The Champions Tour welcomed 51 anglers to Wabasha, MN this week for the first event of the 2022 season. In a field full of new talent, the wily Tour veterans stood amongst a sea of fresh faces. This is the second time the Champions Tour has visited the Mississippi River and those who have been here before know that it is unlike any other body of water in the state, or maybe even the country.
Anglers were allowed to pick which pool they wanted to fish, either four or five, knowing that if they chose to lock into Pool five, they were using up valuable tournament time in a format where you cannot afford to waste a second. Only one angler spent any time in Pool five with 50 boats staying in the confines of the sprawling Pool four and Lake Pepin. Conditions are much different this time around, anglers had to deal with rapidly dropping water, cottonwood blooms, and fish in all stages of their spawning cycles. This proved to make the bite much more difficult for the entire field.
Fortunately, the weather was more than fair for those looking to spend their time around the big waters of Lake Pepin and winds stayed light throughout the day. Luke Gillund made a true river rat style run into a small creek where he found a very willing school of smallmouth that helped him take an early lead.
The south end of Pepin was a busy place and as many as a dozen competitor boats were seen sharing an expansive flat and rip rap section which made it difficult for those anglers to pluck high numbers of fish in limited room to work. Smallmouth were the dominant target for most of the day, but especially the first half where anglers had to fish the Wisconsin side of the river only.
Gillund expressed his concern at the break saying he didn’t have any spots on the Minnesota side and would have to improvise to keep his lead. He would head into the halftime break leading the tournament with 36 pounds, 11 ounces but fail to catch a scoreable bass in the second half of the event. Tommy Parker, Chad Grigsby, Michael Walters, and Tyler Bahr were also amongst solid first half performances.
“Big Fish” Matt Thompson had the opposite sentiment of Gillund, his primary area was on the Minnesota side, and he felt like he could make a run in a tightly contested tournament where one nice fish had the potential to move five plus spots up the leaderboard. Thompson was one of the anglers who made the biggest charge towards the front, climbing as high as third place and providing pure entertainment the entire way.
Ron Mehr, a rookie to the Champions Tour and Jim Moynagh the consummate tournament professional found themselves in a battle at the top with the second-year young gun and ever cool, calm, and collected Tommy Parker. Parker methodically finesse fished his way down a rip rap stretch steadily picking off a fish here and there.
Mehr pulled in just behind him to fish a nearby marina and managed to take the lead from Parker for a moment with less than 30 minutes remaining. Moynagh fished primarily largemouth in the second half and had worked his way as far back into a backwater swamp as possible to slop fish. That bite waned towards the end of the day and left with a solid third place finish in his return to the tour.
Unphased, unbothered, uniquely poised Tommy Parker never showed a single sign of nerves of he boated a couple key bites to secure a less than one pound victory over Ron Mehr with a total weight of 51 pounds and 4 ounces. Tommy caught 32 scoreable bass, eight more than anyone in the field. At just 18 years old, he is a shining example of the young stars in the making on this tour and he firmly cemented himself as a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season.
The victory also secured Tommy a spot in the no entry fee Championship at the end of the season where 25 anglers will compete to win a brand-new Skeeter Boat and Yamaha Outboard.
Daniel Fabiano secured the tournament’s YETI Big Bass Award with a 4 lb 1 oz smallmouth and the Moolah Cash Cup award for biggest three fish of the tournament (10 lb 12 oz).
Eric Turkowski, who returned to the Champions Tour this season won the Wenzel’s Major Mover award by increasing his weight 24 lb 8 oz from the first half of the day to second half.
The weights weren’t high, but the intensity was as the Champions Tour kicks off its biggest season yet, and things will only get hotter when we head to Lake Vermilion in July.
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