To say Brent Knutson and his fiancée, Shawna Erdmann, experienced a full range of emotions during the Minnesota Tournament Trail (MTT) Championship, held on renown walleye sweet spot Lake of the Woods, would be an understatement. In the span of the two-day event the couple were absolutely elated after pulling a huge limit of walleyes on Day 1, worried as they raced an electrical storm home early, exhausted by six-foot seas as they pushed 22 miles to their honey hole on Day 2, and sullen as they struggled to grind out a smaller limit to finish out the tourney. In the end, however, it was feelings of elation and triumph that reigned supreme when the pair realized their total had stood the test. The championship was theirs.
“I can’t even express how good this feels,” says Knutson, 47, from Bemidji, Minnesota, following the victory. “We really earned this one. We had a game plan and we stuck with it despite the weather hiccups, a slower bite on Day 2, and challenging conditions from start to finish. To win against the level of competition at this event is especially satisfying. There were so many great teams on the water here, and many of them worked together to find and figure out the fish, which made it even harder to win since so much information was being passed around. This one really means a lot.”
To be certain, Knutson and Erdmann got off to a fabulous start, decking some really solid fish before the weather turned nasty. Working in tandem with friends Heather North and John Dickelman, another engaged tournament team, to find the fish during practice, they managed to locate a solid set of walleye staging over 32-foot depths 22 to 28 miles from their launch ramp. Both teams immediately hooked up in the area and, when Knutson drilled a 33-inch trophy-class fish on a Northland Rumble Shiner, they decided to let the area rest until the contest got underway.
“When we hit that spot on Day 1,” says Knutson, “it was fish on! The water was choppy heading out but we quickly managed to fill our five-fish daily limit with a 31.75” beast, a 30.25” trophy, and three more in the 27-to-28” class. We also dropped a couple big fish, so we were really excited about our prospects when some heavy weather suddenly moved in and made things dicey.”
“It was around 2 p.m. when I picked up a fishing rod and felt some static electricity in the stick,” reveals Erdmann, 44, also from Bemidji. “I immediately dropped the rod and said it was time to go! We cut out of there just ahead of the real craziness. That storm came up so quickly that it caught a lot of people off guard. We’re glad everyone is okay.”
Back safely at the dock, Team Knutson/Erdmann found themselves in second place with a limit of 43.7 pounds, trailing only their friends North and Dickelman who racked-up a whopping 44.2 pounds of walleye. Setting out on Day 2, the couple remained hopeful, but were greeted by 30-mph winds from the west and five-to-six-foot waves. “It really was nasty, but we have a 20’ Vexus DVX with a 300 hp Mercury Pro XS outboard. That rig really handles the weather, and we consistently score well when things get rough, so we just took it slow and steady heading back out,” relates Erdmann. “It took two hours to reach our spot, but we figured it would be worth the ride since few boats could handle the open water that offered the best big-fish prospects.”
While Knutson and Erdmann were excited to get started on Day 2, the fish proved more reluctant to strike. “It was a lot harder to get bit,” says Knutson, “but we kept grinding and managed to pull a pair of 28” fish, a 27”, and two at 26”. We didn’t think that would be enough to win and were hoping to scratch out at least a fifth-place finish as we headed home somewhat disappointed. Back on shore, though, we heard that a lot of people never left the launch, some got shut out, and others managed only a few smaller fish after having big limits on Day 1. When they told us we took first by nearly 10 pounds we were absolutely thrilled – and our friends Heather and John managed to hold on for fourth place, making it really sweet for all of us.”
Knutson and Erdman walked away with a two-day total walleye weight of 75.21 pounds, good for a Skeeter WX1910, Yamaha outboard, and trailer worth $55,000. Finishing second with 66.95 total pounds of catch-and-release walleye was Bob Nitti and Bryan Dunaiski, who earned a check for $9,000. Third place went to Luke and Neil Petrowske with 65.25 pounds of total weight. They received a check for $6,000. For the event, all fish were measured, photographed, recorded and released. Measurements were later converted to weights using an MTT-approved equation.
Both Knutson and Erdmann attributed much of their success to trolling Rumble Sticks, Rumble Shiners and Rumble Beasts on lead-core lines while constantly making adjustments to keep their crankbaits slightly above their quarry’s heads. “We were using the biggest and brightest lures we had aboard, mostly white, chartreuse and Wonder Bread patterns, because the water was especially dirty due to the heavy wind and rain,” notes Erdmann. “We kept switching up the colors, the trolling pattern and the order of the lures. We were trolling at 2.5 mph and looking for reaction bites. We felt we had to put something bright down into the dark for the fish to see it moving and those bright colors really stood out against the overcast skies.”
Knutson agreed that big, colorful, and Northland was the ultimate key. “That Rumble Series really dug in and tracked true despite all the slop,” he states. “Most crankbaits can’t work that fast but the Northland balsa plugs really did the job. We trolled through the troughs utilizing our trolling motor and trim tabs to keep our surges under control and speed as consistent as possible. The fish were at varied depths so we kept matching the graph to position our lines just above their heads. It was great to win this tournament using lures from a local manufacturer. Northland Tackle is based right here in Bemidji, Minnesota.”
Northland marketing coordinator, Kyle Waterman, couldn’t have been more pleased with the couple’s success. “We’re thrilled for Shawna and Brent. That was a hard-earned victory in a very competitive tournament with adverse weather conditions. We’re glad they included our Rumble Series balsa lures in their walleye arsenal. The Rumble Shiner and Rumble Stick are hand crafted using a special heat-compression molding process (HCM) that just about guarantees each lure has perfect action and tracks true right out of the box. That’s’ a big help when you fish in tough conditions.”
Erdmann and Knutson particularly enjoy fishing the MTT because the series requires less travel than most national tournament series yet still offers substantial payouts. “That means less time away from home and family while still facing super competition and competing for serious checks and prizes,” notes Knutson.
“It’s also the perfect venue for couples to compete together,” adds Erdmann, “and everyone is taken seriously. There are a lot of mixed teams on this trail and the camaraderie is terrific. All that matters is if you can pull your own weight when it comes to catching big fish. That’s one of the things I love most about the MTT.”