Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats LLC.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 24, 2020
Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122
Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)
Locals Dominate First AIM Quest For The Best As
Brothers Kujawa Top A Stellar Field On The Mississippi
Sometimes it pays to fish local, and did it ever this weekend, as local Mississippi River residents finished 1-2 in the first AIM/Quest For The Best tournament, taking $15,000 for first and $7,000 for second place in a two-day event sponsored by Quality Flow Systems that featured some of the biggest names in pro walleye angling, including the eventual winners, rising stars, brothers Christopher and Joseph Kujawa, of Lake City, MN.
“We wanted this event to be special, and it was, where some of the best in walleye fishing came to play, including the eventual winners, two Minnesota farm boys with a knack for winning,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director. “We thank Quality Flow Systems for sponsoring what was a great event with a lot of quirks courtesy of the river, and with over 65 pounds of fish, the Kujawas put on a show that is hard to beat. In addition to the $15,000 first place check, they also won first in the AIM side pot, giving them another $1,550, plus a guaranteed invitation to the 2021 AIM National Championship Shootout, at a location to be named later.”
Joseph Kujawa agreed. He described Day One’s events, while brother Chris did the honors for Day Two.
“It’s not too often that an event like this comes to our hometown. We just hold the entire field in high regard of their capabilities. We didn’t grow up aspiring to be tournament anglers. To actually be on the water to compete against the people we look up to and admire was great, and to beat them was even more special to us,” Joseph said.
The two were on the water pre-fishing four or five days prior and thanks to their experience in other tournaments, had a good idea what they’d be doing. Among the Number One choice, stick with what you know, or in this case, where. Namely, Pool 4. “We never fished Pool 3, and there wasn’t time to learn it all,” Joseph said.
But, Number 4 was not without surprises, and challenges. “When we got back out the water was just this red, dirty, brown soup the color of Willy Wonka’s chocolate,” Joseph said.
Work was being done by the Army Corps raising and then lowering the river water, and winds that churned up the water, he said, had “pretty much flipped the system upside down, and the fish just weren’t happy or where they were supposed to be. It was never consistent and repeatable. One day you could put together 30 or 35 pounds and the next it was single digits,” he said.
The last day of practice, however, things looked up a bit. They put together a program trolling Number 5 Berkley Flicker Shads and Rapala Shad Raps along Lake Pepin’s Wisconsin shoreline. They downsized because of a recent mayfly hatch to more closely match what the fish were dining on, catching fish up to 29 inches. The plan was to head to the lake in the morning and return to the Wisconsin river channel to finish the day. However, issues arose.
“Our first couple of spots didn’t produce, and finally around 10 a.m. we decided to head up to the river to collect a limit of whatever it was willing to offer,” Joseph said. What they found were fish flushing down the river. They were at the right spot at the time, pulling now jumbo leeches at 1.1 to 1.2 mph into the current, faster than anyone else.
They pushed further onto the flat they were targeting, catching two to four at every pass, their first just over 12 inches, then 18, 19 and 20. Then around 11 a.m….
“We’d just brought a fish in and I was turning around and saw one rod was back and then another, and our first was 28-3/4 and the second 27-1/2 inches,” after struggling to get two potentially winning fish in at once. “When we put 20 pounds in the boat in two fish, that was a huge weight lifted off us,” he said. Two more came in, a 26-1/2 and a 23-1/2, the fish. At the time, their smallest by then was 19 inches.
“And on our very last pass we were headed up current and we hooked a fish, and it ended up being another 27-incher, in the last five minutes, so we’d upgraded to another giant,” Joseph said. At that point, they were confident that if they weren’t going to be leading, they’d be in the top two or three.
“It felt awesome,” Joseph said. It should. They led Day One with 40.30 pounds.
On Day Two, Chris Kujawa began, they headed to the same flat they did so well at, making their first pass and catching some 20-inch fish. On their third, again using those trolled jumbo leeches, they netted their biggest of the day, a 27.
“So we knew the fish were still there. We got that fish and continued to make the same pass over and over, and then we noticed the current changed a little, so we adjusted our run and ended up picking up a few more. We felt stuck because we felt the action was dying, but we were waiting on a bite window,” he added. They knew, or at least felt they knew, that the fish would eventually get hungry, opting to stay until 12:30 before picking up for another spot. They finally left, with an estimated 23 pounds.
“Then we tried another spot in the back channel. We got an 18-incher and a 16, but that wouldn’t help us. We had one more place to try on the way back, and there we upgraded two of our fish in the rain. We felt we had around 25 pounds,” Chris said. “At that point, we figured we had either first or second but weren’t sure. We were pretty nervous going in.”
When they finally learned at the weigh-in broadcast live on AIM’s Facebook site that they’d won, they were ecstatic, he said. “It’s probably one of the biggest things we’ve ever won, since it was our home water. The system is a river, then a lake, then another river. We usually spend most of our time on the lake and the fact that we won it in the river meant a lot because we’d been trying to figure that out. And the level of competition, with a lot of local heavy hitters, and a lot of big-name national tour guys, and we were able to do it, it’s special.”
Coming in at second place and taking home $7,000 with 61.25 pounds were Kyle Brantner and Nathan Patraw, both from Pepin, WI, also on the river. They also won $930 in second-place side pot money. They had to borrow a buddy’s boat to do it, after Kyle hit the same stump the weekend prior to the tournament that another entrant, Brett King, whacked with his boat’s lower unit.
His strategy? With the river dropping, they’d found fish in three spots Monday before the event. Amazingly, all were about knee-deep. Or less. So shallow you could set the hook and see the fish all the way in, Brantner said. But they produced. They figured that like the winners, they were finding fish filtering out to the lake.
“We were hoping they would hold, and we found them Tuesday, checked them Wednesday, and left them be Thursday, hoping we would catch a fish or two in one and go to the next. On Day One, we had six fish by 8:55 a.m., the first a 26-1/2, and the second was a 27 I believe, and then a 25-1/2 and we caught a 28-1/4-incher at the end,” all coming on willow cats either fished weightless or with up to a quarter-ounce.
On Day Two, they returned, and caught a 24-1/2 immediately and then smaller fish. They then bounced to their other spots, then back where they were the first day, ending with a 25-1/2.
All their best fish in fact, came from that first shallow spot, and they filled their card at the other two, staying in Pool Four the entire time.
“With our pre-fish I knew we had a crack at it. Our goal was 25 pounds a day. It’s hard to catch 35 two days in a row. We had a 30-pound average for both days, which is pretty tough to beat,” Brantner said.
Here’s how the rest of the Top Five fared. In third place with 55.22 pounds and winning $5,500 were Jarrad Fluekiger, of Alma, WI, and Joe Newcomb of Pepin, WI. Finishing fourth with 45.89 pounds and $5,000 richer, plus $620 in side-pot money, were Josh Jones of Austin, MN, and Tony Flatten of Albert Lea, MN. Fifth place and 40.99 pounds earned Jason Przekurat, Stevens Point, WI, and James Schiefelbein, Marseilles, IL, $4,000.
Next up, you’re it, North Dakota, this coming Sunday for New Town almost amidships on Lake Sak. Will it be won in Van Hook? The upper river? Will the smelt that the lake’s walleye feed on be there? Stay tuned for a preview.
Tune into AIM’s Facebook page, for all the on-water action Sunday, and who the winners are. Details on that event and other upcoming state qualifiers are at the AIM website. As we are still doing, please follow all COVID-19 government guidelines.
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 Presenting Sponsors: Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A. and Warrior Boats inc.
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