MARINETTE, Wis. – John Hoyer labels himself a multi-species angler. For over a decade, he’s been diligently working as a guide that puts clients on walleyes, bass, musky, and panfish all over the great state of Minnesota. Four years ago, Hoyer decided to step up to the pro ranks of the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, after two successful seasons as a co-angler. His No. 1 goal in fishing was to win a National Walleye Tour event. Today, he fulfilled that goal in dramatic fashion.
The old adage that nice guys finish last was refuted this week as Hoyer caught 10 Green Bay walleyes over two days that weighed 80.33 pounds. He weighed over 40 pounds on day one, despite only catching five fish. Today, he was done by 11:30 a.m. The pivotal moment occurred at 11:00, when Hoyer stuck a 10 1/2-pound brute. Fifteen minutes later his co-angler put an 8.8 in the livewell, which essentially replaced a 5-pounder. The end result was an amazingly consistent 38.96 sack.
“We were fishing warm-water slicks along rock-to-sand transitions,” said the Simms pro. “That was the key. Our entire team fished more secondary stuff. We were targeting fish that no one else was casting to.”
Hoyer would run anywhere from 35 to 40 miles north of Marinette along the west shoreline. These long stretches of rock-to-sand transition were located in 8 to 12 feet. He triggered bites with both lipless crankbaits and with a new paddletail swimbait from Berkley.
“Trolling is boring,” quipped Hoyer. “I threw the 3.3-inch Berkley PowerBait Power Swimmer on a 1/2-ounce jig and a DH custom-painted lipless crankbait (in purple gold tigre). I replaced the stock hooks with Berkley Fusion 19 hooks, and that is why I went 11 for 12 on bites. I used a 7-foot, 3-inch medium-fast Thorne Bros. custom rod. It’s literally the most sensitive rod money can buy.”
Hoyer fished these baits on 10-pound Berkley Fireline Ultra 8 Carrier with a 12-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader. The leader was tied to a snap, which Hoyer believed contributed to a more erratic fall.
“I learned about the Swimmer at the Sturgeon Bay Open. It’s a goby-pattern bait. I would real it slow enough where it’s just making contact with the bottom.”
With the lipless crankbait, Hoyer would rip it hard when the bite was strong and slowly pull the rod upwards when the bite was stingy. Of the 10 fish Hoyer weighed, eight came from the crankbait and two came from the swimbait.
“The other key was our Lowrance SideScan. The whole time we were moving, I was completely glued to my SideScan, looking at it five times per cast. I became drawn to areas where we could mark them on SideScan. When you get hard sand and rock edges, they stick out like a sore thumb. The more time I spent in those kinds of areas, the more advantage I had with my electronics. There were several times where we marked one and called our shot.”
For winning the second event of the 2019 season, Hoyer earned a Ranger 620FS with a 250-horsepower Evinrude outboard, $15,000 cash, and an additional $2,926 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total purse of $86,921.
“This has been my No. 1 goal in life. Dreams do come true. I don’t know if it will ever settle in.”
Okada up to second
Over the past five years, Joe Okada has nearly perfected the lipless crankbait pattern on Green Bay. The hero-or-zero strategy nearly burned him, but it also nearly brought him his first NWT win. Okada spent most of the day with just one fish in the boat. During the last 40 minutes, he caught three giants and lost a fourth that likely would have sealed the victory.
“Everyone else gave up on the area by noon or 1 p.m.” said Okada. “It was just me there. Then they decided to turn on. I didn’t feel anything change, but the weather got nasty on the last 10 miles of our ride in.”
Okada ran 25 miles north of Marinette and focused on small, isolated rock piles in 10 to 15 feet. He used a lipless crankbait that his wife painted in a goby pattern. Okada would cast the bait out as far as possible and make long, subtle strokes, while also continuing to contact the bottom.
“It’s so hard on your brain to make this bite work. You can’t take no for an answer when you commit to an area. If you get five bites, you can win, but you can also come in with nothing. There isn’t a school of fish. I never once saw multiple fish on a pile. It’s really not a pattern; it’s a patience game.”
Despite only catching four fish today, Okada still weighed 36.76 pounds. His two-day total was nine walleyes for 74.95 pounds. His second-place finish earned him $24,570.
“I never take a good finish for granted, even if it’s not the finish I really wanted. I like the challenges Green Bay presents every time we go. And it’s getting more and more challenging every time we go.
“The most important lesson from a tough, gamble tournament is to have patience and confidence. You have to have confidence that every cast is the cast, the kind of cast that changes the trajectory of the whole day. It’s not easy to stay engaged with that kind of a bite. I had a 6-hour dry spell today. When you’re going through that, you have to learn to refocus your brain.”
Wilson rallies to third
After winning the 2018 championship on Lake of the Woods, Max Wilson is proving he’s no flash in the pan. At the 2019 opener on Lake Winnebago, Wilson took seventh, and a giant sack of Green Bay gold propelled him to third today. His day-two weight of 41.69 was the heaviest stringer of the tournament. He finished with a cumulative total of 71.14 pounds.
“Today was awesome,” said the Triton-Mercury pro. “It went darn-near perfect.”
Wilson had two patterns working. One was targeting offshore rock humps, and the other was focusing on sand-to-rock transitions. The latter became the dominant pattern as Wilson caught 10 of his 11 keepers off transitions. This transition line was located about 20 miles north of Marinette.
“I had a 1/4-mile section where I was sitting in 13 to 15 feet and throwing up into 6 to 7 feet. I would work it down the break, and a lot of the bites came in 8 to 11 feet.”
Wilson said he used a variety of smaller lipless crankbaits. Some were stock colors, such as gold chrome, while one was a custom goby-pattern from Viper Custom Tackle. During practice, he noticed a big female spit up a goby while taking a ride in his livewell.
“A lot of our fish would pin the bait, just like how they eat gobies. The other key was water temperature. If it was warming, the fish were active. Two days of warmer weather really triggered that bite.”
For third place, Wilson earned $19,030.
“I feel fantastic. To win the championship was a lifelong dream come true, but I really wanted I prove that I’m consistent and that I’m diverse. I think these three events show my development as an angler. I’m ecstatic with it, and I’ve already started the work for Sault Ste Marie.”
Ell fourth, Gilman fifth
Rounding out the top five are pros Jacob Ell and Chris Gilman. Ell, the Bismarck, N.D., pro, finished fourth. After catching 28.51 pounds on day one, Ell improved to 36.47 today. His two-day total weight was 64.98.
Gilman, the 2013 NWT Championship winner, took fifth with a combined weight of 61.62 pounds. On day one, he boated 37.49 pounds, and today he managed 24.13. Gilman employed the Rippin’ Rap program on shallow rocks.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2019 National Walleye Tour event on Green Bay:
6th: Jason Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., 60.82
7th: Duane Hjelm of Pierre, S.D., 60.60
8th: Brett King of Hager City, Wis., 59.95
9th: Chase Parsons of Denmark, Wis., 59.85
10th: Daniel Woodke of Gillett, Wis., 59.04
Robinson claims co-angler title
Dillon Robinson took home top honors in the Co-angler Division with a total weight of 74.25 pounds. On day one, Robinson fished with Gilman, a fellow Minnesota angler, and the two caught a limit worth 37.49. Today he fished with Okada, and together they weighed four walleyes for 36.76.
Robinson, the Walnut Grove, Minn., native, earned $7,217 for his win.
The third event of the 2019 National Walleye Tour season is scheduled for July 25-26 in Sault Ste Marie, Mich.