Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.


Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122

Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)


How Do You Qualify For AIM’s National Championship Shootout? ‘Teamwork Makes The Dream Work’


What’s it gonna take to be a qualifier in this June’s AIM Weekend Walleye Series National Championship Shootout? An all-bells-and-whistles mega-bucks boat? It helps, but it’s not the secret weapon. It’s doing the research. It’s having a great partner that you can work together with, especially when things go awry.

And maybe most importantly, it’s willingly accepting the unknown: That challenge of heading to a system you know little or nothing about. It’s the same situation that the 30 teams who will be roaming the Rock River and shallow Lake Koshkonong will face until the week before the tourney starts, say those who’ll be on the water come Friday and Saturday, June 2 and 3.

“A championship with a boat-motor-electronics-rods package worth more than $100,000 ought to be challenging, and all these teams are going in with zero hours on the pre-fish clock. You can bet that everybody entered is primed to give it their all in about 10 weeks,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director.

“There are lots of fish in this system, and these teams will have from May 29, Memorial Day Monday at 6 a.m., to the day before The Show, Thursday, June 1, at 4 p.m. to figure it out. Let’s hear from three of the 30 about what they’re doing right now, two-plus months out, to nail down that edge that will take them to the podium,” Fox said.

“It’s teamwork that makes the dream work,” said one half of Team Kolden. Shaeli, who, with Craig Kolden and time or two, Benny Leidholm when Shaeli was having a child, qualified to be there. They’re all from Garrison, ND on Lake Sakakawea.

No fancy schmancy boat for the Koldens. They’ll be splashing their 2001 model. Right now, they’re prepping it, including hanging that new 9.9 Yamaha four-stroke kicker they won for earning 2022 North Dakota Division Team Of The Year honors. They finished second at the 2022 state championship, clinching that TOY honor. Also aboard will be a load of Garmin electronics.

And Craig Kolden said that with them at the championship in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin will be the rest of that team, ready to hoot and holler when the boats return each day. “Our daughter Amity, Shaeli’s mom Danielle and sister Elizabeth are coming with us along with our pup Rocky,” he said. “We do this as a family and involve our kids in everything.” And if you’re wondering how they all fit in the boat, they don’t. Their family and dog will be cheering from shore.

“We take pride in running our older boat. We like to show people that you don’t need expensive equipment to fish AIM. The boat has paid itself off from tournament winnings in the past.”

“We run the oldest boat in the series,” Shaeli added. “I don’t think it’s a lack of what you need. You need to not put in your head to just want money. It’s more for the experience. It’s the teamwork that makes the dream work.”

“It would be great to see a lot more people get into fishing AIM, especially in North Dakota. I only started fishing about a year-and-a-half ago. I started because Craig was looking for a partner,” she added.

“I love fishing with her,” Craig said. “I put her in every decision on the water and she gives me her honest opinion. Every time we fish together, we have a good time.”

Right now they’re exploring the lake only on the computer, Shaeli said.

“A lot of it is getting our equipment ready, talking with a lot of bait shops and guides in the area. I’m also using my GIS (Geographic Information Systems) knowledge to map out the lake to figure how everything on the lake runs,” she said.

“This lake will be a challenge,” Craig added. “We’ll be on it the minute we can and I don’t plan on stopping until it’s dark, rain, shine, it doesn’t matter. I’m thinking the fish at the time of the tournament will have already run down the river and into the main lake.

“Some will stay, and some will keep going through the outlet. We will have to drive and learn as many things as we can sunrise to sundown. Our plan is not to get stuck on small fish spots but rather keep looking for something special. I’m also going to assume the water will be very dark. We both like to fish dirty water but when it comes to this kind, it’ll be different.

“The other challenge is going to be 23 miles of river we’ll have to try to cover. We have to rush it, but if we rush too much, we’ll skip over spots we should have stayed at.

“The best part is, we’re going in completely blind, Shaeli added. “Only Craig has fished in Wisconsin and that was the Flowage (Chippewa). We’re hoping to find big fish and not run into an island. The lake is only seven feet deep and the edges come up fast.”

Coming into Fort Atkinson will be the team everybody will be trying to beat, the two from Minnesota who won last year’s Shootout, Tom Huynh, (that’s definitely pronounced “win”) from Wolverton, MN, and Nate Wolske from Boy River. Oh, and they are back to back, 2021 and 2022 Minnesota Team Of The Year. Yup, they landed that one too. And did we also say the pair won last year’s Minnesota state championship? That may be on the minds of the 29 other teams, at least on Day One.

The pair will be decked out in a new boat this year, with all Garmin Panoptix LiveScope aboard. Huynh and Wolske have also got their eyes on that seven-foot max depth of Lake Koshkonong.

“That’s about the only thing I know about it. I know it’s going to create quite a challenge for us,” Huynh said. “I’ve fished for walleyes shallower, that’s for sure, but when the deepest hole is seven feet, that’s a little different.”

The team’s prep is also a little different. “I’ll look at a contour map a week prior, but that’s about it. When we get there, we’ll cruise around and look for structure. We don’t really have to much of a specific game plan,” Huynh said.

“For me, I’m typically the one to find the fish and figure out how to catch them. In pre-fishing Nate will then throw the kitchen sink at them. He likes to tweak different things to give us the edge. He’s also very mechanical minded. There’s a lot of teams who’ve had boat or truck issues and he can look at a problem and fix it, and his day job gives him a lot of skills (Wolske is the Wolske of Wolske RV in Boy River).

Huynh also said they’ll also be fishing AIM’s Minnesota Division as much as they can this year but with the success they’ve had, they’re also balancing others. For example, we caught Huynh on a cold Illinois River practicing for a tournament. He also praised AIM’s recent moves to head to a lake most haven’t fished before for the championship.

“It can showcase who can best break down the water. It was the same last year on Lake Miltona. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.

Another 2022 Team Of The Year winner will also be challenging the field. Dylan Peotter of Kaukauna and Anthony Englebert of Little Chute won in Wisconsin and also in their rookie AIM season in 2019. Add to that 2 Qualifiers for the wain as well as the 2022 Wisconsin State Championship, I would say they are on a roll. Look for them to be on the water in their Yamaha 300-powered and Garmin-equipped boat early on Memorial Day.

“We need all the time that we can. We’re just not good and have to keep practicing,” Peotter laughed. “But we do definitely like to use as much time as we can, and we’ve never been there (Fort Atkinson) before.

“I haven’t done any research or looked at any videos yet. We’re mostly getting the boat set up. We always go in with the mindset of looking for points. We want to fish consistently. We don’t go for the win very often. Most of the teams in our division are pretty good so it’s hard to take that risk. We just fish our best and you have to do that through the entire season to land in the top 10 teams to make it here,” he said. And their wins show that consistency. They won the Fox River event at Green Bay two years straight.

“We did look at a map and saw that it’s set up quite a bit like Lake Poygan (site of several AIM qualifiers at Winneconne, Wisconsin, including the upcoming April 23 event). But the most that’s going to help us is time on the water. We assume the fish will be in the lake (and not the river). But it’s really going to tell us when we’re there,” Peotter said.

“Anthony and I work together very well. I don’t know how easy it would be to fish clean like we do without a good partner like him. We trust each other’s decisions. We like to pre-fish out of the same boat.”

Think you don’t have the right boat or enough experience to fish an AIM tournament? Think again. These teams started the same way as anyone else:  getting that tournament experience in the most economical yet lucrative major series existing. They learned, listened, and learned some more. They overcame their fears, and just did their best. To learn more about how you can do the same, go to the AIM website,, for details on how you can register to get in on AIM’s four divisions. Watch for the latest at AIM’s Facebook site.

You know you want to. You know you can.

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.

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

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, Rosemore Outdoor Gear, Outdoor Authority MN, Island Bar and Grill, Bait Box on the Rock, Oconto County WI.

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