Okada’s Win Oconto

Professional AIM Angler Joe Okada and his father David, have just accomplished something no other Professional Team has ever accomplished. Not only did they take home first place in the AIM walleye tournament held out of Oconto, WI on July 20-22, 2012; but they also took home the Pro-Team Challenge top honors! Oconto was chosen as the first-time-ever spot for an AIM PRO-TEAM CHALLENGE tournament. Anglers signed up as two person PRO teams that would “team up” with a different co-angler who was drawn for them each day. This meant that every boat would have three anglers instead of two, allowing for six rods instead of four. The pro anglers loved the chance to fish with another pro partner of their own choosing. The co-anglers loved the new format too because instead of drawing three different pros, they were lucky to gain the experience and knowledge from six different pros over a three day period.

You can sense the pride in David’s eyes, but Joe had that same admiration when he faced his father and they embraced in their congratulatory hug.

AIM Pro Joe Okada explained by saying, “I liked it a lot----A: We got to fish an extra 2 lines, and in an open water trolling bite, the process of elimination to the correct pattern speeds up in a hurry. It also allows for more experimentation throughout the day. B: I got to fish with an old teammate of mine....my Dad. Winning my first major with him in the boat is something I'll never forget. Although I really enjoyed this tournament, I feel the Pro-Team Challenge should be a format that supplements the current Pro-Am model. But being the first event of this kind, and having the turnout we did, you can't deny this format hits home with lots of quality fishing teams that we usually don't get a chance to compete against.”

Pro AIM Angler Keith Kavajecz agrees. He has often commented on how he would love to get into a boat with another pro angler from the circuit, but when it boiled down to who he chose as his fellow pro this first time around, he chose his youngest son Mikey. “I asked Mike if he’d like to fish with me in the Pro-Team Challenge at Oconto as part of his 22nd birthday gift. I’ve been fortunate to be able to fish in walleye tournaments with all three of my sons at one time or another over the years. Yet with the demands of our jobs it’s not always as easy anymore. I knew it would be fun to be able to “hook up” again with Mikey since the Oconto tournament was close to home. Mike was able to take the week off to pre-fish and he was excited to be able to fish on the pro-side!” 

Mike and his Dad took to the stage and started Day One out in third place. Though they fell “just outta the money” after Day Three, Keith and Mike both thoroughly enjoyed their father/son time on the water.

Joe and his father David certainly had those same ear to ear grins, but even bigger grins on that final day. In the past, they have also fished different tournaments together and Joe expressed that to take home his “First Major Win with my Dad at an AIM Pro-Team Challenge was very special!” It is heartwarming to witness father/son teams as “high fives” are being smacked up into the air.

Here’s a little update from Joe on how his love for the sport started and how he took it from there: 

“Dad and I would either rent a boat, borrow my Grandpa's, or fish from shore here in Madison, WI when I was young. I became a sponge for fishing information early on. The learning curve was probably the most attractive aspect. Each time I learned something new, and used that knowledge to become more successful on the water, the more I wanted to learn, and the obsession grew out of control. I went through different phases as far as species preference goes, but once I started to understand walleyes, I knew that was the fish for me!” 

“When I was younger, I held mostly fishing related jobs. Anything from working in local bait shops to large fishing retailers and now to the promotional obligations that I have today. I did spend several years working in child care too as I was building my guiding business and finishing up school. Seeing how grown up those kids are now isn't making me feel any younger though. I have the most supportive family that someone in my position could ask for. They understand all the unpaid hours and time on the road required to chase my goals, and this last win was a tiny way for me to thank them for that support. With my current schedule, staying single is probably a good option for me at this point but who knows what will change down the road.”

“My ultimate goal since grade school was to compete in Pro-Ams some day. But I felt the best way to get myself there was to find tough competition while learning about the different bodies of water in walleye country. That's where the MWC fit in. I was able to travel with Dad; he let me call the shots (even when they were the wrong ones) so that I could build the confidence and experience needed to compete against the best in the business someday. We met some lifelong friends, established contacts, learned a lot about the fishing business, and shared bits of success during the 5 years we competed together. In 2008 he told me to give the pro ranks a try and I wasn't able to compete with him until last week's Pro-Team Challenge.”

“Pre-fishing in Oconto, WI went well. We were actually planning on fishing the same area that most of the field ended up on until the cold front brought some big north winds that seemed to break up the schools on the west shore quite a bit. During those heavy winds, we put down JT custom painted husky jerks to cover more water and deal with the higher speeds that the wind was forcing us to troll at. Anything with pink, purple or maroon in it seemed to do the trick. After catching just as many fish on them as we were using harnesses, we decided to really try and dial in a crank bait program so we could be more efficient.”

“Tournament days were actually very challenging. The area we ended up fishing was very small, with lots of local traffic and a handful of other competitors as well. It worked out fine, but sharing a small spot with a bunch of boats will bring productivity down compared to the kind of fishing experienced in practice. Also, the lack of wind on day 3 really seemed to disperse the active fish and we had to stray from the structure and focus on suspended fish hovering on the surrounding mud flats. Floating debris, sheep head, catfish, and changing currents all kept us on our toes and made us work harder to make each trolling pass count. When you’re only getting 1-2 bites an hour, it makes for a long day until the card finally has 7 on it!” 

“This is the second tournament I've fished out of my Yamaha powered Yar-Craft, and I couldn't be any happier with how it's performing on these Great Lakes tournaments. The 209TFX is a fast, dry ride, with a hull that you can actually feel "slicing" through the chop. Everyone that's driven this thing so far is impressed!”

When asked what their best set up was and if they had to adjust their depths, Joe said, “50-75 feet back with an alewife custom husky jerk at 1.5-2mph depending on current. We didn’t really have to adjust our depths, we just tried to fish above the fish all of the time. As long as our baits were running about 10-13 feet down, the fish had no problem swimming up a few feet to eat the cranks.”

The AIM Pro Walleye Series practices a CRR format (Catch, Record, Release) and Joe especially likes this format. “The last tournament I fished on Green Bay, I had to quit fishing before noon because I chose to keep our "limit". Unfortunately, the fish were getting bigger and as I put the last 6 pounder in the live well, I said to myself, "If this was an AIM tournament, I'd still have a couple hours to work this school and come in with a weight that truly reflects the class of fish I ended up finding!" That's one of AIM's biggest advantages in states with strict size/culling restrictions. You catch and release all day, and the best fisherman that day wins, not the one who hopes to get the "right bite" in the right order. Not to take anything away from winners of those tournaments, they're still well deserved victories, but it sure makes you appreciate the CRR approach.”

As anglers crossed the stage, it was easy to see that this format was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Lots of 'high fives and angler-hugs' were shared each day and even those that didn’t fair as well fishing, said they had a blast fishing this Pro-Team Challenge and the CRR format. They hope to see AIM do more of them in the future. Not only did the anglers enjoy themselves, but the community did as well. To see the huge walleye that came out of the Bay of Green Bay, return to the depths of the waters to possibly be caught again someday is so awesome. When asked how the crowds liked it….all you heard were cheers!

CRR, an AIM Pro-Team Challenge AND a father/son team taking home the win---well it just doesn’t get any better than that! Or can it? Everyone is hopefully the city of Oconto and the AIM Pro Walleye Series can “hook up again!” , If they do-----Team Okada will definetly try to “repeat”, but remember Team Kavajecz? Twenty-one year old Mikey who was fishing this Pro-Team Challenge as part of his 22 year birthday gift from his Dad Keith? Well it’s fairly easy to see that Both Teams; 'Sporting their Father’s Grins' have hooked onto something pretty special. Anglers having fun; Fishing in the AIM Pro Walleye Series! 

Joe Okada’s Sponsors: 

Yamaha Outboards, Yar-Craft, ProMariner, EGO Net Company, EZEE Step Inc., Luck E Strike, Navionics, Smooth Moves Seats, OPTIMA Batteries, JT Custom Tackle