Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.


Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122

Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)


Maki, Bricko ‘Combat Fish’ For The Win At Hager City Sunday To Open The Hunt For AIM TOY Minnesota


If you’ve ever experienced or seen anything associated with the term “combat fishing,” conditions for many of the teams Sunday (April 14) at AWWS Warrior Boats The Boat Center Open on the Mississippi River at Hager City definitely were just that, but Joe Bricko and Dylan Maki spiked two monster spawners to take the Minnesota Division opener, and take home $9,250, plus the lead in the division points race.

“We’re told you could reach out and walk across the boats where they were, but Maki and Bricko boated a respectable 28.08 pounds, plus $7,500 in AIM money and another $1,750 for another first, that one in the AIM Side Pot Challenge,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director. “They lead in the Yamaha Outboards Team Of The Year points race from the get-go from a win they thought they had little chance of getting.”

Bricko, of Woodbury, MN, and his long-time fishing partner Maki, of Cohasset, were under Mercury Marine 400 Verado power, with electronics that included Garmin LiveScope aboard, but they never needed it for the win.

“It turned not too bad,” Bricko said, is one of the year’s understatements. “We were hopeful it might get us into the top 10, but by no means did we think that would be a winning weight. It was a pleasant surprise. It was a time we thought we might just be competitive, and we ended up winning.”

“I fished a little the weekend before and Dylan grabbed the boat Thursday and Friday. We found fish by the dam, and we knew that could be our fallback. River fishing is not our strength at all. So, we tried to expand into some different areas.

“We really shine with electronics, but when it came to it, we had two spots up by the dam, and that’s all we had to go on. Our goal was to get some decent points. This was an exception,” Bricko said.

“It was bumper boats there to try to get into a current seam and hope the fish come to you. Electronics didn’t play a part it in at all,” he said. “It’s the tool we use, and we didn’t use it for even one minute here, which is weird.”

They were part of the tournament’s second flight, and they knew they had to grab a spot quickly.

“By the time we got there the boats were three and four deep and touching each other. You would walk across them. It was combat fishing. We nestled into a spot, and it wasn’t ideal, but I do have some knowledge where I could read the seams. You couldn’t cast. I had one section of the seam where you pitched almost vertical and in five or six jig strokes you reeled up,” Bricko continued. And, in all the traffic, they were lucky, he said.

“When they come to spawn, they’re always on the move and hard to get the ones leaving. That’s what made us go to the bus stop instead of fishing the bus route,” he laughed.

“We caught about 25 walleyes and sauger and put nine on the card. What put us over the top was some big ones came in and we were able to catch two of the right ones and surround them with some 17-inch fish to get it done. We ended up with my biggest tournament fish ever, a 30-3/4,” he said, sure to be in the running for WAVEPRO big fish Thursday honors. Their other fish, he said, ranged from 14 to 17 inches. They also hooked a ton of white bass, and one sturgeon.

“What was interesting is, the boats were so tight and that fish was so powerful, it was pretty hard to control. There were four other boats that could have netted my fish multiple times. You get really friendly with the neighbors, but everyone was cordial and respectful. I was impressed,” he said. The lures? Mostly jigging spoons and blade baits crafted by Bottom Bouncing Baits of Prescott, WI.

Team Bricko/Maki are going miss Big Stone Lake, the next AIM stop, due to another major tournament, so they either had to do well at Hager City, or potentially sink their season.

“We had to do something down here and that’s why we said let’s get some decent points on the card, and that’s what prompted the strategy,” he said.

Talk to the team who finished second to the winner by about two pounds, and you’ll get a PhD education in what it takes to fish the Mississippi. Caleb Buenger of Dover, MN and partner Scott Moger of Rochester, MN boated 25.97 pounds, in their Mercury Marine 200 Pro XS-powered boat, earning $3,000, plus second place in the AIM Side Pot Challenge and taking home an extra $1,050. It was the first time in four AIM seasons that they finished this high.

Buenger said he’s been fishing this section of the river that’s 40 minutes from his home since 2018, and it’s obvious he’s got it down. They stayed away from the crowds and stayed around a couple of local angler landmarks to fill their Catch-Record-ReleaseÔ  AIM scorecard. Here’s a sample of what a River Rat goes through to decide where to fish.

“Pool 4 is my home body of water,” Buenger said. “I started learning it and every spare second of time learning different parts and how it’s fished. We look alot at the hydrograph of Pools 3 and 4 and that helps us gauge the rise of the river and where the current seams might get started and the back eddies start to form. That helps us learn where those fish are going to potentially stage,” he said.

“We talk about waves of fish moving up, and then another might be a smaller wave. This year it was just a bunch of small waves. Looking at that graph and seeing the rise in the water like a half-foot every day it told me those fish maybe at the head of the lake (Lake Pepin) were starting to move north.

“I drove around a lot during pre-fish looking at side-imaging and I’d see fish in seams and put a waypoint on them and note the time I was there and river level.  I would literally drive up one side looking at seams, and also took into consideration the barge traffic,” Buenger added.

With that knowledge, they knew the river would rise a half-foot to a foot daily. It was telling those fish at Pepin’s southern end, come on up, it’s time to spawn, he said.  They settled on five or so spots to try, depending on those waves of spawners coming upstream.

“You’d catch two or three in one, go to the next, catch one or two there, then go back to the one you were just on that re-loaded,” Buenger said, because that’s what walleye do: hop from one to the next, move up and then another group would follow.

They concentrated on pitching blade baits, especially those made by Rochester, MN’s Tru-Tied Tackle.

“It’s no secret there’s a lot of people who say blade baits don’t work past 50 degrees, but those river fish are always looking for some sort of active bait,” he said, which is what all their fish hit.

“I knew that with a lot of pressure round the dam that we didn’t want to play bumper boat,” he added. He also used social media sites to look at photos posted by non-tournament anglers to recognize where they were and consider going there or elsewhere. “I let those local anglers pre-fish those spots for me,” he added. Smart move.

And, when they launched Sunday, they did it from a different spot before heading to Mr. Sippi’s Marina for the tournament start.

“That gave us the opportunity to see what the flow was in the main channel. That confirmed that we should be able to go on our milk run and ‘cycle through’ our spots,” he said. Smart, very smart move.

They started 51st in the second flight, and at a submerged tree creating a seam holding fish in front and behind, near what locals call the “white cross.”

“We spot-locked downstream and pitched baits up to it. Our first fish was a 21- or 22-incher in about 15 minutes,” he said, then it was on to their second, maybe 300 yards upstream and put three more on the card.

After checking out another spot, they headed back, hoping another pod of walleye would be on the sand flat they’d found. Number five on their card was a 24-1/2-incher, a two- to three-pound upgrade of a smaller fish. At 10:15 a.m., they counted just over 20 pounds.

After another 25 minutes, they moved to the top of the “white cross” area and made more upgrades. Then counting on a pre-fishing site that Moger found Friday, they moved to the Hager City bridge area, but the current wasn’t cooperating, and there was a lot of company.

“I respect all the teams we fish against. I like to see everyone be successful. About 12:30 we left the bridge for another spot, but for us they weren’t active. We got back to the first two stops and upgraded three at the tree and went back to the top of the white cross and made two more. We ended the day with three 23s and two 24-inchers. We didn’t have any big, big fish, just a bag of solid high 20-inch fish. We were happy.

“We stuck to our plan, our baits and our time frames, and put everything together and it obviously worked out. We were hoping for one good one that would have really helped, but we didn’t get it,” he said. And they did it out of the pack, pretty much by themselves.

“Actually, at that tree there wasn’t anyone. At the top end of white cross, there was one boat north and three or four to the south. We were in an area a lot of people overlook,” he said. “I purposely didn’t fish at the dam. I knew what it was going to be like. Saturday, there was well over 100 boats up there.”

What’s next? “We’re already planning for Big Stone,” he said, meaning, the Minnesota Division’s next stop, Big Stone Lake at Ortonville, about a month from now on May 19, so watch out for this pair, if that is, they’re as comfortable on a lake as they are on the river.

“I really enjoy fishing AIM. As a little kid you dream of trying to make it, and the AIM series is a great steppingstone. The competition is incredibly tough, and I enjoy that it makes you a better and a smarter angler.”

Finishing in third and winning $2,500 for boating 24.94 pounds were Tyler Keyser of Emerald, WI and Steve Mueller of Osceola. With 24.19 pounds in the boat and finishing third were Nick Renner and Hunter Phillips of Red Wing, MN. They collected $1,600 plus third in the Side Pot Challenge for another $700. Fifth went to Charles Jennings of Goodhue, MN, and Dennis Clark, of Rochester. They carded 24.10 pounds, winning them $1,400.

Minnesota, you’ve got a month break now, but hang on there, Fan Nation. Get ready for another tourney this weekend, when AIM zags back to Wisconsin for the Garmin Open on the Wolf River Chain of Lakes at Winneconne on Sunday, April 21. Then say hey, North Dakota, you’re up Sunday, April 28 for the Warrior Boats Open on the Missouri River at Bismarck. Get in on either, or both, and the rest of the season by going to

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.

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, Power Pole, Worldwide Marine Insurance, Off Shore Tackle, Gemini Sport Marketing, JT Outdoors Products, McQuoids Inn, Rosemore Outdoor Gear, Outdoor Authority fish house rentals, Adventure Recreational Finance, Oconto County WI., Forever Barnwood

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