SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – When the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, visited Sault Ste. Marie last year, Ranger pro David Kolb busted out of the gate with a 30-pound stringer. He never looked back and won the tournament by over 14 pounds. After day one this year, the “Soo” leaderboard is much tighter. Ten pros sit within 5 pounds of current leader Jim Schiefelbein, who caught five walleyes weighing an impressive 23.47 pounds.
Schiefelbein is back to competitive walleye fishing after a two-decade hiatus where he focused on his business. This is officially his second NWT event, and thus far, he’s making the most of his return.
“Today was pretty interesting,” said the Hard Core pro. “We had boat No. 15 this morning, and we were able to pass every boat except for one. I run a Ranger 621 with a 400-horsepower Mercury Verado, so it was a nice, flat 50-mile run.”
Schiefelbein never touched a fish on his first spot. His second spot likewise proved fruitless.
“We got to spot No. 3 at 9:45 or 10. We got one fish on our first pass and three fish on our second pass. We got our limit fish on our third pass, and we did cull a few times. We had all our weight by 10:30.”
The Illinois pro explained that his practice was spotty. He experienced good days, but there were also days filled with struggle.
“I know there’s a lot of sandbagging out there, but not from me. Today was the best bag I’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m cautiously optimistic about tomorrow. I believe in what I’m doing and where I’m doing it. I had no one around me all day, and I’m pretty confident the fish will stay in the same area. Of course, you have to go out and make it happen. It’s a Great Lakes body of water, and there are a lot of big fish out there.”
Schiefelbein said he’s trolling spinners with night crawlers. He attributes his early success to paying attention to his electronics while “hump jumping” various pieces of structure.
“This is such an elite group of anglers. I’m humbled to just be in the lead spot. It’s exciting, and it’s humbling.”
Sitting in second place with 22.78 pounds is Linwood, Mich., pro Peter Schaefer, who like Schiefelbein, had his weight by 10:30 this morning.
“On our first pass, 20 minutes in, we hooked up a double,” said Schaefer, who is fishing his third NWT event. “As we got one in, we had another one on. The bite was strong this morning.”
Schaefer, who calls Saginaw Bay home, said he was trolling shoreline structure. His goal before takeoff this morning was 22 to 27 pounds.
“Honestly, I expected to do about this, or maybe even a little better. I’m pretty confident. The only variable is the wind direction. It’s supposed to swing about 180 degrees from what it was two days ago. My partner and I are making a long run. It’s a low-pressure area; that’s why we’re going there. I’m pretty confident I can pull another 20 pounds at least if the weather holds.”
Mercury pro Benjamin Teets sits in third place with five walleyes weighing 22.31 pounds. Unlike his peers at the top of the leaderboard, Teets is primarily employing a casting program.
“I’m mainly casting Shiver Minnows,” said the West Fargo, N.D., native. “Plan B is trolling Flicker Minnows.”
Teets said he made a medium-sized run this morning. Within 45 minutes, he had five in the livewell.
“Then I went to the trolling program and made one cull. This was a spot I wasn’t sure about because I didn’t prefish it a whole lot. A lot of boats were there, but I was doing something a little different.”
Teets believes the wind won’t affect him, but there will be considerable boat pressure.
“I still think it has the potential to win. We’re just going to keep graphing and break it down piece by piece.”
Kemos fourth, Gorsuch fifth
Rounding out the top five are pros Tommy Kemos and Gary Gorsuch. Kemos continued his hot streak today with five walleyes worth 21.30 pounds.
“I’m making a very long run,” said Kemos, who took seventh at the season opener and second at last year’s championship. “I had to get gas twice today.”
Once he arrives, Kemos trolls crankbaits with snap weights.
“These are deep fish that are feeding on smelt. I’m basically targeting a point where they sort of pause on their migration route. I’m using the new Lew’s planer board rods that Jason Przekurat and I designed.”
Last year at the Soo, the Strike King pro was in the top 10 after day one, but was running a casting program.
“I learned a valuable lesson in that event. On day two, the fish moved, and it caught me off guard. In practice this week, the fish were pretty scarce. I just didn’t have enough targets for casting this year.”
When Kemos looks at tomorrow’s forecast, it looks favorable for a long run in the morning, but the return trip could be treacherous.
“I don’t really have any other choice as far as winning the tournament. But as soon as I get five, I’m getting the heck out of there. I’m not going to stick around and be greedy.”
In fifth place is local pro Gary Gorsuch of Hubbard Lake, Mich. Gorsuch managed a five-fish limit today worth 21.11 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2020 National Walleye Tour event at Sault Ste. Marie:
6th: Aaron Marzean, five fish, 20.70
7th: Todd Kaniper, five fish, 19.93
8th: Max Wilson, five fish, 19.77
9th: Mike Defibaugh, five fish, 18.91
10th: Jake Trombley, four fish, 18.67
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.
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