Top walleye anglers converge in Oshkosh Sept. 18-20
OSHKOSH, Wis. – The Cabela’s National Walleye Tour concludes its second successful season with the year-end championship Sept. 18-20 on Lake Winnebago, one of the most popular walleye fisheries in the United States. Hosted by the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Best Western Premier Waterfront and Convention Center, the three-day tournament features the top 40 pros and top 40 co-anglers from the regular season. At stake in the nationally-televised event is the largest payout in professional walleye fishing, including fully rigged Ranger boats for the first- and second-place pros.
“There is no tournament venue that is more dynamic than Lake Winnebago,” said Lucas Oil Angler of the Year leader Nick Schertz. “In that sense, it’s the perfect venue for a championship. It’s always changing, whether it’s forage or weed growth and this year has been really different in terms of weather.”
Schertz said September is typically one of the tougher months to walleye fish on Winnebago, mainly because the system is inundated with bait.
“I grew up in Oshkosh and fished a lot of tournaments on Winnebago. Usually the water is warm this time of year so the walleyes aren’t real aggressive. And they can eat whenever they want. But this year there were no real warm stretches of weather and the water temperature never broke 80. That puts the Upper Lakes, where most of the early tournaments are won, back on the table. If the bait is there and the water temperature is OK, those fish have no reason to leave.”
In addition to the Upper Lakes (Butte des Morts, Winneconne, and Poygan), Schertz believes the Wolf River is a viable option, especially if the rain continues to fall and the current subsequently continues to flow.
“The stronger the current is, the stronger the river bite is. And the main lake itself usually has some wind-blown rock bites in September.”
Anglers targeting bigger rock reefs can troll crankbaits, while those fishing smaller, more isolated rock will likely utilize slip bobbers and jigs.
Fellow Wisconsin pro Joe Okada sits in third place in the points race and while he doesn’t possess the Winnebago experience Schertz does, he still likes the venue.
“This will not be an open water free for all,” said Okada. “If you can find that one area or that one presentation that’s working you can really separate yourself. There are a lot of options and with a smaller field of boats if you find something you can have it completely to yourself the entire tournament.”
Schertz expects that 10 to 12 pounds per day will put an angler in contention for the win.
“It’s really hard to predict, but I’ve seen a lot of bites in September where all you needed to do to hang around was get a five-fish limit. There are still a few big fish caught and a 6- or 7-pound walleye this time of year is a game changer. I’m going to try and grind out a limit and then hope for one big fish. I’m definitely not going to try to win it on the first day.”
Okada is excited to begin a championship event with no preconceived notions.
“I honestly have no idea how this will play out. And to be honest, that’s rare and really exciting. It will be a challenge and there’s nothing wrong with challenging anglers of this caliber. I’m looking forward to going in with an open mind. I do tend to do better in those tournaments because you just go out there and fish the conditions.”
Schertz will attempt to strike a balance between utilizing his vast experience and heeding the current conditions.
“It helps to know a lot of areas, but I really have to give everything a fair shake. I’m glad the championship is there because it’s home, but Winnebago is never an easy tournament. The winning fish could come so many different ways, I really don’t want to force it.”
Anglers will take off from Menominee Park in Oshkosh at 7 a.m. Central time each day. Weigh-ins will also take place each day at Menominee Park, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each of the first two days and is cut to the top 10 for the third and final day with the winner being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.
The National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) will also host a “Future Angler” program for children after Saturday’s weigh-in, at approximately 4:15 p.m., featuring an educational seminar and training for youth from top-notch NPAA members. The youth-orientated event will include a free rod/reel combo or “Future Pro” t-shirt for the first 100 children who attend the educational program. There will also be Range/Evinrude and Triton/Mercury test rides on Saturday. All activities are free and open to the public.