NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL – Zachary Axtman, of Rugby, North Dakota, weighed a combined total of 27.40 pounds to win the National Walleye Tour Presented by Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops event at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, May 3. The angler won an upgraded fully rigged Ranger 620FS boat and trailer package for being Ranger Cup qualified with a 225-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 in prize money and $3,719 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total of $84,614 in winnings.
A record 166 boats commenced the 2019 National Walleye Tour season with unbridled optimism. That bliss, however, was short lived as Lake Winnebago, typically one of the premier fisheries in the Midwest, confounded the world’s best walleye anglers. Wet, cold, and dreary conditions put both the anglers and the fish in a funk. To adjust, a few astute pros went with the tried and true slip bobbering technique, including champion Zach Axtman.
Axtman, the second-year pro, refined his bobber skills on North Dakota’s Devils Lake, and those skills paid off in a big way. While some of the biggest sticks in the sport were struggling, Axtman finished early both days. On day one, he boxed his seventh keeper at 12:30 p.m., and on the final day he was back in Oshkosh by 11:30 a.m.
“I’m from North Dakota,” chortled the Ranger pro. “That’s just what we do when the bite gets tough. When the water starts to drop, that’s the first bite that gets going. I wanted to make sure I had the bait in front of them for the longest period of time possible. I tried trolling for three days, but I could not get a consistent bite going.”
Axtman caught everything off one rock pile on the northwest side of the main lake. The pile was located approximately 200 yards off the bank and served as a rest area for postspawners that were returning from the river. On top, which was covered in medium-sized rock and gravel, it was 5 1/2 feet, and the sides dropped off to 7 to 10 feet.
After experimenting with crawlers in practice, Axtman noticed one of his fish spitting up several leeches.
“When I realized that, the light bulb went off,” said Axtman. “They were stopping there and feeding on leeches after dumping out of the river. The spot just reloaded. The next school would just come in. It was a matter of waiting for the right-sized school to come through. The key was having enough confidence in the spot to sit there and go through the fish.”
Tim Euting (second), Randall Gaines (third) Thomas Larson (fourth), Jarrod Fredericks (fifth), Tom Keenan (sixth), Max Wilson (seventh), JR Carter (eighth), Jeremy Schreiner (ninth), and Kurt Grable (tenth) round out the top 10 pro-anglers.
Michael Bertrand claimed top honors in the Co-angler Division with a two-day total weight of 23.44 pounds. Fishing with Fredericks on day one, Bertrand boated 12.48 pounds. Friday, Bertrand was paired with Gaines and the two combined for 10.96. On both days, Bertrand caught most of his fish slip bobbering.
“I don’t know what to say; I’m just blown away,” said Bertrand, the Fergus, Ontario, native. “This has been a long time coming. Prefishing was tough. There were some days that definitely were not fun. This makes it all worth it.”
Bertrand will return to Ontario with a first-place purse of $6,000, plus another $1,425 in Anglers Advantage cash.
Doug Anderson (second), Zach Bradach (third), Eric Sherrill (fourth), Eric Nelson (fifth), Brad Johnson (sixth), Jeff Galde (seventh), Timothy Berg (eighth), Jim Mergen (ninth) and Owen Vandekolk (tenth) round out the top-10 co-anglers.
The next stop for the NWT is set for May 30-31 Marinette, Wisconsin.
For more details, anglers are encouraged to call 612-424-0708 or check out the website at www.nationalwalleyetour.com. From here, site visitors can learn more about the NWT, view the TV schedule and learn more about what’s in store for 2019.
National Walleye Tour events are made possible through the sponsorship and continued support of these well-respected brands: Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Ranger Boats, Evinrude, Mercury, Lucas Oil, Triton Boats, Power-Pole, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance, Valley Fashions, T-H Marine, Atlas, G-Juice, Powertex Group.
2019 NWT scheduled events:
May 30-31 – Marinette, Wis.
July 25-26 – Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
Championship – September 11-13 – Devils Lake, N.D.