Tournament walleye fishing, especially at the highest level, can be a fickle endeavor. Sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the windshield. Day two of the 2021 National Walleye Tour season opener, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, saw many of the day-one windshields quickly turn to bugs. Capitalizing on others’ inconsistency, Nitro pro Chase Parsons shot up the leaderboard and stole another major victory in South Dakota.
Ten years ago on Lake Oahe, the then 27-year-old Parsons revealed a new technique to the walleye world – aggressively trolling bass spinnerbaits through deep, flooded trees. It was an eye-opening victory, one of several “The Next Bite” TV crew has become famous for. This time, now downstream on Lake Francis Case, Parsons took nearly the opposite approach, yet achieved the same result.
After a mediocre prefish, Parsons and fellow Strike King pro Tommy Kemos decided to do something rare on the second to last day of practice – fish together. With time dwindling, they wanted to be thorough as they searched for one specific pattern.
“We basically just started looking for a shallow pitching bite,” said Parsons. “With side scan, we could see some packs of fish. We’re pretty confident in our pitching abilities, and most of the time when we’re pitching, we’re artificial guys. Tom threw an artificial, and I threw a fathead. Almost immediately I got a bite with the fathead. And then in the next 20 minutes, we caught five big ones on fatheads. All we did from then on was try and find similar spots.”
Parsons and Kemos were fishing 65 miles south of the takeoff location at Arrowwood Resort, just south of Snake Creek.
“We were targeting the backs of creeks. I’m talking the back, back, where it comes up and it’s just sand. In practice, we caught some prespawners, and during the tournament we caught some postspawners. I assume that they were going back there to spawn. The water was dirty, but you could see the fish plain as day on side scan. Some of the bays had catfish, pike and smallies, and some of the bays had mainly walleyes. They were just sitting way back in the warmer water in 2 to 8 feet. It’s fitting we took first and second because we figured it out together. We sort of did the opposite of everyone else, and it worked.”
This pattern didn’t produce numbers of fish. Parsons knew other competitors were catching in excess of 60 walleyes a day. During each of the two tournament days, Parsons had only three walleyes in his livewell at noon.
“The scary thing was that we weren’t getting numbers and our bite was dying. Going into the tournament, I was not worried about getting overs, but I knew it was possible to come in without a five-fish limit. Today, we only caught six fish.”
The program worked largely because Parsons didn’t have to get gas. His 20-foot Nitro holds 65 gallons, and his 300-horsepower Mercury Pro XS would burn roughly 50 gallons on the daily 130-mile round-trip trek.
“I was pitching 1/4-ounce Strike King crater-head jigs (chartreuse color). I would give the rod only small whiffs, not popping them. They were super lethargic. On only about 20 percent of the bites did you actually feel the tick. I think they were just chilling back there; they would just mouth it a lot of times.”
Parsons, who lives in Denmark, Wis., now owns two major victories – both of which came in South Dakota.
“This entire Missouri River system is special to me and to my dad. The style of fishing just fits my eye. You have to move around a lot and adjust. I’m confident out here, and when you’re confident, you just fish better. It’s funny. At Oahe, I was using probably the most aggressive technique possible. And this week, it was the polar opposite. Instead of finding them with down scan and fishing fast (Oahe), we found them with side scan and fished slow.”
Parsons went out this morning in fifth place thinking that 32 pounds or so had a chance at winning. He blanked on his first spot, blanked on his second spot, and hit the jackpot at spot No. 3.
“My first fish was the 7-pounder. Ninety percent of people wouldn’t have felt that bite, but I use Strike King braid and can feel the lightest of bites.”
Parsons then caught a 22-incher and a 17-incher. A two-hour dead period followed. He then caught a 21 1/2-incher, which he had to throw back. With 2 1/2 hours left to fish, he was still sitting on three, although two were overs.
“I knew it was really dying, but I also thought I could still fill my limit there. I ended up catching two more 17-inchers. Then I ran back up and hit a spot 10 miles from weigh-in. With 10 minutes to go, I caught an 18-incher trolling leadcore.”
His best five Friday weighed 15.72 pounds. Combined with his 15.96 from day one, Parsons finished with a cumulative weight of 31.70 pounds. For his second South Dakota victory, Parsons earned a Ranger 2080MS with a 250-horsepower outboard, $15,000 cash plus $2,327 in Anglers Advantage money for a total purse of $81,922.
“At Oahe, I was in by 10 a.m. every day. I knew I had that one won. This one I didn’t expect to win. I’ve had a rough last two or three years. This one lets me know in the back of my mind that I’m doing everything right. The best feeling of all is knowing I have my 7- and 9-year-old watching back home.”
Kemos catches four, retains second
Kemos, the 2014 Lucas Oil Angler of the Year, retained second place despite catching only four walleyes Friday. The Triton pro started his 2021 campaign with a bang – catching an over as his first official walleye of the new tournament season. Today he also started out hot with a 26-inch over.
Kemos’ best five on day one weighed 17.60 pounds, and today he managed 12.60. His two-day total was 30.20 which tied Drake Herd, but Kemos claimed the tiebreaker (heaviest single-day creel). Like Parsons, Kemos was around quality, not quantity. They each had their own rotation, but would ultimately finish in the same bay each afternoon.
Kemos was also pitching 1/4-ounce Strike King crater-head jigs (chartreuse) with fatheads. The jig, which he designed, allows the bait to stand perfectly on the bottom.
“The fish were basically belly to bottom and not real active. That hook standing up just kept the fathead up a little. It made it easier for them to track it down and hone in on it. The bigger fish wanted it real slow.”
The Triton pro was disappointed with his day-two execution. He landed four of the six fish he stuck, but he also missed a few bites.
“They bit weird today, but I just flat missed them. They would load up on the jig and then nothing, whiff. I also lost two perfect slot fish that were just out of net range. When I went to rebait, I had skin still on the hook. I think I was a little too amped up.
“Coming in I was just disgusted with myself. Then I realized Chase was going to win. The sting of losing those fish kind of went away when Chase won the tournament. He not only kicked my butt in the tournament, he also beat me prefishing from the back of my own boat. I guess he deserved to win.”
Herd good with third
Also finishing a pound and a half behind Parsons was Herd, the Alexandria, Minn., pro. Herd was sitting in 32nd place after day one with 13.38 pounds. Today, he too took advantage of a topsy-turvy leaderboard and rose all the way to third with 16.82 pounds, the biggest sack of the day. His total weight for the two-day tournament was 30.20 pounds.
“I’m super happy, especially to get off to a great start,” said the Lew’s pro. “Otter Tail Lake (host of the 2021 NWT Championship) is home to me, so obviously I want to qualify. We’re only one event into it, but I’m happy I got off to a good start. This gives me momentum going forward.”
This week Herd was dragging 1/8-ounce jigs (blue and white) with either fatheads or plastics. Herd, who owns and operates Renegade Outdoor Innovations, focused on the Crow River area, located 10 miles north of Arrowwood Resort.
“It was kind of a big inside corner. The females would pull up on the gravel spots, where it went from sand to gravel. I would just drift the jigs down with the current. I weighed mostly prespawners this week. I tried fishing south, but found those fish were spawned out. These fish were just a bit heavier.”
At 11:30 this morning, Herd’s unicorn 27-incher bit.
“That fish helped the nerves. We were done fishing at 1:45, and we couldn’t ask for a better day.”
Alverson fourth, Buddie fifth
Rounding out the top five are pros Steve Alverson and Ryan Buddie. Alverson, the Chester, S.D., angler, caught limits of 13.94 and 15.22 to finish the tournament fourth overall with a total weight of 29.16 pounds.
Buddie, the Lake Erie stick from Amherst, Ohio, managed limits of 15.64 and 13.29. He finished fifth with a two-day total of 28.93 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2021 NWT season opener on Lake Francis Case:
6th: Mike Defibaugh of Bellefontaine, Ohio, ten walleyes, 28.63
7th: Ryan Rieger of Bell Vernon, Penn., ten walleyes, 28.30
8th: Troy Lorensen of Oacoma, S.D., ten walleyes, 28.27
9th: Travis Sanger of Pukwana, S.D., ten walleyes, 28.03
10th: Brian Bashore of Sioux Falls, S.D., ten walleyes, 27.97
The NWT swings east for its second event of the 2021 season, held May 27-28 on Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay.