Akaska Provides Drama and Contrasts
Sep 21st, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Sep 21st, 2011 at 10:17 AM
The AIM Championship on Lake Oahe offered something for every competitor. Few tournaments can match the diversity offered by the expansive Lake Oahe. The water level of Lake Oahe was about 6-feet above normal, still swollen by above-average winter snows and spring rains. Under normal conditions, the lake comprises 370,000 acres with over 2,000 miles of shoreline over its 231 mile total length, stretching into North Dakota. This year, the water flooded areas that would otherwise have been rocky and brushy shoreline.
What all this water meant was that any memories from past tournaments were useless this year. The lake was essentially “brand new” for every competitor – with one main exception: Akaska native and AIM Pro Angler Chad Schilling, who also guides on Lake Oahe on a daily basis.
The unpredictable weather that characterizes the wide open plains of South Dakota offered additional challenges. The AIM competitors typically spend several days, up to a full week “pre-fishing” before each tournament in order to uncover locations and presentations that can be exploited. Almost predictably, conditions change just before the tournament and the Pros need to resort to “Plan B – or C and D, and E! Such was the case when the tournament kicked off on September 14th with a strong cold front and steady high winds that churned the lake into nasty whitecaps and muddied the shorelines.
The “wildcard” that each AIM Pro possessed was that Lake Oahe is full of walleyes. Many fall in the “slot” above 20 inches. Under conventional fishing regulations, each angler can only possess one walleye per day over 20 inches, and only four walleyes per day. But under the AIM Catch-record-Release format, each Pro Angler can “weigh” seven walleyes per day – and ALL can be over 20 inches! This is because the AIM Pro Anglers – along with their Co-angler partners for each day – measure, photograph, and then release each fish where it was caught.
The C-R-R format plays into the hands of the competitors who locate big walleyes, allowing them to pull ahead of the pack. It also allows for an angler to make up for a bad day with a better day, and leap-frog the other competitors.
These and other factors played in the minds of the AIM Pro Anglers going into Day One of the 2011 Championship. Also confusing the decision-making process were the results from other tournaments held earlier in the year on the lake, including the South Dakota Walleye Classic tournament which was also hosted by the village of Akaska in August (and won by the local team of Chad and Jess Schilling.)
The stakes were high going into Day One. The saying goes, “You can’t win the tournament on the first day, but you can lose it!” Even with the C-R-R format, you can’t afford to fall behind. The teams of AIM Pros and Co-anglers (along with four teams that qualified through the AIM Sanctioned Series program) took off into strong winds averaging 20 mph.
To everyone’s delight, the daily weigh-ins were located inside the comfortable confines of the new Akaska Community Center. The AIM C-R-R format allows for “virtual” weigh-ins with digital photos and videos of the action. AIM Pro and reigning 2010 JJ Keller Angler of the Year Robert Blosser wowed the crowd with the big fish of the day – a 30.5″ Oahe monster. His total seven-fish limit totaled 40.19 pounds, and placed him in the lead.
The big fish was significant because Yamaha Marine had placed a new 9.9 hp kicker motor – valued at over $2,500 as the prize for the Pro that caught the single largest walleye. Blosser also had his eye on the $10,000 JJ Keller Fishing Team Angler of the Year prize again, after having won the prize the previous year. He entered the Championship in fourth place overall in the cumulative Angler of the Year standings.
The leader in the Angler of the Year race, Brett King weighed in 32.02 pounds, which kept him at the top of the AOY race, but in fourth place overall in the Day One standings. AIM Pro Keith Kavajecz weighed 35.48 pounds which was good enough for second place, while Chad Schilling totaled 35.01 pounds for third place.
Day Two saw a repeat of the same weather conditions – cold and windy! The pressure mounted because only the top 50% of the field would continue to fish on Day Three and have a chance at the Championship purse. When the weights were tallied, AIM Pro Angler Dan Plautz made the biggest move, jumping up from thirteenth-place after Day One to tie for second place with 39.93 pounds which gave him a two-day total of 61.19 pounds. Also using C-R-R to his advantage was Mark Brumbaugh who added 32.26 pounds to his Day One weight and moved into second place with a total of 61.19 pounds.
But the local crowd was excited to see Chad Schilling weigh the biggest bag of the tournament – 40.85 pounds – to vault into the lead. His two-day total of 75.87 pounds put him in command going into the final day, leading the next two Pros by over 14 pounds. Ross Grothe was positioned in fourth place with 59.14 pounds, followed by Robert Blosser who dropped to fifth place with a two-day total of 59.14 pounds.
Day Three of the Championship meant everything was on the line. First Place for the Championship would earn the winner a 2011 Lund 2075 Pro-V boat equipped with a 300 Mercury Verado, Mercury Pro Kicker and MotorGuide trolling motor – a package valued at over $65,000.
The JJ Keller Fishing Team Angler of the Year race was the tightest it had been all year. Ross Grothe and Brett King had swapped positions going into the final day of the final tournament of 2011. A $10,000 bonus was waiting the eventual winner as the prize for being the most consistent angler over the four tournaments and 12 days of competition in 2011. Lund/Mercury Pro Mark Brumbaugh was also eying the $5,000 bonus that Lund Boats had pledged to the any Lund Pro that won an AIM tournament.
Again, the blustering prairie weather made everyone welcome the indoor weigh-in. Texas Pro Angler, Kevin Audrain pleased the crowd with a Day Three weight of 35.34 pounds, placing him in the overall lead for a time. Audrain qualified to enter through the AIM Sanctioned Series program that includes over 50 tournament organizations across the U.S. and Canada.
Robert Blosser posted a better weigh than Day Two with 24.8 pounds, securing a third place overall finish with 83.93 total pounds. Blosser’s big walleye from Day One held on to be the biggest fish of the tournament earning him the Yamaha Kicker Bonus. Mark Brumbaugh weighed 22.74 pounds to also total 83.93 pounds. However, based on the larger Day Three weight of Blosser, Brumbaugh had to settle for fourth place in the tie-breaker decision. Ross Grothe finished fifth with a total of 82.68 pounds.
Brett King posted a Day Three weight of 30.61 pounds to overcome an off day on Day Two and regain the Angler of the Year lead over Ross Grothe. With this come-from-behind weight, King claimed the prestigious 2011 AIM JJ Keller Fishing Team Angler of the Year title as the most consistent angler. King had previously won the 2011 Bay Mills Invitational and the 2009 Green Bay Aim Pro Walleye Series tournaments.
The crowd in the Community Center was ready when Akaska Pro Chad Schilling took the stage. With his Day Two weight, Schilling needed only 11 pounds of Lake Oahe walleyes to regain the lead. It was no contest as his seven fish were tallied, with a cumulative 36.03 pounds for a three-day total of 111.83 pounds. Chad Schilling sealed his first AIM tournament victory by a margin of over 25 pounds over Kevin Audrain.
Rounding out the 2011 Championship top ten were Brandon Carpenter in 6th, Dan Plautz in 7th, Brett King in 8th, Scott Duncan in 9th, and Keith Kavajecz in 10th place.
More than the big weights posted by the AIM Pro Anglers and Sanctioned Series teams, the variety of Lake Oahe was impressive. Finishing the tournament with identical weights, Robert Blosser and Mark Brumbaugh employed different tactics. Yamaha Pro Blosser never left sight of the take-off at Swan Creek and said he used about two gallons of gas in his main motor, choosing instead to troll with his 9.9 hp kicker. In contrast, Mercury Pro Brumbaugh ran over 80 miles one-way to the south to troll and cast the Peoria Flats near Pierre. Brumbaugh noted his Smart Gauges logged fuel consumption at over 80 gallons per day!
Trolling crank baits was the predominant technique. However, Texas Pro Kevin Audrain used heavy jigging spoons with noisy clackers to account for his second-place finish, jigging around bridge columns in 30 to 50 feet of water. Sixth place finisher Brandon Carpenter used heavy jigs tipped with Berkeley Gulp and 6 to 10 foot exaggerated sweeps of his rod to trigger reluctant walleyes to strike. In opposition to these deep water techniques, Mark Brumbaugh caught many walleyes by casting Husky Jerk crankbaits over submerged brush. Tenth place Pro Keith Kavajecz trolled bass-style spinner baits through the deep tree tops along the Peoria flats.
But Chad Schilling had the winning presentation, and primarily jigged around the bridge pilings within 20 miles of the take-off. He was usually the only tournament boat in sight. Patience and commitment to a pattern earned him the victory. His relative closeness to the landing allowed for more total fishing time, opposed to the two-hour run many Pros made to the south.