MENASHA, Wis. — The TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Regional at Lake Winnebago was a challenge for every competitor, but hometown angler Josh Wiesner figured out the finicky smallmouth bite the best.
Wiesner, who lives in Oakfield, near the southern shore of Lake Winnebago, caught a three-day total of 15 bass weighing 44 pounds, 3 ounces. It was a hard-earned victory that came with a $6,000 prize, part of a $40,650 total cash purse divvied among the best of the week’s competitors.
Wiesner bagged a limit of 14-2 on Friday, which followed his earlier limits of 15-2 and 14-15. He took the lead on Day 2 and slammed the door with authority on Friday, finishing the derby more than 5 1/2 pounds ahead of his nearest competitor.
Wiesner acknowledged Winnebago can be stingy at times, but the 45-year-old angler said the wind that blew Friday helped his cause.
“When I pre-fished on Sunday, the wind was blowing and the fish were biting,” he said. “I had a limit in less than an hour today. It was 6:54 a.m. It was only 8 pounds, but I lost a couple 3-pounders right next to the boat … and I hadn’t lost any fish like that in the tournament otherwise. Then the wind kicked up and I told my partner we’d start clobbering them, and we did.”
Wiesner estimated he had 40 bites on Friday, though not all of them were keepers. Still, his output was better than some who didn’t have that many bites the entire tournament.
Wiesner said his best bites came around rocks in anywhere from 4 to 9 feet of water. His main lures were a 2 3/4-inch tube bait (green pumpkin/orange flake) and a Bass Assassin Skunk Ape (also green pumpkin).
“They were feeding on crawfish and shiners,” Wiesner said. “I could see them on the Garmin LiveScope and would watch the fish eat the bait. About half the time it happened when the lure was still falling. The other half, I’d shake the line and one would grab it and take off.”
Wiesner’s win earned him a spot in the 2023 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Lake Hartwell on Oct. 18-20 in South Carolina. It’ll be his first trip to the Nation title event.
He said he’s primarily competed in walleye events in more than 25 years of tournament fishing, so to win a B.A.S.S. Nation tournament against some of the best anglers from 10 different states was a statement victory.
“It’s exciting to take the bass thing to the next level,” he said. “This is something different for me and it could be the next part of my journey.”
The tournament featured 100 competitors in both angler and co-angler fields, with the field trimmed to the Top 26 in each on Friday. The Top 10 in both divisions advanced to October’s championship on Hartwell.
Rounding out the Top 5 in the angler division were second, South Dakota’s Troy Diede, 38-10, $3,000; third, Ohio’s B.J. Baxter, 38-8, $2,000; fourth, Minnesota’s Jay Swanson, 38-2, $1,500; and Wisconsin’s Lonnie Peterson, 37-10, $1,000.
Robert Swem, of Buchanan, Mich., won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award of $500 for the 4-9 he caught Thursday. Wiesner won an additional $500 for being the highest-placing angler using Garmin electronics.
Tyler Guthmiller, a Yankton, S.D., resident who qualified through the North Dakota B.A.S.S. Nation, won the co-angler championship with eight bass totaling 20-14. He collected a $2,750 cash prize for the win.
Top 5 co-anglers at Winnebago were, second, Wisconsin’s Bryan Schumacher, 19-1, $1,500; third, Wisconsin’s Dylan Esselman, 18-12, $1,000; fourth, Minnesota’s Miles Lausch, 15-13, $600; and fifth, Indiana’s Carl Bowser, 15-7, $500.
Nebraska’s Leray Anderson II caught a 3-13 on Day 1 to claim a $250 prize for Phoenix Boats Big Bass among co-anglers.
This week’s tournament was the first B.A.S.S. Nation visit to Lake Winnebago since 2008 and the fourth of five regular-season Nation stops in 2023, following tournaments on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, Douglas Lake in Tennessee and the Potomoc River in Maryland. The fifth will be held on Arizona’s Lake Powell on Aug. 30-Sept 1., followed by the championship on Hartwell.
The Top 3 anglers from the Nation Championship will win spots in the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota when it’s held March 22-24 on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees in Tulsa, Okla. The winner at Hartwell also will earn a berth into the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series as well as use of a fully-rigged, Nation’s Best Toyota Tundra truck and Nitro boat.
The tournament was hosted by the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.