Five other contestants who finished in the tournament’s top 10 also hooked muskies on Minnetonka, including a 51-inch lunker landed by Nick Johnson. The biggest single muskie in the tournament was 52 inches, caught by Kevin Kray on Lake Independence.
But Kray finished third in the standings behind Neal Nelson, who caught two muskies on Bald Eagle Lake, north of White Bear Lake.
Hoyer, who lives near Lake Minnetonka, won the championship by landing two big muskies 10 minutes apart. One was 44 inches and the other was 46, caught near the noon hour. A year ago, Minnetonka coughed up a 56-inch muskie during the tournament.
Tournament director Paul Hartman said last weekend’s results demonstrated a relatively new phenomenon on Lake Minnetonka caused by invasive zebra mussels. As the mussels have filtered the water and made it clearer, muskies have moved away from shorelines that were previously murky and weedy. Ten years ago, that’s where muskie anglers were casting for trophies during the early season.
Now the fishing action has moved to deeper water, Hartman said. Most tournament anglers on Minnetonka last weekend were casting heavy lures, including weighted jerkbaits, or trolling in depths of at least 15 feet and down to 35 feet. Last year’s monster was caught in 50 feet of water, Hartman said.
“I think a lot of guys are realizing the clear water has killed the shallow bite,” Hartman said. “The fish are holding deeper.”
He said bass anglers on Minnetonka have experienced a similar change.
The catch-and-release tournament, started 20 years ago with 187 participants on four area lakes, has grown to 527 anglers this year. The contest is limited to artificial lures and operated on a point system.