag. The spinning reels on the Virtual combos are equipped with six bearings, a 5.1:1 gear ratio and 14 pounds of max drag.

The Virtual series of rods is the first to integrate this type of technology and has been created in concert with ANGLR, an innovation company that offers a free fishing intelligence app that helps anglers plan, record and improve their fishing. The Virtual rods allow the angler to simply press a button to record catches, double-click to drop editable waypoints at their exact location and press and hold the button to indicate a change in tackle. The action to record a catch also compiles location, weather and water data with the stored catch information.

Building on this powerful functionality, the ANGLR app can simultaneously and seamlessly transfer waypoints bi-directionally onto compatible Lowrance® multifunction displays. The NMEA-based sync also allows data sharing from Lowrance sensors back to the app, providing greater precision by importing precise depth, water temperature, real-time GPS routes and other data to be added to the user’s logbook. This information, coupled with the durability and performance of Abu Garcia rod technology, will provide anglers a complete package as they look to maximize their time on the water.

Abu Garcia is known for delivering gear that gives anglers what they need to “fish to win,” and that reputation takes on an additional dimension with the Virtual combos. When connected to friends via the ANGLR app, anglers can compete for bragging rights even when they aren’t fishing together, setting the stage for “virtual” tournaments whenever it’s time to go fishing.

The Virtual rod connects to the free ANGLR app on iPhone and Android devices. It also enables the phone’s camera to add a photo. All recorded fishing data is 100 percent private by default. The rod does not require charging and delivers a 2-year battery life. It works regardless of cell service for off-the-grid fishing and is ideal for small-water and small-vessel anglers who typically have not had access to electronics while fishing. Paired together, the ANGLR app and Virtual rods allow anglers of all experience levels the ability to capture and review their trips so they can strategize how they can fish to win even bigger on their next trip.

The Abu Garcia Virtual combo lineup includes two different baitcast combos, each available in either right- or left-handed configuration, as well as two different spinning combos, each available in either a 1- or 2-piece rod configuration. Virtual baitcast combos have an MSRP of $179.95; spinning combos have an MSRP of $159.95. For more information on the Virtual rod and Virtual combos, visit http://bit.ly/AbuGarciaVirtual.

Abu Garcia Virtual Combos: Specifications

Baitcast Combos

Rod Length: 7 feet

Rod Power: Medium Heavy

Reel Bearings: 8

Gear Ratio: 6.4:1

Max Drag: 18 pounds

MSRP: $179.95

Rod Length: 7 feet, 3 inches

Rod Power: Heavy

Reel Bearings: 8

Gear Ratio: 6.4:1

Max Drag: 18 pounds

MSRP: $179.95

Virtual Baitcast Combo Key Features:

• Both Virtual baitcast combos are available in either left- or right-handed configurations

• 7 ball bearings + 1 roller bearing

• Machined aluminum spool

• Power Disk™ drag system

• One-piece graphite frame

• Graphite sideplate

• 1-piece rod

• Integrates with the ANGLR app via Bluetooth-enabled cell phones

Spinning Combos

Rod Length: 6 feet, 6 inches

Rod Power: Medium

Reel Bearings: 6

Gear Ratio: 5.1:1

Max Drag: 14 pounds

MSRP: $159.95

Rod Length: 7 feet

Rod Power: Medium

Reel Bearings: 6

Gear Ratio: 5.1:1

Max Drag: 14 pounds

MSRP: $159.95

Virtual Spinning Combo Key Features:

• Both Virtual spinning combos are available with either a 1- or 2-piece rod

• 5 ball bearings +1 roller bearing for smooth operation

• Lightweight graphite body and rotor

• Machined aluminum spool for strength without extra weight

• Everlast™ bail system for improved durability

• Slow Oscillation for even line lay with all types of line

• Rocket Line Management™ system for better control of all types of line

• Rocket Spool Lip Design™ for increased control of line coming off of spool

• Integrates with the ANGLR app via Bluetooth-enabled cell phones

• Each Virtual spinning combo comes in either a 1- or 2-piece rod configuration

About Pure Fishing

Pure Fishing, Inc. is a leading global provider of fishing tackle, lures, rods and reels with a portfolio of brands that includes Abu Garcia®, All Star®, Berkley®, Fenwick®, Fin-Nor®, Greys®, Hardy®, Hodgman®, Johnson®, JRC®, Mitchell®, Penn®, Pflueger®, Sebile®, Shakespeare®, SpiderWire®, Stren®, Ugly Stik®, and Van Staal®.

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Media Contacts

Josh Ward: (405) 802-7045 or joshw@gunpowderinc.com

Kasey Cooley: (262) 227-8357 or kaseyc@gunpowderinc.com

Insider Report: Northrop nails down Sakakawea

GARRISON, N.D. – For the better part of 30 years, Cody Northrop has been fishing Lake Sakakawea, located 100 miles from his residence in South Heart, N.D. Recently, Northrop has been branching away from the 360,000-acre reservoir as he expands his tournament-fishing career. While he’s grown as an angler, Northrop also felt he was losing touch with his home water, specifically with how the influx of smelt has changed the lake. Today, he reconnected with his roots and won the third National Walleye Tour event of the 2020 season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, proving there is no place like home.

The dock talk leading up to Sakakawea was that trolling leadcore with Berkley Flicker Minnows was going to dominate. That all changed in practice when Mother Nature threw a nasty cold front into the mix, complete with freezing temperatures and relentless winds. Instead of trolling, casting and jigging took over post front, and Northrop was one of the first to adjust.

“The west end, from McKenzie Bay to New Town, that’s my home water,” Northrop explained. “My main spot was 60 miles from the ramp in the Van Hook Arm. It was a submerged island 5 miles north of Shell Village.”

On day one, Northrop fished the outside edges of the island in 35 feet of water. Today, the southeast wind pushed the bait up to 20 feet. When the day started, Northrop was not necessarily swinging for the fences.

“I’ve had three tourneys this year with good first days, and then I fell off the second day. I was just going to put weight in the box today. My first fish was an 18-incher, which I kept. Then I caught a 23- and 20-incher, both of which I kept. Then I drifted 40 or 50 feet down the island. That’s when I hit the bait, and it went crazy. I’ve never seen that much bait in that area. It was thick from the top of the screen to the bottom. I saw that, and I knew it was going to be game on.

“My first two were 25 and 26 – almost back to back. Then I caught a 26- and a 27-incher. Then I went through a few smaller ones, and at 10:30 we caught another 27, and we were done.”

At that point, Northrop knew he wouldn’t go backwards in the standings, but he wasn’t sure he was going to win. Either way, his day was finished as anglers are permitted to keep eight walleyes and weigh their best five. Culling, or upgrading, was not permitted. His official weight for his best five was 28.20 pounds.

“I didn’t know I was going to win. I really thought the rest of the lake would fire up.”

Northrop’s main bait was the No. 9 Rapala Jigging Rap. Custom greens and whites (from Alex and Christina Gorske at Team Ultimatum Customs) were the best colors. While he would vertically fish the Jigging Rap, he would dead stick a 4-to 6-inch creek chub on the bottom. Of his 10 weigh fish, eight came on the Jigging Rap, and two came on the chub. Today, all his fish came from the sunken island, but on day one he upgraded an 18 and a 16 from milk-run spots on the way back to the ramp.

“These fish are so full of smelt that it takes a big bait to get a reaction bite out of them. The key to the win was just my knowledge of this lake. I’ve fished this spot numerous times before in tournaments. I think the MWC was won on this spot earlier in the year. But in all my years I’ve never seen it light up with bait like today.” 

Combined with his 22.71 from day one, Northrop won with a two-day total weight of 50.91 pounds. The victory earned him a Ranger 2080 MS with a 250-horsepower Mercury Pro XS, $15,000 cash, plus an addition $3,003 of Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $82,598. This was only Northrop’s third event as an NWT pro. 

“I’m just overwhelmed; it’s a dream come true. To fish and win against the guys of this caliber is humbling. I’m grateful to have the opportunity, and I’m thinking we’ll do the whole schedule next year. I hope we come back here again next year.”

Cox retains second

Manhattan, Kansas, pro Jaran Cox retained second place after brining in five walleyes weighing 22.42 pounds. Combined with his 23.80 from day one, Cox finished with 46.22 pounds. 

“I’m happy with second, but the win was right there,” said Cox. “We lost a few fish, but I’m not sure they would have made the difference. It’s fishing, what do you do? I’m fortunate to take what I can get. Congratulations to Cody.”

Cox stayed relatively close to Fort Stevenson State Park. His milk run included stops both west and east of takeoff.

“We were fishing both shallow and deep, anywhere from 3 to 35 feet. Our big fish of the day came from a point in Douglas Bay that was only 3 or 4 feet of water. The way it bit and went sideways, I thought for sure it was a musky.”

Cox primarily used a Rapala Rippin’ Rap. The No. 7 was his most popular size, but he would downsize to the No. 6 when he fished his shallower spot.

“I had every color they make plus some custom colors, and it just didn’t seem to make a difference. You just had to get it in front of their face.”

In addition to the Rippin’ Rap, Cox also dabbled with the No.9 Jigging Rap out deep. Of his 10 weigh fish, seven came on the Rippin’ Rap, and three came on the Jigging Rap.

“Overall, the wind didn’t really turn them on as much as I expected. We really weren’t marking as much out deep. We did have five in the livewell by 10:30, but we never upgraded. That was kind of the dagger right there.

For second place, the Ranger pro earned $32,530.

“I want to thank the men and women in blue, all the first responders out there, and the veterans. If it wasn’t for them, none of us would be able to do what we do. Today is about honoring those brave men and women, and those we lost on Sept. 11. This plaque is for them.”

Hietpas third

Wisconsin fisherman Josh Hietpas, a teammate of Northrop’s, finished third with a cumulative weight of 45.72 pounds. His weight improved today from 20.30 to 25.42. While Northrop made the long run north and west to Van Hook, Hietpas only traveled 15 miles to Berthold Bay.

“There’s an island in the middle of the bay that has deep breaks,” said the Kaukauna, Wis., pro. “The wind had been crashing in on that for four or five days, including today. We found good bait out there, and at the edge of the bait, we found fish, so we targeted the shallow edge of the bait.”

Yesterday the edge of the bait was in 33 to 52 feet. Today, that shifted shallower to 17 to 30.

“We were doing a combination. We were rigging live bait with creek chubs at .5 mph, but we’re also ripping the No. 9 Jigging Rap. The live-bait rod was sitting in the rod holder. If you would see a tick, you would open the bail, feed it some line, give it at least 20 seconds, and then close the bail, feel the weight, sweep, and reel.

“Yesterday was mainly Jigging Raps, and today 100 percent of the fish that went in the box were on chubs. Yesterday was mostly deep, and today was mostly shallow.”

Hietpas explained that the Jigging Rap pattern was purely a reaction bite, and thus colors didn’t matter.

“We worked hard, and this one paid off. I wanted to find something away from the field. Five days of my prefish were spent on the east end of the lake. I wanted to stay away from people, and I’m working on getting out of my comfort zone. I’m a troller by nature; I’ve fished the Great Lakes for 15 years. These reservoirs are new to me, and this type of fishing is new to me, but it’s really intriguing, and the scenery out here is surreal.”

Stier fourth, Geitgey fifth

Rounding out the top five are Dan Stier and Scott Geitgey. Stier, the veteran tour pro and Lake Oahe guide, surged up the leaderboard on day two after catching a 25.22-pound limit. Combined with his day-one weight of 19.54, Stier finished the tournament fourth with 44.76 pounds. With eight in the box, Stier weighed in several hours early.

Despite improving his catch from 21.65 to 22.97, Geitgey slipped one spot to fifth and finished with a two-day total of 44.62. Geitgey made a 21-hour trip from Canton, Ohio, and performed admirably. While he used several techniques, most of his fish were caught on Rapala Jigging Raps.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2020 National Walleye Tour event on Lake Sakakawea.

6th: Gary Maher of Menoken, N.D., 43.02

7th: Mike Defibaugh of Bellefontaine, Ohio, 41.64

8th: Chad Rohr of Hays, Kansas, 41.39

9th: Bill Shimota of Northfield, Minn., 41.30

10th: Brett King of Hager City, Wis., 40.76

Heim claims Co-angler Division

In his first ever National Walleye Tour event, Brad Heim caught limits of 21.03 and 25.70 to claim top honors in the Co-Angler Division with a total weight of 46.73 pounds. On day one, the Bismarck, N.D., native fished with Jason Votava, and today he was paired with Dustin Kjelden.

“I can’t thank Jason and Dustin enough,” said Heim. “Today I was worried about gas; I was worried about the fish. Dustin told me to just relax. Right at the end, we had a triple. It was the perfect storm.”

Heim earned $7,284 for his victory.

“Fishing with these professionals, what a great bunch of teachers. I can’t thank them enough. I’m feeling great.”

Up next

The final event of 2020 season is the National Walleye Tour Championship, which is scheduled for Oct. 14-16 on Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio.

2020 NWT Garrison, ND Final Results & Photo Gallery

2020 NWT Angler of the Year Results

Insider Report: Hodge adjusts to serene Sakakawea

GARRISON, N.D. – After a rollercoaster practice period, which included blustery winds and bitter frost, day one of the third National Walleye Tour event, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, was a welcome respite. Warm sunshine and a surprisingly calm prairie breeze allowed anglers to travel freely over 360,000-acre Lake Sakakawea. The result was a stacked leaderboard that included 46 stringers over 15 pounds and 13 five-fish limits over 20 pounds.

Leading the pack with 24.99 pounds is Minot, N.D., pro Gary Hodge, who owns and operates the White Tips Guide Service. In addition to guiding, Hodge fishes every tournament held on Sakakawea. He took off this morning confident that he was around big fish, but unsure if they’d bite without the wind.

“The fish have been in that area now for about a month,” said Hodge, the Mercury pro. “The bite has been on and off. Today was actually a slower day, especially for numbers. A week ago Friday I had 27 pounds off there.”

In this event, pros and co-anglers, fishing as a team, are permitted to keep eight walleyes and weigh their best five each day. Culling, or upgrading, is not allowed. Hodge never had to make any difficult decisions as he boated only seven walleyes.

“At 1 p.m., I only had two fish in the box. I went back to my starting spot and caught three more. The good news is that today they came in the right order. The first four fish were big, and the last one was a 23-incher that weighed over 4 pounds.”

Hodge explained that he has four spots all located in one general area. He described his run to this area as “fairly long.” However, Hodge did not have to stop to refuel. While many pros thought this event would be dominated by trolling leadcore and Berkley Flicker Minnows, Hodge said he caught his fish with two techniques – Shiver Minnows and live bait.

“I absolutely think I’m around the fish to win. I could definitely back it up again tomorrow. There are no guarantees in fishing, but this is a wind-driven spot, and we’re supposed to get more wind tomorrow. Where I’m at, I’m going for the “W” tomorrow.”

If his primary area fails to produce, he does have two other backup spots that have been kicking out 20-and 22-inch fish. 

“I’ve got to do it again tomorrow. But just seeing my name on top of that leaderboard today was unreal. I never would’ve dreamed I would see that. I feel privileged just to fish with these top guys, let alone lead it.”

Cox second

Manhattan, Kansas, pro Jaran Cox sits in second place with a five-fish limit weighing 23.80 pounds. While it looks impressive on paper, Cox managed only five walleyes the entire day.

“The bite had been pretty good all week,” Cox said. “I had a good practice, but everything was wind driven. Without the wind today, we only had five bites. It was nice to keep them all buttoned up.” 

After a 35-mile run, Cox coaxed his first bite at 9 this morning and had three in the box by 11. 

“It took the rest of the day to get those two more.”

Cox has five productive spots in total, two of which he considers “big-fish spots.” Ironically, none of his kickers from day one came from the aforementioned big-fish spots.

“Everything was kind of flipped around today. The plan was to go get five easy bites. With a full livewell, I was then going to hunt bigger fish since we’re allowed to keep eight. That’s not how it ended up.”

While Cox trolled considerably in practice, everything today came from casting in 40 feet.

“I’ve got my trolling sticks ready to go tomorrow if I need them. The big thing is you have to have wind. The wind is supposed to be coming the right way on two of my spots tomorrow. So that’s better than we had today.”

Northrop third

Local fisherman Cody Northrop of South Heart, N.D., is third with a five-fish limit weighing 22.71 pounds. Northrop was unavailable for an interview.

Geitgey fourth, Johnson fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Scott Geitgey and Josh Johnson. Geitgey, the Canton, Ohio, pro, made a 21-hour drive to fish Sakakawea. Johnson, on the other hand, traveled 2 hours from South Heart, N.D.

For Geitgey, the long trip was worth it as he boated 21.65 pounds.

“This is my first time here, and I have to say, it’s one of the most gorgeous, awesome fisheries I’ve ever been to,” said Geitgey. “We found our main area a few days ago, but a teammate of mine really dialed it in. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but luckily they came in the right order.”

Geitgey started the day with three good fish and finished with a 24-incher and a 26-incher. In total, he caught between 20 and 25 walleyes.

“Today I fished three different spots and used three different techniques. And they all caught fish. Of the eight we put in the box, five came on Rapala Jigging Raps. I think we can do well again tomorrow. I’m not worried about getting to my area, but I am concerned about the winds and getting back.”

Johnson’s five walleyes weighed 21.26 pounds, which has him fifth among the 120 pros.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2020 National Walleye Tour event on Lake Sakakawea:

6th: Jason Votava of Minot, N.D., five fish, 21.03

7th: Ryan Rieger of Belle Vernon, Pa., five fish, 20.71

8th: Mike Defibaugh of Bellefontaine, Ohio, five fish, 20.61

9th: Dusty Minke of Walker, Minn., five fish, 20.46

10th: Bill Shimota of Northfield, Minn., five fish, 20.36

Endless Sakakawea awaits National Walleye Tour anglers

The Deadline to do this for Garrison is Monday, Aug 24th.

GARRISON, N.D. – After holding events in Wisconsin and Michigan to start the 2020 season, the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, swings west Sept. 10-11 to the prairie playground of Lake Sakakawea, the third largest man-made reservoir in the United States at over 350,000 acres. While the first two tournaments saw plenty of open-water fishing, Sakakawea offers a more diverse reservoir experience. Green Bay and the “Soo” produced walleyes, but Sakakawea is expected to deliver both numbers and big fish.

Ranger pro Jacob Ell use to reside in Garrison, but now lives downstream in Bismarck. He still makes the short trip up the Missouri River as often as possible.

“It’s such a healthy fishery right now,” Ell said of Sakakawea. “The bite has been really good all summer, but in the dog days the fish have started scattering. Right now, in a lot of the places the fish are there one day, then gone the next. Still, it’s going to be good, and it should only improve as we transition to the fall.”

Mandan, N.D., native JR Carter agreed with Ell and said the timing for the two-day tournament is excellent.

“The fish will be in a summer-to-fall transition,” echoed the American Ethanol pro. “That doesn’t mean it will be tough. It won’t; everybody is going to catch fish. It’s set up at the right time. People are really going to be excited with the amount of fish they catch. The challenge is going to be dialing in the bigger ones with consistency.”

For 22-year-old Dylan Nussbaum, the biggest challenge is breaking down a massive body of water. Nussbaum, who currently sits second in the Angler of the Year race behind Tommy Kemos, has never visited Sakakawea.

“Going to Sakakawea is a dream destination for me,” said the Rapala pro. “It’s a reservoir, and that’s how I grew up fishing in Pennsylvania. When I go to a new place, it’s actually more exciting for me. I’m feeling really good about this one; I think it might be in my wheelhouse. I’m thinking more about learning this new lake than I am winning Angler of the Year. Yes, Angler of the Year is the ultimate goal, but it’s still early in the season, and there are some huge sticks out there. I’m just going to keep my head down and fish as hard as possible.”

“With a place that big, you don’t want to be aimlessly running around. You want to cover an area efficiently. I might spend three or four days in the more popular arms, then only a half day in the next arm.”

Nussbaum believes trolling breaklines with leadcore will be his primary search strategy. Ultimately, he hopes to find a more precise jigging bite.

“If I catch a few fish trolling in an area, then it’s probably time to stop and cast, especially on the smaller humps and smaller pieces of structure. I really think I can get something dialed with the Jigging Rap or Flat Jig.”

Nussbaum explained that while the Jigging Rap has the stronger reputation, he’s had more success recently with the Flat Jig.

“The Flat Jig is the first thing I’ll throw after trolling. The body glides two to three times farther than the Jigging Rap, so it’s a great search bait. It makes the walleyes freak out. I let it fall, then rip it up, catch it for one second, then let it fall without slowing it. You can just feel them smack it on the way down. It’s such a fun bite. But at an ounce and 3/16ths, it’s an arm burner to use all day.”

Ell reported that Sakakawea’s most popular bait recently has been the Berkley Flicker Minnow.

“They have become a staple in Sakakawea for mimicking smelt,” said Ell. “That bait has exploded in popularity out here. That’s no secret. People fish them just above the thermocline. But colors, those are still kept secret.”

Carter believes trolling will be the most prominent pattern, but other methods can certainly catch fish.

“Leeches and minnows are getting tight this time of year, but there are plenty of worms. Crawlers on Slow Death Rigs can work great. I honestly think the top finishers will be trolling. If you’re casting, you’re going to catch fish, but it’s two lines in the water compared to four.”

When the NWT last visited Sakakawea in 2017, roughly half the field made long runs. That event was held in early May. This time, both Ell and Carter believe more anglers will fish close.

“Some people are still going to be running up to Van Hook, which is about a 70-mile run,” added Ell. “I don’t plan on doing that, but I could, I have AirWave seats that give me control and comfort. Sakakawea is just so vast; there’s so much good water you’re running right past. The east end is very good. I feel that you can still find the bigger fish on the east side and get away from the crowd.”

“The last time we were here, the wind didn’t blow at all,” Carter recalled. “That’s not typical for North Dakota. When it does blow, it will shut you down; it doesn’t matter what direction it’s blowing. This year, I think you’ll see the boats spread out more. It can honestly be won burning a gallon of gas a day or as far as Lund’s Landing, where you burn 100 gallons.”

Ell and Carter both believe a wild card could be the weed bite. Ell also alluded to the possibility of a deep tree bite, similar to what Jason Przekurat accomplished at the 2016 NWT championship out of Mobridge. 

“There’s weed fish going right now, some even close to the ramp,” said Carter.

“Someone could definitely tap into a shallow bite in the weeds,” agreed Ell. “The water is lower than the last time we were here. It’s been dropping, and now those green, leafy weeds are accessible. I’m curious about the tree bite too. Those deep trees, the old cottonwoods, do exist in Sakakawea. Jason won it on Oahe trolling the tops of the trees. I’ve never seen it work here, but it certainly could.” 

Ell and Carter both believe it could take 60 pounds or more (over two days) to win the tournament.

“Fifty-two pounds could definitely win,” Ell said. “But at the same time, it could take over 60 pounds to win. My goal is 25 pounds per day. Understanding the bite window and the quality of your fish is so important in a no-cull tournament. This place is full of smelt, so the walleyes don’t have to eat. Sometimes there are only certain bite windows, and the window will only be an hour and a half. It’s all about playing the game on what you’re going to keep and what you’re willing to wait for.”

“I think 40 pounds will cash a check and 44 to 50 pounds will be needed to make the top 10. To win, I think it will take five over 25 inches with a kicker (each day). That could be as much as 64 pounds. The 5- and 6-pounders here are plentiful. The key is going to be getting them in the right order. It’s going to be a great event, and like always out here, it’s going to be a game of ounces.” 

Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Central time from Garrison Bay Marina at Fort Stevenson State Park, located at 1252A 41st Ave. NW in Garrison. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at Garrison Bay Marina, 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 three regular-season events and a year-end 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.

Registration is ongoing for the Lake Sakakawea event. The deadline for guaranteed entry (by signing up with a pro or co-angler) is Aug. 24. Registration can be taken over the phone at 501-794-2064 or online by visiting www.nationalwalleyetour.com/tournaments/register/. For more information on rules and tournament payouts, visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com.

Insider Report: Schaefer runs south for “Soo” win

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – As soon as the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, announced their revamped schedule, both anglers and fans alike started speculating about the potential for long runs at Sault Ste. Marie, the second tour stop of the 2020 season, better known as the “Soo.” While risky, the potential for thick, beefy 4- to 6-pound walleyes was real. To make it happen, pros would have to complete a treacherous run south on Lake Huron towards Alpena, Mich. In the end, pro Peter Schaefer proved the risk was worth it as he hauled in 10 walleyes over two days that weighed 45 pounds.

Even before practice, Schaefer knew his winning area was a spot that warranted extra attention.

“Those walleyes are summering there,” said Schaefer, who serves on the board of directors for the Saginaw Bay Walleye Club. “This time of year, that’s just where they’re living. They live in the cracks and crevices of big Volkswagen-sized boulders.”

To reach his spot, Schaefer would venture 86 miles south from Sault Ste. Marie. To complete his roundtrip trek, he would have to refuel on the way back. Today, he plowed through 3- and 4-footers on his journey north as he could only manage top speeds of 36 or 37 mph.

“My main spot down there was like 38 to 48 feet deep,” Schaefer explained. “I was trolling crankbaits – mainly Bandits and Smithwick Top 20s with 2-ounce snap weights. Chrome bases were key – purples and blues with orange bellies.”

With speeds of 1.7 to 2 mph, Schaefer would pull the cranks 1 to 5 feet from the bottom. Today, the wind picked up and blew the bait, eventually pushing some walleyes to his secondary area, an adjacent shoreline piece of structure.

“My second area was like 17 to 24 feet of water. Today it accounted for my biggest one and a 4-pounder.”

On the shallower spot, Schaefer would have the crankbaits ticking the tops of the rocks. He trolled these cranks 100 to 120 feet from his planer boards.

“On my way back, I stopped at a jigging spot within sight of the ramp. At 3:48, I popped a 5-pounder on a jighead and pork-tail minnow (fluke-style plastic). That fish gave me a 3-pound upgrade.”

What Schaefer didn’t know was that his late cull also secured his first national win.

“I’ve been tournament fishing for 13 years. I’ve won a few local tournaments, and I’ve done well on the Michigan Walleye Tour and the MWC. But to win on this level, it means a lot. I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to this sport; I’m addicted to it. This is the real deal, and I’m ecstatic that I won.”

The 34-year-old, who works as an account manager for American Maintenance and Cleaning Services, said the key to his victory was finding his productive, yet unpressured area.

“I have to thank my partner Jake Trombley. Without him, we wouldn’t have been able to put this together. There was a lot of pressure up north by the islands, and there was no pressure around me. I figured the risk versus the reward was worth it, and I was right.”

For winning the second event of the 2020 season, Schaefer earned a Ranger 2080MS with a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 cash, and an additional $2,280 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $80,380.

Kemos continues hot streak

In his last three NWT events, Strike King pro Tommy Kemos has finished second, seventh, and second. His recent hot streak more or less started after a disappointing “Soo” event last year. This year, Kemos opted to make the unfathomable 110-mile run south near Alpena. 

“We would stop for fuel at Presque Isle on the way down,” Kemos said. “On the way back up, we would get gas at DeTour Pass.”

Kemos described the journey as the second toughest of his long career. The other led to him missing his check-in time.

“I’m going to be sore for a couple days, but this run was absolutely worth it.”

After traveling, Kemos would leave himself between 2 1/2 and 3 hours to fish. Knowing that the wind was increasing, he gave himself 3 hours to return today. He checked in with 7 minutes to spare.

“I promised myself I would leave by noon today. When it was time to go, I was graphing a small pod of fish. I started turning on them, and then realized I was making a mistake. It was super tempting, but if I would’ve stayed and fished those fish, I wouldn’t have made it (back in on time).” 

The Oconomowoc, Wis., native was pulling crankbaits with snap weights like Schaefer.

“I was basically following the smelt migration. The walleyes move to follow the smelt. In my area, the water was crazy clear. What I found is that they wanted the more natural colors – blue or blue chrome and silver with white and chartreuse bellies.”

Kemos was fishing 45 to 50 feet. In the clear water, the fish were positioned near the bottom, but coming up 15 feet to hit the crankbait.

“It’s weird. You actually want to make them work for it in the clear water. If it’s too close, they get too good of a look at it.” 

Kemos said his Garmin LiveScope was crucial for spotting fish, especially in that he was able look out ahead of the boat in the clear water.

“The fish were definitely spooking off the boat. You would come across a small pod of two, three, or four fish. When I saw them, I would adjust my speed. If they were real low, I would slow down because I was using snap weights. But I would also get a lot of bites speeding up so the baits would rise. My normal speed was 2 mph, but if I was trying to crank them up I would go 2.2.”

For second place and a two-day total of 42.72 pounds, Kemos earned $16,571.

“Second stings a little, but overall, I’m pretty happy with it. It was a super tough week of practice. All things considered, as tough as the bite was, I’m happy with it; it worked out. The difference for me lately is that I’m figuring out how to use that LiveScope. Now that I have that understanding and confidence, I’ve been on a roll.”

Vandemark rallies to third

Linwood, Mich., pro Steve Vandemark demonstrated remarkable consistency and finished the tournament third with 37.33 pounds. On day one, Vandemark sacked 18.35, and today he backed that up with 18.98. Unlike Schaefer and Kemos, Vandemark opted to stay close to takeoff.

“We stayed right in the river system,” said Vandemark. “Nobody was fishing close, so we made a pact to poke around and find fish close, and it worked.”

Vandemark would start his day 8 miles from the launch by trolling spinners over matted grass in 12 to 16 feet. Once the sun would come up, he would switch to jigging deeper water.

“We jigged both the mouth of Lake George and the Garden River. I was using lead-head jigs, either a 1/2-ounce or 3/8 tipped with half a crawler. This year, the fish were positioned right on the breaks where there was no current. If you get in the seam, you catch them.”

The two-pronged attack resulted in nine keepers yesterday and 14 today. With a Ranger bonus, Vandemark earned $18,892. 

“As someone who fishes this system often, I’m surprised the long runs paid off (for first and second place). They got extremely lucky to make it two days in a row. It’s never that calm. I’ve made those runs when I was younger, and I know what it’s like. Those guys earned it.”

Defibaugh fourth, Stanaway fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Mike Defibaugh and Dane Stanaway. Defibaugh, the 2017 Lake Erie champion, finished fourth. After catching 18.91 pounds on day one, Defibaugh slipped to 17.91 today. His two-day total weight was 36.82. 

Stanaway, the local pro, took fifth with a combined weight of 35.77 pounds. On day one, he boated 15.88 pounds, and today he improved to 19.89.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2020 National Walleye Tour event at Sault Ste. Marie:

6th: Gary Gorsuch of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., 35.15

7th: Jim Schiefelbein of Marseilles, Ill., 35.02

8th: Benjamin Teets of West Fargo, N.D., 34.60

9th: Ed Stachowski of Canton, Mich., 32.32

10th: Aaron Marzean of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., 31.77

Nickel earns co-angler title

Tyler Nickel took home top honors in the Co-angler Division with a total weight of 35.25 pounds. On day one, Nickel fished with Defibaugh, and the two caught limit worth 18.91. Today he fished with young stick Dylan Nussbaum, and together they weighed five walleyes for 16.34.

Nickel, the Oshkosh, Wis., native, earned $8,428 with contingencies.

Up next

The third event of the 2020 National Walleye Tour season is slated for Sept. 10-11 on Lake Sakakawea in Garrison, N.D.