Korey Sprengel, of Beaver Dam, Wisc., brought in a three-day total of 43.69 pounds to the win Cabela’s National Walleye Tour Championship at Lake Winnebego on September 20. The championship is the first for the 26-year-old pro and the sixth win in his young career.
With the win, Sprengel took home a new Ranger 621FS Fisherman powered by Evinrude, $15,000 in Ranger Cup bonus money, an additional $1,000 in Mercury contingency winnings and $1,424 in Anglers Advantage winnings. The value of Sprengel’s entire first-place prize package for capturing the professional title was $84,424.
Residing in nearby Beaver Dam, Sprengel has a vast amount of experience on Lake Winnebego, but a disappointing pre-tournament practice left the young pro scrambling to put together a winning pattern. Going into the third and final day of the event, he trailed eventual third-place finisher Mark Courts by three pounds.
“Going into the tournament, I had no idea how it was going to go,” Sprengel said. “(Lake Winnebego)’s basically my home body of water and I had to relearn it on the fly.”
Sprengel began each day on the south shore of the main lake, approximately 15 miles from Oshkosh, targeting rock humps in 6 to 7 feet of water with a 1/8-ounce jig tipped with a purple and white PowerBait Rib Worm. On the tournament’s first two days, Sprengel opted to run back to Oshkosh in search of big bites in the Fox River. However, on Day 3 he opted to stick close to the south shore where he found a patch of weeds and another hump.
“On the third spot, I found some protected weeds, some coontail, in 3 or 4 feet of water, then I basically started flipping that same jig. Ten minutes into it I caught another 23-inch fish,” Sprengel said. “I knew if there was one in there, there would be more in there. Then I stuck another 23 incher and we had our seven fish by 1:30.”
Sprengel’s 18.42-pound stringer, which included four walleye between 22 and 23 inches, was the largest of the tournament.
“I’ve never worked so hard in a fishing tournament in my life,” Sprengel said. “When I landed that seventh fish, I took a nice boat ride back and when I got in the harbor I could have gone to sleep right there.”
Second-year walleye pro Jacob Ell of Bismarck, N.D., brought the second-largest stringer of the tournament to the scales on Day 3 (18.26 pounds) but was one fish short of a limit. Using his planer boards to pull No. 7 Berkley Flicker Shads near deep-water transitions in the northeast side of the lake, Ell said the key to triggering the big-fish bite was making sure that his crankbaits made contact with the bottom.
“I couldn’t have fathomed an 18-pound day driving out here. But still, I came in one fish short. Losing by half a pound isn’t fun but you’ve got to get past that,” said Ell, who took home a new Ranger 620FS Fisherman powered by Evinrude and $1,175 in Anglers Advantage winnings for a total second-place prize package worth $63,175. “It’s an awesome feeling to go out there and prove that a body of water can put out some good fish this time of year.”
Courts, of Harris, Minn., went into the final day of the championship event with a three-pound lead and was within striking distance of his second tour-level championship. Fishing near the mouth of the Fox River, Courts boated 11.44 pounds and found plenty of fish. However, his limit wasn’t enough to keep pace with the 18-plus-pound stringers of Sprengel and Ell.
“He flat crushed them. I’ll tell you what, I have a lot of respect for Korey,” Courts said. “I was feeling pretty decent when I came in but in the end it just wasn’t enough.”
With his third-place finish, Courts took home a total of $14,075 in prize money, which included $8,500 third-place winnings, Anglers Advantage payout and contingency bonuses from Ranger Cup and Evinrude.
Rounding out the Top 10 on the professional side were Kevin McQuoid (4th place, 36.09 pounds), Ross Grothe (5th place, 34.26 pounds), Ted Takasaki (6th place, 33.48 pounds), Tommy Skarlis (7th place, 30.91 pounds), Robert Cardenas (8th place, 28.61 pounds), Tom Keenan (9th place, 27.37 pounds) and Jason Doyon (10th place, 21.58 pounds). Tom Kemos, of Oconomowoc, Wisc., won the 2014 Pro-Angler of the Year Award. Mike Utley, of Zumbrota, Minn., won the 2014 Co-Angler of the Year Award.
Craig Cayemberg, of Valders, Wisc., was the angler fortunate enough to draw Sprengel as partner on the final day of the tournament, which propelled him to a win in the co-angler division. The longtime competitor on the co-angler side, entered into the final day facing a four-and-a-half pound deficit. But thanks to the tournament-clinching fish that Sprengel located on the southern end of Lake Winnebego, Cayemberg finished the event with 39.9 pounds and took home $6,000 in first-place prize money to go along with $663 in Anglers Advantage money.
“I’ve really got to thank all my boaters first and foremost. The quality of people you meet as a co-angler is second to none,” Cayemberg said. “This morning I was four-and-a-half pounds out of the lead. To come back and win I just didn’t think that it could be done.”
Cabela’s National Walleye Tour delivers unprecedented television and media coverage, allowing a national audience to watch the action unfold from each event. Airing on multiple networks, the National Walleye Tour will be seen on World Fishing Network, and Pursuit Channel, as well as the NBC Sports Network.
The NWT would like to thank local sponsors, Oshkosh Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Best Western Waterfront and Convention Center, for their assistance in hosting the championship event.
For more details, anglers are encouraged to call 612-424-0708 or 501-317-7548 or go online to http://www.nationalwalleyetour.com.
Blue Heron Communications
Image courtesy National Walleye Tour