Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.


Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122

Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)


Two Down, One To Go: AIM Heads To NoDak Championship

Where Teams Are Already Finding ‘Fat’ Fish On Lake Sak


The fish are gorging themselves on smelt and other fine meals served buffet-style on North Dakota’s huge Lake Sakakawea, site of the 2022 AIM Weekend Walleye Series Yamaha Motor Corp. USA North Dakota State Championship, and are they ever ready to add to their diet the lures and presentations that AIM teams will be using Friday and Saturday, Aug. 26 and 27 from Hazen.

“The late summer feed is on for this lake that is full of feesh, and AIM will be smack dab in the middle of this food fight,” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director.  “Reports from the water at midweek show a lot of fish, but teams may have to wander a bit to find the ones that will win this and send them to the National Championship Shootout, at a lake we’ll name in the future. Meantime, let’s hear what Lake Sak is giving up so far.”

John Aarfor of Milnor will be there with son Chandler, and we reached him on the water in his Mercury 300 Pro XS-powered boat, with all Garmin electronics aboard.

Right now, he’s dealing with the aftermath of some recent storms, and a north-northeast gusting wind. For Friday and Saturday, weather reports say that wind will shift to the southeast and gust up to 25. Will that prevent teams from making that 45-mile run to Van Hook? Potentially. Meanwhile, Aarfor said he’s caught more than a few fish already as of Wednesday.

“We’ve caught a few this morning. I didn’t expect to catch as many as we have. The only problem is, they’re not tournament fish. We have some work to do yet. We’re out west now,” Aarfor said.


“We also caught nice fish but not tournament fish over the weekend. The fish are so healthy out here. They’re smack dab full of smelt, so an 18-inch fish is a healthy, healthy fish. We trolled crankbaits this past weekend. We’re working a little live bait now. We’re trying to figure it out,” he added.

“There’s been some tournaments on here and there’s been some bigs caught. And the people who have been doing well in those are the ones who’ll be fishing this AIM tournament,” he said. The one difference, of course, being that AIM sends what teams catch right back into the water they came from, thanks to its Catch-Record-ReleaseÔ format.

“I think it’ll take 30 pounds a day to win this thing,” Aarfor predicts. That weather forecast may have a say in that, but his thoughts are echoed by Craig Kolden, who’ll be on Lake Sak with fiancé Shaeli Elkstein, both of Garrison, with Mercury 225 Optimax power and a Yamaha kicker. Kolden’s been fishing this lake since he was a kid. They’re currently the Yamaha Motor Corp. USA Team Of The Year leaders and want to keep it that way, so he was also on the water at midweek, and on the lake’s east end, somewhere the day before, now a bit further west on his second pre-fishing day.

“What I dealt with on the east end is some sort of bug hatch going on, and a lot of bitty bait fish. We’re marking a lot but not catching a lot. Today, I’m a little more west and we had about 22 pounds in one pass, but sometimes, you’ve got to go a long way to find that kind. But this can get won anywhere,” Kolden said.

“People aren’t going to be afraid to take a 100-mile round trip,” he said. Now lots of anglers troll the big lake, but Kolden’s looking at something different to trigger fish in deeper water.

“I think snap jigging is going to work. Any kind of finesse application. Jigging Raps, maybe even some vertical jigging out deep. These fish will be deep or shallow. There’s a lot of reports of catching fish in that 50-foot range. Just getting to those big bites is going to be the hardest part.”

“Today’s the first of a bit of a cold front. It’s supposed to be pretty calm for the next couple days,” he said. Well, Craig, you know the weather out there. It can change in a wave of a wheat stalk.

“There’s plenty of bait. There are two ways of tracking them. You can play around in the bait or play around away. I look for spots where fish are actually hungry. We’re catching fat fish,” he added.

Matt Liebel is a teacher in Williston and guides on Lake Sak, a short 155-mile run from Hazen, or 70 from New Town, another AIM tournament stop. He’s already back in the classroom, but his partner Tory Hill of Minot, will be “substituting” for him on the water starting Thursday. They’ll be in Liebel’s Merc 400 Verado-powered boat on Friday, though, and he’s been out there recently.

“We have been on the water a lot, so we have some ideas. I hope they stay put,” Liebel said. Sure sounds like Liebel’s “ideas” have fins and gills.

“We had a tournament last weekend and we ended up winning that one out of New Town. But it’s a long way from Hazen. It’s all how big of a run we decide to make. We’re going to have a little wind each day. There’s a lot of fish closer but it sounds like they’re tougher to get,” he said.

“The further east you go, it’s more of a deeper water bite. If you can go west, you can get fish in shallower. But it’s probably going to be typical. If someone finds a good trolling bite, you can certainly get some trolling, but probably it’ll be a Shiver Minnow or Jigging Rap or chub bite. It’s going to come to big runs, and who’s going to make the big run. There’s going to be many boats running 45 miles up to the Van Hook Arm,” he said, but if someone can figure out a better bite to the east, it may be a more hospitable run back, and a cheaper one, too, with regular sporting a nearly $4 per gallon price tag.

“A couple of years ago, a top five team got them over by Douglas (Douglas Creek Bay), but you won’t get a bunch. Can you win it over there and have a shot at a lot more fishing time,” and leaving at lot less at the gas station? We’ll see. He’s also sticking with that 30-pound daily bag to do well and qualify for the AIM National Championship Shootout in 2023.

“It’s possible to put up 35 or more, I don’t know if someone can do that two days in a row. Thirty will get you into the Shootout. That’s kind of the goal,” he said.

Anglers will meet online for rules and regs on Thursday evening. Boat inspections begin both days at 5:30 a.m. at the Hazen Bay boat launch. Boats leave starting at 7 a.m. and must return starting at 3 p.m. daily. The final awards event of the season will be at the launch starting at 5 p.m. Saturday.

So, this is it. The final AIM event of the 2022 season. And a great end to a fantastic, historic season that saw the rise of a new team of walleye superstars, and they made their mark at AIM. And, fantastic, fishtastic seasons in North Dakota and Wisconsin. What a way to go! Good luck all teams in this season-ender!

Hey North Dakota, whatcha waitin’ fer? The cows to come home? Don’t be the last to join in. AIM is the most lucrative economical walleye tournament series, period. Be part of it, whether you’re a river or lake angler.

Meanwhile, keep following that page for all the action from beautiful Lake Sakakawea this weekend. Just go to the AIM website,, for details on how you can get in on this in 2023.

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, Marinette, WI, Explore Alexandria, Rosemore Outdoor Gear. Outdoor Authority

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