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.
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.