Team Gillespie Wins on Lake Sakakawea With Nearly 35 Pounds
Jul 1st, 2020 by Keith Worrall
Modified Jul 1st, 2020 at 12:49 PM
Team Gillespie Wins on Lake Sakakawea With Nearly 35 Pounds In Best-Attended AIM Qualifier Ever in North Dakota
Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats LLC.
It’s said that when it’s windy on Lake Sakakawea, the lake gives up its big fish, and, it did just that for Pearl and Scott Gillespie, who posted 34.89 pounds to win the AIM Weekend Walleye Series/Warrior Boats/Pure Powersports Open at New Town in an event that saw 71 teams hit the water, the most ever for a NoDak AIM qualifier event.
“It was a bumpy ride for many of those 71 teams, but the lake didn’t disappoint, and neither did the weights the teams brought in,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director.
“This qualifier is a testament to the growing popularity of AIM and our Catch-Record-Release™ format here, which brought out a lot of spouses, cousins, sons and daughters and others. It was great to see, and we hope to see even more teams at our upcoming events in July.”
The wife-husband team of Pearl and Scott Gillespie of Minot, took it all, earning $6,500 for their winning bag of 34.89 pounds, winning it all in, you guessed it, Van Hook Arm, where they also have a cabin.
Their pre-fishing experience echoed what others had found in the lake: lots of small fish in the shallows where the larger cousins should have been. So, they instead tracked down the ones they needed in water high up in the Arm, said Pearl Gillespie.
“We were in a lot of the same fish everyone else was struggling with. There are a ton of small fish and you’re lucky to see anything over 16 inches. Normally the larger fish would still be in the shallows. There are a lot there, but they are small for some reason. So we went were we don’t normally go this time of year. That’s where we found’em,” she said.
All their winners came in a short 100-yard troll with Berkley Flicker Minnows, Flicker Shads and Salmos at about 2 mph. They found them sulking in breaks off shorelines and islands, staged near large pods of smelt that the walleye here like to feed on.
On game day, they first went to what Gillespie called their “numbers spot,” putting five on the card quickly, then heading to their real Number One Spot. They never left.
It was a hot weekend for the AWWS Warrior Boats/Pure Powersports Open on Lake Sakakawea in New Town, ND at the New Town Marina. Watch The Rap to see what it took to take home a check & how the AWWS scores fish.
Like the others who rounded Pouch Point, they first had to deal with a northeast wind that produced four-footers, sending some neighboring boats partially airborne, props cavitating as they left the water. Once they got to their spot, it was game on.
“They were fast and furious for about an hour-and-a-half, then the wind died down and the fish completely shut off. It was game over. We had all our fish by 11 a.m. and didn’t get another until we were ready to leave. That’s pretty typical for the Van Hook Arm. When it’s dead calm there is pretty tough fishing there,” Gillespie said.
When we got in there, we picked up a couple of 18s or 19s and not too long we picked up a 27. They were coming one at a time or in doubles. The rest seemed to get bigger as time went on. About two-thirds of the way we got a 27-1/4-inch fish, so we were pretty excited about that second kicker. We knew coming in that we had a really respectable weight,” she said.
However, they were also aware that others may have as well. They found out officially when the standings were posted.
Now in their second season of fishing AIM, Gillespie said they really enjoy the format. “I love that it makes all your decision-making easy. You don’t have to make a decision whether to keep a fish or not. AIM gives you the flexibility to make sure first that you have a full basket, and then try to upgrade.
And it’s good for the fishery. I would hate to bring in fish that size and watch them die. It’s pretty fun to take their picture, swoosh’em around a little and watch them swim away.”
In second, the team of Brent Wollschlager and Derrik Sonsalla, both from nearby Parshall, won $2,500, missing first by a little more than a pound, with 33.67 pounds of walleye.
They concentrated on Van Hook Arm’s islands. Wollschlager is a guide on the lake, so his pre-fishing consisted of taking out clients the week before. The team also took first in the side pot, winning another $2,150.
“We were fishing the bites we had from the previous week. We never had any really big fish spots. Our plan was to hit as many as we could,” Wollschlager said.
Getting there, however, was a bit interesting. “As we got around Pouch Point (heading into the Arm) we ran into some really big waves, so we had to slow down. We snapped a pedestal, broke some wiring on the boat and broke a rod holder,” he said. That broken ground wire ran a fish finder, causing battery issues.
Once they reached their first spot, they began backtrolling into the waves, dragging Lindy rigs and bottom bouncers with big minnows and leeches at .2 to .4 mph. “Once we found a fish, they used that method to stay on top of it as long as possible and make them eat it. It took us about 45 minutes to get the first,” he said. “It was like a 24-1/2-incher. The next pass we got two more, another 24 and I think maybe our 27.”
The action slowed, and after they landed a 15-incher to help fill the card, it really slowed, and they headed to their next spot.
“We caught a couple right away about the same as we had, and then we ended up getting our 26-3/4-incher, which put us over the top,” he said.
Given their rough ride to get there, he said, they left for the launch at 1:50 p.m. just to make sure nothing else came lose or broke, and if it had, they would have time to get back to record their fish.
“I figured we would probably be in the top five. We were talking about it in the boat and knew what we had for weight and thought it’s going to take 34 or 35 pounds to win, because when the wind blows here someone gets into the big ones.”
Wollschlager has fished AIM before and actually hadn’t planned on fishing the series this year. “We decided on Wednesday (deadline day to enter) to get into it. The series is handy when it’s one day. You’re not taking up the whole weekend. I think it’s great. It’s pretty foolproof and the fish go right back in. You don’t have to worry about fish getting hurt in transport,” he said.
Here’s the way the rest of the top five finished: In third place with 29.30 pounds and $2,000 richer were Robert Bauer, of Williston, ND, and Matt Bauer, Bismarck. Fourth place and $1,600 went to Lonnie Jacobs and Janine Landsiedel, both from Douglas, ND, and they also took second in the side pot, worth an added $1,290. They landed 28.97 pounds. Brady and Brock Viall, from Ray, ND, finished fifth with 28.18 pounds and $1,400, and added to that pile with a side pot third place and $860.
AIM’s events will take a brief holiday break. Then watch out for those first and second-place teams again. Wollschlager will be at the launch at Lake Sak at his hometown of Parshall, on Sunday, July 26. And prior to that, on Sunday, July 12, the Gillespies will also be challenging the field at Devils Lake, where they won the 2019 state championship last August.
Between now and that July re-do on Sakakawea from Parshall Bay, AIM anglers will also be back at it July 11 and 12 at a double-header on Leech Lake in Minnesota. Fan Nation, check out previews of all events at AIM’s Facebook page. Details on all other upcoming state qualifiers are at the AIM website.
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