A full Champions Tour field set out to claim the chain, a phenomenal fishery with rumors of potential record shattering weights abuzz at the pre-tournament meeting. As anglers idled into a pristine Moonlite Bay on Thursday morning there was a palpable excitement knowing this season has as much on the line as ever.
For the first time in tour history, the championship location was announced before the season started, and the competitors knew they were all aiming to be one of the 25 invited to fish Mille Lacs in September for a chance to win a brand new Skeeter Boat.
The morning started with a flurry, over 230 fish were caught, weighed, and released in the first two hours of the tournament. Matt Peters took an early lead by fishing inside weedlines off sand points but he wasn’t alone atop the Reel Livewell App leaderboard. Dock fishing specialist Arnold Helgerson has won previously on Whitefish while fishing a Champions Tour Open and the chain certainly plays to his strengths. He caught a 4 pound 1 ounce largemouth early in the morning that would prove to hold strong as big fish of the day throughout the tournament and earn him the YETI big bass award. That fish amongst a bevy of other had him feeling confident that he was in great position moving into the afternoon hoping high sun would only strengthen his dock fishing strategy. Jacob Novak, Kevin Fassbind, and Shane Raveling were also in contention for the top spot heading to break.
With the afternoon came the wind, and heading out from break after a deliciously prepared lunch from Moonlite Bay anglers optimistically made the trek to the west side of the lake where they felt the high sun and wind may turn on the fish frenzy we were expecting. And although fish were caught, the pace was slow and steady and competitors had to methodically pick their way through the leaderboard in one of the tightest overall tournaments we’ve ever witnessed on the tour. With less than 2 hours to go, first through fifth place was separated by just a pound and a half and tenth through seventeenth was separated by just three pounds.
The lead pinballed between some of the Champions Tour’s finest anglers. Jacob Novak briefly held the lead, he was overtaken by Kyle Schutta, who was passed by local favorite Dean Capra who went back and forth with Matt Peters all the way to the buzzer. With heavy boat traffic and slow no wake zones anglers had to precisely calculate their strategy to get back across the lake in time and that just didn’t leave enough room for anyone to catch Peters’ 61 pounds and 7 ounces of fish which sealed the deal on his third Champions Tour victory in the last four events and his fourth victory all time. Dean Capra, Kyle Schutta, Arnold Helgerson, and Jacob Novak rounded out a tight top five.
15 out of 50 anglers earned checks and there was a three-way tie for our Moolah awards which pay out to anglers with the largest three fish stringer of the tournament. After tie breakers, Arnold Helgerson took home first with a three fish big total of 9-13, second was Mike Ulik, and Zac Dostal third. Dostal also took home the Wenzel’s major mover award jumping nearly 20 places up the leaderboard in the second half of the day.
We could not have asked for a better place to start the 2021 season, and we cannot wait for what is to come with this incredible field of anglers. Lake Minnetonka is next up and currently holds the all-time Champions Tour weight record. Could it be broken again? We will find out on July 20th.