A nervous, audible buzz hummed across the banquet room at The Rocky Bottom restaurant in Garrison, as a much smaller crowd of anglers than usual assembled for one of the biggest tournament meetings of their lives. Sitting in the parking lot, just steps away was a brand-new Skeeter ZX200, a boat that someone in the room would be driving away with in less than 24 hours.
Over $78,000 in cash and prizes had been assembled for this no entry fee championship tournament on Serpent Lake and all 25 anglers had fought hard for the opportunity just to be here. A stacked field surveyed each other nervously not knowing what to expect from this sleepy little lake nestled in the heart of the Iron Range.
You could not have hand picked better weather for the first day of September, a cool morning showing early signs of fall quickly transitioned to a late summer heat with just a slight breeze coming off the lake.
Anglers left the docks in order of their Angler of the Year standings meaning the Yeti himself Matt Thompson and his Macqueen Emergency wrapped Skeeter would lead the way to start the day.
It was rumored that schooling smallmouth would play a big role in the early morning success of certain anglers and that quickly came to fruition as Hunter Wendt and Kyle Schutta were amongst those whose bronze bite shot them to the top of the Reel LiveWell app. Reports were that Serpent was fishing small and anglers had concerns spots could dry up early in the day so getting a good start would be important if you wanted to give yourself the best possible chance to be in contention. Chad Grigsby was one of the only boats that focused on largemouth with success in the early morning along with Andy Nitchals who was also a frequent flyer near the top of the leaderboard.
Wendt held the lead for a fair majority of the first half and headed to the break, he maintained it by about two pounds over Grigsby and nine pounds over Noah Schultz who had sneakily slid into the top towards the end of the morning.
The fear of an afternoon slow down was warranted as anglers slowly grinded out every bite they could get squeezing out their spots for everything they were worth even just one extra pound could mean the difference in cashing a check and being on the outside looking in.
Matt Thompson hovered just outside the top ten most of the day knowing he had to finish 12th or better to secure his Angler of the Year victory and doing what he does best he landed a 4-pound, 4 ounce largemouth late in the afternoon that leapt him five spots just outside of the top five, all but securing his AOY campaign. He would finish 9th, with another YETI Big Bass Award and be crowned the 2022 Angler of the Year with Jim Moynagh just ten points behind.
As that race wrapped up, a familiar face raced to the top as Noah Schultz started to connect with some fish on docks as the rest of the field sat stagnant. He and Kevin Fassbind, both stuck it out shallow and snuck within striking range of Wendt whose pace had slowed considerably from his morning smallmouth smash. With less than 90 minutes to go Schultz would slip past Wendt and never look back, winning his third Skeeter Boat in just four years. This once Cinderella story has quickly become a consistent favorite, feared on the water and beloved off it.
With keys to a new ZX200 in his hands again, Schultz let out some emotion from what a stressful day for was so many. Wendt and Fassbind both offered up valiant efforts in attempts to beat the incumbent champion, but all fell short. It was Schultz who survived his toughest Champions Tour season yet and managed to thrive when it mattered most as he always does.
Another year on the Champions Tour has drawn to a close but we are already looking forward to the 2023 season and making it our best yet.
A heartfelt thank you to our sponsors, anglers, boat officials, and fans for all their support in making this tour one of the best in the Midwest.