Wiesner jumps to the lead at Winnebago

MENASHA, Wis. — After catching the heaviest bass on Day 1 of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Regional at Lake Winnebago, local pro Josh Wiesner followed with the heaviest bag on Day 2, which gave him the tournament lead on the sprawling 137,000-acre fishery in central Wisconsin.

Wiesner, who lives in Fond du Lac, on the southern shore of Lake Winnebago, has a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 30 pounds, 1 ounce. Of that total, 14-15 came Thursday, allowing Wiesner to jump from third place into first with only the final day of fishing ahead of him.

In all, 200 pros and co-anglers from 10 different states started the event. The field was trimmed to the top 26 in each division after Thursday’s weigh-in, with the remaining anglers vying for top prizes of $6,000 and $2,750, respectively. The tournament has a total purse of $40,650.

Wiesner appears primed for a run at the championship. His 4-5 smallmouth on Day 1 anchored a limit that weighed 15-2 and trailed Day 1 leader Adam Hamann by only 8 ounces. A day later, Wiesner’s haul was one of only nine bags that topped 13 pounds.

Wiesner, 45, had a limit of smallmouth by 7 a.m. Thursday, and he upgraded a half-dozen times as morning turned to afternoon. He’s confident he can bag another limit on the final day, but he’s uncertain how heavy it will be.

“It’s a picky lake,” he said. “I found some good spots to fish on Sunday, but the fish just aren’t biting much right now. It’s been stingy.” 

Wiesner said he’s fishing traditional smallmouth patterns, primarily dragging green pumpkin jigs around rock structures. He caught his early limit Thursday in 4 feet of water, but his biggest Day 2 smallmouth (which weighed nearly four pounds) came in approximately 9 feet.

“They’re feeding on shiners and crawfish,” he said. “I know what to look for, and it happened early for me today. But those smallmouths have a tendency to do some funny things. Hopefully I can find them biting again early tomorrow.”

Hamann dropped to second with 28-1, following his 12-7 limit on Thursday. The 30-year-old-resident, of Prairie du Chien, Iowa, said bass bites have been “few and far between” this week, which is telling for someone who knows the area well and has won at this level before (he was victorious in the 2021 B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Regional on the upper Mississippi River in Lacrosse, Wis).

Rounding out the Top 5 in the angler division are Minnesota’s Jay Swanson, 27-2; and Illinois anglers Taylor Umland, 26-7; and Curtis Samo, 26-4.

Robert Swem, of Buchanan, Mich., took the lead in the Phoenix Boats Big Bass race with the 4-9 he caught Thursday.

Tyler Guthmiller, of Yankton, S.D., leads the co-angler division with a pair of three-bass limits totaling 14-11. With him in the Top 5 are Indiana’s Shon Smith, 12-14; Wisconsin’s Bryan Schumacher, 12-14; Indiana’s Chris Rhodes, 12-5; and Illinois’ Alan Bernicky, 12-4.

Guthmiller tied Nebraska’s Alfonso Garcia Jr. for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors among co-anglers on Thursday, with each weighing a 3-9.

Illinois won the team competition with a two-day total of 110 bass weighing 258 pounds, earning $5,625. Wisconsin earned $3,375 for finishing second (112 bass, 248-11), and Indiana was third (99, 212-4).

Rounding out the 10-team field are fourth, Michigan (95, 198-15); fifth, Minnesota (93, 197-2); sixth, Ohio (88, 191-3); seventh, Iowa (82, 185-13), eighth, Nebraska (87, 185-2); ninth, South Dakota (68, 151-2); and 10th, North Dakota (65, 140-1).

Leaders at Winnebago will advance to the 2023 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Lake Hartwell on Oct. 18-20 in South Carolina. The winner there 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 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.

This week’s tournament is the first B.A.S.S. Nation visit to Lake Winnebago since 2008, and it’s 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 third and final day of action at Lake Winnebago will begin Friday at 6 am. CT, with the final weigh-in beginning at 2 p.m. at Jefferson Park. Follow along on Bassmaster.com.

Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau is hosting the event.