Insider Report: Gofron’s 28 pounds leads NWT Championship

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – Wicked weather during practice for the 2019 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, had the world’s best walleye anglers singing the tough-bite blues. A severe cold front, which felt more like winter than early fall, had many pros believing the sport’s premier event would be a grinder. Instead, the Devils Lake walleyes went on the chew as 16 pros weighed stringers in excess of 20 pounds. Leading the three-day championship after day one is veteran stick Mike Gofron with 28.22.During prefishing, Gofron noticed an increase of shallow bait. That keen observation was critical to his early success.“I have two distinct patterns – one shallow and one deep,” said the Mercury pro. “I’m spending about 75 percent of my time shallow, but the shallow bite is just materializing. It’s not there yet. It’s like musky fishing. You’re not going to catch a bunch of fish, but there are big ones to be had. You’re looking for certain areas where they’re relating from the past.”Gofron is optimistic for two reasons. The first is that he had his primary area all to himself today. Secondly, the recency of his pattern indicates his area is more apt to reload.“To catch our fish, we’re doing some jigging, and we’re also using some Berkley soft plastics and Berkley hard plastics. For now, all I can say is that it’s fun the way we’re fishing. It’s incredible.”The Antioch, Ill., native started the day fairly close to Grahams Island only to leave an hour later with one 16-incher in the livewell. He then made a healthy run east to his primary area. There he boxed a 27, a 23, an 18, a 16, a 27, and a 23. He eventually ran back to his starting area and finished the day with a 25-incher.“We were done around 1:30 p.m. I checked in early, but I waited for the first flight to weigh-in so my mom could watch the live stream and see us up on stage.”The one factor working against Gofron could be the weather. More specifically, tomorrow’s forecasted wind won’t impact his primary area, but it could be a rough boat ride. Sustained northeasterly winds of 19 mph are predicted with gusts up to 30. In addition, Devils Lake could receive another inch or more of rain.“The problem could be getting there,” Gofron concluded. We could have 4- and 5- footers in the morning, and it’s quite a ways away. I think I can get there if I take my time and take it easy.”Hanson secondLocal Mayville, N.D., pro Curt Hanson trails Gofron by less than three pounds. His 25.56-pound stringer was anchored by a 29 1/2-inch kicker.“We caught a few smaller ones early,” said Hanson, who is competing in his first NWT Championship. “Around midday we found a good spot and caught the big one. At the end of the day, we finished with our second biggest, a 24-incher.”Hanson said his three other weigh fish were 22, 20, and 20 inches. He hit a handful of spots, a mix of both shallow and deep.“I’m starting shallow, then working a few deep spots, then going back shallow. They’re in transition. I think they’re working their way to the 15- and 20-foot range. I think the wind is helping. The water temperature has dropped 10 degrees in the last week. It’s now 62.”Hanson predicted tomorrow’s blustery weather could hurt those that are jigging out deep.“I still think it will take 65 to 70 pounds to win. I was surprised to see so many bags over 20 pounds today. This time of year it’s tough to get 20 pounds, but it’s much harder to do it three days in a row.”Minke thirdIn third place with 25.07 pounds is Minnesota pro Dusty Minke. He too was amazed, not only with his catch, but with the overall catch.“This lake can really surprise you,” he said. “After a few days of not biting, I think because of the cold front, they switched up and bit today. Practice was pretty tough. We caught some good ones some days and other days we didn’t. There’s just not quite as many big fish as there used to be.”Minke agreed with Hanson’s assessment that the fish are transitioning from summer to fall patterns. He caught all his fish today on artificial baits.“I’m using all Northland Tackle. I’m using Northland Puppet Minnows, and I’m using Slurp Jigs with Northland plastics. I have two separate patterns – one deep and one shallow. I think I’m doing something a little different.”Minke is unsure if he’s around tournament-winning fish. Today, he weighed a 9-pounder, a 7-pounder, and a 6-pounder along with two smaller keepers.“It’s just too early to tell. This place can be good to you one day and humble you the next. Tomorrow they could be 15- and 13-inchers. I will say the spot I ended on is pretty precious. It’s got potential and there was no one else anywhere near me. My confidence is good, but it’s all about making adjustments the next two days.”Bismarck boys round out top fiveRounding out the top five are Bismarck, N.D., pros Sheldon Meidinger and Gene Merck. Meidinger caught a limit worth 24.21, while Merck managed five keepers for 23.73.Rest of the bestRounding out the top 10 pros at the 2019 National Walleye Tour Championship on Devils Lake:6th: Tim Abraham of New Ulm, Minn., five fish, 23.467th: Matthew Brown of Paterson, Wash., five fish, 23.438th: Tom Keenan of Hatley, Wis., five fish, 22.829th: Robert Crow of Paterson, Wash., five fish, 22.5210th: Brett King of Hager City, Wis., five fish, 22.26AOY UpdateCurrently sitting in 10th place, King moved one step closer to becoming the first pro to claim back-to-back Angler of the Year awards. King technically has an 18-point lead on Keenan. If King clinches a spot in the top 10 tomorrow, Keenan and others cannot mathematically catch him.The second day of the NWT Championship starts tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the full field takes off from Grahams Island State Park, located at 152 S. Duncan Rd. in Devils Lake. The day-two weigh-in also takes place at Grahams Island, beginning at 3 p.m.

Courts cruises to day-two lead

Minnesota pro maintains 3-pound margin at Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship

OSHKOSH, Wis. – In most professional walleye tournaments, the weights are strongest the first day of competition and generally decrease as the best locations on the lake see continued angling pressure. Only on rare occasions does the bite improve. Day two of the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship was one of those rare days as the wind picked up and provided the perfect walleye chop. While boat control was not easy, the Lake Winnebago walleyes were much more aggressive overall.

Pro leader Mark Courts was one of the few anglers who did not improve his weight, but that was next to impossible after catching nearly 17 pounds yesterday. Courts still sacked 11.33 to bring his cumulative weight to 28.25 pounds.

“We actually had a really good day considering the amount of boats that moved into the area,” he said. “You just couldn’t work the area the way you wanted to work it. And when you did catch one, everybody would creep in on you. But that’s part of the game.”

The bite was fast early, then Courts hit a lull before going on another run midday.

“I probably caught 15 walleyes today, six of which were the right ones. The place is just reloading.”

Courts revealed bits and pieces of his pattern now that the field has been cut to only the top 10 pros and top 10 co-anglers.

“We’re pulling crankbaits, Original Floaters. We’re just doing it a different way than most guys. We’re using 65-pound Trilene Professional Grade braid as our main line and 20-pound Trilene XT as our leader line.”

Courts is employing both his Evinrude kicker and his bow-mounted Minn Kota Terrova to troll – making repeated passes over the same stretch of water. The kicker provides the bulk of the power and the trolling motor does the steering.

With one day of competition remaining, the Harris, Minn., pro has put himself in great position to claim a second major championship, the other coming in 2008 at the final PWT event.

“I’m feeling confident. We’ll see what the weather does. It might even make it better. Overall, I’m relaxed and fishing very well. I just want to capitalize on every opportunity. I think I missed one good opportunity today and now I’ve just got to stay focused and capitalize again tomorrow.”

Courts doesn’t plan to be picky, instead opting to place at least the first five legal walleyes he catches into his Ranger livewell. Culling in this event is not allowed, although anglers can keep seven fish and weigh their best five.

“I’m in position to win this thing. I’m not going to be dumb and throw away any fish. Not when the bite has been this tough.”

Sprengel up to second

If there’s anyone Courts doesn’t want to see in his rear-view mirror heading into the final day of a championship event it’s Korey Sprengel, an angler with considerable Winnebago experience and arguably the hottest walleye stick over the past three years. Yet here Sprengel is, knocking on the door once again. After catching 13.16 pounds yesterday, he added another 12.11 today for a two-day total of 25.27.

“I ran down to a spot that I was sharing with Tom Kemos to start the day,” he said. “I didn’t even have my lines in the water and he already had two. Then I had three in the first 30 or 40 minutes so I was thinking it was going to be on fire. But then ironically the wind picked up and the bite just died.”

Sprengel’s main pattern is pitching an 1/8-ounce jig with a PowerBait Rib Worm to rock. He also occasionally mixes in a crankbait. Today the crankbait accounted for just one of the five weigh fish.

“I like the Rib Worm because I’m more efficient; I’m not having to re-bait all the time. As it is, I’m losing a lot of jigs in the snarly cover. But when they hit that jig, they just crush it.”

At 11 a.m., Sprengel’s day took a major turn for the better as he landed a 4-pound walleye. At 12:30 p.m. he finally boxed No. 5, a 16-incher.

“Then I left because I wanted to save whatever was left in that area and go for big ones. But again, I never caught any. I know so many spots on this lake to get a big one. I just cannot believe I haven’t got one yet.”

Sprengel still feels like he has a legitimate chance to catch Courts, despite the 3-pound margin.

“I just wish I was a little closer. I feel confident though. If I can get my five early, say by 10 a.m., I might have a real chance. Today I thought it was going happen.”

Ell slips to third

Despite an 11-pound effort, Bismarck, N.D., pro Jacob Ell fell one spot to third with a total weight of 24.82 pounds.

“The wind today was pretty much the same as it was when I found the area in practice, so I definitely had confidence coming in,” said Ell, the second-year pro. “Still, the bite was slower today. We didn’t have our first fish until 8:30 this morning and then it was spotty after that; we’d maybe get one every half hour or hour.”

Ell received only five bites the entire day. And only four came in the boat as he witnessed a nice walleye, estimated at approximately 23 inches, come unbuttoned as the crankbait popped out of the fish’s mouth.

“I’m thrilled with 11 pounds. I just hate knowing that I left some weight out there. In a championship scenario like this, you can’t lose fish. And seeing the fish makes it even harder. I’m still happy overall though.”

Ell revealed a bit of his pattern after weigh-in as well. He fishes two areas on the main lake and trolls crankbaits with planer boards.

“My sauger spot was pretty much unfishable today. We tried it but the boards were getting buried in 3-foot waves. We did actually pull a 20-incher out of there. But then we just grinded it out in the original spot.”

That original spot is a 3/4 mile stretch of water. Within it is one key stretch where Ell has received the majority of his bites.

“Those two were the only places I was able to find quantity. The water is muddy so it’s not that easy for the fish to see. I think there are more there. I definitely left one particular fish.”

McQuoid retains fourth

Despite increasing his weight from 10.01 pounds to 14.20 pounds, Isle, Minn., pro Kevin McQuoid never budged on the leaderboard. With a two-day total of 24.21 pounds, he sits fourth, just as he did at takeoff this morning.

“I was hoping I would climb a little bit, but I did close the overall margin,” he said. “The difference between yesterday and today was that today I got two nice 23-inchers. We had our fifth fish this morning at 10 a.m. and then we kind of struggled a bit. Then the second big fish bit at 2 p.m. and that was a really nice bonus.”

McQuoid has fished the same 1/2-mile stretch of water the entire tournament. He’s trolling crankbaits over water 10 to 20 feet, some of it breakline and some of it basin.

“We figured out the color program the last day of practice. I’m hoping it’s going to work for another day. Catching Courts is doable. What I need is his weight from day one. If I get a couple of those extra bites tomorrow things could change around.”

Skarlis fifth

Tommy Skarlis improved his day-one catch of 9.63 pounds to 13.07 pounds, giving him an opening-round total of 22.70 pounds. The Waukon, Iowa, pro will start the final day more than 5 pounds off the lead. Like Courts, Skarlis is no stranger to winning major walleye championships.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2014 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship on Lake Winnebago:

6th: Robert Cardenas of Gem Lake, Minn., nine walleyes, 22.60
7th: Ross Grothe of Northfield, Minn., 10 walleyes, 20.93
8th: Ted Takasaki of Sioux Falls, S.D., eight walleyes, 20.17
9th: Jason Doyon of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, eight walleyes, 19.07
10th: Tom Keenan of Hatley, Wis., 10 walleyes, 19.07

The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the top 10 takes off from Menominee Park. The final weigh-in also takes place at Menominee Park, beginning at 3 p.m.

Evinrude Extends Partnership with Cabela’s National Walleye Tour

Agreement includes contingency at all events

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (February 11, 2015) – Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP), makers of Evinrude E-TEC outboards, has re-joined the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour (NWT) as an official sponsor for the 2015 season. The renewal was finalized as the NWT prepares for the upcoming season, scheduled to kick off May 7 on the Mississippi River at Lake City, Minnesota.

As part of the agreement, Evinrude will continue to reward anglers who power their boats with an Evinrude E-TEC outboard engine. A winning Evinrude angler at any one of the three regular season events will receive an engine upgrade from the standard 150 hp option to a 250 hp model. In addition, second through 15th place will receive a $1,000 cash bonus and 16th through 31st will receive a $500 payout. Co-anglers who finish on top of the leaderboard will receive an extra $1,500, while second through 10th receive $500 and 11th through 31st receive $250.

“Evinrude has been an integral part of the National Walleye Tour since the beginning,” said Anthony Wright, NWT tournament director. “They have such a rich history of supporting walleye anglers and we’re fortunate to have them as a partner. We’re excited about the upcoming season and proud to build on our relationship with Evinrude.”

BRP is a global leader in the design, development, manufacturing, distribution and marketing of powersports vehicles and propulsion systems. Its portfolio includes Ski-Doo and Lynx snowmobiles, Sea-Doo watercraft, Can-Am all-terrain and side-by-side vehicles, Can-Am Spyder roadsters, Evinrude and Rotax marine propulsion systems as well as Rotax engines for karts, motorcycles and recreational aircraft.

BRP’s Evinrude engine line-up from 3.5 to 300 horsepower offers customers superior value across a full range of applications. The all-new Evinrude E-TEC G2 outboard delivers unrivaled performance with best-in-class torque and fuel efficiency and lowest total emissions.

“NWT events provide a great platform to promote the best-in-class performance of Evinrude E-TEC outboards,” said Evinrude Director of Marketing and Strategic Planning Chris Berg. “The all-new Evinrude E-TEC G2 is the perfect choice for walleye anglers looking for the next generation of power, performance, reliability and value with up to 20 percent more torque, 15 percent better fuel efficiency and 75 percent fewer total regulated emissions than leading four-stroke competitors.”

The National Walleye Tour will begin the 2015 season May 7 at Lake City, Minnesota, and will include a total of three qualifying events, plus a year-end championship. Official registration for all events will being Jan 5, 2015, both online and by phone. The NWT website offers numerous details on the circuit, including official rules, tournament structure, payout and incentives.

All 2015 NWT events feature 100% payback. A fully rigged Ranger Boat, plus cash, is guaranteed for first place at each event – a minimum total value of $61,000. Multiple contingency programs are available for even higher payout. 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 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour also includes unmatched television and media coverage, allowing a national audience to watch the action unfold from each event throughout the season. Airing on multiple networks, the NWT will be seen on the Pursuit Channel, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports Net North.

For more details, anglers are encouraged to call 612-424-0708 or visit the website at From here, site visitors can register for events, view the TV schedule and learn more about what’s in-store for 2015.

2015 NWT scheduled events:

May 7-8 – Mississippi River (Lake City, Minn.)
June 12-13 – Leech Lake (Walker, Minn.)
July 24-25 – Green Bay (Green Bay, Wis.)

Championship – September 17-19 – Devils Lake (Devils Lake, N.D.)

BoatUS Joins National Walleye Tour

Partnership will include custom contingency program as well

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (August 3, 2015) – The Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.), boasting over half a million members nationwide, has joined the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour (NWT) as an official sponsor for the 2015 season and beyond. The multi-year agreement was finalized as the NWT prepares for the upcoming championship, scheduled to kick off Sept. 17 on Devils Lake.

“We’re proud to work with BoatU.S,” said NWT Tournament Director Anthony Wright. “As tournament fishermen who spend a ton of time on the water each year, our anglers realize the value of a BoatU.S. membership. It’s why many of them are members already and why we’re so excited to have them on board. We look forward to growing our partnership and introducing even more anglers to BoatU.S.”

BoatU.S. offers on the water and on the road towing services provided by the nation’s largest towing fleet and insures billions of dollars worth of members’ boats, offering unparalleled service at competitive prices. BoatU.S. also offers time and money saving benefits to their over half a million members through strategic partnerships within the marine industry.

Since its founding in 1966, BoatU.S. has also worked to provide quality service, savings and representation to the recreational boating community. Today BoatU.S. stands as the nation’s most powerful advocate for advancing the interests of boaters everywhere.

The new partnership will also include a custom contingency program rewarding NWT anglers that carry BoatU.S. marine insurance policies. BoatU.S. offers coverage in all 50 states to boat owners with a U.S. address and is available for most all boat types. In addition to the exceptional service and claims handling, NWT anglers with BoatU.S. marine insurance policies will soon be eligible for bonus payout at all NWT events.

“Partnering with the National Walleye Tour is a great opportunity to reach more boaters and showcase the benefits of being a BoatU.S. member,” said Program Coordinator Dustin King. “It’s also a great way to show our dedication to inland boaters and fishermen. We’re excited to be involved.”

All 2015 NWT events feature 100% payback. A fully rigged Ranger Boat, plus cash, is guaranteed for first place at each event – a minimum total value of $61,000. Multiple contingency programs are available for even higher payout. 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 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour also includes unmatched television and media coverage, allowing a national audience to watch the action unfold from each event throughout the season. Airing on multiple networks, the NWT will be seen on the Pursuit Channel, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports Net North.

For more details, anglers are encouraged to call 612-424-0708 or visit the website at

2015 NWT scheduled events:

Championship – September 17-19 – Devils Lake (Devils Lake, N.D.)

Insider Report: Kolb trolls up second national win

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – David Kolb has been fishing the Great Lakes as both a tournament pro and a charter captain for over two decades. He spends most of his time on Saginaw Bay, the Detroit River, and Lake Erie. But when the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, announced it would be holding a tournament on the Soo, Kolb couldn’t pass on the opportunity to compete in his home state of Michigan. It turned out to be a prudent decision as Kolb dominated the two-day tournament and claimed his second national win.

Kolb’s first victory came in 2003 on Lake Erie. Ironically, it was the first major tournament he ever entered. Sixteen years later he returned to the winner’s podium on walleye fishing’s biggest stage.

“I spent a week and a half prefishing; I worked really hard for this one,” said a reflective Kolb. “I’ve been in the hunt several times, so it’s nice to finish one off. Sometimes you wonder if you’re doing something wrong.”

Kolb’s extensive practice led him to a rocky shoreline in the Drummond Island area, located approximately 45 miles from takeoff. On Monday, Kolb caught a 27, a 29 1/2, and a 26 in short time. He knew he discovered something special, but at the time he wasn’t sure it would hold up.

“I actually started the tournament on a jigging spot in the St. Joseph’s area. I was consistently getting 23 to 25 pounds there. I caught a few, but I ended up culling everything out at the big-fish spot. Today I pretty much spent the entire day in Drummond.”

The bite was not fast and furious this morning. At 11:30, Kolb only had one skinny 24-incher in his Ranger livewell. He debated a major move, but chose to stay largely because the bite tended to improve in the afternoon.

Pro David Kolb (left) dominated the 2019 NWT event on the Soo with a two-day total of 65 pounds.“That class of fish is really rare up here. I was fortunate to find it. And I was fortunate that they were active in the afternoon. I don’t understand why, but it was a later-in-the-day bite.”

The Grand Blanc, Mich., native would make 1/4-mile trolling passes through the area, which was 8 to 12 feet deep.

“My speed was 1.5 mph, but I was going into the current. These fish were sitting in the rocks and waiting for the current to wash the bait by. There were gobies there and other clouds of baitfish too.”

On day one, Kolb caught two casting a No. 7 Rapala Rippin’ Rap (Redfire crawdad). Today, all five of his fish came from trolling Reef Runner 600 Series Deep Little Rippers (Cheap sunglasses and Purple descent).

“There were big boulders, so I wanted the crankbaits just above the bottom. Today I ran four boards to one side because all my bites were coming on the inside.”

Kolb employed Off Shore Magnum planer boards with short leads, so the big ones wouldn’t bury the board. Interestingly, Kolb had his co-angler reel in the fish, while he coached, controlled the motor, and manned the net. His flurry came from noon to 1:10 as he put four giants in the box and improved from 4 pounds to 34 pounds. His two kickers, which were the last two fish of the day, were 29 1/2 and 28 inches. Officially, he weighed five walleyes for 34.07. Combined with his 30.97 from day one, Kolb’s cumulative total was 65.04 pounds.

“On these big fish, getting them in the boat is everything. Remember, we only had five bites. I have the co-angler do most of the reeling. I kill the kicker and use the trolling motor. I’m a firm believer that they can hear the kicker, and then they fight harder. Plus, there can be issues with prop wash. We put all five of our bites in the boat today.”

For winning the third event of the 2019 season, Kolb earned a Ranger 620FS with a 225-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 cash, and an additional $2,364 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $83,259.

“I really think the big lake was too cold,” concluded Kolb. “There are productive reefs out on Huron, but the water temperature was only 62 degrees. At Drummond, the water was 68, 69 or 70 degrees, and that made a big difference.”

Red-hot Hoyer retains second

John Hoyer has recently become one of the hottest names in professional walleye fishing. After winning the second event of the season on Green Bay, Hoyer finished runner-up this week at Sault Ste. Marie. The common denominator between the two events is casting. In Marinette, Hoyer employed mainly lipless crankbaits. This week, he used a new swimbait that was recently released at ICAST.

“I caught every one of my fish on the new Berkley PowerBait The Champ Swimmer,” said the Simms pro. “It’s a 4.6-inch paddletail with a high definition printed side. My best colors were black crappie, blueback herring, and yellow perch.”

Hoyer fished the new bait on a 1/2-ounce Fusion 19 swimbait jighead with a 6/0 hook.

“I was basically bass fishing in musky spots. I would cast into the thickest cabbage, snap the bait as hard as you can to clear the cabbage, and they’d bite it on the fall. I was letting it freefall as fast as it possible could, and they would absolutely inhale it.”

The Orono, Minn., native was fishing the north side of St. Joseph’s Island. He spent most of his practice trolling No. 9 Flicker Minnows in the same area. Ironically, Hoyer was initially dropping waypoints to avoid hitting the cabbage with his crankbaits.

“I found this pattern on Wednesday, the day before the tournament. I had one nip at my bait, so I threw back out there, ripped it through the cabbage and caught a 7-pounder. I spent the rest of my practice trying to find every strand of cabbage I could. Depending on the spot, it was between 8 and 16 feet of water. If it had rock, cabbage, and current, it was an A+++ spot.”

Hoyer caught six keepers on day one and 10 today. His best five Thursday weighed 24.50, and today they weighed 26.32. His two-day total was 50.82 pounds. His second-place finish earned him $22,809.

“It’s kind of like taking first in that it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I wasn’t on the same class of fish as Kolb; my fish were all so close to the same size, so second feels unbelievable.”

Sutton rallies to third

Illinois pro Bill Sutton demonstrated remarkable consistency and finished the tournament third with 41.54 pounds. On day one, Sutton sacked 21.26, and today he backed that up with 20.28.

“We were fishing a rock bar that sets up very similarly to a wing dam,” Sutton explained. “We were pitching jigs, the new Northland Tackle long-shank Fire-ball jig with a full night crawler.”

Sutton would work the base of the rock bar in 13 to 15 feet. He found the area in practice with his Lowrance SideScan.

“We were making a 30-mile run to the St. Joseph’s channel. The current set up a lot like a wing dam. Today the wind shifted and shut down some of the current, but I’m a grinder; I stayed there and grinded it out.”

Sutton attributed much of his success to his 7-foot medium action Okuma Dead Eye rods.

“These fish were native river fish. A 22-inch fish fights like a 30-incher in that river. And I’m not really much of a jig fisherman. I was out of my comfort zone, so those rods were a huge help. To take a top five against this caliber of fishermen, I’m happy with that.”

For third place, Sutton earned $16,936.

King fourth, McQuoid fifth

Rounding out the top five are proven sticks Brett King and Kevin McQuoid. King, the Hager City, Wis., river rat, finished fourth. After catching 23.09 pounds on day one, King slipped to 18.03 today. His two-day total weight was 41.52.

King was one of the risk takers making a treacherous 100-mile run south. On day one, he used a bass boat to arrive faster and maximize his fishing time. On day two, in more blustery conditions, he switched back to a more traditional walleye boat. After arriving, King would troll crankbaits.

King will leave Sault Ste. Marie as the official Angler of the Year leader. King also claimed last year’s AOY title and is looking to become the first back-to-back AOY.

McQuoid, the Bass Pro Shops pro, took fifth with a combined weight of 41.41 pounds. On day one, he boated 23.47 pounds, and today he managed 17.94. McQuoid was running 50 miles each way and trolling spinners with inline weights over humps.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2019 National Walleye Tour event at Sault Ste. Marie:

6th: Kent Andersen of Amery, Wis., 36.71
7th: Jason Doyon of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 35.64
8th: Michael Lenarduzzi of Sobieski, Wis., 35.26
9th: Eric Olson of Red Wing, Minn., 34.24
10th: Gary Parsons of Glidden, Wis., 33.21

Olson claims co-angler title

Robert Olson took home top honors in the Co-angler Division with a total weight of 49.41 pounds. On day one, Olson made the long run with King, and the two trolled a limit worth 23.09. Today he fished the cabbage with Hoyer, and together they weighed five walleyes for 26.32.

Olson, the Larsen, Wis., native, earned $7,085 for his win.

Up next

The fourth and final event of the 2019 National Walleye Tour season is the year-end championship, scheduled for Sept. 11-13 on Devils Lake in Devils Lake, N.D.

Insider Report: Kolb clobbers ‘em

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Stop No. 3 of the 2019 National Walleye Tour season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, was seen by many as a major wildcard. The NWT has never visited Sault Ste. Marie, and the last national pro-am tournament was held back in 2005. The St. Marys River and connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron are beautiful, healthy fisheries, but the sheer amount of water to uncover is daunting, even for the best walleye anglers in the world. Leave it to Great Lakes veteran David Kolb to figure out the bite. The Ranger pro put his open-water knowledge to use as he grabbed the day-one lead.

Kolb, the Michigan native, officially weighed 30.97 pounds. He started the day pitching jigs and night crawlers at what he thought was his best spot. While he caught a couple keepers, the size wasn’t what he was expecting, so he ran south to spot No. 2.

“On my first pass, I had a double with a 26 (incher) and a 24,” recalled Kolb. “Then I came back over it and caught a 22.”

Kolb then switched to casting, but this time he opted for the Rapala Rippin’ Rap instead of a jig and meat.

“Then, I caught a 28 and a 24. I eventually switched back to trolling and caught a 28 1/2 and decided it was time to be done. I put the last one in the box around 1:15 or 1:30, and we eased our way back.”

Kolb wasn’t willing to reveal any location specifics, but he admitted he’s not making a “mega-run.” During practice, several pros openly discussed the possibility of running 100 miles or more if the weather cooperated. While today was largely calm, tomorrow’s forecast calls for increased wind.

“I’ve been up here seven or so times, so I’m comfortable, and I know the water fairly well. I never thought those runs were realistic. Plus, I had a couple spots where I thought I could catch 23 to 25 pounds. That’s pretty good for up here, so I never thought those runs were worth it.”

What Kolb is debating is switching the order of his two spots.

“I’m not exactly sure because I’ve only fished the other spot between 10:30 and 2:30. I don’t mind the wind there, but it might make sense to get down there first. Either way, if I can repeat what I did today, I don’t think anyone can catch me.”

Hoyer hoping to go back to back

In second place is Green Bay champion John Hoyer. Walleye fans will recall Hoyer employed a hero-or-zero casting strategy to claim his first tour-level win in late May. This week, he’s once again casting his way towards the top of the leaderboard.

“I literally got on this pattern at 11 a.m. yesterday,” said the Simms pro. “I caught six today and lost one. Believe it or not, I’m fishing musky spots. It finally occurred to me why they’re using them. I fished probably 20 different spots today in one area. They’re really small. It’s a spot-on-the-spot thing. It’s where three different variables all come together. It sounds like I’ve got it all figured out, but I just got on the pattern yesterday. I’ve never done this pattern in a walleye tournament.”

While Hoyer weighed 24.50, he believes it’s possible to improve and perhaps win tomorrow.

“My fish today were all skinny, and I’m not sure why. I easily could have had 31 pounds with the same length of fish. But I think a bigger weight is doable tomorrow.”

Hoyer described his trip as a “medium-sized run” and doesn’t believe getting to his area will be a problem tomorrow.

“It will play a factor in what spots I choose to fish,” the Orono, Minn., fisherman concluded.

McQuoid third

Bass Pro Shops pro Kevin McQuoid sits in third place with 23.47 pounds. The Isle, Minn., native was pleased that his bite was surprisingly consistent throughout the day.

“Today the first fish came at 9:30, and then it was pretty consistent,” said McQuoid. “During prefishing, it was more of a midday bite.”

McQuoid caught his fish trolling spinners with inline weights over humps.

“To be honest, trolling was a decision about hook-up percentage. With casting, you get the bites, but you don’t always get them in the boat. Tomorrow should be even better for trolling; I’m looking forward to it. The wind should diffuse the fish more.”

Like Kolb and Hoyer, McQuoid is not making a 100-mile run.

“I am running about 50 miles each way. In perspective, a 50-mile run is a long run for most people.”

King fourth, Desjardin fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Brett King and Kris Desjardin. King, the 2018 NWT Angler of the Year, caught a limit worth 23.09. King currently sits second in this year’s AOY race and is poised to put some pressure on leader Max Wilson.

“I lost one good fish today, maybe a 6- or 7-pounder, and I had to weigh a 19-incher instead,” said King. “It hurt, but I still think I have a shot to win. This system is notorious as the hardest to duplicate from one day to the next. It’s just that finicky.”

King said he’s not using live bait, but he’s not casting either. Instead, he’s trolling crankbaits, and he believes he’ll have his area all to himself tomorrow.

Desjardin, the local pro who lives in Hilton Beach, Ont., managed four keepers for 21.39.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2019 National Walleye Tour event at Sault Ste. Marie:

6th: Bill Sutton of Lindenhurst, Ill., five fish, 21.26
7th: Eric Olson of Red Wing, Minn., five fish, 19.72
8th: Tommy Kemos of Oconomowoc, Wis., five fish, 19.52
9th: Jason Doyon of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., five fish, 18.89
10th: Theodore McCoy of Grand Rapids, Mich., five fish, 18.37

The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Eastern time as the full field takes off from the Aune Osborn Boat Launch, located at 1225 Riverside Dr. in Sault Ste. Marie. The final weigh-in also takes place at the Aune Osborn Boat Launch, beginning at 3 p.m.

Lowrance Extends Partnership with National Walleye Tour

Pro walleye tour scheduled to kick off 2015 season in May

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (December 18, 2014) – The Lowrance brand of marine electronics has renewed its partnership with the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour. The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based company is a world leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of high-quality consumer fish finder and GPS chartplotters, as well as digital mapping systems.

“We’re extremely proud to have Lowrance back on board with the National Walleye Tour,” said Anthony Wright, tournament director. “They’re a strong part of our sponsor family and build a phenomenal product. We look forward to building our partnership for years to come.”

Widely recognized for introducing the first recreational sonar in 1957, today Lowrance is renowned for its award-winning High Definition Systems (HDS) and add-on performance modules that allow anglers to find, navigate and dominate — making the most of their time on the water. Innovative Lowrance technology offerings include: StructureScan® HD with SideScan and DownScan Imaging™; award-winning Broadband Sounder™; the most mapping options available, including Insight Genesis™; and Broadband Radar™, to name a few. All products are backed by unsurpassed technical support and the industry-leading Lowrance Advantage Service program.

“Lowrance has a rich heritage of supporting the walleye market, and we’re proud to be a part of the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour,” said Louis Chemi, COO, Navico Americas. “Our products are synonymous with successful tournament fishing, and the NWT is a great platform to showcase our support. We look forward to seeing the anglers and kicking off the new season soon.”

The National Walleye Tour will begin the 2015 season May 8 at Lake City, Minnesota, and will include a total of three qualifying events, plus a year-end championship. Official registration for all events will begin Jan 5, 2015, both online and by phone. The NWT website offers numerous details on the circuit, including official rules, tournament structure, payout and incentives.

All 2015 NWT events feature 100% payback. A fully rigged Ranger Boat, plus cash, is guaranteed for first place at each event – a minimum total value of $57,000. Multiple contingency programs are available for even higher payout. 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 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour also includes unmatched television and media coverage, allowing a national audience to watch the action unfold from each event throughout the season. Airing on multiple networks, the NWT will be seen on the Pursuit Channel, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports Net North.

For more details, anglers are encouraged to call 612-424-0708 or visit the website at From here, site visitors can register for events, view the TV schedule and learn more about what’s in-store for 2015.

20 15 NWT scheduled events:

May 8-9 – Mississippi River (Lake City, Minn.)
June 12-13 – Leech Lake (Walker, Minn.)
July 24-25 – Green Bay (Green Bay, Wis.)

Championship – September 17-19 – Devils Lake (Devils Lake, N.D.)
About Lowrance
The Lowrance® brand is wholly owned by Navico, Inc. A privately held, international corporation, Navico is currently the world’s largest marine electronics company, and is the parent company to leading marine electronics brands: Lowrance, Simrad Yachting and B&G. Navico has approximately 1,500 employees globally and distribution in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Sprengel sacks 18-pound stringer to take title

Beaver Dam, Wis., pro rallies to win Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship

OSHKOSH, Wis. – With five major victories in the past four years, Korey Sprengel is arguably the hottest walleye pro in the game. But if the young 26-year-old lacked anything on his angling résumé, it was a championship victory in a pro-am event. Sprengel rectified that today and notched win No. 6 in impressive come-from-behind fashion at the 2014 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship.

Sprengel trailed pro leader Mark Courts by 3 pounds heading into the final day of the tournament. While Courts is a Minnesota native, Sprengel resides in nearby Beaver Dam, Wis., and fishes Lake Winnebago often. Even so, he was puzzled after an extensive practice and didn’t know what to expect as the event unfolded.

“Going in to the tournament, I had no idea how it was going to go,” he said. “It’s basically my home body of water and I had to relearn it on the fly.”

Sprengel started each day on the south shore of the main lake, approximately 15 miles from Oshkosh. There he targeted rock humps in 6 to 7 feet of water that topped out at 2 to 3 feet.

“There was one main hump and then small isolated humps off the main one. It’s something that’s not on a chip; I found it using my Lowrance StructureScan. In practice, I was catching more largemouth bass there than walleyes. I really didn’t know what I had. Each morning I would put that Mercury Pro XS to the wood. It was strictly a morning deal and I had to get there as fast as I could.”

After arriving, Sprengel would pitch an 1/8-ounce jig with a purple and white PowerBait Rib Worm. He opted for plastic instead of live bait because it allowed him to be more efficient, which was critical in the snaggy cover. Tied to the jig was 10-pound Fireline in Flame Green.

“About the fifth cast this morning, I land a 23-incher. My co-angler catches one on the crankbait not long after that. Then I catch another one on the jig. We had those three fish in the first 30 minutes.

“An hour or so later we landed a 17-incher. We kept it, but I was really hoping I didn’t have to weigh that fish. At 11:30 a.m., I stuck another 22-incher for No. 5. Then I really had to think about what I was going to do.”

The previous two days Sprengel would run back up to Oshkosh and search for big ones in the Fox River. But both days he came up empty handed. Calling a late audible today, he instead decided to embark on a milk run along the south shore. He first hit a weed spot, and then another hump.

“On the third spot, I found some more protected weeds, some coontail in 3 or 4 feet of water. Then I basically started flipping that same jig. Ten minutes into it, I caught another 22- or 23-incher. I knew if there was one in there, there would be many in there. So I eventually stuck another 23-incher and we were done with seven fish at 1:30 p.m.”

Sprengel weighed four walleyes between 22 and 23 inches in length and his smallest fish was a 19-incher. Together they combined to weigh an astonishing 18.42 pounds, the heaviest stringer of the entire tournament.

“I 100 percent knew that was possible. I said there was going to be a 20-pound bag this week. I was so surprised we couldn’t catch anything big in practice. All the big ones were just eating shad in practice. But those weed fish, if they’re in there; they are there for one reason, to eat.”

Sprengel then reflected on his latest win, one that garnered him a new Ranger 621FS and over $15,000, a total prize package with bonuses of $84,424.

“I’ve never worked so hard in a fishing tournament in my life. I had to do all I could to keep an 1/8-ounce jig under control in those (windy) conditions. And I was only getting those 5 to 7 bites a day. When I landed that seventh one today, I took a nice boat ride back and when I got in the harbor I could have slept.”

Ell’s comeback comes up just short

Second-year pro Jacob Ell commented yesterday after weigh-in that you can’t lose fish in a major championship and expect to win. At the time, he didn’t know how prophetic that statement would be. After catching a huge 18.26-pound stringer today, Ell finished the tournament with 43.08 pounds. Despite weighing only 14 of the allowable 15 fish, Ell was within a half pound of victory.

“This morning was slow and then all of a sudden this afternoon we just started catching big fish,” the Bismarck, N.D., native recalled. “Coming back in I definitely thought I had a chance to win.”

Like Sprengel, Ell had an area all by himself. But unlike Sprengel, he fished the northeast side of the main lake, approximately 14 miles from takeoff.

“It’s where the deepest part of the lake comes to the shoreline, a rock shoreline. It’s a shelf that goes from 4 foot and then drops into 11 feet and then further drops into the basin. I would put the boat in 11 feet and run the baits in 8 to 10 feet.”

At times Ell would troll up to 3/4 of a mile, but there was a definitive sweet spot within that stretch. Once he got honed in, he would continue working that area at speeds of 1.8 to 2 mph.

“I was running three of my planer boards on the shore side. I was using No. 7 Berkley Flicker Shads. On cloudy, overcast days, Black Gold and Black Gold Sunset were the best colors. When the sun would come out, Purple Tiger was the bait to be running. Today I switched over to Purple Tiger at 12:30 p.m. and the area just caught fire.

“I made sure those crankbaits were smacking the bottom. I definitely lost plenty of lures out there. The key for me was that I had to be hitting bottom to trigger those bites.”

After a tough practice and rumors of a tough bite before the tournament, Ell was ecstatic with his 18-pound final day.

“I couldn’t have even fathomed that driving out here. But still, I came in one fish short. Losing by a half pound sucks, but you’ve got to get past that. It’s still an awesome feeling to go out there and prove that a body of water can put out some good fish this time of year. Having this second-place trophy with me is surreal.”

In addition to the trophy, Ell also takes home a Ranger boat, his a 620FS.

Courts falls to third

This morning before takeoff, Courts was aiming for a solid weight in the 12-pound range. With a 3-pound lead, he figured that would be enough to take home his second tour-level championship. He ended up catching 11.44 today, but it was nowhere near enough.

“He flat crushed them today,” Courts said of Sprengel. “I’ll tell you what, I have a lot of respect for Korey. I was feeling pretty decent when I came in. All in all I fished a really clean tournament. We had one good fish on this morning that got away, but we didn’t see what it was.”

Fishing the mouth of where the Fox River dumps into Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh, Courts again experienced a strong bite Saturday.

“They were biting today; we caught probably 15. The only lull we had was later in the afternoon.”

Courts termed his technique rod-lining.

“The first fish I caught of the tournament came from pitching a jig and everything I caught after that was from rod-lining. My go-to bait was either the No. 7 or No. 9 Rapala Original Floater in Purpledescent. Today it switched and the best color was orange. We were running a hand-line shank with a weight. The crankbaits were always within 6 to 8 inches of the bottom, which had a mix of clam beds and rock. The target depth was 13 or 14 feet. For speeds, we were trolling at 1.5 mph.”

Courts used both his Evinrude E-Tec 15 H.O. kicker and his bow-mounted Minn Kota Terrova to troll – making repeated passes over the same stretch of water. The kicker provided the bulk of the power and the trolling motor did the steering.

After a poor regular season, Courts came to Oshkosh with a chip on his shoulder. In the end, he finished the event third with a total weight of 39.69 pounds.

“I absolutely wouldn’t have done anything different; I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was a good spot, a spot the tournament definitely could have been won on. Finishing third is a nice boost of energy to take me into the offseason with some momentum. When it comes down to it, there are a lot of guys that would have liked to have been in the place I was in.”

McQuoid retains fourth

Kevin McQuoid figured the 10 pounds he caught on day one would be about the pace he needed to stay in contention. But even after improving his weights significantly on days two and three, McQuoid remained in fourth place throughout, finishing the tournament with 36.09 pounds. Needless to say, he and others grossly underestimated Winnebago’s potential, even during the summer-fall transition.

“This was awesome; it’s been a special week,” said McQuoid after weighing in. “Yesterday we had two 23-inchers and today we had one 23.”

McQuoid shared the same 1/2-mile stretch of water at the mouth of the Fox River with Courts. He trolled his crankbaits over water 10 to 20 feet, some of it breakline and some of it basin.

“We were handlining with No. 7 and No. 9 Original Floaters. Today orange was the key. Yesterday it was a mix of colors and the first day orange was the best again.”

Grothe finishes fifth

Ross Grothe of Northfield, Minn., started the tournament Thursday with a solid 9.91-pound bag. From there he steadily improved, bringing in a five-fish limit worth 13.33 pounds today. For a three-day total of 34.26 pounds, Grothe finished fifth.

“The first thing you want to do here at the championship is make the top 10,” said the veteran pro. “And then once you’ve done that, you shoot for the moon. Today, I caught only one of the fish and netted four. My partner was on fire, but it’s a team effort.”

Grothe too trolled the same general area as Courts and McQuoid.

“We were using Floating Rapalas and pencil sinkers.”

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2014 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship on Lake Winnebago:

6th: Ted Takasaki of Sioux Falls, S.D., 33.48
7th: Tommy Skarlis of Waukon, Iowa, 30.91
8th: Robert Cardenas of Gem Lake, Minn., 28.61
9th: Tom Keenan of Hatley, Wis., 27.37
10th: Jason Doyon of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, 21.58

Kemos claims Angler of the Year

Tom Kemos of Oconomowoc, Wis., claimed the prestigious 2014 Lucas Oil Angler of the Year award after four events.

“It’s a huge deal for me,” Kemos said. “I’ve been close several times. I can still remember the fish I lost that cost me the title in years past. Going into this one, I was 19 points back, so I figured I was probably going to have to swing for the fence. After a rough opening day, I assumed it was over. To be able to finally pull it off, it’s awesome.”

Kemos wanted to thank his wife and his teammates and practice partners Gary and Chase Parsons and Keith Kavajecz.

“This is certainly one of the biggest titles I have,” said the 2006 PWT Championship winner. “To fish an entire season and be the top guy, it means a ton, both to me and to the great sponsors I have. I really see this season as the start of a new chapter for me.”

Cayemberg crowned co-angler champion

Craig Cayemberg was the fortunate co-angler to be along for the Korey Sprengel show Saturday. Cayemberg, a veteran co-angler, knew something special was under way after making the long run south and almost immediately picking up a game-changing fish.

“I haven’t hugged too many men in my life,” joked Cayemberg. “But when that big one bit within the first five minutes, that was the biggest man hug I’ve had in my life.”

That big fish was just the start of the 18.42-pound stringer. Combined with 9.91 from day one and 11.57 from day two, the Valders, Wis., resident finished the tournament with 39.90 pounds.

“I’ve really got to thank all my boaters first and foremost. The quality people you meet as a co-angler is second to none. This morning I was 4 1/2 pounds out of the lead. I didn’t really think that could be done.”

Cayemberg caught two of the seven keepers and one of the five that was weighed.

“I caught a 21-incher. I was the crankbait guy in the back. I was casting the No. 7 Flicker Shads (Firetiger). Winning really hasn’t sunk in it. I know I’m just a co-angler and it’s nothing like winning as a pro, but I work hard.”

Insider Report: Hoyer hauls in over 41 pounds

MARINETTE, Wis. – Thanks largely to an unseasonably cool, wet spring, the bite during practice for the second National Walleye Tour event of the 2019 season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, has been trying. While Green Bay’s status as a big-fish factory remains unquestioned, the best anglers in the world were largely struggling. However, the first real warming trend of the season has finally arrived, and the lethargic walleyes are beginning to respond.

Leading after a top-heavy day one is Simms pro John Hoyer. The Minnesota native has been steadily climbing the ranks over the past few seasons and is on the cusp of his first major victory. The problem is that the two pros behind him are not only elite walleye anglers, they’re also experienced Green Bay sticks. While Hoyer was the only pro to surpass 40 pounds, Korey Sprengel and Joe Okada are both within striking distance. Hoyer, who caught only five fish, officially weighed 41.37 pounds.

“We knew if we could get five, they would be in the mid-30s or higher,” explained Hoyer. “That’s the kind of bite we’re on, and to be honest, that’s all we really had going.”

Hoyer said he made a long run to a community area where he’s targeting one specific type of structure.

Pro leader John Hoyer holds up four Green Bay walleyes, each in the 9-pound class.“There are a lot of boats around, but I’m fishing something really specific. Today I hit 20 different spots. and it’s not like only three or four of them are good. I literally give them all the same exact rating.”

Hoyer received six bites – losing one big fish at the boat. He endured a four-hour lull without any action until finally boxing his fifth fish late in the afternoon. His smallest walleye was a 5 1/2-pounder, and his other keepers were all in the 9-pound range.

“If the wind is going to blow tomorrow, and I think it is, then I think we can get 10 or 12 bites. The fish are just starting to warm up. They just barely bite at all when it’s calm. When you put wind on them, it fires them up a bit.”

Hoyer wasn’t ready to discuss his area or his presentation, allowing only that he’s making a long run.

“I do have four spots on a different side of the lake, and I wouldn’t hesitate to hit that stuff if I need to tomorrow.

“Overall, I’m confident with what we’ve got going. I think it could be my time. If we land six fish, it’s going to be close; it’s going to be interesting. It might just come down to a coin flip.”

Sprengel second

Sprengel, one of the most acclaimed pros in the game, sits in second with 39.68 pounds. The Berkley pro recently won the Sturgeon Bay Open, a regional smallmouth event, with partner Ryan Dempsey. He’s back to his walleye roots this week and hasn’t missed a beat.

“They were biting today, but it’s a complicated bite,” said Sprengel. “With this cold water, they don’t feed all day. You can be on the right spot, but it might not be the right time.”

Like Hoyer, Sprengel started in a community area. He caught one on his first cast and had five in his Ranger livewell by 8:45 this morning. Looking for a true kicker, he made a run in the opposite direction. After catching a few 27s and pitching them back, he stuck a 29-inch bruiser at 1:30 p.m. and headed in.

Korey Sprengel sits in second place after day one on Green Bay.“The weird thing is that I never touched anything I fished in practice. Everything was new today.”

Sprengel is intrigued by his big-fish spot for two reasons. The first is that he never saw another boat near it, and the second is that the fish are simply built bigger.

“I think I’m going to start in the community area again. Maybe I’ll pluck a fish or two from someone else and then leave. I don’t know at what point I will leave, but I want to use up other fish first.”

Sprengel wouldn’t reveal any bait names, but he admitted he’s casting while the majority of anglers are trolling.

“I just got into the zone this morning. It was cast and keep moving.”

Five years ago, when Hoyer was a co-angler, he would team with Sprengel and practice together. While the two have great respect for each other, they’re both prepared for a shootout.

“John is a great fisherman, one of the best out there, but he’s going to have to earn it tomorrow.”

Okada third

Green Bay continues to be kind to Okada, who weighed 38.19 pounds for third place. Okada has earned a reputation as one of the best open-water casters, and today was continued proof.

Okada typically runs north to play the casting game, even though he’s well aware of its fragile nature. After weigh-in, he admitted today was no different.

“This is the first limit I’ve caught since I’ve been here.” Okada revealed. “But I was fully prepared to take a zero. If the conditions hold tomorrow, we could be in good shape.”

The Green Bay casting bite has almost become an addiction for Okada.

“I just like catching big fish, and I don’t get to fish Green Bay nearly enough. You know the potential the bay has, even if it doesn’t always deliver. This time of year, it’s especially fickle, unless you’re Korey Sprengel and you can wave your magic wand around and the fish jump in the boat. The field becomes more educated every year too. The pie has to be sliced a lot thinner. It’s a gamble already, but now there are more boats to contend with.”

Okada believes another limit is possible tomorrow, but it’s certainly not a given.

“I’m just prepared to go get five bites. I never take a limit for granted on this area of Green Bay. You have to learn to take what the bay gives you.”

Gilman fourth, Hjelm fifth

Rounding out the top five are pros Chris Gilman and Duane Hjelm. Gilman, the 2013 NWT Championship winner, caught a limit worth 37.49.

Hjelm, the rising young pro who lives in Pierre, S.D., managed five keepers weighing 36.27.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2019 National Walleye Tour event on Green Bay:

6th: Mark Courts of Harris, Minn., five fish, 33.07
7th: Bill Shimota of Northfield, Minn., four fish, 32.69
8th: Nate Curell of Little Suamico, Wis., five fish, 32.25
9th: Brett King of Hager City, Wis., four fish, 31.13
10th: Jason Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., four fish, 30.91

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

Insider Report: Axtman’s bobber bite secures season opener

OSHKOSH, Wis. – A record 165 boats commenced the 2019 National Walleye Tour season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, with unbridled optimism. That bliss, however, was short lived as Lake Winnebago, typically one of the premier fisheries in the Midwest, confounded the world’s best walleye anglers. Wet, cold, and dreary conditions put both the anglers and the fish in a funk. To adjust, a few astute pros went with the tried and true slip bobbering technique, including champion Zach Axtman.

Axtman, the second-year pro, refined his bobber skills on North Dakota’s Devils Lake, and those skills payed off in a big way. While some of the biggest sticks in the sport were struggling, Axtman finished early both days. On day one, he boxed his seventh keeper at 12:30 p.m., and today he was back in Oshkosh by 11:30 a.m.

“I’m from North Dakota,” chortled the Ranger pro. “That’s just what we do when the bite gets tough. When the water temp starts to drop, that’s the first bite that gets going. I wanted to make sure I had the bait in front of them for the longest period of time possible. I tried trolling for three days, but I could not get a consistent bite going.”

Axtman caught everything off one rock pile on the northwest side of the main lake. The pile was located approximately 200 yards off the bank and served as a rest area for postspawners that were returning from the river. On top, which was covered in medium-sized rock and gravel, it was 5 1/2 feet, and the sides dropped off to 7 to 10 feet.

“I only caught two fish off it in practice,” added Axtman. “I honestly didn’t think I could pull more than three fish off it per day. The area was so small; it was definitely a spot-on-the-spot deal. The more I fished, the more I realized what was on there. Today I could be more selective.”

Zach Axtman claimed the 2019 season opener on Lake Winnebago.His five weigh fish came in the following order: 20 1/2, 20 1/2, 20 1/2, 21 1/2, 20 3/4. In between, he boxed an 18- and a 19-incher. His official weight today was 13.90, which nearly emulated day one’s 13.50. He finished the tournament with a total of 10 walleyes weighing 27.40 pounds.

“I didn’t think I won. I was thinking I screwed up by keeping a fish and not giving myself a chance to find one truly big fish.”

Axtman’s bobber setup was a bare No. 4 red hook with medium-sized leeches. His main line was orange-colored 14-pound Berkley Fireline. On his leader, he used 6-pound Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon.

“My bobber bite was better with the northeast wind. That wind would blow it into the pile. I would just let it drift; I didn’t manipulate the bobber in any way. We did have to make sure the bobbers were out away from the boat. Otherwise, they wouldn’t hit it. They wanted it 6 inches off the bottom too. If you were any higher, they didn’t want it.”

After experimenting with crawlers in practice, Axtman noticed one of his fish spitting up several leeches.

“When I realized that, the light bulb went off. They were stopping there and feeding on leeches after dumping out of the river. The spot just reloaded. The next school would just come in. It was a matter of waiting for the right-sized school to come through. The key was having enough confidence in the spot to sit there and go through the fish.”

Pro Zach Axtman (left) and co-angler Michael Bertrand (right) proudly display their trophies.For claiming the 2019 season opener, the Rugby, N.D., native earned a Ranger 620FS with a 225-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 cash, and another $3,719 in Anglers Advantage cash. His winning purse totaled $84,614.

“To be honest with you, it hasn’t sunk in it; I can’t believe it happened. My dad basically stopped being my partner in the MWC as a way to make me do this. To win the biggest tournament in NWT history, and beat out 165 anglers of this caliber, it’s a great feeling.”

Euting rallies to second, Gaines third

Local guide Tim Euting sat in third place after catching a 13.71-pound limit Thursday. Today, he caught another 11.46 to finish second with 25.17 pounds. Euting earned $28,840.

“Honestly, I’m super excited with second,” said Euting, who operates Get ‘em Hooked Guide Service. “I came in at 12:45 p.m. yesterday with my seven fish. Today, I had no fish in the box at 12:45. I hit the spots that I normally catch them on, but they weren’t eating. I went back several times, and they never worked.”

Euting eventually cobbled together a limit and then upgraded two times in the last hour of the day.

“I had to keep hopping around and grinding it out. I fished the same area of the lake; they just came on different spots today.”

The runner up focused on the west shore of the main lake and targeted shallow rock. The key depth was 6-7 feet. Euting estimated that he hit 15 different piles and nearly 30 spots altogether as some piles had multiple sweet spots.

“They come up to the rocks for food and for warmer water. I caught them mainly on a jig and a minnow. It was a 1/8-ounce jig with a fathead. I did catch two on crawlers, but it was mainly fatheads. I would give it a slow lift, and if I felt a bite, I’d give them time to suck it in and then set the hook.”

Euting tied his jigs to Berkley Fireline Crystal (white).

“You can feel everything with that line. Plus, you can visually see if it hits bottom, and you can see your bites.

“My only regret, and it’s not really a regret, is that my fish came in the wrong order on day one. I kept two 17s, and then 19s and 21s showed up. If I wouldn’t have kept those, I would have had two spares to play with. I couldn’t let a 21 go; I had to keep her.”

Lake Erie Charter Captain Randy Gaines fell one spot from second to third after catching a 10.96-pound limit. On day one, the Salem, Ohio, fisherman caught 14.18. His total weight for the tournament was 25.14. With an Anglers Advantage bonus, he cleared $22,613.

Gaines too spent the week on the main lake, fishing mainly the north and west shores.

“I ran the same spots I did yesterday,” said Gaines, who operates Nibble This Charters. “We caught a dozen fish today compared with only five yesterday, but I don’t know where the bigger fish went. I think my whole program, at least for the bigger fish, was based on really nasty weather.”

Gaines’ 1-2 punch was trolling and slip bobbering, both of which were done in shallow water.

“We were fishing shallow-water humps. I never weighed a fish in water that was over 4 feet.”

When he was trolling, Gaines would long line his No. 5 Flicker Shads, No. 4 Salmo Hornets, and No. 3 Phantom Lures Banshees so that they were crashing into the rocks. His bobber setup was a standard slip rig with a bare hook and leeches. Overall, trolling and bobbering produced an even split. Today, bobbering proved more effective.

“I tried to get the bait low and close to the bottom. I was continually putting action into it by jigging the bobber.

“I’m absolutely thrilled with third. Things came together really well.”

Larson fourth, Fredericks fifth

Rounding out the top five are South Dakota pros Thomas Larson and Jarrod Fredericks. Larson, the Estelline, S.D., native, was steady both days, catching a 13.14-pound limit on day one and an 11.30-pound limit on day two. Larson finished the tournament fourth with 24.44 pounds.

Fredericks, also from Estelline, S.D., managed similar weights. On day one, he caught 12.48 pounds, and today he brought in 11.28 pounds. With a two-day total of 23.76, Fredericks took fifth.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2019 National Walleye Tour event on Lake Winnebago:

6th: Tom Keenan of Hatley, Wis., 23.58
7th: Max Wilson of Campbellsport, Wis., 22.34
8th: JR Carter of Mandan, N.D., 21.65
9th: Jeremy Schreiner of Pepin, Wis., 21.17
10th: Kurt Grable of Oshkosh, Wis., 20.97

Bertrand crowned Co-angler champion

Michael Bertrand claimed top honors in the Co-angler Division with a two-day total weight of 23.44 pounds. Fishing with Fredericks on day one, Bertrand boated 12.48 pounds. Today Bertrand was paired with Gaines, and the two combined for 10.96. On both days, Bertrand caught most of his fish slip bobbering.

“I don’t know what to say; I’m just blown away,” said Bertrand, the Fergus, Ontario, native. “This has been a long time coming.

“Prefishing was tough. There were some days that definitely were not fun. This makes it all worth it.”

Bertrand will return to Ontario with a first-place purse of $6,000, plus another $1,425 in Anglers Advantage cash.

Up next

The next National Walleye Tour event is scheduled for May 30-31 on Green Bay in Marinette, Wis.