Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 8, 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 2
(Editor’s note: This is part four 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.)
Team Of The Year in the AIM Weekend Walleye Series. It’s an amazing achievement that shows tenacity, steadiness, forethought, knowledge, and that all-important time on the water. All those qualities brought the following five teams to qualify in the top rung of the 2021 Minnesota state series that gave them all an equal chance to gain another milestone: winner of the 2022 AIM National Championship Shootout.
“Qualifying for a chance to win an out-of-the-box new Warrior 1890 with a 150 Yamaha and Garmin electronics is an achievement that any team regardless of experience should be proud of,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director. “So far, none of the teams entered in the shootout have first-hand experience on the lake we’ve picked, Minnesota’s Lake Miltona. That’s fantastic. Everyone has an equal shot at that boat-motor-electronics combo worth more than $50,000.
“These teams showed they have the consistent ability to catch tournament-winning fish,” Fox said. “Regardless of the conditions, the water body, the pressure, they produced. How’d they earn the chance to fish for it all? Here they are in their own words.”
Will Pappenfus and Nick Cekalla will be prowling Miltona in their Mercury 400 Verado-powered boat with Garmin electronics in the mix. Like everyone entered so far, he’s never actually wet a line in Miltona—yet. But when practice officially opens, they’ll be there.
Pappenfus, who’s from Bemidji, and Cekalla, from Emily, finished second in Team Of The Year. Pappenfus reviewed last season.
“I started on Big Stone with a different partner and took a zero, and after that I was so mad I had to come back and do a lot better, and dang near got Team Of The Year after putting a little more focus into it,” Pappenfus said.
“I’d say focus is a good thing but it’s also just about going fishing. If you go have fun it’s a lot easier than to try and force it,” he advised. For example, he said, they got on the water late at Mille Lacs, after all other boats had left. That took the pressure off, so they decided to go have fun, and they did well.
“And at the St. Louis River (at Duluth), we had one spot and decided we’d just relax and have fun and good things will happen,” he said. They did, it did. They finished fourth. They racked up TOY points from there on. And he advises anyone to give AIM a cast.
“I’d say just do it. All of us are just having fun fishing. Teams can have all the experience they want, and they’ve still got to get those five fish. Just focus on yourself and good things will happen.
He’s also looking forward to letting those good things happen on Miltona this June. “It’s got a lot of weed line, and it will fish like Lake Bemidji, Cass and Leech. It’s going to be the same, so we’ll see what happens. I’ve not been on it so it’s going to be interesting. For someone who hasn’t ever fished like that, gin clear water down to 20 feet, it’s going to be really interesting,” Pappenfus added. “You may have to fish a whole lot different than any other lake.” But, remember, just have fun.
Andy Gustafson from Marengo, WI, and partner Kyle Williamson of Drummond, WI, earned their way to the Shootout by competing in Minnesota’s qualifiers, finishing third in Team Of The Year. They’ll be running Garmin LiveScope.
“You always plan to win it all. This is our third year in AIM and each year we steadily improved, so our goal in 2021 was to be in the top five. We had a home water tournament on Lake Superior we knew we could do well in. We took second and that really helped.” Gustafson said. “We started on Big Stone and we’d never been there and the first day we never caught a walleye. It was a major learning curve.
After better finishes on Mille Lacs and not-so better at Leech, they did well enough at Duluth.
“The whole thing about fishing tournaments is, if you want to try, breaking a lake down is the challenge. Where are fish going to be? Everyone starts with research but for me I take my experience and say, if I was fishing at home, in a clear lake in June, this is what I’m going to be doing.
“Where do rock and sand meet? I map out those areas and contour studies and start in those areas and apply what you already know. Sometimes we anglers like to make it too complicated,” he added. “Do what you know and apply what you know regardless if you’ve never been there.”
Gustafson “absolutely” recommends jumping into AIM. “I fish a few other tournaments and I just love AIM. It’s very well run, very well organized. I love that it’s not a livewell (keep fish) tournament. I don’t think I’ll ever fish a livewell tournament again. I love the fact that we’re throwing fish back and you can catch them tomorrow or a week from now. I eat fish and have no problem with people keeping fish. We’ve actually caught the same fish twice, five minutes later, on a Mississippi tournament one time. That’s the beauty of this. The fish is still there. I would recommend this and I have. It’s pretty cool.”
Jason Betzler of Princeton, MN, and his partner Mike Christensen of Minneapolis, KS continue the string of AIM anglers who’ve never been on Lake Miltona, and Betzler says that’s what will make the Shootout fun and challenging.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Betzler says. “Just like any body of water we’re doing our homework before we get there and hopefully going in having lots of confidence in finding fish. I like it (the location). It just makes it an even playing field. It’s going to be whomever finds the best fish and puts that program together.”
The pair has been fishing AIM three years. Betzler calls himself a “fishing junkie” and loves the waters AIM visits.
“I like the different waters. It’s a one-day tournament and some of the other trails get where they’re habitually on the same lakes and you can get wise to the seasonal patterns and use that to your advantage,” he said. “Everybody involved has a really good work ethic towards fishing. I don’t think there’s a slouch amongst us,” he said.
Doing well, he said, is part mental. “Trying to find the right fish and staying consistent, and being in competitive mode every tournament, that’s big. Having confidence in your skills. You pick the presentation you’re good at, just like any sport,” he said.
Another all-Garmin team that will be at Miltona come June is Chris Berglund of Grand Rapids, MN, and Scott MacKenzie of Big Lake. They’ll be running 250 Yamaha power. And, they’ve also never been on the lake.
“I’ve had friends who’ve fished it and will rely on them. It sounds like it fishes like most Minnesota lakes,’ Berglund said. “It’s going to be clear so it will be a finesse bite. It’s going to be a little more detail oriented. You’ll have to put in your time and really focus on what you’re doing.”
So far, he said, that means looking at lake maps, phone calls and plotting a likely attack. “We really don’t use outside sources much,” he said. At the qualifiers last year, they were part of a three-boat team. Separate and then make a plan was the rule.
“At Big Stone the last day of pre-fish we stumbled on something that ended up giving us fourth place. And on Mille Lacs, we stumbled on a spot that gave us second. After that we fell off a little,” Berglund said. The last event on Superior, he added, showed the need for attention to detail, and they got lucky, finishing sixth.
“We’re lucky to be here. This was my third year with AIM. I like that events are close to home. A guy who works five days a week can still go out and not get completely walloped. It’s a fun way to get away from the house for the weekend. Our goal was to try to make the Shootout and we’re very fortunate to be there.”
“AIM is a serious series but you can bring your daughter, son, husband, whomever you want. Everybody’s good. You can walk into a restaurant and see teams you’ll compete against the next day and sit down with them. It’s that kind of circuit. My little sister may even jump into the boat with me this year,” Berglund said.
Jeff Broking and brother Joe are both from Grand Rapids and are another example of the teams you’ll meet at an AIM tournament. Last season was their first full year.
“We truly said we would just go out and have fun and let the chips fall, and it worked out,” Jeff said. “Joe’s been fishing forever. I got hooked with him and we wanted to get into more tournaments, and AIM benefits us. The Sunday format and C-R-R (AIM’s exclusive Catch-Record-Release™ format), we like that part of it. Taking pictures and putting those beautiful fish back in the water and the Sundays are big for us.
“The entry fees are right. It’s a very friendly group of people and everything is great about AIM for us. It works out really good,” he continued.
And like the other teams, they’ve already been doing their homework for the Shootout. “It’s a very structured lake like our home lake. We feel we have a little bit of an advantage. We’ve changed our game a lot, pitching plastics and live bait and everything in between. But no one has an advantage at Miltona. That’s pretty cool,” he said.
You read it here, Teams and Fan Nation. Miltona is a mystery to everyone entered so far, and that’s how it should be. It’s also evident that even teams with limited experience fishing walleye or fishing tournaments can make it all the way to the championship. That’s the beauty of AIM, and like the other teams who’ve jumped in, once you give one or two tourneys a try, you’ll know it’s the right choice. 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.
AIM Presenting Sponsors: Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A. and Warrior Boats inc.
AIM Supporting Sponsors: Mercury Marine, Garmin, Navionics, Power Pole, Worldwide Marine Insurance, AirWave Pedestals, Off Shore Tackle, Gemini Sport Marketing, Moonshine Lures Shiver Minnow, JT Outdoors Products, McQuoids Inn, Marinette, WI, Explore Alexandria, Rosemore Outdoor Gear