Did anyone tell Cody Northop the hardest tournaments to fish are the ones on your home water? The man weights 50.91 lbs. of walleye over two days and tops the best walleye anglers in the world on Lake Sakakawea, Garrison, ND. Winning earned Cody a Ranger 2080 MS with a 250-Horsepower Mercury Pro XS, $15,000 cash, plus an addition $3,003 of Angler Advantage cash for a total purse of $82,598.
Fantastic body of water to host a NWT event, especially right now with the overall health of the fishery. Many of the pro’s talking during pre-fish about how “fat” the fish were, and that was more than evident during the event, apparently the smelt are at record levels.
Two things I was looking forward to most as this event started was how the guys would slice and dice the 178-mile-long and up to 14-mile-wide reservoir, especially if the wind blew–which it did during pre-fish. I was anxious to learn which part of the system held that fattest fish and how they would entice the bite—especially as pre-fish concluded on a massive cold-front. Second, I was anxious to learn how touring pros would compete with almost 1/3 of the field being local anglers. 38 pros had license plates from ND, MT, or SD–Missouri River anglers.
Local Pro Jacob Ell (4 top 10’s–NWT) Tommy Kemos (8 top 10’s, 2014–AOY & current leader 2020 Angler of Year race) along with Pontoon co-host John Balla and I previewed the event on a podcast.
Weather was perfect–45 degrees at launch light winds and high of 72 predicted. As day progressed, wind laid down and lake calmed to glass with warm sun by days end.
12:40: First angler returns – Pro Jason Votava, finished 2nd to Duane Hjelm in last NWT visit to Sakakawea…he brings very respectable 21.03 to the scales.
As weigh-in concludes local pro Gary Hodge leads the pack with 24.99 lbs. Over all fishing was pretty darn good…. It looked like this:
13 bags over 20 lbs.
53- 5 fish limits
4.63 lbs. separates Top 10
8.59 lbs. separates Top 30
5 of the Top 10 from ND
Greeted with a morning breeze with added a chill most pros were ampeted up in anticipation of the day as–wind on Sakakawea means the fish will bite! 48 degrees was official start temp winds gusting to 18 mph would dampen the amount of time anglers had to fish. High predicted in mid 70’s.
Rules for this event were 14” minimum with a 5 fish limit. No upgrading allowed, however anglers could have up to 8 walleyes in livewell. Once the 8th is in the livewell they are required to stop fishing.
10:30: First boat returns…Pro David Kolb, 33rd after day 1 but right in the middle of the Angler of the Year race. He grabs early lead with 36.42 lbs.
11:15: South Dakota Pro and NWT Champion Dan Stier comes in next with a huge bag – 25.22 to steal the lead – 44.76.
11:30: Pro Scott Geitgey returns next…Oh so close with 22.97–but falls short by a slim .14 total weight–44.62.
12:00: On-water camera crew sends update day 1 leader, Gary Hodge is struggling…
12:00: NWT office gets call from Pro Cody Northrop- he mentions…“I’m coming in, I have a good bag.”
12:20: Cody Northrop weighs in largest 5 fish limit of tournament 28.20—takes commanding lead with 50.91 lbs…After he takes the lead, speaking with Cody he is very calm, refusing to let the realistic possibility of winning enter his mind, for now it’s simply to wait for everyone else to return.
3:00: Final day weigh-in starts as scheduled and it is quickly apparent the todays fishing was even more impressive than previous. Lots of smiles with limits of fish and increased weights.
In talking tactics with pros on stage — Top 3 discussed in no particular order:
Dragging creek chubs
Casting glide baits
Pro’s continue to show off huge catch’s throughout weigh-in including great catch’s from Jaron Cox, started the day in 2nd, brings in 22.42 – and Josh Hietpas scores with 25.42 but still not enough to push Northop from the top spot.
3 largest limits Final Day:
28.20 Cody Northrop
26.84 Troy Morris
25.70 Dustin Kjelden
Final day of the event turned in some fantastic catch’s, it looked like this:
24 bags over 20 lbs.
57- 5 fish limits
10.15 lbs. separates Top 10
19.22 lbs. separates Top 30
Using the averages table created by John Balla here is how 2020 Sakakawea compares:
Avg 1st Place–48.74 2020 1st Place–50.91
Avg 10th Place—33.77 2020 10th Place—40.76
Avg 30th Place—23.45 2020 30th Place—31.69