By Brett Carlson
OTTERTAIL, Minn. – With over a 7-pound lead, it would have been understandable for rookie pro Eric McQuoid to take a conservative approach on the final day of the 2021 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Instead, McQuoid went big again and caught the fire out of the Otter Tail Lake walleyes, bringing in an astounding 19-pound stringer. In what was predicted to be a nail biting, grinder tournament, the 21-year-old McQuoid blew the doors off the competition – winning the biggest event in walleye fishing by over 13 pounds.
The McQuoid family is well known in tournament walleye circles as Kevin, the patriarch, has been competing for the better part of 30 years. In addition, Karen McQuoid has held her own as a team partner of Kevin’s on the MWC. But lately, the youngest member of the family has garnered the most headlines. Today, McQuoid became the youngest pro to win a major championship – narrowly besting Max Wilson by a few months in age.
The Bemidji State junior said he experienced a poor practice, catching only seven or eight walleyes in total. He was grateful for some pointers, and some basement lodging, from newly crowned Lucas Oil Angler of the Year Drake Herd, who lives in Alexandria and fishes Otter Tail often. While Herd was fishing extremely shallow, McQuoid chose to slide out deeper and stick with his confidence bait – an Acme Hyper-Rattle.
“It was a 1-2 punch for me this week,” explained McQuoid. “No. 1 was using the Garmin Livescope to find them. No. 2 was the Hyper-Rattle. One of my buddies at Bemidji State got me on to it. Ever since, it’s been my go-to bait. My practice was terrible, so I just went back to what I had confidence in, and it’s that bait.”
McQuoid used the bigger 30 gram Hyper-Rattle, and he said his preferred color was white perch. All but one of his 15 weigh fish came on the Hyper-Rattle, the lone outlier coming from his co-angler, who was rigging chubs. Fishing in 8 to 16 feet, McQuoid would identify the fish on his Livescope, then position the bait 5 feet above their head.
“You rip it once and then catch it. Then you rip it again and watch their reaction. Sometimes I would let it fall all the way to the bottom just to get their attention. There were times they would chase it, but not grab it.”
While his slot fish were mostly suspended, all but one of his overs came near the bottom.
“My biggest fish of the tournament looked like a giant rock on the bottom. I probably made 20 casts before she eventually bit.”
Fishing a flat on the southeast side of the lake, McQuoid traveled 7 miles from Beach Bums to his primary area.
“Drake’s fish were up shallow on the top in like 3 to 6 feet. I tried that, but it didn’t work for me, so I just started going around it. There were a ton of perch there – just balls of bait that seemingly go on forever.”
Despite cooler temperatures and a change in wind direction, the bite this morning was still strong. At 10 a.m., his biggest fish of the day, a 27 1/2-incher, struck. By 10:30, he had a limit and started having thoughts of heading in early. While he certainly didn’t need it, he put another 26-incher in the box at 2 p.m. for good measure. The result was a final-day limit weighing 19.21 pounds. Combined with his 15.62 and his mega 23.72 sack, he finished with a cumulative total of 58.55 pounds.
“I want to credit my dad. I’m a rookie on the NWT, but I’ve been fishing tournaments with my father since I was eight. I’ve learned a lot – especially how to stay calm and how to fish what your confidence is.”
For winning the Super Bowl of walleye fishing, the Bannick Primary pro earned a Ranger 621FS Pro with a 300-horsepower Mercury outboard, plus $30,000 cash and $1,540 in Anglers Advantage money. The 21-year-old will head back to school with a prize package worth $121,535.
“It hasn’t sunk in it. It’s just so amazing it’s hard to find the words for it. I couldn’t have written a better script for my rookie season. I’m never going to forget this.”
Herd officially clinches AOY
After qualifying for the top 10 yesterday, Herd unofficially ended any drama in the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race. When the tournament ended today, it became official. With four top 10s and 902 points overall, Herd was the most consistent angler throughout the 2021 season.
“First and foremost I want to thank my wife for letting me go chase my dreams,” said an emotional Herd. “Coming into this tournament, I honestly didn’t know if it was possible. But I love this lake. I’m just ecstatic; it’s an awesome feeling.”
Herd receives paid entry into each of the four qualifying events of 2022 season.
“I’ve looked up to these guys for years. To finally give it back to them feels awesome. With four top 10s this year I can’t complain one bit. It’s been an awesome experience. I couldn’t be happier.”
Huynh solidifies second
While the leaderboard shows a dominant victory, McQuoid wasn’t the only pro to take home a lucrative boat package. Multispecies angler Tom Huynh took home a Ranger 2080MS with a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard, plus $15,000 cash, $1,242 in Anglers Advantage money and a $1,000 Nitro bonus for a total payout of $88,237.
“I’m super happy with the result,” said the Moorhead, Minn., pro. “I almost feel like I won the tournament. Eric had it so far out of reach; I was basically competing for second.”
Huynh too fished the southeast side of the lake in the same general area as McQuoid and Herd. With 1/16 and 1/8-ounce Gamakatsu finesse jigs, Huynh was touching bottom in 8 to 15 feet.
“I was tipping my jigs with redtail chubs,” said the owner and operator of three Polished Nail Spa locations. “It was a slow fall, and the fish were really picky. With the warm weather, they were still in the grass eating minnows. They were hitting it on the bottom, but that’s where it’s tricky. There’s so much sand grass on the bottom. With a bigger minnow and a short-shank hook, you had to let them have it for a while. It worked so well because those Gamakatsu hooks are sticky sharp.”
Huynh essentially ran the same program all three days. Today he made a late, gutsy move – venturing away from his primary area.
“We went to a tiny little spot with boulders and a mix of grass. It looked like a smallmouth spot, but my co-angler caught our biggest over there. That solidified second for us.”
After experiencing success on three different walleye circuits, Huynh has introduced himself as a future contender.
“I’m competing against the guys I learned from on TV, on YouTube. I can’t explain the feeling, but I’m humbled by it.”
Ed Stachowksi, the 2016 Angler of the Year, finished the week in third place with 43.88 pounds. Stachowski’s best day was the first one when he sacked up 15.70 pounds. Yesterday he managed 14.57, and today he weighed 13.61.
“We caught them on a 3/8-ounce jig and a piece of plastic,” said the Canton, Mich., native. “We caught 25 fish each of the first two days, but today it was a little tougher. I bet we caught 15 walleyes or so. We were ripping the bait so hard after a while it felt like your elbow was going to fall off.”
Stachowski was fishing bare sand, targeting walleyes that were up feeding shallow on small perch. At times he could see the fish inhale his jig. He would cast as far as possible, and then rip and pop the jig all the way to the boat.
“You wouldn’t believe how aggressive these fish were. They were up shallow for one reason – to kill stuff. They were almost knocking the rod out of your hand. Sometimes they’d miss it, and then come back up and just smash it. Anyone who says walleyes don’t fight hasn’t experienced a shallow bite like this.”
Stachowski’s plastic of choice was a split tail made by Erie Advantage.
“It’s a heavier plastic that has a faster fall rate. It’s different than your normal flexible plastic. It’s more durable, but this plastic also makes the bait dance around and dart.”
While Stachowski fished a clean, impressive championship, it’s yet another near miss.
“I’ve had close calls in the past, and I go into every tournament trying to win, so it’s bittersweet. My hat is off to McQuoid. It’s almost impossible to beat that.”
Andersen fourth, Wilson fifth
Rounding out the top five are tour stalwarts Kent Andersen and Max Wilson. Andersen, who won the regular-season finale on Lake Oahe, finished fourth with a cumulative total of 43.63 pounds. While Andersen demonstrated consistency with limits each day, his weights slowly decreased throughout the week. On day one, the Mercury pro boated 15.90 pounds, and on day two he sacked 14.80. Today, he managed 12.93 pounds. This was Andersen’s third consecutive top 10 at the year-end championship.
“I was hanging chubs all week,” said the Amery, Wis., resident. “We were backtrolling along breaklines, just sliding up and down the breaks. We had a great week; we just didn’t have the overs we needed today.”
Wilson, the 2018 NWT Championship winner, finished with a three-day total of 39.24 pounds. He started the event with a 14.14 stringer and then slipped to 11.67 yesterday. Today, he improved to 13.43. After McQuoid’s win, Wilson no longer owns bragging rights as the youngest pro to win a championship. Dylan Nussbaum (20) still holds the record for the youngest pro to win an NWT event.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros on Otter Tail Lake:
6th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., 15 walleyes, 37.00
7th: Wayne Van Dyke of Spruce, Mich., 15 walleyes, 36.77
8th: Brian Bjorkman of Fargo, N.D., 14 walleyes, 36.65
9th: Jason Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., 14 walleyes, 35.75
10th: Jarrod Fredericks of Estelline, S.D., 15 walleyes, 34.35 The National Walleye Tour resumes action March 31-April 1, when the 2022 season kicks off on the Detroit River in Trenton, Mich.