by Brett Carlson
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – On the heels of a dramatic championship event, the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour announced its 2018 schedule, a diverse four-tournament slate that concludes with the year-end championship at Lake of the Woods, one of the most revered walleye factories in the world. Each 2018 pro-am event boasts national television coverage and a guaranteed payback of over 100 percent.
“I really like the new schedule,” said Minn Kota pro Dean Arnoldussen, the winner of the 2017 championship. “It’s a good mix of rivers and lakes and we’re hitting them at peak times. It’s also nice to be visiting new places. As a competitor, it’s great because it levels the playing field for everyone.”
The 2018 season commences May 10-11 in Red Wing, Minn., where anglers will probe the walleye-rich waters of pools 3, 4 and 5 of the Mississippi River. The upper stretches of the Mighty Miss are known for producing big walleyes, particularly in the spring.
“The timing for the opener is perfect,” said Ranger-Evinrude pro Bill Shimota, who guides on pools 3 and 4 and has won several major tournaments on the Mississippi. “It’s early enough where the big fish are still aggressive, but it’s late enough where it will spread the field out. Earlier in the year, Red Wing can be a boat race to the best spots. When you put the tournament in May, we won’t all stack up in Pool 4. Pool 3 will definitely be in play and so will (Lake) Pepin.”
Stop No. 2, June 14-15, takes the world’s best walleye anglers to Saginaw Bay in Bay City, Mich. The National Walleye Tour has never visited Saginaw Bay in its five-year existence. The timing, however, is perfect as Saginaw Bay’s walleye population is steadily on the rise.
“Saginaw Bay is a fishery that has definitely come back,” said Hydrowave pro Mark Courts, who won the 2008 PWT Championship on Saginaw Bay. “There will be lots of fish catches and numerous 4- and 5-pounders caught. Timing wise, those bigger fish are concentrated in the Inner Bay early in the year. I think we’ll be there early enough to capitalize. If the fish are in the Inner Bay, it’s going to be a shootout.
“I’ve got a lot of history on Saginaw Bay,” added Courts. “That’s where I met and proposed to my wife. It will be exciting to visit amid the resurgence. It has come back really strong.”
Devils Lake, N.D., hosts the third tournament of the season July 26-27. The vast 200,000-acre natural lake is renowned for its numbers and versatility.
“The timing means there should be both shallow and deep fish,” explained Shimota. “I think it will be won deep, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see big bags caught from casting the shoreline. Devils Lake is always changing and is always an interesting body of water. At Devils, you can catch fish doing just about anything.”
The season concludes Sept. 5-7 at Lake of the Woods, a glacial behemoth that encompasses over 307,000 acres in just Minnesota alone, not to mention the 40 miles of navigable Rainy River. Lake of the Woods is a fitting championship venue as it’s known as the Walleye Capital of the World.
“We’re ecstatic to host the National Walleye Tour,” said Lake of the Woods Executive Director of Tourism, Joe Henry. “When you put this quality of anglers on a proven walleye factory that holds strong numbers of trophy walleyes, it’s going to be a memorable week. Our early fall fishing is some of the best of the year. This will be an epic tournament.”
In early September, most anglers will target main-lake schools by rigging, bottom bouncing and trolling spinners. Both reefs and mud flats produce quality fish.
“Lake of the Woods is an amazing walleye fishery,” said Shimota. “There’s going to be major numbers and there will be fish over 28 inches caught too. The only issue is that the main lake can get rough when it blows.”
“Lake of the Woods has the potential to be an awesome tournament,” Courts offered. “But it also has the potential to beat us up pretty bad.”
“I’ve been walleye fishing all my life and I’ve never fished Lake of the Woods,” said Arnoldussen. “It’s a little nerve-wracking, but also exciting. I’ve done some research and I think it will be a pretty cool place for a championship.”
“You’re going to see a lot of people come out and fish next year,” concluded Courts. “These are such fun bodies of water. I don’t think we could have picked a better schedule.”
“I haven’t been this excited about a schedule in a long, long time,” added Shimota.
May 10-11 – Mississippi River, Red Wing, Minn.
June 14-15 – Saginaw Bay, Bay City, Mich.
July 26-27 – Devils Lake, Devils Lake. N.D.
Sept 5-7 – Lake of the Woods, Baudette, Minn.