Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 22, 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 2
(Editor’s note: This is the last 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.)
Well, Fan Nation and all AIM teams, we’re at the last of this series of stories explaining how the teams entered in the 2022 AIM Weekend Walleye Series National Championship Shootout got there. We hope you’ve picked up a few pointers, and learned that like every other team, these tie their lures on one knot at a time. Just like you do.
And, perhaps it convinced a few more out there to sign up for the 2022 season, which begins in only a few days on April 3 in Wisconsin. And, that you’ve seen a commonality to what these teams have said. The same things that got them here. That thread continues below.
“We at AIM try hard to provide both a place where you can get information here and allow our folks to tell you a story to you out there,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director.
“The tips you’ve read aren’t about ‘use this lure or that color jig.’ It’s all about being consistent, not necessarily how many times you’re a top five team to qualify for the Big Show. Being consistent, and learning about a body of water, using the tricks you’ve learned on others and applying it to a new water is a big part of what it takes,” he said.
“If you can do that and care about the resource, you are AIM, which is the most affordable lucrative walleye tournament series on the continent, especially now that fuel prices both at the dock and pump have taken a huge leap.
“AIM qualifiers are within three states, not dependent on the Interstate. Take a look again at what these teams who qualified with Team Of The Year (TOY) points, and by competing in our Quest For The Best series,” Fox said.
North Dakota’s Daren and Heide Schneider from Bismarck got to the finals in their Mercury 350 Verado-powered and Garmin-equipped boat by concentrating simply on getting those five fish.
“No matter what,” Daren Schneider said. Get those five on the card, and then improve on the size if you can. “I think we just went out with a mindset of doing whatever we could to have good points days. I don’t know if we had another specific strategy.” That worked to get them third in North Dakota TOY standings. That, and having Heide aboard, he said.
“We started off with a third place,” he added. “The second tournament we had another consistent (that word again) seventh or eighth. At Garrison we stumbled because Heide didn’t fish, then we went in and won at Parshall (On Lake Sakakawea).
“At that point we had a good handle on points, but Devils Lake is our nemesis and we stumbled,” but they still made it in.
“We say all the time, ‘I don’t care if I finish 20th.’ The points in AIM are based on how far in weight you’re behind the leader. So how you finish doesn’t matter as long as you can stay consistent,” he added.
The Schneiders have fished AIM four seasons and consider the Catch-Record-Release™ format among the top reasons they’re in it to win it. “My pitch is, if you care at all about conservation then AIM is a fabulous place to make your voice heard. You’re catching fish. It’s a quick process and those fish go right back in the water. The percent of those making it is far higher than any other tournament out there, period.
“People in AIM are more family based than any other and you also have a chance to compete on a national level for free in the championship. And maybe win a boat (that Warrior/Yamaha/Garmin combo) for free. To have that goal is excellent.
“Four years ago, Heide and I started and have sponsors now. My career has blossomed and a lot of it has to do with AIM and the people I’ve met in AIM. It’s a grassroots opportunity for you to pursue a career in the fishing industry,” Schneider said. “I’ve talked to different teams who’ve never fished AIM before and that’s what I told them.”
They’ve also never cast a line into Lake Miltona, site of the championship. “On any given Sunday anybody that can find that pod of fish can do well. We’d never fished Petenwell and we literally fished side by side with someone who lives on the lake and we beat them hands down. The fact that no one’s able to fish it until the Monday before, that’s big to me.”
Andy Skalicky and Jason Hallof are both from Minot. They’ll be running in a Mercury 300 Verado-powered boat, and like many other teams that made the championship, he says to just go have fun, echoing others in the hunt for the championship podium.
“At the end of it all, we just went fishing and putting our best foot forward. We ended up fourth in Team Of The Year. We just fished like we do any other time instead of getting over-anxious. It seems like when you’re over-anxious, you make the worst decisions.
“I don’t think there’s a better series than AIM. I think it’s the format that may scare some, but once you do it, I don’t think there’s a better one. I’ve got 20 spots on my card and you can go out and catch as many as you want. I don’t have to make any tough decisions about do I keep this or let it go. You don’t have to worry about the livewell. That’s not even a thing,” Skalicky said.
“This truly trains you to be a multi-angle angler. You’re in a river. In a reservoir. On a natural lake. I’ve never been on Lake Ashtabula (one stop on the 2022 qualifier tour), and I’m only two hours away from it, I love it.”
Skalicky predicts some big bags on Lake Miltona, a lake he’s also never seen. “I think everybody’s going to catch a bunch. There’s going to be a variety of fish caught and the trick will be keying in on walleyes and on the right walleye bite.”
Chris Scouten from Eckelson/Spiritwood will have Even Reimers of Wimbeldon, ND aboard in a Yamaha 250-powered boat. They finished fifth in TOY points, reaching their goal of qualifying.
“We try our best in tournaments, put some time in on the water and hope for the right bites. We had two fifths, a 12th and were 14th in the championship. We were consistent. It’s kinda what it takes,” Scouten said.
“Last year was our second year in AIM. It’s awesome. I like the catch-release format. It’s good for the fishery. It makes it easier. You just keep adding more onto your card,” he said.
Fishing Lake Miltona will be a definite learning experience, something AIM prides itself on. “I’ve never fished any lake that clear. Most of our lakes are not,” he said. “I’m pretty excited. It’ll be fun to go try some new water.”
When others double qualified, Kade Lynch and Tanner Ouellette, both from Mandan, suddenly found themselves with a golden ticket to Miltona. They’ll be there with their 250 Merc Pro XS and Garmin LiveScope in the electronics mix. It’s their first visit to the lake, and this year is their third season with AIM.
“From the minimal research we’ve done it reminds us of Audubon (Lake Audubon, connected to Lake Sakakawea, and sight of previous AIM qualifiers). It’s jam-packed with structure, and a lot of shallow water so it really excites us. Tanner and I like to consider ourselves river rats. We’ve run the Missouri River and we’re really fond of fishing shallow and casting shallow unless we’re pulling creek chubs,” Lynch said. “It gets me excited, with the deep water these fish have greater potential to grow to the sizes that all these anglers want to get, so hopefully we can find some 30s, and take this thing home.”
“In our first year we qualified and last year we did again. We wanted to take everything we’ve learned from our business (AquaTraction boat flooring) and everyone we’ve ever set foot in a boat with and wanted to use our electronics,” he said. He feels trusting his electronics helped them catch 95 to 97 percent of their fish last season. “It made us more consistent rather than run and gun, to really pick the spots apart rather than giving up on them,” he said. And, he’s predicting AIM will become even more popular because qualifiers are within each state.
“It’s the time we’re in now. Gas prices alone will change plans for a lot of anglers. Why not give a mini-circuit a chance, stay within state lines. Every angler who has a chance, but you’ve got to take the chance. Take that first step forward, and if you hate it, you hate it, but I have a strong believe you’re going to love it,” he said.
Lynch also touched on something never truer in tournament fishing. Like any sport, the “best” team may win this week, and not the next.
“It’s going to take the best anglers that week to win this. Our experience and knowledge goes to zero once we put our boats in the water. It’s (Lake Miltona) a clean slate. None of us has cast a jig or lure into this lake. That’s an interesting variable that’s not seen a lot in this day,” he said.
Jeremy Wentz of Washburn moved to Colorado, then returned to North Dakota, and will fish the championship with Don Radke of Williston. They entered all qualifiers last season, and this year they’ll be in a mercury-powered boat with Garmin aboard.
“We did our best, and here we are,” Wentz said. And, he’s also excited not only about the championship, but fishing new AIM water in North Dakota this season, Ashtabula.
I like that we’re doing a tournament there and get some other teams excited,” he added. He also is excited about having a championship on a lake no one entered has ever been on. “It’s a great surprise for everybody. It levels the playing field and I think that was a great move on AIM’s part.”
A lot of their success, Wentz attributes to teamwork. That, and the fun factor. “We get along great as partners. We agree on every decision, and we go out and have fun. We study a lot of maps and take our time finding out what their biting on, presentation speeds.
“We’re diligent in our approach and take into consideration the time of year and weather. What are the fish used to feeding on?”
They’ll be ready to go on Miltona when practice opens. “That’s our approach. We’re not big into talking to guides. They’re paid to catch fish. We’ll take our approach and find fish with our electronics and go from there,” he said.
“But a lot is going out and having fun. Are we serious? Yes. But at the end of the day we want to have fun. If you get beat, you get beat. And we like the AIM format, C-R-R. You’re not killing fish. They’re literally in the boat for 30 or 45 seconds and they’re back in the water. It’s nice to protect the resource that way.”
Brian Collins of Moose Lake, MN, and Mike Zimmerman of Sturgeon Lake, MN, qualified by winning the 2021 Quest For The Best tournament on Mille Lacs. They’ll be ripping up Miltona with Mercury 400 Verado power, with Garmin LiveScope in the mix.
They also fished the Minnesota qualifiers and fished with two top 10 placements. Collins had some advice about what it takes to enter AIM tournaments. Basically, what any angler aims for: catching fish.
“Does LiveScope help you fish, yes. Nice rods? Of course. But you still need a basic understanding of migration patterns and what to look for. You still have to have some skill. And that’s just to be a relatively productive angler. Tournament angling is about being in the right place at the right time. Part of it is working beforehand. But the cool thing about AIM is that anybody can be successful,” Collins said.
“It’s a weekend deal. Anybody can do it and with the C-R-R format to try to catch the five biggest fish, that sets it up for broad appeal. Whether you’re getting into it or in tournaments a long time, everybody can be successful,” he added.
“If you’ve got the itch, fishing is nothing but fishing, but fishing with a little bit of competition, you’re competing against others, and the fish.”
Okay. The stage is set. The players, you’ve met. Time to sharpen hooks. Check lines and knots. Change leaders, and plan not to fail. That’s the way to consistency. Then, like anyone else does, review where you’ll fish. What month will it be? Where do fish normally go that month? Deep? Shallow? In the green weeds to ambush what they eat? Then like any fishing trip, go out and have fun.
You know. It’s all there. You do it already. Only this time, it’s for either a check, or in the case of AIM’s National Championship Shootout, for a package worth $50Gs.
And, anyone can win…on any given Sunday. Even if you wear a plain fishing shirt, in a boat bare of sponsor decals. That’s the beauty of AIM. And it all starts again, next month. Have fun and Check out AIM’s Facebook page, then register for a tournament at AIM’s website.
We’ll be back with a preview of the first 2022 qualifier tournament in a week or so.
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, Off Shore Tackle, Gemini Sport Marketing, Moonshine Lures Shiver Minnow, JT Outdoors Products, McQuoids Inn, Marinette, WI, Explore Alexandria, Rosemore Outdoor Gear