There was an air of uncertainty amongst anglers as they approached the lakeside tent at Fortune Bay Resort Casino before takeoff. Greeted by a brisk but clear morning that brought with it just a hint of early fall here in Northeast MN. Lake Vermilion had played her cards close to her chest throughout much of practice leaving anglers with more questions than answers. Most stayed optimistic knowing that it would only take finding one of the many large schools of smallmouth that Vermilion is famous for to propel them to the top.
Will Pappa led 37 boats out of Everetts Bay towards the East side of Big Bay and it took less than 3 minutes into the first half for Brad Leuthner to register the day’s first fish but things would not continue on a torrid pace. Anglers found themselves in a grind just to get bit with no clear early favorite taking control. Sport Smith, Shane Raveling, Jim Lindner, and Noah Schultz all bounced around the top of the leaderboard trading places throughout the half. Eventually Schultz took control, armed with a Jerkbait and Dropshot. Leading by as much as 8 pounds at one point in the latter part of the half, he targeted fish using his Humminbird 360 technology and was able to fish them vertically under his boat while watching the electronics. Raveling drug a jig and threw a one hook Alabama rig for his fish, and Sport Smith alternated between a finesse jig and a neko rig. Just 15 pounds, 11 ounces rounded out the top ten which meant just about every angler in the field was a few good fish from being right back in the game. Schultz led the pack with 28-12 at the break, but Brad Leuthner and Shane Raveling were just a one good fish behind.
The second half brought anglers further west and had many much more optimistic about their areas and the potential for big weights. It didn’t take long to see that potential come to life as Schultz and Leuthner made it a two horse race battling for the top spot more than 10 pounds ahead of the nearest competitor. As the two Champions Tour heavyweights ran away from the field an interesting race formed below them as 3rd-8th places were separated by less than 9 pounds with two hours remaining. Big fish were at a premium as Andy Walls found out when he caught a 4 pound, 9 ounce smallmouth that boosted him 4 spots from 11th to 7th. A quick flurry just after 2:00 pm gave Jim Moynagh nearly 10 pounds to close the gap and throw him into contention. The dock bite stayed strong for Leuthner who used a 2.75” brown/orange tube to steadily grow his lead over Schultz and Moynagh. Bob Perkins, Matt Stefan, Corey Brant, and Matt Peters were among those making the strongest second half pushes to find their way into check range.
As the final minutes ticked down Jim Moynagh made a run from 3rd quickly catching six pounds to draw within almost a pound and a half of Brad Leuthner. But it just wasn’t enough, Brad Leuthner was able to hold on and his final weight of 68-7 for 39 fish nets him $10,000 and his first Champions Tour victory. For Jim Moynagh, his 65-6 was good for his second, second place finish of the season. Third place went to Leech Lake champion Noah Schultz, and rounding out the top five were Austin Felix and Shane Raveling. Andy Walls was the angler to grab the last check in 14th place. Matt “Big Bass” Thompson grabbed his third Yeti Big Bass Award as a Champions Tour angler with a 5 pound, 4 ounce mega smallmouth. The DB33 Award, which is a $1,000 scholarship given to the boat marshal whose angler is the closest over 33 pounds was awarded to Griffin Markham from Wayzata. The Wenzel Farms major mover award for $250 went to Matt Stefan who increased his weight total over 24 pounds in the second half from his first half weight.
Three events in the book, just one remains for anglers who want to punch their ticket to the Champions Tour Championship in September. All roads run through Grand Rapids and Lake Pokegama. Although Vermilion didn’t show its best, those who persevered and adapted to changing conditions found themselves on top. In one of Minnesota’s most scenic regions, beauty surrounds the beast that 37 anglers attempted to tame this week. Stay tuned for updated AOY standings and more information on the Championship as we close out our regular season in just a few short weeks. For full results, photos, and other event information head to www.classicbass.com.