MOBRIDGE, S.D. – Jason Przekurat has amassed numerous accolades over his two decades of fishing competitive walleye tournaments. With a tour-level victory, a team championship and two Angler of the Year titles, Przekurat is regarded as one of the best in the sport. However, his angling résumé had one glaring omission – a pro-am championship win. That all changed today as Przekurat eked out a win at the 2016 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship on Lake Oahe.
Przekurat came into the final day with a commanding 7-pound lead. He was confident this morning as he took off, knowing the calm conditions matched some of his better days of practice. To his surprise, he never caught a single walleye on his best spot – an area known as Whitlock’s, located 35 miles south of takeoff. The deep trees in Whitlock’s were largely responsible for Przekurat’s opening-round total of 30 pounds.
Instead of dying on that spot, Przekurat called an audible after four unproductive trolling passes. Spot No. 2 was also unproductive, so the Bone Collector-Hardcore pro continued heading south.
“I knew I had to keep moving,” he recalled. “At my third spot I finally caught a 14 1/2 and a 20 1/2. Then I went back to my primary spot and again – nothing. So I finally ran to an area 16 miles south of takeoff known as Swan Creek. It’s a spot where I had been getting some unders. On the first pass, within the first three minutes, I pulled a 21-incher. I couldn’t believe it. I just had a feeling that was going to be the fish I needed. I caught that fish with about an hour to go.”
Those three fish weighed 6.67 pounds and gave Przekurat a three-day cumulative weight of 36.67 pounds. Upon reflection, Przekurat said the critical decision was to leave Whitlock’s.
“The key today was being able to adapt. To be successful you’ve got to be willing to change. I’ve always gone with my gut and leaving was something I just felt I had to do. I needed to earn this championship. Two of those fish came on spots I haven’t touched in about five days.”
Przekurat’s main program consisted of trolling over a mix of old cottonwood and willow trees. The fish would hover on top of the willows and bury under the cottonwoods.
“I was targeting the outside river bend turns that came up on the flat. The flat then intercepts the shoreline break. It’s a strong summertime pattern, it was just a matter of getting the baits to them.”
Przekurat explained that the trees were down 50 to 60 feet in water 95 to 105 feet deep.
To get his crankbaits that deep, the Stevens Point, Wis., fisherman used 6-ounce weights and trolled at 1.8 mph. His main line was 15-pound Fireline with a 12-pound Trilene 100 percent fluorocarbon leader.
“The key was keeping them on top of trees, just ticking the tops. I was using the No. 7 Flicker Minnow and blue and silver was the best color combo. Really it was any shade of blue.”
The Flicker Minnow is the slender cousin of the Flicker Shad. When Przekurat fished the shallower trees in Swan Creek, he would opt for the Flicker Shad.
Przekurat’s last major win came in 2007 at the FLW Mississippi River event.
“It’s been a long time since then. I think this is the best win of my career because I worked the hardest for it. When I won the MWC Championship I kind of thought this was easy. Now I know better. I’ve been close to winning a pro-am championship several times. After a while, you wonder if it’s ever going to really happen. When I saw that weight pop up today, I realized I finally did it. It was awesome.”
For his championship win, Przekurat earned a Ranger 621FS powered with a 250-horsepower Evinrude G2, $15,000 cash and another $1,771 of Anglers Advantage cash for a total prize package of $88,566. However, this one was about more than the money.
“To win a pro-am championship has been a goal of mine for a long, long time. It’s been a long ride, but I finally got her.”
Cambridge, Wis., pro Joe Okada started the day in sixth place but finished only a pound and a half behind Przekurat in second. His 12.85-pound stringer was by far the heaviest of day three and it brought his total weight to 35.22 pounds. He achieved that 12.85 on only four fish, meaning one more 17- or 18-inch walleye would have earned him the championship. His consolation prize was a Ranger 1880 with a 150-horsepower Evinrude outboard and $1,404 in Anglers Advantage cash.
Okada shared water this week with teammate Robert Blosser and Michigan pro Don Loch. The three fished an area of Oahe known as the Peoria Flats, which is located approximately 100 miles south of the takeoff location in Mobridge. This is roughly the same area Chase Parsons won the 2011 FLW event.
Okada said in calm weather, the run took about an hour and 45 minutes. In blustery weather it took up to three. While this significantly reduced their fishing time, all three believed the fish down south were fatter and healthier, and thus the run was worth it.
Okada trolled the shallower trees in the area with No. 7 Berkley Flicker Shads (white). He also caught a few fish on Slow Death and on a spinnerbait, but the crankbait was key.
“White is right in South Dakota, just like it’s firetiger on the Mississippi,” quipped Okada.
Okada explained that the trees were 12 to 20 feet deep and he would troll the Flicker Shads over the tops at 2 mph. The crankbaits would run about 5 to 10 feet down. Okada and his partners were constantly adjusting their depths to avoid getting snagged, but it was inevitable. Okada estimated he would lose between five and 15 crankbaits per hour.
He fished nearly the entire third day down south. With six minutes left, he caught a 13-incher near the launch site to give him four keepers. His other three fish weighed approximately 3, 4 and 5 pounds.
“Had I caught my fifth fish today, I would have been going home with the bigger trophy.”
Overall, Okada was pleased with his tournament and his season overall.
“This year was a really good one for me. In several tournaments, I was in contention early and then I dropped. At this last one, I kept moving up so it was a good way to end the year. I’m already looking forward to next year.”
Bjorkman third, While fourth, McQuoid fifth
Rounding out the top five are pros Brian Bjorkman, Wade While and Kevin McQuoid. Bjorkman, the Fargo, N.D., pro, made the biggest move of the day – launching from 10th to third after catching a 10.93-pound stringer. Bjorkman finished the three-day event with 30.14 pounds. With contingencies, he earned $17,007.
“I guess I can’t complain about taking third,” said Bjorkman. “I made a good run at it anyway. To be the top 10 is my goal at every tournament. When it pans out, it’s awesome.”
While most of the field ran south, Bjorkman ran 37 miles north each day.
“I basically did the complete opposite of what everyone else was doing. We found a shoreline that was real close to deep water. It was the only area where we could go through numbers of fish.”
Bjorkman explained that he trolled a ledge that was between 25 and 30 feet of water. Nearby was water 75 to 80 feet deep. Bjorkman trolled No. 7 Flicker Shads at approximately 2 1/2 mph.
While, the local Mobridge, S.D., pro, finished fourth after catching five walleyes Friday that weighed 7.04 pounds. While’s 18.35-pound stringer from day two will go down as the heaviest limit of the championship. His cumulative weight was 29.78 pounds. Walleye fans may remember While won the 2014 NWT qualifier on Lake Oahe.
McQuoid fell from third to fifth after catching two walleyes weighing 5.63 pounds. The Cabela’s pro ran largely the same program as Przekurat, running 35 miles south and trolling the deep trees with crankbaits. McQuoid’s total weight for the tournament was 28.62 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2016 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship on Lake Oahe:
6th: Robert Blosser of Poynette, Wis., 26.60
7th: Chad Schilling of Akaska, S.D., 26.38
8th: Scott Larson of Mayville, N.D., 25.52
9th: Randy Hummel of Windom, Minn., 23.43
10th: Don Loch of Iron Mountain, Mich., 23.10
Iowa fisherman Tom Samp was victorious in the Co-angler Division with a three-day total weight of 33.41 pounds. On day one, Samp fished with Ohio pro Mark Brumbaugh and the two caught a 9.35-pound limit. On day two, Samp drew Wisconsin pro Tom Kemos and they improved to 11.21. Fishing with Okada on the final day, Samp turned in his best performance – a 12.85-pound stringer.
“You sure learn a lot from these guys,” said Samp. “They tell you how to do it and then the next time they have you do it. The first day Mark Brumbaugh showed me how to fish 50 feet deep. The next day Tom Kemos showed me how to fish the trees. And today, Joe just put us right on them; it was one after the other. I want to say thank you to all those guys. They are heck of good fishermen.”
Samp will head east to Iowa with the winner’s check worth $6,000, plus a $1,500 Triton bonus and $692 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $8,192.
Michigan pro Ed Stachowski was crowned Lucas Oil Angler of the Year – the title given to the most consistent walleye angler over the course of a full season. Stachowski took eighth at the season-opening event on Lake Erie, 13th on Lake Winnebago, 35th on Green Bay and 11that the year-end championship. Stachowski won by an 18-point margin, but there were several critical moments that clinched the title.
“At Erie, I made a late adjustment to catch my fish in 50 feet of water on the bottom,” recalled Stachowski. “I only caught five fish that day so that adjustment was huge. The second day on Erie I remember I got a bite but the line snapped at the rod tip. So we went back, did a 180, grabbed the planer board and handlined 150 feet of line. We eventually netted the fish and it was a 10-pounder, our biggest fish of the day. If you could have put a heart rate monitor on me it would have been 180 at the time.”
On day two at Winnebago, Stachowski was just about to head back to weigh-in with four fish when chaos ensued.
“I was reeling in my inside board when my outside board just sank. That was my fifth fish and it was a 4-pounder, which is huge on Winnebago. I’ve always cut it close coming back in, but this one was really close. I made it back in with less than a minute to spare.”
On day two at Green Bay, the Ranger-Evinrude pro boated an 8-pounder with 10 minutes left in the day that saved him numerous points.
“Coming into the championship, I really thought I had to win because Chris Gilman is that good.”
Stachowski then reflected on his achievement, one he termed the biggest of his young career.
“It’s a monstrous accomplishment for me. It’s a huge honor with the caliber of fishermen on the NWT. That being said, I didn’t go into the tournament trying to win AOY; I was trying to win the championship. To just miss the top 10 is bittersweet. Still, it’s a huge feeling of accomplishment. I’ve had some good tournaments, but this is the first time that I’ve put it together for the whole year.”
This was Stachowski’s fifth full season as a walleye pro. In addition to paid entry fees into the 2017 National Walleye Tour events, the award has also given Stachowski a new level of confidence.
“The past couple years I learned I could be competitive at this. Now I feel like things are really starting to click. I know I can compete with the guys I studied and I grew up watching. I want to thank my support system – my teammates Wayne Van Dyke, Bob Bruegger and my travel partner Bob Needles.”