By Brett Carlson
STURGEON BAY, Wis. – Mother Nature did her best to make the fishing difficult on day one of the second National Walleye Tour event of the 2021 season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Despite temperatures plummeting into the mid-40s, blustery winds kicking from the northeast and periodic rainfall, nothing could stop Green Bay guide Danny Woodke from delivering on his home pond. After a lengthy morning run and the relocation of warmer water, Woodke whacked 39.44 pounds to take the day-one lead.
Walleye fans may remember that Woodke won the NWT Green Bay event back in 2016. That tournament, held at the end of June, was dominated by casting Rippin’ Raps. This time around, Woodke admitted that he’s once again on the casting program, but wouldn’t reveal this year’s choice baits.
“Right now, there are three different casting baits that I have confidence in,” said Woodke, a deputy sheriff for Oconto County. “Each day the go-to bait changes. I started with what I thought the go-to bait was, but didn’t finish with it. Right now, you just can’t rely on one thing; you have to be willing to change.”
When Woodke arrived at his first spot, he noticed the water had cooled down, which is never a good sign on the Great Lakes. He eventually found the warmer water and his co-angler, Trevor Parsons, almost immediately caught a 9-pounder. He ground out one more good one at that spot before making another adjustment.
“I realized the fish weren’t where we originally located them. Once I relocated them, they came pretty consistent. We had eight walleye bites, and we capitalized on six of them. Once we relocated them, it was better than we expected. I knew that weight was possible if things went right, but with the rollercoaster we’ve had, you just never know. Two weeks ago I had bigger fish located for a tournament and then all of a sudden, the bigger ones were gone, and the smaller ones moved in.”
In addition to his job as deputy sheriff, Woodke also owns and operates the Walleye Patrol Guide Service. On most weeks, Woodke is spending three or four days a week on Green Bay with either clients or family. He explained that Green Bay is a fickle beast, and the cold front only further complicates matters.
“The fish are moving this time of year and that’s tough as it is. Then we went from 80-degree temperatures to 40 degrees. It’s been frustrating and stressful. Every day is a little bit different. The warm water is moving around and the fish are relating to the warm water. I knew every bite was going to matter today, and I was just hoping to get five bites.”
Today Woodke sampled six different spots. Some are close to each other, while others require an additional 10 to 15 miles of running. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for continued nastiness, with blustery weather again bucking from the northeast. Woodke says with his Ranger 621 and 300-horsepower Mercury Pro XS, he’ll still be able to reach his primary area.
“I’m not concerned with getting to my fish. But fishability of the spot and the time you have plays a role. Right now, I’m prepared to go fishing tomorrow. The boat is full of gas and the rods are rigged. To be back in this position, to be in contention, it means a lot. With the caliber of fishermen behind me, I know I need five fish tomorrow.”
Hanson hanging in the shadows
While Woodke calls nearby Gillett, Wis., home, second-place pro Curt Hanson traveled 10 hours from Mayville, N.D., to fish Green Bay. Hanson took third at last year’s championship held on Lake Erie.
“I like the Great Lakes,” said the even-keeled Hanson. “I like Erie, but to be honest, the casting game is more my style. Devils (Lake) is mainly casting, so that’s what I grew up doing.”
After a long run north this morning, Hanson was excited with how the wind was positioning his fish.
“We were drifting with the wind and pitching Rippin’ Raps. The bite was good. We had four fish in our first four passes, and then we had our limit by 11 a.m. We had another hour and a half to fish, but my 30-incher and 29-incher were starting to look iffy. We hustled in because we didn’t want to lose any weight from dead-fish penalties.”
Hanson’s five walleyes officially weighed 35.66 pounds.
“I’ve been in the top 10 a few times now, and it would be nice to go for the top spot tomorrow. As long as the wind is in the same direction, it should benefit me. Sometimes the big wind pushes them to the rocks, and it gets way easier. If they let us fish, I’m heading north again.”
Kostner trolling in third
In third place is Medford, Wis., angler Ken Kostner with 32.50 pounds. Kostner bucked the casting trend today and trolled up his five-walleye limit. He’s hoping that today wasn’t his last day of the tournament.
“Opportunities to go for a win are rare, and I certainly want to try and win,” he said.
Although he’s trolling, Kostner didn’t sort through numbers. He had two fish in the box before 10, and he caught his third at noon. He finished out his limit with two fish at 2:30 p.m. Like Hanson, those were the only five he caught.
“I was trolling today. I’m not going to say much more, but I will say I was using Elk River Custom Rods out of Phillips, Wis. The sensitivity of those rods made a big difference today, especially with the conditions we had.”
Przekurat fourth, Koepp fifth
Rounding out the top five are pros Jason Przekurat and Nolan Koepp. Przekurat, the reigning NWT Championship winner and the only pro with two NWT Championship victories, caught a limit weighing 28.69 pounds for fourth place.
Koepp, the local fisherman from Two Rivers, Wis., sits fifth with 26.86 pounds. Koepp achieved his weight with only four fish.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one on Green Bay:
6th: Korey Sprengel of Beaver Dam, Wis., three walleyes, 26.44
7th: Danny Plautz of Lake Mills, Wis., four walleyes, 26.11
8th: Greg Ehli of Bismarck, N.D., four walleyes, 25.02
9th: Drake Herd of Alexandria, Minn., four walleyes, 24.98
10th: Jacob Kaprelian of Green Bay, Wis., three walleyes, 23.14