Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 15, 2022
Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122
Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)
AIMing For The Target: North Dakota’s 10 Best
Reveal Why They Are Championship-Bound, Part 1
(Editor’s note: This is part five 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.)
For North Dakota teams who earned a spot in the 2022 AIM Weekend Walleye Series National Championship Shootout, it’s about challenging themselves and each other, being consistent, but being willing to change it up when you must, and being willing to break on through that little voice that’s always saying, “I don’t think I can,” and changing it to “I know I can.”
“That simple leap in your thinking will not only do wonders for your confidence, it will also get you to that tipping point that changes minds,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director. “And that end game of bringing back a new Warrior 1890 with a 150 Yamaha and Garmin electronics ain’t too shabby either. North Dakota, time to step up and into the most economical lucrative walleye tournament series out there. We’d love to see every qualifier this year with a full field so you can take advantage of the chance at that $9,000 first place award, and potentially qualifying for 2023’s Shootout, and having a shot at the state championship.”
“The top five who took on that challenge have never been on Lake Miltona, the Shootout location. In fact, every team member entered in the contest will be new to the lake. That’s the way we planned it,” Fox said.
Justin Krieger and Rick Ellingson of Williston, ND, will be pushing off the dock in their 2090 Warrior tiller powered by a 150 Mercury four-stroke come June 3. Last year was their third full season with AIM.
They’ve won Team Of The Year twice and it’s their third appearance in the Shootout. They’ve gotten the exact same spot, 22nd, so, as Ellingson said, they’re consistent.
“We try to be consistent. We grind through spots. We don’t spot hop; we wait for the fish that are there to eat. We’re really patient,” Krieger said. “The fish will bite. You just have to be there.
“We’re live bait fishermen and we work a lot of points. If we see them on our graphs, we try to wait. We’ve caught them before pre-fishing so we just keep at it. Just because you go over them six times and they don’t bite, you go over it the seventh or eighth time and that could be the difference between winning the tournament and not,” he said. “When we won at Garrison in 2019, we didn’t catch a fish until 11 a.m., so we were on there for four hours going back and forth on a 40-yard run. They just wouldn’t bite, and in just two passes we won. It can be pretty remarkable how quick it happens.”
Miltona will be a challenge, but they’ll be ready. “It’s not like any other lake we’ve seen before, so you put the boat in the water and look around. You can look at a map all day but until you get the boat in the water and on that spot, you don’t know.”
For any NoDak team contemplating to give AIM a try, Krieger said to jump in. “Give it a shot. It’s the best format for a tournament there can be. There’s nothing better, you going to catch the fish and release it. It only takes two bites sometimes. Never give up.”
Brandon Van Dusen and Dalton Walsh of Minot are going to their third AIM season in their Mercury 300 Pro XS-powered platform. They finished third at last year’s championship to qualify for the Shootout.
“We just went out there. It was only our second season doing any sort of tournaments and we knew we might not have the skill set and electronics, but we knew we were willing to work hard,” Van Dusen said. “We spent as much time as possible on the water. We put 300 hours on the motor and we never gave up.”
That proved especially fruitful at the championship on Devils Lake, where, he said, they stumbled on a program, and into the fish. “Only a couple others were doing it and it all came together. We were in real shallow, in really hot water, almost 90, and in a ton of weeds. It was really going slow and I said, as soon as we get to that point, we’re leaving. We ended up tripling on that point,” he said. On Day Two, they trolled a stretch 200 yards long and never left it. The last 90 minutes, the fish dinner bell rang, and they scored three big upgrades.
What’s it look like for Miltona? “To be honest, there are some really good fishermen that do AIM consistently and the weights they put up are really impressive,” he said.
And, for teams wondering if they fit, they were the same way. “Before my decision it was, could I even hang with these guys. I think that could be some of the hesitation in North Dakota. But I’m real big on AIM. It really challenges you for being consistent and going on different bodies of water. Now I’ll have good confidence on Devils and the Missouri. I wouldn’t have done any of those if it wasn’t for AIM. Your overall fishing skills dramatically go up,” Van Dusen added.
For Lonnie Jacobs of Douglas and Mitch Lang (the Lang family being well-represented at the Shootout) of Turtle Lake, it’s been their goal to always get to the championship each season. This will be their fifth with AIM. They finished fourth in the championship, second in Team Of The Year.
“And being consistent (there’s that word again).” A guy doesn’t necessarily have to hit a home run. If you have all strong finishes, and I definitely believe we did that,” Jacobs said. “Whenever I fish any tournament, if I finish strong and make the top 10, I’m happy.”
And he had to find Lake Miltona on a map, as his first intro to where he’ll be competing.
“I know where it’s at. I hear it’s a live bait bite, which is right up our alley. Crawlers, leeches, or chubs, it doesn’t matter. We’ll do what we have to. And don’t let Mitch’s young age fool you. He’s always been intrigued with crank baits. I’m more of a live bait guy and together we do pretty well because we’re flexible. Last year on Petenwell we had to pull cranks. That’s not our strong suite, but we got a top 10 there. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said.
They’ll be getting on the water first thing, and he says they’ll figure out a lot of things in four days. “In North Dakota we’re used to using two rods, and in Minnesota it’s only one per person, but everybody can only use one rod so that’ll be a bit of an adjustment. But we’re looking forward to it. I was pretty disappointed that North Dakota was not in the rotation this time. We wished we were fishing at home,” Jacobs said.
But, AIM’s the place to be for North Dakota sticks to up their game. “They really should check it out. It’s the greatest format out of all the ones I fish. Anybody who is remotely on the bubble should check out the circuit. Denny (Denny Fox), the Catch-Record-Release™ format is what it’s all about. They promote releasing fish. It doesn’t get any better. It’s just a lot of fun. I just wish they could come to North Dakota for the championship,” he said.
Patience, Lonnie, patience.
Now to the other Lang family members: Bryan and partner Matt, who will be in their second full year of fishing AIM this season. They placed fifth in the 2021 state championship and will be occupying a Merc 350 Verado-powered boat on Miltona.
Bryan has been a tournament angler for years, and last year he asked his son Matt if he would want to try one. He picked AIM.
“I said it’s in a lot of waters we normally fished, so we decided to see how it would pan out,” Bryan Lang said. Turned out it panned out well, especially during the championship on Devils Lake, where he guides occasionally.
“I’d tell anyone it’s an awesome series, especially with its catch-release format. It’s probably one of the best I’ve fished in quite a while. The fish have a good survival rate and a lot who are fishing it are really good to work with. It’s a one-day event unless you go to the championship. You get out what you put into it,” he said. “If you’re looking for a tournament to just go have fun at, these are fun tournaments.”
Now, about Miltona. “We’re going to do some pre-fishing and get familiar with the water and where everything is at. We’re kind of a mixed bait boat. I like to pitch plastics, jigs and pull crank baits. My son’s a big crankbait puller and we’ll do some live-baiting if we need to,” he said.
So, what’s the message, Fan Nation? You’ve been hearing it over and over. Being consistent, having fun, again and again. There’s no magic formula. You can do it if you think you can. That applies to all you North Dakotans who maybe on the fence. Doing is what gets you the skills. And doing is what gets you to the championship. You can’t without doing. That’s the message.
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.
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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.
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