Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.


Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122

Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)


Son’s Wedding Plans May Have Been Key To Razor-Thin Win At AIM Day Two For Aarfor And Schell At Audubon


The wedding of John Aarfor’s son may have just proven to be the charm for the win during Day Two of the Dual Duel, the AIM Weekend Walleye Series Warrior Boats/Pure Powersports Open qualifier on North Dakota’s Lake Audubon Sunday (May 21), as he and Joe Schell won it by just .02—that’s two hundredths–of a pound, about the weight of two pennies, to take $3,000.

“Aarfor and Schell, who was subbing for Aarfor’s son, who got married on Friday, eked out a win with 17.48 pounds,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director. “And they did it by finding water a few degrees warmer on the lee side of an island. The first through third places on Day Two were separated by just 11 hundredths of a pound.”

Aarfor, from West Fargo and Schell, from Bismarck, went home with $3,000 and a total that put them in the running for the Yamaha Motor Corp. Team Of The Year by taking the pressure off themselves and just having fun in their Mercury 300 Pro XS-powered and Garmin-equipped boat, Aarfor explained.

“There was no pre-fishing. My son Chandler got married on Friday, so we had to come up with alternate plans,” Aarfor said. And, because of the wedding, they didn’t fish Day One, either.

“So it went exactly like this. I showed up in Bismarck and said to my partner we had no clue where to go, so we’re just going to go fishing with no pressure whatsoever, and by golly it worked out,” he explained.

Fan Nation, we’ve said it before. A team free of tourney day jitters often betters their nervous rivals. It’s proof that it’s best to say, ‘let’s just go fishing.’

“We went north and east of the cabins and trolled Berkley Number 7 Flicker Minnows. That was our morning routine. We had three on the card by 8:45, a 22, a 21 and a 19,” he said. Then, they had a five-hour fish drought. But that changed when they moved.

“After dinner (that’s NoDak/Midwest parlance for lunch), we went on the hunt, and got on the back side of an island that the wind was blowing towards, and the water temperature jumped three degrees there, from 55 to 58. Bam. Active fish.

“That’s when we picked up another 19 and a 21 to round out our five,” he said. Were they confident? Nope, but, he said, they knew they had a chance.

“When Denny announced fifth place, I knew we had a podium finish. When he announced third, my partner and I looked at each other and said ‘we’re going to finish second.’ We were thrilled. And when Denny announced the second place team, our bottom jaws hit the ground. We couldn’t believe it.”

Aarfor will be back at it with son Chandler after the National Championship Shootout break when North Dakota’s qualifier schedule resumes Sunday, June 18. Aarfor says he could have qualified for heading to Wisconsin this year had it not been for tanking at the 2022 state championship.

“We’ll be fishing the rest this year with Chandler back aboard. Audubon has always been good to us. It’s a lake I’ve ice fished a lot over the last 30 years. It’s full of smallmouth, walleye and full of northern pike. But wedding bells were on our mind earlier last week,” he said.

In second by just .02 of a pound were Tom Beaton of West Fargo and Brian Merkel of Minot, who took home $2,000 for carding 17.46 pounds of walleye. A retired farmer who spends most of the summer in Garrison along Lake Sakakawea, site of the next North Dakota qualifier, we reached him aboard a tractor as he planted seeds with his son, who this year is farming wheat, soybeans and corn. He started pre-fishing for this just after the ice cleared off Audubon about 2-1/2 weeks ago in his 300 Yamaha-powered boat.

“We had a windy spell and the ice cleared in about 2-1/2 days. We started fishing about 10 days ago, throwing plastic minnows and jigs and couldn’t get a fish,” Beaton said. “So we switched to Flicker Minnows and Flicker Shads, and Berkley came out with a new scented Flicker Shad, so I kept that in the back of my mind for the tournament.

One of the fish he caught and kept for supper, and when he cleaned it, it had seven small perch in its stomach. “So in theory, if they’re eating perch, I’m going to a perch pattern crankbait,” Beaton continued. The next day, he got four on a firetiger pattern.

On Day One of the Dual Duel, he finished fourth, with 15.56 pounds. “We put firetiger shads on and my partner had a gold pattern perch,” he said.

“Sunday morning, we went out and had a 180-degree wind switch. We fished basically the same area, the northeast corner of the lake. We fished from six or seven feet out to 10 to 12 feet. I couldn’t’ get them to bite on the scented Flicker so switched to a No. 11 firetiger Flicker Minnow and got a 24-1/2, an 18 and a 17,” he said. “Sunday was really tough fishing, and when it slows, we try to switch to different colors. I happened to hit on that firetiger orange and three came on that one.

“We caught very few fish on Sunday. My partner caught four and we counted all three of mine and we caught seven fish,” he said. They left for the dock around 2:30 to make sure they didn’t go past the deadline, and had mixed feelings about how they did.

“The last one I caught was 23-3/4 inches around 12:30 and never caught another Sunday. But once we got back and visited with other anglers we knew and felt pretty good. I’d rather get beat out by .02 of a pound than 10 pounds. It shows we were doing something right. There were three weights over 17 pounds, and the top three were within .11 pounds.”

This is Beaton’s first time back on the AIM circuit in a while.

“Last year’s schedule didn’t work for us, so I called my partner Joe and said ‘let’s do the AIM tournaments this year.’ I really like the format. Just measure, photograph and release the fish. My partner and I won a different tournament a few years ago and it made me feel bad to clean those five-to eight-pound fish.

“I know we’re going to fish the one at Parshall, and we’ll definitely fish the championship. That’s 25 miles up the lake from where we live, and hopefully we’ll do good at Parshall too. My partner has a two-day tournament coming up there, so we’ll hopefully have some pretty good inside information” just prior to the AIM event.

Finishing in third for $1,500 with 17.37 pounds were the two Codys, Cody Cerkoney of Belfield, and Cody Dukart of Dunn Center. Fourth place was filled by Ross Grothe and son Roger of Baldwin, who took home $1,200 for 15.37 pounds. In fifth, with 14.96 pounds and $650 were Dave Vogel of Minot, and Wyatt Zietz of Douglas.

North Dakota, don’t get too complacent. Your next event will be June 18 on Lake Sakakawea, because of the upcoming Shootout, so there is plenty of time for you to sign up for this tourney.

Next week, stay tuned to AIM’s Facebook site for a preview of the National Championship Shootout from teams pre-fishing Wisconsin’s Lake Koshkonong and the Rock River. And just do it. Register for AIM. Learn how you can register at

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, 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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