SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – David Kolb has been fishing the Great Lakes as both a tournament pro and a charter captain for over two decades. He spends most of his time on Saginaw Bay, the Detroit River, and Lake Erie. But when the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, announced it would be holding a tournament on the Soo, Kolb couldn’t pass on the opportunity to compete in his home state of Michigan. It turned out to be a prudent decision as Kolb dominated the two-day tournament and claimed his second national win.
Kolb’s first victory came in 2003 on Lake Erie. Ironically, it was the first major tournament he ever entered. Sixteen years later he returned to the winner’s podium on walleye fishing’s biggest stage.
“I spent a week and a half prefishing; I worked really hard for this one,” said a reflective Kolb. “I’ve been in the hunt several times, so it’s nice to finish one off. Sometimes you wonder if you’re doing something wrong.”
Kolb’s extensive practice led him to a rocky shoreline in the Drummond Island area, located approximately 45 miles from takeoff. On Monday, Kolb caught a 27, a 29 1/2, and a 26 in short time. He knew he discovered something special, but at the time he wasn’t sure it would hold up.
“I actually started the tournament on a jigging spot in the St. Joseph’s area. I was consistently getting 23 to 25 pounds there. I caught a few, but I ended up culling everything out at the big-fish spot. Today I pretty much spent the entire day in Drummond.”
The bite was not fast and furious this morning. At 11:30, Kolb only had one skinny 24-incher in his Ranger livewell. He debated a major move, but chose to stay largely because the bite tended to improve in the afternoon.
“That class of fish is really rare up here. I was fortunate to find it. And I was fortunate that they were active in the afternoon. I don’t understand why, but it was a later-in-the-day bite.”
The Grand Blanc, Mich., native would make 1/4-mile trolling passes through the area, which was 8 to 12 feet deep.
“My speed was 1.5 mph, but I was going into the current. These fish were sitting in the rocks and waiting for the current to wash the bait by. There were gobies there and other clouds of baitfish too.”
On day one, Kolb caught two casting a No. 7 Rapala Rippin’ Rap (Redfire crawdad). Today, all five of his fish came from trolling Reef Runner 600 Series Deep Little Rippers (Cheap sunglasses and Purple descent).
“There were big boulders, so I wanted the crankbaits just above the bottom. Today I ran four boards to one side because all my bites were coming on the inside.”
Kolb employed Off Shore Magnum planer boards with short leads, so the big ones wouldn’t bury the board. Interestingly, Kolb had his co-angler reel in the fish, while he coached, controlled the motor, and manned the net. His flurry came from noon to 1:10 as he put four giants in the box and improved from 4 pounds to 34 pounds. His two kickers, which were the last two fish of the day, were 29 1/2 and 28 inches. Officially, he weighed five walleyes for 34.07. Combined with his 30.97 from day one, Kolb’s cumulative total was 65.04 pounds.
“On these big fish, getting them in the boat is everything. Remember, we only had five bites. I have the co-angler do most of the reeling. I kill the kicker and use the trolling motor. I’m a firm believer that they can hear the kicker, and then they fight harder. Plus, there can be issues with prop wash. We put all five of our bites in the boat today.”
For winning the third event of the 2019 season, Kolb earned a Ranger 620FS with a 225-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 cash, and an additional $2,364 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $83,259.
“I really think the big lake was too cold,” concluded Kolb. “There are productive reefs out on Huron, but the water temperature was only 62 degrees. At Drummond, the water was 68, 69 or 70 degrees, and that made a big difference.”
Red-hot Hoyer retains second
John Hoyer has recently become one of the hottest names in professional walleye fishing. After winning the second event of the season on Green Bay, Hoyer finished runner-up this week at Sault Ste. Marie. The common denominator between the two events is casting. In Marinette, Hoyer employed mainly lipless crankbaits. This week, he used a new swimbait that was recently released at ICAST.
“I caught every one of my fish on the new Berkley PowerBait The Champ Swimmer,” said the Simms pro. “It’s a 4.6-inch paddletail with a high definition printed side. My best colors were black crappie, blueback herring, and yellow perch.”
Hoyer fished the new bait on a 1/2-ounce Fusion 19 swimbait jighead with a 6/0 hook.
“I was basically bass fishing in musky spots. I would cast into the thickest cabbage, snap the bait as hard as you can to clear the cabbage, and they’d bite it on the fall. I was letting it freefall as fast as it possible could, and they would absolutely inhale it.”
The Orono, Minn., native was fishing the north side of St. Joseph’s Island. He spent most of his practice trolling No. 9 Flicker Minnows in the same area. Ironically, Hoyer was initially dropping waypoints to avoid hitting the cabbage with his crankbaits.
“I found this pattern on Wednesday, the day before the tournament. I had one nip at my bait, so I threw back out there, ripped it through the cabbage and caught a 7-pounder. I spent the rest of my practice trying to find every strand of cabbage I could. Depending on the spot, it was between 8 and 16 feet of water. If it had rock, cabbage, and current, it was an A+++ spot.”
Hoyer caught six keepers on day one and 10 today. His best five Thursday weighed 24.50, and today they weighed 26.32. His two-day total was 50.82 pounds. His second-place finish earned him $22,809.
“It’s kind of like taking first in that it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I wasn’t on the same class of fish as Kolb; my fish were all so close to the same size, so second feels unbelievable.”
Sutton rallies to third
Illinois pro Bill Sutton demonstrated remarkable consistency and finished the tournament third with 41.54 pounds. On day one, Sutton sacked 21.26, and today he backed that up with 20.28.
“We were fishing a rock bar that sets up very similarly to a wing dam,” Sutton explained. “We were pitching jigs, the new Northland Gum-ball long-shank jig with a full night crawler.”
Sutton would work the base of the rock bar in 13 to 15 feet. He found the area in practice with his Lowrance SideScan.
“We were making a 30-mile run to the St. Joseph’s channel. The current set up a lot like a wing dam. Today the wind shifted and shut down some of the current, but I’m a grinder; I stayed there and grinded it out.”
Sutton attributed much of his success to his 7-foot medium action Okuma Dead Eye rods.
“These fish were native river fish. A 22-inch fish fights like a 30-incher in that river. And I’m not really much of a jig fisherman. I was out of my comfort zone, so those rods were a huge help. To take a top five against this caliber of fishermen, I’m happy with that.”
For third place, Sutton earned $16,936.
King fourth, McQuoid fifth
Rounding out the top five are proven sticks Brett King and Kevin McQuoid. King, the Hager City, Wis., river rat, finished fourth. After catching 23.09 pounds on day one, King slipped to 18.03 today. His two-day total weight was 41.52.
King was one of the risk takers making a treacherous 100-mile run south. On day one, he used a bass boat to arrive faster and maximize his fishing time. On day two, in more blustery conditions, he switched back to a more traditional walleye boat. After arriving, King would troll crankbaits.
King will leave Sault Ste. Marie as the official Angler of the Year leader. King also claimed last year’s AOY title and is looking to become the first back-to-back AOY.
McQuoid, the Bass Pro Shops pro, took fifth with a combined weight of 41.41 pounds. On day one, he boated 23.47 pounds, and today he managed 17.94. McQuoid was running 50 miles each way and trolling spinners with inline weights over humps.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2019 National Walleye Tour event at Sault Ste. Marie:
6th: Kent Andersen of Amery, Wis., 36.71
7th: Jason Doyon of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 35.64
8th: Michael Lenarduzzi of Sobieski, Wis., 35.26
9th: Eric Olson of Red Wing, Minn., 34.24
10th: Gary Parsons of Glidden, Wis., 33.21
Olson claims co-angler title
Robert Olson took home top honors in the Co-angler Division with a total weight of 49.41 pounds. On day one, Olson made the long run with King, and the two trolled a limit worth 23.09. Today he fished the cabbage with Hoyer, and together they weighed five walleyes for 26.32.
Olson, the Larsen, Wis., native, earned $7,085 for his win.
The fourth and final event of the 2019 National Walleye Tour season is the year-end championship, scheduled for Sept. 11-13 on Devils Lake in Devils Lake, N.D.