By Brett Carlson
DUNKIRK, N.Y. – The top 40 professional walleye anglers in the world are busy practicing for the 2022 National Walleye Tour Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Hosted by the City of Dunkirk, the most lucrative event in walleye fishing takes place on legendary Lake Erie, known as the Walleye Capital of the World. The three-day event, which features no pro entry fee, commences Aug. 24. While many of the pros are new to Erie’s Eastern Basin, they’ve now received a few days of on-the-water experience.
Kevin McQuoid currently leads the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race with 717 points. McQuoid has had four days on the water, and he’s largely impressed with what he’s seen.
“Erie is not going to disappoint,” said the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s pro. “There’s a lot of fish in the system right now, but there’s a lot of bait too. With the right combination, they are pretty willing (to bite). For Angler of the Year, I don’t have to win the tournament, but I have to make the third day. If I make the top-10 cut, mathematically they can’t catch me.”
McQuoid reported water temperatures of 73 or 74 degrees, which is warm for such a massive Great Lake.
“With the warmer water, the fish are definitely deeper. It just feels different than a springtime Erie event. With high metabolisms, they’re moving around and feeding heavily.”
McQuoid predicted all 40 pros will have five-fish limits.
“We’re catching some 6- and 7-pounders, but there’s a lot of 4- to 4 1/2-pounders. I think there’s going to be a lot of guys in that 25-pound bracket, and I think 27 pounds a day will get you inside that top-10 cut.”
McQuoid also reported that there’s a bit more structure on Erie’s Eastern basin. He spent one day sampling it with glide baits, but was largely unsuccessful.
“I’m comfortable trolling open-water style, but a structure bite is possible. There’s also the possibility of a spinner bite shallow. You might not get as many bites, but it could be a key to catching bigger fish. That’s what scares me right now. Can you catch the kickers when it counts? Overall, it’s a great walleye fishery. I want to thank the City of Dunkirk. They’ve welcomed us with open arms; this is a fun place to be.”
Trailing McQuoid by 11 points is Max Wilson, the winner of the 2018 NWT Championship on Lake of the Woods. Wilson prefers a six-day prefish and thus has spent only one day probing the deeper Eastern Basin.
“There are just so many fish in this system,” said the Blackfish pro. “At times today it was really fun, but I’m just not a troller. I can troll, but this is a whole ‘nother world of trolling. This extremely deep style of trolling is so much different. It feels more like salmon fishing.”
Overall, Wilson was pleased with day one.
“It took me about 2 hours before I started to dial it in, then we caught a good number. I first wanted to get a look at a new body of water. Second, I wanted to locate a couple of schools and get a feel for the trolling bite. I didn’t have a crazy weight, but we did that. I’ve got some confidence, and now it’s time to start expanding and building on that.”
Wilson has built a strong reputation as a jigger who deftly utilizes forward-facing sonar.
“I did look at a few pieces of structure, and I will try again eventually. A jigging bite could be had; a lot of that depends on the weather. A lot of that structure is over on the Canadian side, which is a long run. If it’s rough, it’s just not feasible.”
Like McQuoid, Wilson envisions many bags right around 25 pounds.
“That one 9-pound kicker will get you in the 28- or 29-pound range.”
In third place, just one point behind Wilson, is Duane “Dewey” Hjelm. The Pierre, S.D., native won the fourth qualifier of the season on Green Bay. Earlier this month, he also won the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Team Championship on Lake Oahe with Tyson Keller. He’s had 2 1/2 days of practice on Erie thus far.
“There are fish literally everywhere,” said the Dakota Lithium pro. “It seems like most of the fish are out really deep, and you can go pretty much anywhere and catch fish. I’m still just trying to figure it out, and the biggest deal is finding the bigger fish. Today was super windy, and they didn’t even call for a lot of wind. To be honest, I didn’t get a lot accomplished today.”
Hjelm, arguably the sport’s hottest stick, reported his biggest walleye from practice so far was 26 inches and weighed roughly 6 pounds.
“I believe in momentum, and I’ve been making good decisions, but I’m not on anything crazy. One thing I’ve learned about Lake Erie is that it can make you feel incredibly small. I’m going to work my butt off the next four or five days. It’s definitely going to be a shootout.”
The top prize package in the championship is a Ranger 620FS Deep V Boat with a Mercury 250 XL Pro XS valued at $89,995 + $30,000 with second place earning a Ranger 2080MS with a Mercury 250 XL Pro XS valued at $76,995 + $15,000. The top prize for co-anglers is a Ranger VS1882 Angler valued at $44,995 + $6,000.
Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Eastern time from Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay Marina, located at 30 Central Avenue in Dunkirk. The daily weigh-ins will take place at the Dunkirk Pier, which is located at 2 Central Avenue, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The full field fishes each of the first two days with the top 10 advancing to the third and final day. The winner in each division is determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.
The public is invited to attend the daily weigh-ins, and there will be a kids fishing clinic after the weigh-in on Aug. 25. Prior to the tournament, a community meet and greet is scheduled for Aug. 21 at 5 p.m. in the field between the Clarion and Tim Hortons where the anglers will have a chance to show off their vessels and answer questions.
The National Walleye Tour consists of four regular-season events and a no-entry-fee championship. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers. For more information on rules and tournament payouts, visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com.