Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats LLC.


Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122

Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)


A Great Finish To A Great Season As Heilman, Sandstrom Take AIM Mercury Marine North Dakota Championship


It was predicted that the fish in Lake Sakakawea may be a bit finicky because of local pressure, but that certainly wasn’t the case at the AIM Weekend Walleye Series Mercury Marine North Dakota Championship, where Jacob Heilman and partner Tim Sandstrom boated 61.45 pounds to cap a great NoDak season last Friday and Saturday, Aug. 24-25 out of Indian Hills Resort and Campground.

“Teams from NoDak, you deserve multiple pats on the back for your perseverance, sportsmanship and most of all, thanks for again showing us all the magnificent fishing resource you’ve got at every location we visited from late April to this past weekend,” said AIM National Tournament Director Denny Fox. “We’re already looking forward to and planning for next year, including the AWWS Warrior Boats National Championship Shootout at Bismarck-Mandan on the Missouri River.”

So also are Heilman and Sandstrom, both from Minot, who left Lake Sak with $5,000 and a berth at that championship for their efforts, which took pace not without a bit of tribulation.

They finished Day One in Heilman’s 2090 Warrior, when engine troubles (No, wasn’t a Merc!) forced them into a borrowed boat for Day Two, and they still pulled it off. In fact, topped their Day One weight of 28.07 pounds with a Day Two total of 33.38. And they did it all in the same spot, near Shell Island, which in high water is a big sunken island at the mouth of Van Hook Arm with some mighty fishy steep contours.

“The spot we were fishing, I’ve been fishing it the last month, and the fish have pretty much been in the same spot, anywhere you could mark some fallen cottonwoods and brush, that’s where the bigger fish were,” Heilman said.

“Pretty much all the good fish came off of here, right on top in 10 to 14 feet of water. They’d take it on the drop, when that 7/8-ounce was sinking they’d just twang it,” he said. Their weapon of choice? Jigging Raps pitched in to that brush.

“We lost a lot,” he added. Yeah, but, they won 5Gs. “You could catch some on the outside of them but if you pitched into them, you found bigger fish. We’d drive over them or anchor with our trolling motor and pitch back, give it 10 or 15 casts and if we didn’t get anything, slip back and try to find more.” Mornings were best, he said.

“The first one or two hours you had to get them, then there was a big lull from 10 to 1:30, it was really tough. We’d just drive around and try to mark a couple, then at 1:30 or 1:45 the second day they started to go on the chew again. That was a short period, only 20 or 25 minutes, then we had to leave, also because it was pretty rough.

“The first day, we didn’t get in on an afternoon bite. We hit some of our other spots. We left the area where everybody was fishing about noon. We caught a lot of fish Friday, 20 between 20 and 21 inches, and the second day, the first fish I busted off, and the second we put on the card was a 26-1/4, and maybe five minutes later it was a 25.

On Day Two, their smallest fish was 24-3/4 inches, and the biggest, a 26. “It’s been tough to get fish over 27 or 28 inches there. All the smelt have left the west end so there’s not much for bait, so the fish are up top chasing whatever they can,” Heilman said.

Heilman’s very familiar with the Missouri, so he’s already honing tactics for next year’s shootout at Bismarck-Mandan. “I fish the first eight- to 10 miles of river below the dam, but my partner Tim spends more time in Bismarck. I love fishing the river and fishing jigs,” he added.

He also credited AIM’s Catch-Record-Release™ format for saving the fish, and preserving the fishery everywhere AWWS landed this season, opposed to catch-and-kill events.

“The format is amazing,” he added. “Tim and I both rave about the format. We just try to tell people how great it is when you’re catching 25- to 28-inch fish and all those get to go back. All the fish we caught shallow last weekend, every one of them lived. It’s the best tournament around, for sure.”

Finishing second both at the championship and for North Dakota Team Of The Year are Matt Ristow, Bismarck, and Lenny Eubanks, Williston.

They piloted their Warrior 208 to a $3,500 check and a total of 60.77 pounds, fishing Rippin’ Raps, Jigging Raps and other similar lures targeting walleyes picking off schools of white bass they’d found west of the Indian Hills Resort launch site. Plus, they’re getting a little more for their bank accounts: Warrior Cash from Warrior for their efforts as they are both Warrior Owners.

“We fished away from everybody, and were by ourselves other than a couple of locals at the mouth of what they call The River,” Ristow said. “We were fishing deep breaks with rocks off shallows that dropped down to the old shoreline.”

Their key was finding those bait fish that most everyone thought had headed east.

Monday morning driving around we ran into a school of bait fish and we didn’t know what they were, but we could see big arcs underneath on our graph. We caught some three-inch white bass and I thought, I’ve got some Rippin’ Raps, and when we started with those we pulled out a 24-inch walleye. And if those little white bass were around, the walleyes were right in there with them,” he discovered.

“You could catch them with glide baits but as soon as it got to be 10 or 11 a.m. the Rippin’ Rap thing would get going as the fish would move down off the breaks,” he explained. “You’d see’em on the graph so you work that Rap and they’d fall past those fish. There were times when the bait would get hit one, two, three times and they’d miss it,” until they wouldn’t.

Ristow said he and Eubanks are proud of their second place in Team Of The Year standings. One of their secrets was that they liked different fishing techniques, and used that to their advantage.

“We fished all the tournaments and only had one bad day in Devils Lake and we got to throw that one out.  This is the first year Lenny and I fished together. We got together last fall and on a whim fished a tournament on western Sakakawea at the end of September. He likes to use live bait and I like to cast and we won it. He likes to also rig deep and I like to fish shallow. You bring those two together and it works well,” Ristow added.

He’s another one looking forward to next year’s Shootout in Bismarck-Mandan. After all, he IS from Bismarck.

“I spend a lot of time down there. Where we’re going for Nationals, that’s my boat ramp I like to use the most.” In other words, they’re locked and loaded already for next May. In other words, they could be an instant contender. But, so are the others.

Here’s how the rest of the top five did in the season’s wrap-up: In third, with 95.88 pounds, good for $2,500, were Matthew Liebel, Williston, and Tory Hill, Minot, who won North Dakota Yamaha Motor Corp. Team Of The Year honors (see a separate article on them coming soon) and a new 9.9 Yamaha four-stroke kicker.

In fourth, winning $1,500 with 59.42 pounds, Cody Northrop, South Heart, and Chris Johnson, Dickinson. Fifth place and $1,000 went to Tommy Miller, and Shawn Mertz, Bismarck, who boated 58.53 pounds, and who placed fourth for Team Of The Year.

Thanks to you, all competitors and Fan Nation, for a fantastic tournament season.  But, it’s not over till it’s over. Read how Team Of The Year winners in North Dakota did it, and other upcoming info at AIM’s Facebook site. For info on all AIM events, including how to register for next year that’ll be posted soon, go to

Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™) is a unique tournament organization created and owned by many of the most accomplished and recognizable professional walleye anglers, along with others who share the mission of advancing competitive walleye fishing and making it sustainable into the future. AIM is committed to marketing excellence on behalf of its tournament competitors, the tournament host communities, and the brands that partner with it. AIM is also committed to maintaining healthy fisheries across the nation by the development of the exclusive AIM Catch-Record-Release™ format which is integral to its dynamic events and unparalleled consumer engagement.

For more information about AIM™, AIM Pro Walleye Series™, AIM Weekend Walleye Series, AIM sponsors and AIM anglers, visit

AIM Presenting Sponsors: Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A. and Warrior Boats, LLC.

AIM Supporting Sponsors: Mercury Marine, Nitro Boats, Garmin, Navionics, Power Pole, Worldwide Marine Insurance, AirWave Pedestals, Off Shore Tackle, Vibrations Tackle, Pro Chattrr, Gemini Sport Marketing, Treeland Resort, Anglers Avenue, Moonshine Lures Shiver Minnow, JT Outdoors Products, Fox River Lures and Rods, Bismarck Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau

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