After a record-setting National Walleye Tour opener, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, which saw Korey Sprengel shatter the largest margin of victory, the NWT returns to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Aug. 13-14 for the season’s second stop. Last year, the “Soo” was new water for most of the field. In addition to breathtaking natural scenery, the Soo offered diverse fishing and a healthy population of 5- and 6-pound walleyes.
At last year’s Soo event, Ranger pro David Kolb put on a clinic with a two-day total of 10 walleyes weighing 65 pounds. Kolb’s domination stood as the NWT’s largest margin of victory until Sprengel’s recent conquest.
“What I had last year, that was an exceptional weight,” said Kolb, the Rockford, Mich., native. “The big ones just happened to be concentrated like that. I found something special and amazingly had it all to myself. Typically, somewhere around 50 pounds is the mark to win on the Soo.”
Kolb caught most of his fish trolling crankbaits, but he started by casting lipless crankbaits. Either method could trigger strikes, but trolling proved to be more efficient.
“I think this year it’s 50-50 if it will be won trolling or casting. I’ll be bringing both with me.”
In last year’s event, both Canadian and U.S. waters were in play. This year, Canada is off-limits, not only for fishing, but also for navigation.
“The no-Canada rule is going to have an impact,” Kolb continued. “A good chunk of fishable water has been eliminated. Running the north channel to Lake George is out of bounds. A lot of the check weights last year came from Canada. It’s still such a big area, so it’s not going to be too bad. There are even spots in the river that you can do well. The salmon are coming up, so there might be an Atlantic Chinook mixed in.”
Hager City, Wis., pro Brett King made the risky decision last year to venture towards Saginaw Bay. Each morning, he would embark on 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 vessel.
“I’m not ruling the run out, but honestly, I’m less optimistic that it will work this year,” said King, who finished fourth by trolling crankbaits. “That’s typically shallower stuff. I don’t know that the fish will still be using those same haunts with the water temperature rising. Last year was an awesome experience, but I’m only bringing the walleye boat this year. Guys like me who’ve done this for a while, our bodies are beat up. I’ll take the Smooth Moves seat under my butt this year.”
Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops pro Kevin McQuoid made a 50-mile run each way last year en route to a fifth-place finish. McQuoid trolled spinners with inline weights over humps.
“I expect to troll again this year, but I definitely plan to prefish a number of different ways,” explained McQuoid. “The big thing about the Soo is that you can fish to your strength; it fishes both like a river and a lake. I personally like fishing more on the lake side of things. With this year being a few weeks later in the summer, they could be out on the main lake. I will definitely spend a day or two on Lake Huron itself.”
King agreed with McQuoid about the need to be adaptable and explore areas with an open mind.
“August is the time of year those fish like to be up in the river. The last time I fished the Soo in August, the deep channel edges were a big part of the puzzle. Obviously, I’ll be exploring that more. In general, there will be more opportunity to fish up near the Soo itself. That’s just their migration; they follow the bait. There could be a weed bite as well. The weeds are taller now than most of the field has ever seen.”
Kolb believes both bays, particularly Munuscong, will play. In addition, the power plant right in downtown Sault Ste. Marie could be productive.
“There’s still a wide range of spots,” he said. “And when you fish the river, the shipping barges are a variable that can actually help. Hold on to your hat when they come by, but then the walleyes bite afterwards. All the current stirs them up and gets them activated. One bait that I’m looking forward to trying is the No. 9 Scatter Rap Tail Dancer. When you troll it at 2 or 2.1 mph, it’s got a great kick that I believe is an attractant.”
“You can really fish to your strength on the Soo,” McQuoid added. “You can troll cranks, troll spinners, jig and cast plastics; all of those work. What I really like is we’re getting back to our roots. We’re not just running back old waypoints. We’re actually getting back to scouting and learning new areas.”
“With the new boundaries, I’m going to be spending considerable time studying maps, learning to navigate and how to maximize time,” King explained. “I really believe a big part of success in this event will be eliminating mental errors.”
To win the tournament, all three anglers agree it will take less than the 65 pounds Kolb caught last year. There’s also consensus that the middle of the leaderboard will be stronger.
“I would venture to guess 55 to 60 pounds will win it,” King offered. “I won’t be surprised to see 60. There are a lot of 5- and 6-pound fish in the system.”
“With this being the second year, I expect the average weights to actually go up a bit,” McQuoid concluded. “I don’t think 65 is going to happen again, but the guys that are coming up in check range, that number will be higher than last year. Overall, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s such a beautiful area. It’s a fun week spent.”
Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Eastern time from the Aune Osborn Boat Launch, located at 1225 Riverside Dr. in Sault Ste. Marie. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at the Aune Osborn Boat Launch, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each day with the winner in each division being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.
The National Walleye Tour consists of three regular-season events and a year-end championship. Each regular season event is a two-day, pro-am tournament and delivers over a 100 percent payback. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers.
Registration is ongoing for the Sault Ste. Marie event, but the deadline for guaranteed entry (by signing up with a pro or co-angler) has already passed. Registration can be taken over the phone at 501-794-2064 or online by visiting www.nationalwalleyetour.com/tournaments/register/. For more information on rules and tournament payouts, visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com.