Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 1, 2022
Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122
Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)
AIMing For The Target: Minnesota’s 10 Best
Reveal Why They Are Championship-Bound, Part 1
(Editor’s note: This is part three of a six-part series looking at each state’s qualifying teams entered in the upcoming AIM National Championship Shootout, and how they got there.)
Want to see if you qualify for a starting spot in this year’s AIM Weekend Walleye Series, which, incidentally, begins in a few clicks more than 31 days? Ask the teams who’ve qualified for this year’s National Championship Shootout on Minnesota’s Lake Miltona. At the top of the list: the most important thing you can accomplish is time on the water. Number Two is, time on the water. And having fun during your time on the water.
“You just can’t beat seat-in-the-seat experience for any lake or river, but there also sure is plenty that translates between the water bodies that AIM visits throughout the season,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director.
“If you know the water or have practiced enough on it, you’ve won half the battle right there, and AIM is the place to get that saddle time,” Fox said. “Let the factors that are out of your control be. Concentrate on weather and seasonal patterns during your time on the water. Now let’s see what the home state teams of the National Championship Shootout have for advice for anyone thinking of jumping into the AIM pool. Some you may be surprised until you get what’s being said.”
Here’s what Tom Hyunh (pronounced “Win,” and for good reason) of Moorehead, MN, for instance, says about how important confidence is.
“As far as confidence goes, I don’t have any.” Wait, what? What the man said.
He explains, and you may want to listen, coming from Hyunh, who with Nate Wolske, of Boy River, MN, left bass fishing circuits behind and in 2020, pointed the bow of their Mercury 300 Pro XS-and Garmin LiveScope-equipped boat towards AIM. In 2021, the pair won both the AIM Minnesota state championship and Team Of The Year honors.
“We won at Leech lake in 2020, and went in there the same time of year in 2021, and pre-fished the same areas, and they were not even remotely close to our previous year spot, so I said, forget history; we had two days to figure it out, and we did,” Hyunh said. “I still have the jitters and just get as nervous as anybody else. We want to win. Bad. But I don’t ever go into a tournament thinking I’m going to win, ever.”
What Hyunh’s somewhat contrarian approach means is, start each tournament with a clean sheet of paper, because chances are what you found 12 months ago won’t be the same. Except for what the lake looks like of course. Find where the fish are now, not last year. And you do that by spending time on the water.
“We won the championship on Lake of the Woods by 35 pounds. I guess my secret, or tip, is, spend time on the water. Don’t fish history. That’s huge. Or, anybody else’s history. Fish a technique the way you want to fish and make it work. Don’t listen to dock talk.”
That, he said, applies to going into any lake. Including Lake Miltona, site of the Championship Shootout. And that means finding the lake on a map first, he said. “When we were notified it was Miltona, first I looked to see where it was,” Hyunh said. “All I did was look to see how the lake sets up for contours. Is it a deep lake, with drops or a lot of flats.”
The real homework will start maybe a week from the event, he said. “The lake itself is not going to change. I’m not going to all bait shops. I really don’t talk to guides because a guide will say ‘we caught a bunch over here.’ Their business is to catch numbers. Mine is to catch big ones. Then I’ll get on the water when official practice begins,” he said.
Having the right partner also is key, he said, and without Wolske, “there is no way that we would have had those results. Other competitors would idle by us and think I’m the only one fishing. Well, at Lake of the Woods we had six and seven-foot waves there, and to do what we did he had to be a master of boat control, and that’s huge. I have my strengths, he has his and without those, there is no way we could have done what we’ve done so far,” he added.
Huynh encourages anyone thinking of entering AIM, to jump in. Because like others, he and Wolske were right there in 2020.
“We were literally sitting by a campfire thinking, ‘there’s this team tournament for walleye, should we do it?’ He (Wolske) had never fished a tournament and I’d never fished a walleye tournament,” he recalled. “So if you’re thinking about doing a tournament, do it. Life’s too short.”
For Scott Burton, of Apple Valley, MN, and Travis Heffron, of Hudson, WI, it’s also all about partners, aboard their Mercury 350-powered, Garmin Ecomap Ultra-equipped boat. They qualified by finishing second at Lake of the Woods, fifth in Team Of The Year.
“Travis is a river fisherman and grew up on the St Croix, being from Hudson, and I grew up fishing mostly lakes, so when we fish together it works,” Burton said. Heffron agreed.
“We work together at Cabelas,” Heffon said. “We approached our boss with the schedule, and she immediately said, we’ll get it worked out for you guys.”
“From my perspective, we heard good things about AIM,” Burton added. “The payouts interested me and I felt there was a little more fair competition with AIM’s format. I like how they move the lakes around and felt there was a little less ‘cliqueiness’ and I felt that it would create more of a level playing field when you’re forced to fish lakes you don’t know.”
“I had never fished Big Stone for example, and Travis knew he could be strong there. On the other hand, we’d both never fished the St. Louis River, but thought it’d be a lot of fun, and a good opportunity to try something different,” Burton continued.
Miltona is also an unknown for both. “It’s exciting and makes us both a little nervous because we want to perform well. There are a few who may have inside info, but we’re going to give it our best,” Burton said. “We go out to have fun. We’re not in it to make money. Money’s a bonus. We’re in to learn had have a great time,” Burton said.
“You’ve got to stay focused and not be shaken. Fishing’s always got to be fun,” added Heffron.
Want to enter an AIM event? Do it, Burton added. “I don’t know why not. The entry fees are reasonable, the tournaments are one day and someone who doesn’t have a lot of time can compete if you put in a couple days of practice. It’s a pretty inexpensive way to get going. You can get away with prefishing a day or two and still be competitive.
“For anybody who wants to fish competitively, AIM provides that platform. I feel that the way Denny (Denny Fox) runs it, he ups the level of excitement. It’s professional, first-class in every way. I’ve fished a lot of events for a lot of years and haven’t seen this level of excitement at the semi-pro level,” Burton said.
Even though Michael Olson is from Thompson, North Dakota, he and partner Robert Wagner of Moorehead, fish the AIM Minnesota series in their Warrior 208 equipped or 2090 tiller, depending on the tournament, with Garmin LiveScope.
Last year, Olson said, is the first entire AIM season they fished. They finished third at the state championship, earning them a Shootout berth. And, like others from Minnesota, they’re unfamiliar with Lake Miltona.
“It’s definitely not on the radar, for sure, Olson said. But like any AIM season, they start exploring maps as soon as the lake was announced. “We’re trying to figure out what our game plan is.
He’s planning to prepare similar to other Minnesota waters. “It’s going to shape up like a lot of other Minnesota lakes. It’s got a little bit of everything. Everyone will be able to fish to their strengths,” he said.
Bob runs a tiller 2090 Warrior and I run a windshield Warrior 208. On the bigger lakes we were using my boat. It comes down to the super simple details to be successful. To what you’re packing in the boat. In the AIM tournaments most teams aren’t prefishing for a full week. You need to get every piece of information before you show up.
“With the AIM format it’s a great way to dip your feet in the water. AIM is made for the guy who has a full-time job and wants to compete. It’s a Sunday tournament. It allows you to go out on Friday for two days, and still pushes you to a level to make you compete. It makes an average angler a good angler and a good one very good. AIM does that nicely.
There is that catch-release format (Catch-Record-Release™). It’s not like others where you have to catch fish in the right order. For someone who’s done some local tournaments and wants to jump up, there is no better format,” Olson said.
Another team of Warrior warriors is Jeff Holz, of Dodge Center, MN, and Andy Hage of Mankato. They’ll also be in a Yamaha 200-powered and Garmin LiveScope-equipped 2090. They got here by taking 4th at the championship.
“Warrior’s an outstanding boat, with great people. They’re the best boat on the market as far as tiller boats go,” Holtz said.
“Our goal going in is always to win Team Of The Year,” Holz added. “I’ve probably fished more AIM events than any other angler. Every one since the start in 2015.
“This is the best circuit there is. The CRR (Catch-Record-Release™) is an outstanding format and it’s a fun way of fishing. I also love the competition. AIM has probably got the best anglers of any circuit. Everyone is capable of winning, so it’s a challenge because these guys are so good.
“You can be a first-time competitor or a seasoned one. There are all levels here. You don’t need the biggest boat and still have a chance of winning.
Holz and Hage are also in the dark when it comes to Lake Miltona. We’ve never been on it. I don’t know what to expect,” he said, but he’s planning for will be a typical post-spawn bite, meaning some pretty hungry guys and gales sniffing around live bait, rigged, slip-bobbered, or some other presentation.
A third warrior, another 2090, will be helmed by Daniel Baker from Detroit Lakes, with Shawn Lura of Hawley in the co-pilot seat. They’ll have Garmin Panoptix LiveScope aboard as well. They placed fifth at the state championship after fishing three of the four qualifiers in 2021.
“This is our sixth year of fishing AIM. We fished a lot of local tournaments and did pretty well and were just looking for a new challenge,” he said. After a year of rough rides in a smaller boat, they opted for a Warrior. He’s fished the Alexandria, MN chain of lakes, but never Miltona, and their approach will be dictated by the season. “It’ll be a lot like a post-spawn bite depending on the spring. That’ll be our game plan. It’ll be late enough that they won’t be in a negative mood.”
AIM’s C-R-R format is one of the main reasons they’ve been with it so long.
“You have a different mentality when you’re keeping your fish. AIM is the first to run with this format consistently and now, there aren’t a lot of tournaments we fish now where you’re putting fish in the well,” he added.
It’s a stepping stone. If you’re comfortable fishing small tournaments you’ll face a challenge, and when I’m cashing a check, I feel good.”
Teams and Fan Nation, the 2022 season is near. If you are thinking of jumping in, give one or two tourneys a try. As Tom Huynh said, life’s too short not to. Check out AIM’s Facebook page, then register at AIM’s website.
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 www.aimfishing.com.
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