By Brett Carlson
DUNKIRK, N.Y. – Day two of the 2022 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, saw uncharastically calm waters, allowing anglers to run around on the relatively calm Eastern Basin of Lake Erie. While no one neared 40 pounds, two bags over 30 pounds were weighed. One came from day-one leader John Hoyer, who held (and slightly increased) his 10-pound lead, and the other came from Duane “Dewey” Hjelm, the hottest stick in walleye fishing, who unofficially took the lead in the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race.
Hoyer and Hjelm sit first and second after two intense days of competition. Hoyer and Hjelm are also friends, travel mates and the two are fishing a similar, yet unconventional Erie pattern.
“People might not believe this, but I’m ripping a Berkley plastic to trigger strikes with a heavy jig,” said Hoyer, the Orono, Minn., pro. “It is my No. 1 favorite way to fish for walleyes. I haven’t trolled, and I haven’t caught a fish deeper than 15 feet in two days. I was marking them again with my Lowrance ActiveTarget and then picking and choosing.”
While his morning was slower than yesterday, Hoyer still boated a dozen walleyes.
“I had another one of those unicorn 29-inchers that weighed over 8 pounds. Then I had a 6 1/2, a 6, a 5 and a 4 1/2.”
Altogether, those five walleyes weighed 30.79 pounds. On day one, the Berkley/Simms pro registered 39.81. With a total weight of 70.60 pounds, Hoyer has accumulated an unthinkable 10.55-pound lead.
“It’s awesome; I’m exactly where I want to be. It would be a lot cooler if my partner, who is the hottest guy in fishing, wasn’t on the same class of fish.”
This morning, Hoyer was so confident with how his pattern and the forecast aligned, he removed all the trolling equipment from his Ranger.
“I’m probably going to put it back in tomorrow, just in case. It’s a strong pattern, but it’s not a sure thing for either of us. When it’s flat, calm and sunny, they post up, and they’re sitting ducks. On day one, I caught two giants out off the edge. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, I’ll probably spend more time out off the edge.”
Hjelm rallies to second, leads AOY
The Angler of the Year picture became more clear as it’s down to two pros – Hjelm and Max Wilson. While Hjelm caught 35.68 pounds today, the second-heaviest stringer of the championship, he only has a 2-point lead over Wilson. Wilson sits in fifth overall and has room to move up, while Hjelm would have to unseat Hoyer to move up.
“I trolled the first day, but I never trolled today,” said Hjelm, who won both the final NWT qualifier of the year on Green Bay and the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Team Championship on Lake Oahe. “John’s the one that found this deal. I didn’t know how many fish there were to go around, so I played it safe on day one. After a mediocre day, I knew that I had to have a huge bag, and I didn’t feel like I could do that trolling.”
Hjelm said he caught 12 to 15 keepers today, and that he too is intentionally targeting big fish on his Lowrance ActiveTarget. After two days, his cumulative total sits at 60.05 pounds.
“I had two fish today that were around 28 to 29 inches. Then I weighed two 27s, and the smallest I weighed was 26.”
Hjelm now finds himself in the rare situation of attempting to simultaneously win the biggest event in walleye fishing and AOY, the most prestigious title in walleye fishing.
“I don’t know if it’s possible to catch John. I do know that I’m not going to take my foot off the gas. He’s got a huge lead though; I don’t think he needs that much to seal the deal. After my day one, I would be ecstatic to take second place and secure Angler of the Year. I’m going to fish as hard as I possibly can tomorrow.”
Today’s bright and calm conditions were ideal for Hjelm’s casting program. Tomorrow’s forecast is in stark contrast.
“My trolling deal and casting deal are in different directions. At this point, I’m committed to casting. If I could pick, I wish tomorrow was just like today. It was the perfect day for doing what we like to do.”
Andersen retains third
In an otherwise dynamic tournament, Amery, Wis., pro Adam Andersen continues to demonstrate remarkable consistency. After catching 30.03 yesterday, he managed 27.87 today to retain third place.
“A guy always wants more, but I’m happy, especially to stay in third,” said Andersen, who took second on Lake Oahe in 2021.
Unlike the two pros above him on the leaderboard, Andersen is committed to trolling in water 75 to 82 feet deep.
“Yesterday was mainly deep-running cranks on leadcore, and today was mainly shallow runners on Dipsys. I have an area they are in, and the right fish are grouped up to some extent. The name of the game is to get what you can get as fast as you can get it. Today I actually caught a few more fish than yesterday.”
This is the elder Andersen’s third top 10 out of the last four NWT Championships.
Przekurat fourth, Wilson fifth
Rounding out the top five are Wisconsin sticks Jason Przekurat and Wilson. Przekurat improved his weight on day two and rallied to fourth with a 28.46-pound stringer. Combined with his 27.71 from day one, the two-time NWT Championship winner has a total of 56.17 pounds.
While this marks Przekurat’s third consecutive top-10 at the championship, his son Jay is the one who has garnered most of the headlines lately. In July, the 23-year-old became the youngest angler to ever win a Bassmaster Elite Series event. He also became the first Elite Series angler to enter the Bassmaster Century Club (for catching more than 100 pounds) with solely smallmouths, and he’s currently leading the Rookie of the Year race.
Wilson, the Campbellsport, Wis., pro, improved his weight from 25.83 on day one to 28.25 on day two. In the process, he rallied from 16th to 5th with a cumulative weight of 54.08 pounds. With one day left, Wilson sits 2 points behind Hjelm in the AOY race.
“Dewey has the tiebreaker, so I have to basically beat him,” said the Blackfish pro, who won the 2018 NWT Championship on Lake of the Woods. “I’m all over the place right now. On one hand, I just had my best day on Lake Erie in years. But on the other hand, I thought I had enough to win AOY, and then I found out Dewey had 35 pounds. I kind of got the rug pulled out from under me. I’ve been obsessed with AOY all year, and now I feel like it’s out of reach.”
Wilson described his Erie pattern as “jigging the abyss” in 100 feet of water, where boat control is extremely difficult.
“I’m emotionally and physically beat up, and tomorrow the weather is supposed to be much worse. I will say that if anyone is going to beat me, I’m glad it’s Dewey. He’s one of the nicest guys out there.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros after day two on Lake Erie:
6th: Austin Ragotzkie of Edgerton, Wis., 10 walleyes, 53.97
7th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., 10 walleyes, 53.53
8th: Craig Sleeman of Victor, N.Y., 10 walleyes, 53.28
9th: Keith Kavajecz of Deerbrook, Wis., 10 walleyes, 53.00
10th: Bill Shimota of Northfield, Minn., 10 walleyes, 52.98
The third and final day of competition begins today at 7 a.m. Eastern time as the top 10 takes off from Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay Marina, located at 30 Central Avenue in Dunkirk. The final weigh-in will take place at the Dunkirk Pier, which is located at 2 Central Avenue, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The winner in each division is determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.