Walleye pro Cody Northrop, of South Heart, N.D., weighed in a two-day total of 50.91 pounds to win the Cabela's/Bass Pro Shops National Walleye Tour fishing competition held Thursday, Sept. 10, and Friday, Sept. 11, on Lake Sakakawea out of Garrison, N.D.
Northrop’s first-place finish landed him a fully rigged Ranger boat with a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard, $15,000 in prize money and $3,003 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total of $82,598 in winnings.
Brad Heim, of Bismarck took home top honors in the co-angler division with a total weight of 46.73 pounds, which landed him $7,284 in total winnings. Co-anglers fish with a different pro each day, and Heim fished with Jason Votava of Minot on the first day and Dustin Kjelden of Brookings, S.D., on the final day.
The dock talk leading up to the Sakakawea tournament was that trolling lead-core line with Berkley Flicker Minnows was going to dominate. That all changed in practice, when Mother Nature threw a nasty cold front into the mix, complete with freezing temperatures and relentless winds. Instead of trolling, casting and jigging took over after the cold front, and Northrop was one of the first to adjust.
“The west end, from McKenzie Bay to New Town, that's my home water,” Northrop said. “My main spot was 60 miles from the ramp in the Van Hook Arm. It was a submerged island 5 miles north of Shell Village.”
On day one, Northrop fished the outside edges of the island in 35 feet of water. On the final day, a southeast wind pushed the bait up to 20 feet. When the day started, Northrop was not necessarily swinging for the fences.
“I've had three tourneys this year with good first days, and then I fell off the second day,” Northrop said. “I was just going to put weight in the box today. My first fish was an 18-incher, which I kept. Then I caught a 23- and 20-incher, both of which I kept. Then I drifted 40 or 50 feet down the island. That's when I hit the bait, and it went crazy. I’ve never seen that much bait in that area. It was thick from the top of the screen to the bottom. I saw that, and I knew it was going to be game on.
“My first two were 25 and 26 (inches) – almost back to back,” he said. “Then I caught a 26- and a 27-incher. Then I went through a few smaller ones, and at 10:30 we caught another 27, and we were done."
At that point, Northrop knew he wouldn’t go backwards in the standings, but he wasn’t sure he was going to win. Either way, his day was finished as anglers are permitted to keep eight walleyes and weigh their best five. Culling, or upgrading, was not permitted.
His official weight for his best five was 28.20 pounds, compared with 22.71 pounds on the first day.
Northrop's main bait was a No. 9 Rapala Jigging Rap, and custom greens and whites were the best colors. While he would vertically fish the Jigging Rap, he would dead stick a 4-to 6-inch creek chub on the bottom. Of his 10 weigh fish, eight came on the Jigging Rap, and two came on the chub.
“These fish are so full of smelt that it takes a big bait to get a reaction bite out of them,” Northrop said after his win. “The key to the win was just my knowledge of this lake. I’ve fished this spot numerous times before in tournaments. ... But in all my years, I've never seen it light up with bait like today.”
Rounding out the top five pro anglers and their two-day weight totals were:
Second: Jaran Cox, Manhattan, Kan., 46.22 pounds.
Third: Josh Hietpas, Kaukauna, Wis., 45.72 pounds.
Fourth: Dan Stier, Mina, S.D., 44.76 pounds.
Fifth: Scott Geitgey, Canton, Ohio, 44.62 pounds.
Rounding out the top five amateur co-anglers were:
Second: Jason Kiesow, Brillion, Wis., 46.26 pounds.
Third: Andy Leier, Shakopee, Minn., 44.14 pounds.
Fourth: Jason Smidt, Sioux Falls, S.D., 43.96 pounds.
Fifth: Doug Anderson, Stanley, N.D., 43.4 pounds.
The next stop for the NWT is the three-day championship set for Oct. 14-16 on Lake Erie at Huron, Ohio. More info: www.nationalwalleyetour.com.