All it took was one trip upriver Saturday to the DePere Dam on the Fox River near Green Bay for Sam May and partner Matt Bootz to settle on the spot they’d fish, and it won them a cool $8,000 pot in the season’s first 2019 AIM Weekend Walleye Series tournament in Wisconsin, Sunday, April 7.
May, from Rhinelander, Wisc., and Bootz, from Wausau, Wisc., finished atop the 100-boat field just shy of nine pounds to fire the opening salvo in the march to the state championship and beyond, at the opening AIM tournament of the season. They earned $8,000 from AIM, and another $1,000 from Garmin for using its electronics.
“What a great start to the season,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director. “We had one minor glitch, a change in the take-off spot, but other than that, the top five teams each lifted 30 pounds or better. May and Bootz showed how it’s done, and again, our catch-record-release format proved its worth, as the fish our teams hooked are still in the river, ready to spawn.”
The winning team’s 40.62 pound catch came like most in the field experienced, by grinding out a bite here and there throughout the day. They boated only seven fish, but those five, averaging a paunchy eight pounds each, were all they needed, May said.
“We had four big ones from about nine to 7-1/2 pounds, and we had one around 5.9 pounds, fishing by the dam,” May said. “Nearly everybody else was in the river. It was either the river, the dam or the mouth, and we chose the dam.”
Their weapons of choice? Shad Raps and no. 7 Storm Smash Shads, banged on the bottom. “If you weren’t making contact with the bottom, you weren’t catching any fish,” May added.
May said he and Bootz plan to fish all remaining Wisconsin tournaments, and hope to be in contention in those, too, beginning with the next, April 28 on the Wolf River at Winneconne. Until Sunday, their highest finish was third last year on Lake Winnebago. “We’ve been doing it since AIM started. It’s a great format and we like the guys we fish with, too.”
One team that may be re-thinking its decision to fish one here and there instead of the whole Wisconsin series is the second-place winners, Noah Humfeld and retired pro Todd Grams, both of Cottage Grove, WI.
This was also Humfeld’s first top five AIM finish. He’s been fishing AIM “off and on” for the last five years. He said he convinced Grams to come out of retirement, and they went home $2,400 richer. They’re now thinking about adding at least the Marinette event on May 19.
“We did this one on a whim. I said, you know what, it’d be fun to fish a tournament with Todd. He was the one who got me into walleye fishing, so I thought, let’s see if the old guy still has it, so I broke him out of retirement,” Humfeld said.
They pre-fished Green Bay proper Friday, and quickly eliminated that water. “We went to see if we could find fish away from everyone else,” Humfeld said. “We looked around and couldn’t find anything worthwhile, so we knew we were going to fish the river, and our whole goal was to find something where people weren’t.” With 99 other boats doing the same, that proved to be a hard task, but they stumbled on a technique that brought them 31.67 pounds for the day.
“There were a couple of key things and we think we found out why later,” Humfeld added. “There were little troughs, very gradual and we noticed we consistently pulled fish out of those spots. The fish up shallower were more active. We ended up doing well driving along the channel break and using side-imaging sonar to look for schools.”
But it was still a tough bite, casting 1⁄4- to 1/8-ounce jigs with fathead minnows and not getting a hit until the afternoon when they jumped into the pack.
“We ended up catching a 15, then an 18, and the third fish was a 28. It was a total fluke,” Humfeld said. “We hadn’t practiced there, so we were able to grind out four in that spot and then went back to our pattern and decided ‘let’s just go grind and cast at the pods that we found. It seemed like we were following the same school upriver. When we stopped catching them, we’d cruise up and we’d start marking them again.”
The technique they used was counter to most jigging: they caught their fish bringing their jigs against the current. “I was using a 1⁄4-ounce, and Todd was using a 1/8-ounce, with a minnow, that was it, pretty simple. We just slowed way down and didn’t touch the trolling motor all day. We had the perfect drift, but we were casting downstream and bringing it back up. Going the other way we were just not getting bit. We had to be bringing them up current. It was pretty backwards. Giving that jig more hang time in the current I think made a big difference.”
In third, and winning $1,800 for boating 31.15 pounds were Nick Heelein, Genoa City, and Jason Mata, of Plainfiield, WI. Fourth place and winning $1,500 for 30.40 pounds went to Mike Feurig, DePere, and Tom Pfister, Meno Falls, WI. In fifth was Anthony Engelbert, Little Chute, and Dylan Peotter, Kaukauna, WI. They landed 30.20 pounds, good for $1,300.
The first events in Minnesota and North Dakota are both on May 12, at Hager City on the Mississippi River, and in New Town on Lake Sakakawea. For more information visit the AIM website at aimfishing.com or on Facebook.