A red sun rose over a rarely calm morning on the fabled Lake Mille Lacs. It seemed fitting in a way, that the storied cornerstone of Minnesota bass fishing history would play host to the birth of another significant milestone. Any way you looked at it the facts were simple, 25 of the best bass anglers in the Midwest were eight hours away from someone driving home with a brand-new Skeeter ZX200 bass boat.
Over $88,000 in cash and prizes were on the line as well as the coveted Angler of the Year title. The reality was there was no clear-cut leader of the pack. At least four or five anglers had a legitimate shot to make their mark and claim that trophy which made things even more intense in the days leading up to the event.
There was a soft murmur inside the still harbor of Eddy’s Resort, an anxious chuckle and a nervous joke between anglers and their boat marshals. There was only one day of practice, the lake was being stingy, few anglers had an air of confidence about them.
Going out in order of their points standings, Kyle Schutta led the field to the west side of the lake. It was well understood that as the day progressed the wind would pick up and conditions would become difficult even during the afternoon session on the east side which was going to be the “calm” portion of the lake if there ever was such a thing.
An early “who’s who” of the Champions Tour had some heavy hitters near the top of the leaderboard. It was going to be a day of quality over quantity with the average fish caught being over three pounds.
Shane Raveling, Matt Peters, and Noah Schultz all started strong, but Jason Howland shined brightest in the early morning hours. Alternating between a vibrating jig and wacky worm he found a mix of both smallmouth and largemouth in less than two feet of water and quickly put eight fish in the boat. As the morning waned so did his bite, but he managed to come to the break in second place. While Howland may have been the hare, Mark Courts was the tortoise and picked his way up the leaderboard with ten smallmouths for nearly 33 pounds and a halftime lead. Noah Schultz’s 5lb 5 oz led the early way for big bass but would be broken multiple times in the second half.
Increased wind and cloud cover with the threat of precipitation didn’t slow down the noon hour bite. Peters, Raveling, Leuthner, and Tim Schroeder all scored fish over four pounds quickly after lunch break as first half heroes Courts and Howland slipped down the leaderboard.
John Figi was arguably the story of the afternoon, with just two fish in the first half he surged to the top of the Reel LiveWell app leaderboard and found himself in a dogfight with 2019 Champion Noah Schultz for the lead.
Like a heavyweight title fight the Tour veterans traded blows with Schultz just out of reach with timely catches including a four-and-a-half-pound smallmouth that buried a treble hook from a Bagley B1 squarebill in his arm. Unphased, Schultz powered through, but a 5-7 giant followed by a key three pounder put Figi ahead by a slim margin with less than two hours to fish.
In a dramatic race to the finish Schultz swung a 3-12 and 5-0 in the boat nearly back-to-back to not only reclaim his lead but secure himself his second Championship victory on the Tour. The win also locked him in as the Angler of the Year, edging out Kyle Schutta and Matt Peters for a clean sweep of the event. Joe Carlson from Skeeter Boats handed him a set of keys to a new ZX200 powered by a 200 horsepower Yamaha SHO for the second time in his career. Surrounded by his family, Schultz, and his wife Jenna both got emotional when explaining what this victory meant to them.
John Figi, Dean Capra, Adam Rasmussen, and Mark Courts rounded off the top five.
Aaron Teal won the big bass award presented by YETI with a 5-pound, 11-ounce Mille Lacs monster. John Figi won the Wenzel’s Farm Major Mover award thanks to his strong second half performance.
Another Champions Tour season is in the books, and we are already looking forward to what 2022 brings as we continue to grow as a tour and a family. We want to thank all our anglers, sponsors, and staff for their hard work, dedication, and support.