It’s not too often a 40,000 acre body of water like Lake Vermilion wants to play nice, but when the stars align it can make for a special day on the water. 48 Champions Tour anglers were met Friday morning with with clear skies and a rare sight, flat calm conditions across the entire fishery. Anglers started on the east side of the lake, where smallmouth reign supreme. Early morning flurries of fish catches flooded the Reel LiveWell App and an initial top 10 started to separate themselves from the field, none of which had ever won a Champions Tour event. The second youngest angler on the tour, Jacob Novak, is no rookie to the Champions Tour and made a big impact early in the day jumping out to an early lead pitching docks and shallow rocky shorelines. Tony Hatten, Will Schutta, Jim Moynagh, and Jeff Bosshardt were among those that stayed close throughout the first half never letting Novak get comfortable.
While numbers of fish caught were staggering early on, Vermilion also showed its big fish potential when David Sicheneder set the bar high early with a 4 pound 10 ounce smallmouth which was eclipsed shortly after by the 5 time YETI big bass award winner, Matt Thompson who had a 5 pounder to vault him into contention as the half closed out. Kyle Schutta’s furious fishing and flurry of spot changes kept him on numbers and gave him a lead over Novak going into break with 51-1, over halfway to the century mark. But anglers knew the second half would prove to be more difficult as they moved to the west half of the lake.
The afternoon session put more largemouth water in play and the expectation we could see more green populate the Reel LiveWell app. A pair of Champions Tour veterans Connor O’Connor and Will Pappa surged in the afternoon hours, O’Connor, who had only recorded 4 fish in the first half charged up the leaderboard with 25 fish including a pair of 4 pound smallmouth and 5 more over 3 pounds. He finished in check range, jumping over 20 places from his first half standing to eighth place. He was the recipient of our Wenzel’s Farm Major Mover award. Will Pappa recorded 22 fish in his afternoon session to vault his way into the top 10. But the real battle began to unfold just below Kyle Schutta, who slowly widened his margin. FLW Pro Jim Moynagh, Jeff Bosshardt, and Jacob Novak began to trade blows seemingly simultaneously, in a battle for second place. Each angler took their time on top of the others until Matt Thompson dropped the bomb of the day with a 5-5 smallmouth that topped his own 5 pounder from earlier in the day for YETI big bass. That fish was accompanied by a pair of 4 pounders and a bevy of 3’s and he found himself just ounces away from Schutta who no longer had a comfortable lead.
As time ticked away, Schutta continued to fish feverishly, jumping from spot to spot waiting for 4:00 pm. As the dust settled, the rookie in his first event on the tour managed to cling to the top spot with a total of 40 fish for 76-13. He earned a check for $12,000 and left the first event of the season with a guaranteed spot fishing for a brand new fully rigged Skeeter Boat at the end of the season in the Tour Championship. “Big Fish” Matt Thompson finished runner-up for the second event in a row, dating back to last year’s Bay Lake championship. His 25 fish for 76-4 put him just 9 ounces from victory and gave him an incredible 3 pound average with YETI big bass two times over. Andy Nitchals strung together a very strong performance all day and snuck into third place just ahead of Jim Moynagh and Jacob Novak who rounded out the top five. Dean Capra received the final check of the event in 14th place with 49-1.
Fortune Bay is like a scene from a postcard, and Lake Vermilion is a true anglers paradise showing once again why it’s always a favorite of the Champions Tour. The stage is set for a great season with the Mississippi River up next. Head on over to the Reel LiveWell app or follow this link for the full results and more from Lake Vermilion.