In tournament fishing you come to expect the unexpected, and the second stop of the Champions Tour on Leech Lake proved once again that Mother Nature is always prepared to throw you a curveball. Practice conditions were wet and windy, and anglers were met tournament morning with a beautiful, fire red sunrise that quickly gave way to a growing storm system that engulfed half of the morning. Fishing their way through the torrential downpour, anglers were eventually rewarded with clear skies and the steamy summer day that was originally forecasted.
Leech is notorious for big fish in thick cover so flipping rods and frogs adorned the deck of most boats in the first half when they took to the west side of the lake. Anglers got off to a hot start as Aaron Daeges recorded a 1 pound, 5 ounce bass on his first cast with a swim jig and was on the Champions Tour Livewell Scoring App less than one minute into the day. Connor O’Connor and John Fairbanks both started strong and jockeyed for an early lead. They were quickly surpassed by a number of anglers including Will Pappa, and Champions Tour stage one winner John Figi. But by far, the most intriguing story of the first half was Noah Schultz who targeted small patches of reeds with mixed vegetation with a 3/8 ounce flipping jig. He cited that the size of the jig was key, as the slower fall seemed to trigger more bites for him. He flipped his way to 29 fish for 62 pounds, 3 ounces and a nearly 17 pound lead over Matt Peters. Schultz however was much less confident about what the second half would hold for him on the east side of the lake. Schultz and a handful of other Champions Tour anglers spent the majority of the first half in Sucker Bay, while Peters and Figi flipped around Minnesota Island and Steamboat Bay.
The second half offered our first taste of Leech Lake bronze as a few anglers moved offshore and searched for the growing population of Smallmouth that roam the vast reefs and rock. As the wind picked up and the heat of the day intensified Connor O’Connor and Matt Peters were amongst those who chased bronze but it became clear that it was Largemouth that would rule the day as Schultz’s concerns for his second half quickly dissipated and he proceeded to increase his lead over the field, at one point holding a nearly 33 pound lead at its largest. The Waseca native who qualified for last year’s Tour Championship through a pair of solid appearances in our Champions Tour Opens, including a high finish, secured his first ever Champions Tour victory and a check for $10,000 by catching nearly 96 pounds of Leech Lake bass. The win will also give Schultz valuable points towards being one of the top 30 anglers to make the Championship in September.
Figi and Peters spent the second half trading places in second and third but ultimately Figi followed up his win at Le Homme Dieu with a second place finish and he holds the lead in Angler of the Year points through two events. Bob Perkins made a serious push in the second half flipping heavy cover and came from outside of the top 10 to finish 5th. The race to round out the top 10 stayed tight until the very end as Levi Christianson edged out Will Pappa for ninth by just 5 ounces.
A late three pounder by Tadd Johnson jumped him three spots but he still landed just short of the money, Chad Keller earned the final check in 18th place by 8 ounces. The Wenzel’s Farm Major Mover Award was presented to Levi Christianson who increased his weight the most from the first half of the day to second, with a 15 pound increase and was awarded $250.
The Striker Brands Student Angler Award is presented to the boat official of the winning angler, congratulations to Noah Schultz’s boat official, Zachary Boelz who was awarded a Striker UPF shirt and hat for his efforts on the water.
Our DB33 Award is a $1,000 scholarship, awarded to the student boat official whose angler had the closest weight over 33 pounds. The award is sponsored by NHL Professional Hockey Player and Champions Tour Angler Dustin Byfuglien’s foundation which supports youth athletics across the country. Our second ever DB33 award winner was Noah Barth, whose angler John Fairbanks had a total weight of 33 pounds and 2 ounces.
Andy Walls took home the YETI Big Bass award with a giant 6 pound largemouth caught on a jig.
It’s one of the most unique bodies of water in the state, and it showed its’ best and worst sides for our anglers. It just wouldn’t be a trip to Leech Lake without, storms, wind, and some really big fish caught. The Champions Tour’s next stop will be on beautiful Lake Vermilion which is also known for its diverse habitat and plentiful bass populations, both Largemouth and Smallmouth.
The top ten anglers will be listed below, for the full results visit https://scoringapp.classicbass.com/LeaderBoard/284. To view photos and videos from the event head to our website www.classicbass.com.
First Place: Noah Schultz, Waseca, MN 95-13
Second Place: John Figi, Bloomington, MN 66-1
Third Place: Matt Peters, Waconia, MN 62-15
Fourth Place: Brad Leuthner, Victoria, MN 60-4
Fifth Place: Bob Perkins, Crosslake, MN 58-15
Sixth Place: Arnold Helgerson, Blaine, MN 51-14
Seventh Place: Dean Capra, Blaine, MN 51-9
Eighth Place: Connor O’Connor, Pequot Lakes, MN 49-1
Ninth Place: Levi Christianson, Sioux Falls, SD 46-10
Tenth Place: Will Pappa, Lonsdale, MN 46-5