Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats LLC.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 6, 2018
Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122
Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)
Simplest is Best: Slip Bobbers Win Neill, Weich A Warrior/Yamaha/Garmin Combo At AIM National Championship As Minnesota-Led Teams Finish 1-2-3
The adage that sometimes the simplest solution is the best proved true for Minnesota’s Mitch Neill and Wisconsin’s Billy Weich, who won the AIM Weekend Walleye Series National Championship Shootout by about three pounds, and went home with that sweet Warrior Boat with Garmin electronics pushed by a Yamaha four-stroke worth more than $50,000, on Wisconsin’s Chippewa Flowage.
Neill, from Maple Grove, Minnesota (MN), and Weich, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin (WI)—one of two partners Neill teamed with to get to the championship—boated 32.49 pounds over the June 1-2 event to win. In all, AIM awarded more than $70,000 in cash and prizes to the 30 teams who qualified for the Shootout by competing in Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota in 2017.
Neill got to the event by pairing with Weich, and Shane Axness, also from Eau Claire, with Axness coming on board when Weich couldn’t make some events last season. Axness fished the Minnesota championship with Neill last year, and one qualifier, and the trio also won Minnesota Team of the Year honors last season. On top of that, it was their first year fishing the AIM series. And, this Minnesota team won it all in, of all places, Chippewa Flowage’s Minnesota Bay. In other words, an amazing topper to an amazing year.
“Honestly we’re a few days after the event and it still hasn’t quite sunk in. Saturday when Denny asked, ‘do you want these keys to your new boat?’ it was the moment everyone in the AIM series is looking to do,” Neill said.
“Shane was a big part of it last year and with Billy helping out, it was a huge team effort, and winning Team Of The Year, and being the first year of fishing AIM as a team, it was pretty amazing,” he added.
So how’d they do it? One of the simplest fishing methods known, that’s been around for literally eons: a bobber and leeches. To put even more icing on the win, Neill said he really doesn’t fish bobbers much.
“I don’t use a lot of bobbers, but the presentation really called for it for where we were fishing. Everybody grew up using bobbers, and there’s some slight nuances, but it’s got to be one of the simplest techniques to use,” Neill said. Where they were fishing was shallow weeds in the west end of the lake.
“We were confident we had what we felt to be the right program. We set the plan that we were in it to win, and we were focused trying to find the big fish based on our research. We stumbled on a really good shallow water bite especially in areas that had cabbage weed,” Neill continued. “So we focused the rest of the week finding cabbage, and we were confident we had the right program, and it held true.”
On Day One, he said, with cooler weather that had moved in, they slowed their presentations, the majority of time using slip bobbers, but also catching some on jigs with jumbo leeches. Because of the weather shift, boats left in heavy fog, so that meant a slower, safer ride in their Mercury Verado-powered boat to their spots. Things went downhill for a time from there, and the win almost vanished for them. “We started in Minnesota and couldn’t locate the fish. We knew they were there but we didn’t know exactly where and couldn’t find them at all. We went to ‘spot B, and then C, D and E, and about 1 p.m., I told Billy, we’ve gotta go back to A,” he said. That proved to be a champion’s move.
One pass along the weeds, and they whacked a 25-3/4-incher. “It took the bobber down like a panfish, and after the third bite, it finally took it down and we were quite surprised at what we saw,” Neill said. They proceeded to catch four fish total in the last hour and were disappointed they couldn’t fill their card. That disappointment disappeared like the bobber on that 25-3/4 when they came back to find they were in the lead by about five pounds. Surprise!
Day Two, the pair had to fight first-place jitters. They not only had to add to their weight on Day One, but deal with a visit by a camera crew, which sometimes makes for even more nerves. But, that camera visit proved lucky.
“Billy caught a 22-1/2-incher and I missed one in the low 20s, then the crew showed up and I was like, oh boy. But lucky for us we put another two or three on the card, including a 22-incher,” he said. Then, they caught only one other fish.
“The rest of the day it just didn’t happen. The storms also came in late that afternoon. We had five fish on the card, but three below 15 inches,” he added. Still, they were optimistic.
“I knew we had a shot but I knew we weren’t as confident. Our goal was to put five on the card with a couple of kicker fish, but it was going to be up to the other teams to decide our fate,” he said. Then AIM’s Showdown Shootout, featuring the top five teams on stage, built both excitement and blood pressure.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking and we weren’t 100 percent confident until Denny announced that we came out on top,” Neill said.
Also waiting during the Showdown Shootout were second-place team Tyler Wolden and Nate Leininger, both of Miltona, MN, who earned two 10-foot Power Poles for their two-day total of 29.04 pounds.
They, too, Wolden said, stumbled onto a bobber-leech program, and also pitched light jigs with minnows—either really small or really big, he said—into shoreline structure. “That program was bulletproof all week. On Day One we pitched jigs and caught nice fish that gave us 12.29 pounds. On Day Two, pitching the shallow shoreline kind of died on us so we made the decision to go to slip bobbers, and we popped a 23-3/4 and a 20-3/4, and within 10 minutes we filled our card. We then went back to pitching, and that just didn’t happen,” he said. They ground out the rest of the day with bobbers and ended up catching their second place-snaring fish, a 22-1/2-incher.
“We lost fish that probably would have won us the tournament, but our hats are off to the team who won it,” Wolden added.
Earning two AirWave seat pedestals for 24.50 pounds and third place were Dylan Maki, Cohassett, MN, and Joe Bricko, of Farmington, MN. They spent their time in Chicago Bay, concentrating on recently cut trees which they figured were put in the water by the Wisconsin DNR to help spawning bluegills. They figured correctly that walleye would be targeting some of those ‘gills and pitched 1/8- to ¼-ounce jigs tipped with creek chubs. On Friday they had their five carded by 7:55 a.m., and on Saturday, repeated by 8:55 a.m. They then slip-bobbered—again—to upgrade 75 percent of their fish each day. Those Air Waves, Maki said, are going right on his boat as soon as possible.
In fourth place and earning two Garmin Echo Maps Plus 73 CV units for their 23.88 pounds were Shawn Mertz and Tommy Miller, of Bismarck, North Dakota.
Mertz said he’s already looking forward to fishing his home water, the Missouri, for next year’s Championship Shootout, and is signed up to fish all North Dakota AIM qualifier events.
They’d never fished Chippewa before, so spent a lot of time exploring and researching before deciding on targeting shallow weed lines and creek mouths. A 28-incher the first day had them optimistic, but they couldn’t land another biggie on Day Two.
“We took a third on the river in Bismarck this year and didn’t do well on Devils Lake, so hopefully we can throw that one out (teams can ‘throw out’ the results of one tournament in each state division),” Mertz said. “We’re getting ready for New Town (June 17, Lake Sak) and will try a similar technique that worked last year. It should get us to the championship (Aug. 24-25 on Lake Sak, Indian Hills Resort).”
Fifth place, and two Garmin Echo Map Plus 63 CV units for 23.60 pounds, went to Mike Gengalo, Merrill,WI, and Ted Winkelman, New London, WI. They ran their Verado-powered craft to Chippewa Flowage’s west side and used a combination of minnows, leeches and crawlers, on slip bobbers and light jigs, plus Berkley Ripple Shads, in about six feet of water.
They fished near the same area as Neill and Weich, Gengalo said. They also did a lot of running and gunning between 10 spots. It was Gengalo’s third Warrior Boats Championship Shootout and the second for Winkelman and both are eager for to qualify for the next on the Missouri.
“The host site, Treeland Resort in Hayward, WI is a perfect destination year ‘Round for fisherman and snowmobilers alike”, said Denny Fox, National Tournament Director for AWWS. “Tatum and her staff are amazing customer service specialists and have the ability to create a quality experience for all who visit. We would like to thank them for opening their doors to us for this event”.
Next up, join us at AIM’s Facebook page and ProChattrr for all the action this Sunday, June 10 on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs for the second of the Minnesota Division qualifiers. We’ll preview that later this week. Get in on the fun by filling out an entry form for the rest of AIM’s schedule this season at aimfishing.com.
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, LLC.
AIM Supporting Sponsors: Mercury Marine, Nitro Boats, Garmin, Navionics, Power Pole, Worldwide Marine Insurance, AirWave Pedestals, Off Shore Tackle, Vibrations Tackle, Pro Chattrr, Gemini Sport Marketing, Treeland Resort, Anglers Avenue, Moonshine Lures Shiver Minnow, JT Outdoors Products, Fox River Lures and Rods, Bismarck Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau