2020 has been all about change, so why not the National Walleye Tour. Funny thing is the more everything changes, the more it all seems to stay the same.
Reminder that all of the National Walleye Tour action can be found on-demand on the Outdoor Action TV App. Live weigh-ins as well as on demand replays of the TV show.
Photo Caption Bily: “Billy Aitkinson became the youngest person to every fish as a PRO on the NWT at 16 years old and did so with an impressive showing. 18th overall and a check. Kudos Billy!
As the coronavirus pandemic swept thru walleye country this past spring, the NWT processed the situation with a series of postponements, cancellations, rumors, and the very real possibility of no season at all.
Working thru all the challenges, the administration staff led by Christy Schad constructed a compacted schedule and it was announced we would push forth kicking off 2020 on a tour favorite:
The Bay of Green Bay out of the port of Oconto, WI
Korey Sprengel Bagging up his catch, Oconto WI.
Pro Dylan Nussbaum at the 1st event of the year, Oconto, WI — Bay of Green Bay
For most of us this event would be the first time traveling anywhere other than the grocery store for months. We would learn how to keep a safe-distance implementing video conference rules meetings, utilizing more digital communications, and conducting a weigh-in w/o high-fives and man hugs.
It’s a new world and everything seemingly had changed.
Well, that was until the final pro weighed his fish and Berkley Pro Korey Sprengel bested the field by over 17 lbs. for his record 5th NWT Tournament win.
As fish were weighed and anglers kept their distance, new faces and names found themselves towards the top of the NWT leaderboard. 2020 did have some youthful pros making a push to the top. Using innovative thinking and a lifetime of walleye experience Isaac Lakich and Brandon Ruffolo find themselves in the top 10 amongst proven veterans and surging Dylan Nussbaum.
Korey Sprengel bags up his Day 2 catch in route to a win in Oconto, WI
Rookie Pro Brandon Ruffalo making an early statement on tour.
Sault Ste. Marie, MI and the St. Mary’s river was the second stop…which had more firsts….
Boarding the plane
Including my first-time on an aircraft during the pandemic….YIKES.
The apprehension was more than I could have every have imagined. Good news is Delta, along with the airline industry, has been working overtime to snuff my insecurity of uncertainty.
Pete Schaefer shows off his payday
Peter Schaefer, a first-time NWT champion was crowned at the Soo tournament although as we watched him navigate his rookie season it became obvious fast, this Michigan native is a force to be recon with where-ever he fishes. Pete went the distance to earn this win, traveling 86 miles across Lake Huron to fish near Alpena, MI from Sault Ste. Marie. It’s big time, winner take all mentality and Peter showed he didn’t come to cash a check, he fishes every event to win.
2020 embraced more change with the 3rd event on Lake Sakakawea launching from Garrision, ND.
Morning Take off Lake Sakakawea, Garrison, ND
Cody Northrop is crowned Champion on Lake Sakakawea
Skeeter Boat Pro Cody Northrop out-witted a pressured group of fish near the Van Hook Arm to win his first NWT event. Lake Sakakawea also provided a series of challenges as well during the pre-fishing period with high winds and wicked cold….aka frost. BURR…. The realization that we pushed the season back becomes reality….
One event to go, The National Walleye Tour Championship the biggest event of the year and it’s set for October on the biggest walleye venue, Lake Erie port of Huron, Ohio.
Record High Water on the Great Lakes continues for summer of 2020.
I arrived in Huron a few days ahead of the tournament as I usually do in an effort to grab a day or two on the water ahead of the event. I do this to better understand the fishery. As I hop on board with Capt. Ryan Buddie for a day of pre-fishing it’s quickly obvious, today is going to be one to forget. High winds from one direction had subsided only to have the wind kick-up from another direction leaving the BIG lake swells undecided in direction or sequence. Not long into the day, my stomach is feeling much like the lake. Uncertain of what direction it’s pushing…
Eventually seas subside.
Capt Buddie at the helm on Lake Erie
Familiarity comes over leader board after the first day led by Hall of Fame angler and NWT Champion, Keith Kavajecz followed by HOF angler Gary Parsons, 3rd spot occupied by NWT Angler of the Year Tommy Kemos and Chase Parsons rounded out this amazing finish for the Next Bite TV crew.
2020 now showed us all that it was the year of change.
Keith Kavajecz with Day 1 leading fish and co-angler
Screen shot of the text anglers and NWT staff received from Tournament Director Anthony Wright 5:30 am.
For the first time in NWT history the Top 10 departing from Port Huron for the final day didn’t include one pro that was inside the Top 10 just 24 hours earlier. This had never happened before, ever. Not 1, none of these fantastic anglers made the right decisions on Day 2 that would allow them to trick enough walleyes to fish the final day.
L to R Gary, Keith, Chase and Tommy watch the weigh-in stage from a distance on day 2
My reaction to reading the forecast for day 2
As the pros take off for the final day of the NWT season, only 5.21 lbs separates the anglers and on Lake Erie, that means anyone can win. A top 10 consisting of rookie pros, first-time top 10 anglers, past NWT Championship Champ and the winningest angler in NWT history.
When the pros return to the dock we have two more firsts to add to the year 2020. Jason Przekurat is crowned NWT Champion for the 2nd time becoming the first angler to win multiple championships and Korey Sprengel wins his 1st ever Angler of the Year title.
Some post event celebrating with Jason Przekurat
We need change to provide opportunity, and that’s what happened this NWT season. New anglers had opportunity to fish the circuit, some prevailed as 1st time champions and top 10 finishes potentially opening the door for a career in professional walleye fishing. While once again savvy veteran anglers called upon experience to navigate and assess the current conditions in making spot-on decisions to top a field of the world’s best walleye tournament anglers which make up the National Walleye Tour.
Another tournament year filled with wonderful moments and memories. When it comes to walleye fishing and tournament strategies there is much to ponder from this past season and a winter ahead providing time and opportunity to dissect. Plenty of lessons in the layers of data, but, where to start…