NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – At the conclusion of its seventh successful season, the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, unveiled an intriguing 2020 schedule, a slate that includes two stops on the Great Lakes and two visits to the Missouri River. Three regular-season tournaments precede the National Walleye Tour Championship, the sport’s premier event, held on North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea Sept. 9-11.
“I’m always excited, but this schedule is extra special,” said Simms pro John Hoyer, who finished first, second and first at the final three events of the 2019 season. “Overall, this is a big-fish schedule. We could see total-weight records; I’m talking across the board.”
The season commences April 30-May 1 in Chamberlain, S.D., on Lake Francis Case. The sprawling Missouri River impoundment covers 107 miles and encompasses 102,000 acres.
“Chamberlain is a new place for most of the field,” said Bass Pro Shops pro Gary Parsons, who finished 10th in the Angler of the Year standings. “The end of April is usually right after the spawn, and the fishing should be steady. If you go too early in April, it can be hit or miss. At the end of April, it should be really good. Historically, Flicker Shads have been fantastic as well as jigs with plastics and jigs with minnows. Overall, it’s a great piece of tournament water; it’s very diverse.”
“I think Chamberlain is the wildcard this year,” Hoyer offered. “Not a lot of us travel to the Missouri in the spring. Personally, I’m not much of a reservoir fisherman, so it’s a good challenge.”
Stop No. 2, which takes place May 28-29, takes the world’s best walleye anglers to Sandusky, Ohio, for an open-water shootout on Lake Erie, perhaps the best walleye fishery on the planet.
“The Erie tournament is the ultimate postspawn event,” said Hoyer. “The second everything turns postspawn in the western basin, the feeding gets crazy. The end of May will be a fun time to visit. That’s when a lot of people book their yearly trip. I might even have to troll for that one, but that will be the only one where I’m trolling.”
“May tends to be more stable on Erie, but the winning fish could be further east,” Parsons speculated. “Typically, some of the big females have slid east by that time of the year. There are always plenty of fish to be caught; we love to go there because of the big fish.”
Oconto, Wis., hosts the third tournament of the season July 23-24. Lake Michigan’s Green Bay is likewise renowned for its big fish and recently, for its versatility.
“That’s really when the biggest bags come,” said Hoyer, who claimed this year’s Green Bay event via casting. “It could take over 80 pounds to win again. There are so many different things going on. That time of year, Green Bay opens up so many options.”
“The rattlebait bite should be strong, and the Shiver bite might be starting if it’s a hot enough summer,” Parsons predicted. “Oconto at that time of year is a great location. You can go north or south. On any given year, either way could be the place. At times, it happens right at Oconto. By late July, everything in the system is firing. The fishing should be stellar.”
The season concludes Sept. 9-11 in Garrison, N.D. After consistently strong classes starting in 2011, Sakakawea, a giant 368,000-acre river impoundment. possesses a record abundance of walleyes.
“Sakakawea will be amazing,” concluded Hoyer. “That’s the one I’m looking forward to the most. It’s technically a reservoir, but it will fish more like a big lake at that point.
“It’s full of them. The fish are healthy up and down the system. Those 2011 year-class fish will be almost 25 inches. There’s a ton of smelt in the system, and those fish grow super fast. It could take 75 pounds to win the championship. It should be a casters heaven.”
“It’s the same (Missouri) river, but it’s a totally different animal,” Parsons explained. “Francis Case is narrow, while Sakakawea has huge wide areas. It fishes bigger than Oahe. At that time of year, the fish are mostly deep. The bite will be good, but the waves can be huge. There will be some pretty big bags. Figuring it all out is going to be a blast.”
April 30-May 1 – Lake Francis Case, Chamberlain, S.D.
May 28-29 – Lake Erie, Sandusky, Ohio
July 23-24 – Green Bay, Oconto, Wis.
Sept. 9-11 – Lake Sakakawea, Garrison, N.D.