All eyes will be on Devils Lake Sept. 6-8 when the National Walleye Tour Championship comes to north-central North Dakota. “These are the top walleye anglers in the world,” said Suzie Kenner, tourism director. “The best 41 were invited here following the 2023 NWT season.”
One out of two anglers will win big. The overall Champion will pocket $30,000 and receive a $70,000 Nitro walleye boat with a Merc 225. Generous prize money ($17,500 for second, $10,110 for tenth down to $4,163 for 20th) will make each on-water decision critical. The entire field fishes the first two days, Wednesday and Thursday, with the top 10 going head-to-head on the third day. The Angler of the Year race will be decided as well, with John Hoyer currently leading. The winner will tow home a $90,000 Ranger 620 with a Merc 250.
Interestingly, Hoyer won the NWT Championship on Devils Lake in 2019. He also collected first-place NWT Championship trophies in 2017 in Wisconsin and 2022 in New York. He said, “I fell in love with Devils Lake the first time I saw it. The amazing fishing community really meant something to me with fish cleaning stations, the fact that merchants, motels and resorts cater to us fishermen and how supportive the people act. They cheer us on stage. They wave when we’re driving by. They stop and chat about fishing.”
“We could see record-breaking weights next month,” he predicted. “As pros, we’ve learned so much from the pros who came before us. They shared knowledge and tactics. We soaked it up, and built on their innovations.”
Hoyer said he is most comfortable casting for walleyes. Cranks on the weed edges; jerk baits over the weeds, jigs with paddle tails will all be rigged and ready. The higher water this year opens up new areas. He will try to find the winning combination shallow. “I’m always worried one of my competitors will crack a new code for Devils Lake. Maybe several will discover where the big gals are hiding,” he said. “This is a serious playground with so many challenges that I feel most contestants will be exploring all week long.”
Local guide and World Walleye Champion Johnnie Candle with 35 years of walleye experience under his belt agreed with Hoyer saying, “I have a hunch it could be one of the bigger Devils Lake weights ever. Advancements in electronics and the knowledge these guys will bring here and what they learn about fishing structure will keep me glued to the stage to learn from them.” During the past week he has netted three 29 inch walleyes for clients. “They’re showing up earlier than usual,” he said.
Candle said the community buzz is extremely favorable. “The locals are excited and looking forward to seeing what the best 41 walleye fishermen do on this lake,” he continued. “They will show the world what we have and what we’re so proud of.” Candle, coming off 91 straight days of guiding, said prairie winds should not deter the Championship anglers. “There is always some place to duck out of the wind if necessary,” he said.
One of the veteran walleye pro anglers, Hall-of-Famer Gary Parsons qualified for this Championship. Anglers have been listening and watching him at seminars, at tournaments, on his Next Bite TV show, in hundreds of magazine articles and wherever he has traveled spreading the walleye gospel. He has won Angler of the Year titles in three professional walleye circuits, has racked up top 10 and many wins from 1984 to recently and deserves a huge round of applause because he has gained the respect of the fishing industry.
The Championship spectator details are simple. Weigh-ins begin each afternoon at 3 pm at Graham’s Island State Park. Youth events and other special activities are also planned. Check the Chamber website -- devilslakend.com -- for specifics. This is the best source for guides, lodging, things-to-do when not fishing, and everything visitors need to know about the community or lake.