#1 Team Is #1 In Mercury National Walleye Tournament
FOND DU LAC, Wis. – Angling teams entered in the Mercury National Walleye Tournament are randomly assigned numbers to enable scoring systems and communications with tournament officials. A team’s number is no indication of how that team can be expected to place in the tournament. Until what spectators on Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac, Wis., witnessed this weekend, that is.
Justin Kohn of Princeton, Wis., and Matt Nogalski of Hubertus, Wis., coincidently assigned the team number “1” before the tournament began, decisively led the Mercury National Walleye Tournament for both days of the two-day tournament associated with Fond du Lac’s popular Walleye Weekend festival. Kohn and Nogalski are the first team in the Mercury National’s 35-year history to have been assigned number “1” to actually win the tournament, which included leading both days.
In addition to their overall win, Kohn and Nogalski’s performance unofficially has scored another first in the tournament held in Mercury Marine’s headquarters city by weighing in a two-day 10 fish limit total weight of 49.64 pounds. While historic tournament records still need to be verified, long-term tournament volunteers could not recall a higher tournament-winning weight. Kohn and Nogalski, who had a commanding three pound lead over the rest of the field following the first day of the tournament on Saturday, took home the $13,000 first place check.
Showing that the assigned team number is irrelevant, however, were second place finishers Luke Kersten of Boyceville, Wis., and Dan Dittman of Menominee, Wis., who had been assigned team number 249 by tournament officials. The team charged from ninth to second place on the final day by boating five Walleyes weighing 22.84 pounds for a total 10 fish limit weighing 41.1 pounds and winning $7,500.
Demonstrating the health of the Walleye fishery in the Lake Winnebago system, third place finishers, Wisconsinites Ed Goehring of Markesan, and Luke Leanna of Baraboo, brought in a less-than-limit nine fish, yet weighed in 40.84 pounds, well over traditional tournament-winning weights in past decades. Their effort earned the pair $5,500.
The Mercury National is a “live release” event, with the intent of returning as many fish as possible to the water. A “live bonus” of one-tenth of a pound is awarded for each live fish. According to tournament officials, at least 50 percent of the fish caught typically are returned. This year marked a high point in the tournament’s history, when 83 percent of the boated fish were returned to the water. Those that weren’t were cleaned by the Lighthouse Anglers club and donated to local charities.
Cooler temperatures in addition to modern livewell systems and crucial support from the Lighthouse Anglers, Walleyes for Tomorrow and the local Department of Natural Resources office, as fish are being brought to the weigh-in stage and returned to Lake Winnebago, contributed to the high number of live Walleyes being released during the tournament.
The cooler weather which had been present in the area, combined with a glass-smooth Lake Winnebago on Saturday, led many long-time tournament experts to predict that fishing may be difficult, due to subdued Walleye activity. Co-master of ceremonies for the tournament and host of the television show, “The Next Bite,” Keith Kavajecz commented early Saturday that anglers may have to “troll the mud,” referring to the muddy-bottomed section of the lake 10-12 miles north of the launch/finish point in Fond du Lac. As he was being interviewed at the final weigh-in for the event, winning team member Matt Nogalski commented, “I will not confirm or deny that we were trolling in the mud.”
Regardless of their method, Kohn and Nogalski overcame doubtful speculation about a winning catch size from many seasoned anglers and set a new tournament weight record this year, genuinely earning the title “Number 1.’
For complete tournament results, visit www.fishtfm.com.