Sprengel’s strong statement starts NWT 2020
Jul 25th, 2020 by sworrall
Modified Jul 25th, 2020 at 12:05 PM
OCONTO, Wis. – For the better part of a decade, Korey Sprengel has been the most dominant walleye pro in the sport. But over the last few years, other anglers have encroached on his spotlight – namely Brett King and his quest to win back-to-back Angler of the Year titles, Tom Keenan (reigning AOY) and John Hoyer and his ridiculous three-tournament stretch (two wins, one second) to close 2019. After a delayed start to the 2020 National Walleye Tour season, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, Sprengel quickly and emphatically reclaimed the unofficial title of “hottest walleye stick on the planet.”
Sprengel fishes Green Bay so often he knows it like the back of his hand. He knows the spots, he understands seasonal migrations and he’s intimately aware of how wind direction impacts current and water temperature. But in a no-cull tournament (anglers can keep six and weigh their best five), even the most experienced pros struggle with the mental turmoil of mistakenly releasing quality fish, or on the other side, keeping mediocre fish and regretting it when the mother lode finally feeds.
Coming into the season opener, Sprengel knew the only person that could beat him was him. With that confidence, he limited himself to only one day of official practice. Instead, he was going to trust himself and make decisions on the fly.
“The whole key this week was my first bite on day one,” recalled the Berkley pro. “With the northeast wind, I knew it was going to be a needle in the haystack. But I also knew the recipe. I just needed to know if the recipe was going to work. That first fish bit twice, if not three times. It was only like a 20-incher, but I knew if they were going to bite multiple times, there was something to be had. From there, it was all about fine tuning it.”
What Sprengel was referring to is a small 100-yard stretch up in the islands area, located roughly 30 miles from takeoff at Breakwater Park and Harbor. This rocky stretch had gobies, but more importantly it had current and warm water. The warm water was especially important and rare with the northeast wind. When Sprengel shocked the field with a 42-pound stringer yesterday, he wasn’t sure the spot would hold up.
“This morning, when I put the trolling motor down and saw the color and temperature of the water, I knew I was going to win. That sounds cocky, but the water was perfectly murky, algae stained and warm. I don’t know where it came from, but I knew that’s where I was going to live.
With no company around initially, Sprengel made his first full pass and caught an 8 1/2, a 7 1/2 and a 6 1/2. He proceeded to catch and box another 6-pounder on his second pass.
“With 27 pounds for four fish by 8:30, I’m thinking I want to head back ASAP and get off the water as easy and safe as possible. But I knew I needed one more bite. But with more and more company showing up, that didn’t come until noon. At one point I counted 21 boats; it was like a parking lot. I finally was able to get through the same area and caught a 24-incher. About 20 minutes later I caught another 6-pounder. I was done at 12:20 on both days one and two.”
Sprengel has had success both with the innovative casting methods as well as traditional trolling. This week, all 10 of his fish came via trolling crawler harnesses.
“In the middle of the summer, the fish start suspending, and that’s when crawler harnesses shine. The crawler harnesses allowed me to have multiple doubles and a key triple today. The other thing was that you don’t lose fish with harnesses. I would use a Fusion 19 octopus hook on the front and round bend trebles on the back. Plus, with monofilament line and planer boards, the fish almost swim in with you. They have no bait to fling around, no weight to throw around when they fight.”
Sprengel’s main line was 14-pound Trilene XL, and his leader was 15-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. His blades were a combination of Colorado and willow. Gold was the best color blade yesterday, and purple produced the best today. With 1/2- or 1-ounce Offshore Tackle Guppy weights, he would troll between 1.4 and 2 mph depending on the desired depth. When he saw the biggest boulders on his Lowrance SideScan, he’d increase his speeds.
“I watched a lot of boards act like submarines. These Green Bay fish hit hard and are built for speed. It’s all rock down there, but there are giant boulders that act as current breaks. I was always looking at my side imaging on my Lowrances, so I knew when the rocks were going to come up. I wanted my baits close to the bottom (in 10 to 20 feet) without touching. The fish were relating to the current and warm water. The current was basically putting them there because that’s where the warm water was. This morning the water was over 70 degrees. If I got out of that little stretch, it would change by 3 degrees. If I ran 2 miles, the water would be around 57 degrees. That’s how much it varied.”
Sprengel’s cumulative weight was 77.48 pounds. Not only did he have the heaviest weight on the first day, he also managed the biggest bag on the second day. He won the tournament by a whopping 17-pound margin.
“It was all about trusting myself. I knew it was going to take time. After that first bite, I knew the bigger fish would show mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and they did.”
Spanning the National Walleye Tour and the FLW, Sprengel now has six tour-level wins, among other victories on the MWC and NTC. For winning the 2020 season opener, the Beaver Dam, Wis., native earned a Ranger 620FS with a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 cash, and an additional $2,635 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $92,130.
“This reiterates that confidence in yourself is how you win tournaments. Very few tournaments are won because a guy had a spot and it held up all week. You may not have had the best practice, but you can win if you trust yourself and your electronics. Where I was putting my planer boards, I don’t know that I’ve ever trolled that stretch in my life.
“I’m happy with the win, but it just gives me another start to a consistent year,” Sprengel concluded. “The biggest accomplishment for me is not a win, because wins take some luck. I’m more proud of my AOY finishes over the past eight years. For all those years, I’ve been in contention to win the AOY. That consistency means more to me than winning.”
Lakich up to second
Wisconsin rookie Isaac Lakich made an impressive National Walleye Tour debut. After catching 33.19 on day one, the 24-year-old followed up with another 27.12 today. His two-day total for 10 walleyes was 60.31 pounds. Lakich fished the same general area as Sprengel, but he chose to cast.
“Yesterday I was mainly snap jigging with a Jigging Rap or a Shiver Minnow,” Lakich said. “Today it was flat calm, so I was casting a crawler harness-type rig. It’s technically a slow death rig by Walleye Nation Creations.”
The setup consisted of a 3/4-ounce jig head, spinner rig and slow death hook.
“With my Garmin LiveScope, I was able to put that presentation in a fish’s face every single cast. I LiveScoped almost every fish I caught.”
In his first NWT event, Lakich finished second and earned $21,210.
“It’s pretty crazy. I’m feeling really good, really confident, yet really humbled. I feel so blessed to finish where I did against this competition, the Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajeczs of the world. I can’t even begin to describe what that means.”
Dempsey rallies to third
Local Green Bay, Wis., fisherman Ryan Dempsey surged up the leaderboard after catching a 34.70-pound limit, the second heaviest of the day. Combined with 25.38 from day one, he finished with a cumulative total of 60.08 pounds.
“I was trolling the whole time,” Dempsey revealed. “I tried crankbaits for a bit, but everything came on spinners and crawlers. Yesterday I just fished waypoints and memories and the day got away from me.”
Dempsey explained that Sprengel’s big lead actually put him at ease. Knowing that he couldn’t win, he spent more time looking and fishing freely.
“What I learned is that the fish kind of left the structure and were suspending.”
Dempsey would troll at .9 to 1.2 mph – making 1/4-mile passes. His baits would run through 15 feet over water 30-feet deep. His area was also roughly 30 miles from takeoff. He saw Sprengel once, but never got close.
“I wasn’t like I was on them like crazy. I had a decent day, and then I caught a 10-pounder that saved my butt.”
For third place, Dempsey earned $16,070.
“You always want to win, especially on your home water, but without that 10-pounder, I could have easily been in 15th place. It was a really tough bite.”
Ruffalo fourth, Ell fifth
Rounding out the top five are pros Brandon Ruffalo and Jacob Ell. Ruffalo, another promising young stick from Cleveland, Wis., was remarkably consistent in a difficult bite. On day one, he caught 27.06 pounds, and today he boated 26.95. His two-day total weight for 10 walleyes was 54.01 pounds.
Ell, the Bismarck, N.D., pro, finished fifth with a combined weight of 53.66. After catching 28.25 pounds on day one, Ell slipped to 25.41 today.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2020 National Walleye Tour event on Green Bay:
6th: Tim Long of Bergland, Mich., 51.93
7th: Tommy Kemos of Oconomowoc, Wis., 50.36
8th: David Kolb of Grand Blanc, Mich., 49.52
9th: Jeff Erickson of Appleton, Wis., 49.01
10th: Dylan Nussbaum of St. Marys, Pa., 46.49
Atkinson claims co-angler title
Steve Atkinson took home top honors in the Co-angler Division with a total weight of 57.67 pounds. On day one, Atkinson fished with Jacob Kaprelian and the two caught four walleyes worth 22.97. Today he fished with Dempsey, and together they weighed a limit worth 34.70.
“I won’t be falling asleep at the wheel on the way home tonight,” quipped Atkinson. “The credit goes to my great pros. Those guys knew this lake, and they put me around quality fish. It was a great week.”
Atkinson, the Sault Ste Marie, Mich., native, earned $7,186 for his win.
The second event of the 2020 National Walleye Tour season is scheduled for Aug. 13-14 in Sault Ste Marie, Mich.
, July 27, 2020.