Presented by Yamaha Motor Corp USA and Warrior Boats Inc.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Aug. 22, 2022
Contact: Denny Fox, 920-505-0122
Anglers Insight Marketing LLC (AIM™)
Two Down, One To Go: Huynh and Wolske Are The ‘Superior’ Team At AWWS Minnesota Championship
Crazy, crazy, crazy.
Let’s say that again.
Crazy, crazy, craaaazy.
Attention, world of Pro Walleye Fishing. We’re about to tell you what we think you already know. You’re now in the presence of two confirmed superstars. Think Mike McClelland and Bob Propst in the 80s. Gary Roach and Mark Martin. Ron Seelhof. Parsons and Kavajecz. Think Andersen. Think Van Dam in bass fishing. Now, the next on that storied list is here: Tom Huynh and Nate Wolske. Confirmed. This is now not a fluke. Not a flash and gone. You, Fan Nation, are witnessing something truly special.
That’s what Tom Huynh and Nate Wolske are doing and have done. They won the 2022 AIM Weekend Walleye Series Mercury Marine Minnesota Championship Friday and Saturday, Aug. 19-20, catching, recording and releasing an amazing 57.24 pounds over two days on Lake Superior at Duluth, Minnesota. It earned them a berth in the AIM National Championship Shootout next year, $9,500 from AIM for the win, $1,100 in side pot cash, and another $500 in Garmin Rewards for using Garmin electronics aboard. Total: $11,100.
“There’s a word that now captures these two. It means rare. Hard-to-find. Unique. And under the new definition of ‘Unicorn’ it should read, ‘see Huynh and Wolske” said Denny Fox, AIM national tournament director.
“They have now won back-to-back AIM State Championships. Back-to-back AIM Yamaha Motor Corp USA Team Of The Year titles, this year with the highest points total in AIM history. We’ll detail that in our next installment of the Tom and Nate show.
“They also took this year’s AIM National Championship Shootout. And several AIM qualifiers since picking AIM to do their magic starting in 2019,” Fox added. “That is why no superlative does justice to what we are witnessing. This team has done something no one else has on the water. They have changed the game of walleye fishing. And I’ve got a feeling this ain’t over yet.”
As Huynh, who’s from Moorhead, puts it, “I just don’t know what to say anymore. It’s all crazy.”
And, you could tell that since they appeared on the AIM podium in their first event, Huynh (yes, pronounced, “win” of course), and Nate Wolske, from Boy River, they were special. But even with that history, winning again, hit Huynh hard. Look at the video at the AIM site. He could hardly speak, and then he lost it, and the normally stoic Wolske took over.
“I was fine walking up. In my normal state of mind. And then I got three or four words out and in the back of my mind I’m thinking, this is overwhelming, and we just did this again,” Huynh said.
“Our priority was Team Of The Year. And winning the championship was, to realize all of a sudden, we’d just done both again, two years in a row and seeing the other anglers watch and friends and family, it just hit me,” he continued. You’re allowed, Mr. Huynh. “It’s the same thing I’ve always said. After every single one of these, I still don’t believe it.”
And, in our conversation, he revealed hints of how they did it: with a yet-to-be-revealed bass bait, cast at fish while bobbing in waves that Saturday approached five feet, with the floor of their Garmin LiveScope-equipped boat awash with about two or three inches of Lake Superior. But it wasn’t all easy. We’ll begin with pre-fishing. Actually, we’ll begin with last year’s qualifier here.
“Pre-fishing last year, I had another event, I didn’t get any pre-fish time. Nate came up a few days early last year. He tried to find a trolling bite then and didn’t find anything. So at the end of the day last year, we decided to make a run where he caught one fish for the tournament. Apparently, it’s where most of the field goes. We dropped in, and saw, and said, dang, the bottom looks good here. We found three fish,” he said. Forward to 2022.
“This whole year knowing that the championship was going to be here, I was like, ‘I can’t wait to go back with things I’d like to try. But when I got here the first day or two, I couldn’t make it happen. The fish I was seeing would just not bite. I’m thinking they’re sheepshead or trout (followers of his own Facebook site saw that he did catch a big brown trout).” He was searching around his boat for something to try, he said. And if that sounds familiar, yup, he’d done that before.
“So I put on this bait, and it was so funny looking. I took a photo of it and sent it to Nate, saying I’m really scrambling to find a bite,” he said. “My first cast, I caught a 22-inch walleye. Three casts in a row, three walleye. I had to sit down in my boat shaking, saying, my gosh, I just figured this out. Not only it was the bait we were using, but also the presentation. If you presented it any other way, it would not have worked. When Nate figured that out, he texted me from his boat saying, ‘this is crazy.’” Huynh quickly phoned a supplier in California to overnight a shipment of the still-unnamed “funny looking” bass bait, so they wouldn’t run out of what they’d discovered.
Well, Fan Nation, it was crazy, but it wasn’t. Monday of pre-fish, he had nearly 42 pounds. Tuesday, 46. “Then I left the lake alone,” he said, and anchored down some spots on the river where they were assured of at least filling their card if the lake went south. And, it almost did.
“I went out to the lake the day before (Thursday), and it was scary. Everything had changed. It scared me even more,” he said, hinting that the fish they’d found had disappeared. But on Day One, things changed again. On Day One, they struck.
“That day started with Nate catching the first, a 24-incher. That stayed on the card. That was within the first hour. We knew we had a short bite window which started about 1, and that was the scary part. He caught that 24, and a little smaller one after. And then throughout the day they came pretty evenly spaced. We had two over 28, a 25 and two 24. I think we had 10 on the card, total,” Huynh said. Why use a bass technique on walleye? Couple reasons. Huynh is a reformed bass angler and may even return to chase that title in a few years.
Second, there’s a running joke between bass and walleye anglers that goes something like this: bass aren’t as smart as walleye, and walleye takes a lot more skill. Having been in both realms now, Huynh humbly disagrees.
“People think bass are dumb. I think bass are the most educated in the water. They get thrown at more than any other species. They get taught lessons. Whereas with walleyes, we’re the ones up here who think we have to throw live bait to get them to eat.
“They’re both predatory fish. Just look at the Bassmaster Elites who were just on Lake Oahe (that’s mostly in South Dakota). The winner just caught his personal best walleye, almost 14 pounds, and he caught it in 70 some feet of water on a bass bait. You watch the bass guys on the tour catching walleyes, and the walleyes they catch aren’t small,” he said.
Here endeth the lesson. Back to the championships.
“We knew historically you’d need in the high 20s to be sitting good here, but we knew we’d be looking at 30 to 35 pounds, and in practice we had that. Then again, we have a really competitive field. We knew we were sitting good before the Day One results, but that six-pound cushion was a nice relief,” Huynh said. Day One, they were atop the field with 37.56 pounds, 7.85 more than second place, not six. Even more comfortable.
Day Two was a potential “dark and stormy,” one and it was, he said. “It was almost comparable to Lake of The Woods last year (yup, they won that one, too). Jokingly after that I said I hoped every tournament has these. But these waves were different. They were these big four and five-foot rollers and they weren’t breaking until late in the day. But we were still out there, nose into the waves. I don’t know if it affected the way the fish were biting, but it affected the way we could catch them, for sure.
“We continued our strategy. We had to change up a little bit,” he said. Problem was, the fish did too. They waited. No bites. And waited. No bites. You know the feeling, surely.
“We fished four to five hours before our first fish, a 24-incher. That gave us about six pounds. We kept going and an hour or so later we catch a 22 or 23, and I told Nate, with a couple hours left, that ‘in my head, I’m thinking these fish aren’t acting right. We should just run into the river. But river fish are going to be all 17-inchers. If we stay out here, we could catch one more that’d be equal to that. So we ground it out and came on this school of small fish. We got two 17-inchers out of that. That made me feel better about not running to the river,” he said.
But, it was getting late, and that run back would surely be bumpy.
“Nate goes, ‘we’ve got less than one minute, and he started putting rods away. I reached down to pull the trolling motor. The wind is blowing the boat sideways and I see a mark on the LiveScope. I threw at it, and it bites. I’m like, oh my gosh,” he said. Now at that point others would be saying some other things, but this is Tom and Nate. It was a 23.
“He was measuring it and I was putting the rods in and started the boat to make some ground. That’s the first time in my life that there was a last-minute fish like that,” he said. Finally back on shore and a mite drier, they had no idea how well they’d done.
“We knew that Dylan (Maki) and Joe (Bricko) would have to have 25, and the day before they had 31. For them, 25 is nothing. That’s the respect we have for these guys. After we turned in our card, it was a very long couple of hours. Waiting, waiting, waiting, and after they announced that Dylan and Joe and said they’d zeroed, I was like more deflated for them than I was happy for us.”
And that Fan Nation, is the very definition of a champion. Right there. Remember that. Yup. Crazy. That, and…
“Then my brain went, and said, oh my gosh, we just did this. We had a first on the Mississippi River. We had a fourth on Lake Mille Lacs. A second on Leech. A second on Vermillion, and then our first place here. So we had, yeah, a good season,” Huynh said, in his typically understated way.
Anyone would have liked to have had that “good season.” Anyone else would have called it a fantastic season. But not these two.
All the greats in life, not just the great once in a while, are humble. They are everyday, down-to-earth types. No pretension. No snootiness. The kind who’ll wave at you, and talk to you and invite you aboard. Shake your hand. Even sign an autograph. And that’s why we’ve compared these two to some of the greats that ever were.
Remember that story on these two posted here a while back? We compared them to the fictional character in the baseball book and movie, “The Natural.” These two are the living versions of Roy Hobbs, and the other real legends of the sport we’ve named above. Make absolutely no mistake. You’re seeing greatness.
But, will the team that strikes fear into walleye everywhere be back on the AIM circuit next year? Or, will they move on to another circuit, or even go back to scaring bass?
That, Fan Nation, will be decided, when the late spring snow numbs fingers and ice clogs your rod guides, and walleye wake to wonder if they’ll be seeing bass rigs tossed again at them by Tom Huynh and Nate Wolske, who’ve cemented their names in walleye fishing history.
Finishing in second place with a 43.87-pound total, and winning $4,500 plus $640 in side pot cash, were Tyler Wolden of Carlos, and Nate Leininger of Miltona. They used the “kitchen sink” program in their Mercury 400 Verado-powered and all-Garmin-equipped boat.
“During practice we were dedicated to the lake because the size and quality of fish there were second to none,” Wolden said. “It wasn’t known to a lot, but they were doing a reclamation on the St. Louis River so that was kind of a tip that really messed the river up. It turned the water dirtier than ever, so we knew we had to dedicate a lot of time to it,” he continued.
“We found great fish from eight to 20 miles out. We had a great practice, and we caught a 31-incher. Finding the right water temperature and clarity was super critical. On Day One it stayed the same.
“We were on the south shore. There is a migration there. There are two different types of walleye there, lake and river, but with that reclamation and dredging a lot stayed in the lake. Typically speaking this time of year, the fish would be a lot further east.
On Day One, they worked their program, finding fish with LiveScope, and throwing everything they had at them, Jigging Raps, rigging, plastics, whatever. “We threw the kitchen sink at them at every fish we saw shallow, on the rocks, and only 10 percent would bite. I think it had a lot to do with just timing. We’d get two to bite in a row, and then sometimes throw at 10 fish to get one to bite.
“We went through 11 or 12 fish through the day. We started in the morning with a 24-1/4-incher on a Jigging Rap. Then we rifled through some smaller fish. Then we got a 22-incher and then a 19, and then a 24 and at the end of the day we topped it off with a 29-1/2. We were in dire need of that one. The water had warmed up more so towards the end of the day it was like 63 on the surface,” Wolden said.
“Monday and Tuesday we were averaging 35 to 40 pounds a day. Wednesday and Thursday prior were absolute dog days. The lake just turned off. So having 27 pounds, we were pleasantly happy on Day One,” he recounted. At that point, they were sitting in third, where anything could happen. And, it did, but some not to their liking. On Day Two, they were ready to do it again, but the big lake they call Gitchee Gumee wasn’t having it.
“We got out there and found the water temperature had gone down to 57 or so. We spent a half-hour covering our area and we maybe saw one or two fish. We scrambled back to eight miles out to find the same,” he said. And the waves were building. After covering three or four miles of water and seeing only a handful of fish, they went deeper. They connected with a couple, and then hooked an absolute giant. “If I had to guess it was 28 or bigger. And that came unbuttoned after about a five-minute battle. Then, later our trolling motor went completely dead,” he said. It had failed to charge overnight.
Their only recourse was the river and use that big Merc to backtroll pulling spinners to get them to 13 pounds, which put them in second, and a National Championship Shootout berth.
“The mistake of not checking to make sure the trolling batteries were charging, stuff like that happens,” Wolden added. “You’ve just got to live and learn and keep plugging away. Hats off to Tom and Nate, they’re great fishermen. We’re learning and adapting so we can compete with them.”
Here’s the rest of the top five, all of whom will be going to the 2023 AIM National Championship Shootout for a chance at that fantastic Warrior Boat/Yamaha 150/Garmin Panoptix package worth more than $55,000. Be watching for where it’ll take place. Will it be another sleeper lake like Minnesota’s Miltona? Hang in there, it’ll be a few months.
Finishing in third, with 34.73 pounds were Keith Elza, of Ashland, WI, and Bob Gould of Hermantown, MN, winning $3,000 and third place in the side pot with $440. Fourth place was anchored by Evan Rosemore of North Branch and Steven Rosemore of Cloquet, with 31.53 pounds, good for $2,000 in dead presidents. The aforementioned Dylan Maki of Cohasset and Joe Bricko of Farmington, finished with 31.49 pounds and $1,600.
Sign up next spring at AIM’s Facebook page, and keep following the page for all the action from North Dakota’s beautiful Lake Sakakawea this weekend the final event of the 2022 AIM season. Just go to the AIM website, aimfishing.com, for details on how you can get in on this in 2023.
You know you want to. You know you can.
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