Wendt Wins Okoboji, Holds Off a Surging Nelly!

It’s been touted as the biggest year in tour history and as the familiar crowd of veteran anglers filled the Dickinson County Fairgrounds to mingle with this year’s rookie class, you could start to see it take shape. 64 anglers, representing four different states anxiously awaited the words they’ve been waiting to hear all year. “Welcome to stop number one of the 2024 Champions Tour season.”

Lake Okoboji is a new territory for the Tour, and the first event of its kind for the state of Iowa. The lake is no stranger to bass anglers, or big fish, leaving a palpable buzz of excitement that lapped the shores of Emerson Bay Park like the waves from a stiff north breeze.

Practice had been one of mixed reports, with anglers citing the vast differences between East Okoboji and West Okoboji Lakes as a key factor in the tournament, knowing that they would have to fish both at some point in their day.

Anglers were given a choice at the meeting, they could pick which lake they would fish first, before going to the other lake in the afternoon. The weather was going to play a factor as the forecast called for gusting winds and variable clouds and sun meaning that choosing what lake anglers would start on was going to be even more important. Amazingly, even though anglers were not allowed to see or discuss what others chose the field was perfectly split with 32 starting west and 32 starting east.

Wendt Wins Okoboji, Holds Off A Surging Nelly!

National touring pro, and Champions Tour veteran, Jim Moynagh started off with the hot hand, fishing a transition area within sight of the takeoff, he used a bladed jig to rack up a quick 37 pounds of bass with an almost 3-pound average per fish. Aaron Teal was fishing on the complete opposite end of Okoboji in a small shallow area flipping a jig to keep up, while Dane Vocelka, of Vocelka Fishing Customs, found some moving water to eventually take the lead into the mid-day break with 50 pounds in the first half alone. He had plenty of company atop the Reel LiveWell App though as Tour newcomer Terry Vang found an impressive dock bite to stay on the heels of Vocelka, with Teal in third before the sides flipped.

The intensity only ramped up after the lunch break as the winds kicked up but so did the bite. The most noticeable of these bites being a 6-pound largemouth from Brian Bengston that would clear all others as YETI Big Bass of the event surpassing his own previous big bass of 5-8. Bengston would secure a top five finish on the day with an astounding average weight of 3 pounds, 6 ounces per fish caught. Aaron Teal continued a strong pace to his day managing to pick up where he left off in the first half and stay consistent on his way to a third place, nice payday, and great points towards the 2024 Champions Tour Championship event, which was announced the evening before, that it will be held on Lake Minnewaska in late August.

Wendt Wins Okoboji, Holds Off A Surging Nelly!

But as the day drew towards a conclusion it became clear this was two-man race to the finish as John “Nelly” Nelson and Hunter Wendt both put together legendary second half performances. Nelson, a Tour rookie had only three scoreable fish before the break but found a way to flip the script and catch 28 fish for over 80 pounds in the final four hours of competition. Nelson held the lead briefly in the waning minutes of competition, but no one was stopping Hunter Wendt who put his Elliot Performance Bass Rods to work in one small area and was able to boat over 60 pounds of bass from one weed edge to jump from 8th place at the break to the driver’s seat for his first ever Champions Tour victory and a $13,000 pay day.

Wendt Wins Okoboji, Holds Off A Surging Nelly!

Nelson’s second half performance did land him the Wenzel’s Farm Major Mover award while Wendt would secure both the Northland Fishing Tackle and Striker contingency bonuses.

The Champions Tour presented by Skeeter Boats keeps rolling with the Mille Lacs Pro-Am event that is presented by Dakota Lithium and Hosted by Minn Kota less than two weeks away and Gull Lake on the horizon, we have no doubt this is going to be the most exciting year in tour history.