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