Season-ending tournament to crown coveted Angler of the Year
Aug 31st, 2015 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Aug 31st, 2015 at 12:00 AM
DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – The top walleye pros in the sport return to legendary North Dakota Sept. 17-19 for the 2015 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship. The three-day tournament will award the largest payout in professional walleye fishing, including fully-rigged Ranger boats for the first- and second-place pros. To claim those top prizes, anglers will have to solve a dynamic puzzle. While Devils Lake is one of the most prolific fisheries in the country, the walleyes are transitioning from their summer haunts to their fall feeding areas.
“I absolutely love Devils Lake,” said HydroWave pro Mark Courts, who is leading the Lucas Oil Angler of the Year race with 553 points. “You always catch fish on Devils, but it’s always different. This time the lake is actually down a couple of feet instead of rising.”
Ranger Pro Mark Courts looks to capitalize on a big season and secure his first ever Angler of the Year title on Devils Lake
Devils Lake, which hosted the inaugural NWT Championship in 2013, is unique in that it has no natural outlet. For much of the past decade, the water level continually soared – swallowing up miles of farmland. At its record elevation, reached in June 2011, the lake encompassed roughly 211,000 surface acres, an increase of 167,000 acres from March 1993. With the lake receding a bit, the walleye fishing has once again changed.
“The tree bite isn’t really what it used to be,” added Courts, who has notched several top-10 finishes on Devils Lake. “A lot of the trees are gone now – having been destroyed by ice.”
Instead of anglers tying to trees and soaking leeches, Courts expects numerous weed-related fish to be caught. In addition, deep structure such as break lines, roads and bridges will likely be effective. Both pulling and casting crankbaits are also proven Devils Lake techniques.
Berkley pro Korey Sprengel sits second in the AOY race, trailing Courts by just a single point.
“Devils Lake makes a great championship location,” explained Sprengel, the reigning NWT Championship winner. “Guys can find their own fish and it’s so diverse you have to be prepared for anything. I like to fish it with a one-two punch, sort of running and gunning. In addition to trolling, jigs could play a big role both deep and shallow around current. That time of year I’m looking for a bait with a big profile, like a 4-inch Ripple Shad or a Shiver Minnow.”
Courts and Sprengel disagree about how much weight will be needed to win the championship.
“Devils is putting out some big fish; the weights will be extremely high,” said Sprengel. “These bigger fish are going to be showing up more and more. Compared to last time, it’s going to take a lot more weight. The fish are really healthy and just ridiculously fat. I’m going to say 88 to 90 pounds is going to be needed to win. The cooler the water gets, the more the big fish concentrate on certain areas and put the feed bag on. They key in on certain structure where you can catch multiple big fish in one area.”
“I honestly believe if you put together 20 pounds a day you’ll be in contention,” countered Courts. “Historically, that’s the case at Devils Lake. Wind is the huge variable of course. You might see a 30-pound bag or two, but I don’t think you’re going to see three consecutive 30-pound bags. I think the fish are still going to be on the move.”
Courts and Sprengel, both Ranger pros, have history on their minds. At last year’s championship, Courts led going into the final day only to have Sprengel come from behind with a whopping final-day stringer. Two years ago on Devils Lake, Sprengel was leading the AOY race only to eventually lose on a tiebreaker. Needless to say, motivation won’t be an issue for either angler as the race heats up. As an added incentive, the pro and co-angler with the most points earned after the championship will be awarded custom rings and paid entry fees for the 2016 season.
“First and foremost, I’m there to win the tournament,” explained Courts. “If I win the tournament, I win Angler of the Year. I still have a little grudge from last year’s championship. If there’s one guy I want to beat, it’s him, because he’s the best. Angler of the Year is one thing I don’t have on my résumé and it’s something I’ve always wanted.”
Reigning NWT Championship winner Korey Sprengel looks to become the first ever back-to-back champion
“I’m shooting to win this one,” said Sprengel, who already owns three NWT victories. “We’re so close, and I know he’s going to bring it. I can’t just sit back and ease into this one. This means a ton to me because it’s a repeat of two years ago. This is basically the same thing, the same situation, now I just need to capitalize.”
Anglers will take off from Graham’s Island State Park, located at 152 South Duncan Dr. in Devils Lake at 7 a.m. Central time each day. Weigh-ins will also take place each day at the state park, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each of the first two days and is cut to the top 10 for the third and final day with the winner being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.
The National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) will also host a “Future Angler” program for children after Friday’s weigh-in, at approximately 4:30 p.m., featuring an educational seminar and training for youth from top-notch NPAA members. The youth-orientated event will include a free rod/reel combo or “Future Pro” T-shirt for the first 100 children who attend the educational program. All activities are free and open to the public.