NWT Final Results from Lake City, MN
May 11th, 2015 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified May 11th, 2015 at 12:00 AM
Sutton seals season opener
by Brett Carlson
LAKE CITY, Minn. – Catching a big bag of walleyes on a prolific, yet highly-pressured fishery like the Mississippi River is an impressive feat. However, to win a Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event, an angler has to demonstrate consistency and catch them two days straight – something that is incredibly difficult on such a dynamic body of water. With stringers of 28.21 and 18.37, Ranger pro Bill Sutton did exactly that, winning the season-opening tournament by less than a quarter pound.
Sutton’s 46.58 total bested a field of 126 pros – anglers that know Pools 3, 4 and 5 intimately, as well as the top touring professionals in the country. Sutton’s triumph was a surprise to many, including himself. In practice, he fished for five consecutive days without catching a single legal walleye. On Tuesday, his luck changed when he identified a promising backwater area in Pool 4. He sampled it again Wednesday and determined it was his best bet. While Sutton knew it held big-fish potential, he did not fully understand its potential.
“When the tournament started, I was just hoping to get a few big fish,” said the Lindenhurst, Ill., pro. “But after yesterday I told myself that no matter what, I was going to stick it out on that spot.”
Sutton was second guessing himself on the way back to Lake City this afternoon with only three walleyes in the livewell.
“I actually caught four fish. And I was on the verge of a meltdown in the weigh-in line. At 8 this morning I let a 16-incher swim. I chose to send her back, figuring I would have a repeat of yesterday. My mentality was that I was going for the win; I didn’t want to bring little fish to the scale.”
In this tournament, culling was not permitted. Pros and co-anglers, fishing together, were allowed to keep seven fish each day and then weigh their best five. This afternoon, with two big females in the livewell, Sutton decided to tweak his strategy
“Thankfully I decided to keep an 18-fish, and that sealed the deal.”
Sutton’s backwater area, located off the main channel in Red Wing, was littered with trees, rock and clam beds that induced numerous snags. He fished in water 9 to 13 feet deep, with 13 being the magic number. He stayed in the same area throughout the tournament, continuously making two distinct passes.
“We were three-way rigging. I used a 1 1/2-ounce pencil weight with a foot dropper. Then I used a 3-foot lead to a Matzuo single hook on two of them. The other two rigs were Matzuo Death Roll hooks. Two of the lines had crawlers; the others had a leech and rainbow chub. Those Death Roll hooks gave the crawlers better action than the Slow Death.”
Neither Sutton nor his co-anglers held the rod in their hands. Instead, they intentionally left them in the holders.
“That was key. Typically we live-bait rig with the rods in our hands. But by leaving them in the holder, it allowed the fish to really get a hold of it. By leaving them in, my hooking percentage went way up.”
Sutton also said that his Okuma Dead Eye bottom-bouncing rods were the perfect match for his presentation and could withstand the headshakes of strong postpawn river walleyes.
For a victory in only his second NWT event, Sutton won a Ranger 620FS rigged with a 175-horsepower Evinrude outboard plus contingency bonuses and Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $71,478.
“I just beat 125 of the country’s best walleye anglers. It’s an incredible feeling. The prize is great, but that really isn’t the factor here. It’s the fact that I beat the best. That’s better than the prize money in my mind.”
Penalty costs second-place Wildeman
Local pro Jeremy Wildeman would have won the tournament if not for an 8-ounce penalty he incurred today due to an expired fish. With the penalty, Wildeman finished second by .19 pounds with a total weight of 46.39. His five-fish limit today weighed 19.03 pounds.
“It wasn’t just the dead fish that cost us,” said Wildenman. “We lost a big fish 2 or 3 feet below the surface that was easily over 5 pounds. We also threw back a 21 1/2-inch fish thinking we would need more weight to win. Instead, we had to weigh a 20 1/2. That could have been the difference. We had first place locked up, it just wasn’t meant to be.”
This was the 31-year-old Ellsworth, Wis., native’s first NWT event. He employed live-bait rigs on shallow-water clam beds to catch his fish – his bait of choice being willow cats and creek chubs.
“I was in Pool 4 at the head of the lake. The fish were shallow, in like 3 to 6 feet of water.”
On day one Wildeman sampled two spots – the second being the productive clam bed area. Today, he solely milked that area.
“I’m still trying to soak it all in, but it was a blast. I just love tournament fishing.”
Evans up to third
After catching 22.14 pounds on day one, Hastings, Minn., native Jeremy Evans improved to 21.82 on day two, finishing the tournament with a total weight of 43.96.
“We fished the same spot with the same presentation both days,” said Evans. “We sat on one wing dam up in Pool 3 for the entire tournament. It’s a 45-minute run to get up there, but that’s home to me.”
Evans said the fish more or less stayed in the vicinity of the wing dam all day. But they have different areas where they fed and where they rested.
“I know they’re there. You just have to find where they feed and wait them out to bite.”
Evans fishes many bass tournaments in addition to his walleye endeavors. To that end, he was not able to patiently sit and soak live bait like the first- and second-place pros. He had it in the boat and he tried it occasionally, but every walleye he caught came off a No. 7 Rapala Shad Rap.
“Color didn’t matter at all. When they were eating, they were eating. The top of the wing dam is about a foot and a half deep. You would cast your Shad Rap over it and as soon as it quit bumping rocks, then you would get hit. The fish were probably sitting in 3 or 4 feet.”
With limited practice time, Evans sampled the wing dam just once Wednesday. He made a single cast, caught a 24-incher and that was enough to tell him that the walleyes were there.
While his weights were consistent, he didn’t catch numbers of fish.
“We caught six fish yesterday and today we caught seven, throwing back two smaller ones early in the morning. I wasn’t planning on keeping anything under 21 today.”
Fluekiger fourth, Gillman fifth
Rounding out the top five are pros Jarrad Fluekiger and John Gillman. Fluekiger, the Alma, Wis., river rat, caught consistent 20-pound-plus sacks both days, finishing the tournament with 42.12 pounds. Gillman, the open-water troller from Freeland, Mich., surged up the leaderboard today with a 24-pound stringer to bring his two-day total to 39.26 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2015 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event on the Mississippi River:
6th: Tom Kemos of Oconomowoc, Wis., 38.94
7th: Mark Courts of Harris, Minn., 38.48
8th: Korey Sprengel of Beaver Dam, Wis., 38.29
9th: Mike Gofron of Antioch, Ill.., 38.18
10th: Robert Bruegger of Wabasha, Minn., 37.73
Hora claims co-angler title
Iowa fisherman Terry Hora claimed victory in the Co-angler Division with a two-day total weight of 48.81 pounds. On day one, Hora fished with Wildeman and the two soaked live-bait all day, catching a total of 27.36 pounds.
On day two, Hora was paired with Fluekiger and together they caught a limit worth 21.45 pounds.
“Today we fished wing dams with willow cats,” said Hora. “The fish were sitting in one place where two wing dams came together. Jarrad caught four fish and I caught one.”
For the win, Hora earned $6,000.
“I never expected any of this, but it’s a great thrill. I had no intentions of winning or anything like that. I did this to try and make myself a better walleye fisherman. The two pros I had were excellent fishermen and both taught me different things. I didn’t even know what a willow cat was before the tournament; we don’t use them in southern Iowa.”
The second qualifier of the 2015 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour season is slated for June 12-13 on northern Minnesota’s Leech Lake in Walker.