Brett Carlson

NWT Full Scoop: Hoyer continues to rewrite walleye conventions

National Walleye Tour photo

By Brett Carlson

Ever since he arrived on the pro scene in 2016, John Hoyer has been known as an intelligent, but unconventional tournament angler. Before moving over to the walleye world, he cut his proverbial teeth as a Minnesota musky guide. As an apex predator, muskies often need to be triggered with an aggressive, yet detail-orientated approach. So wherever Hoyer goes, he brings with him an apex mentality while constantly reinventing ways to make walleyes strike.

While he was highly successful before the launch of forward-facing sonar, Hoyer’s ascension to the top of the sport undoubtedly coincided with this revolutionary technology.

> “There are no boundaries with this,” said the three-time National Walleye Tour Championship winner. “The ability to dial in a pattern so quickly with ActiveTarget is amazing. It’s constantly giving me feedback with my decision-making process. It’s to the point where I know I can catch them if I find them.”

The 2024 NWT season opener was held on Lake Erie’s Western Basin, with fish in all three stages of the spawn. Because it’s largely featureless, the Western Basin is one of the few venues where 2D sonar and traditional trolling still dominate – until Hoyer arrives.

The Berkley pro did experience some success trolling during practice, and the conditions for casting, both in prefishing and in the 2-day tournament, were far from ideal.

> “I figured out this presentation on a fun trip to Erie last March,” explained Hoyer. “I call this a Detroit River bait, and I knew it was going to work, but I didn’t think I could win casting. There was only one day in practice where I caught big ones; I’m talking fish 6 pounds and bigger.”

The Detroit River setup was jigs and fluke-style baits. Hoyer would use both 5″ Berkley Power Jerk Shads (left) and 4″ PowerBait Minnows (right). Both baits were rigged with standard 90-degree ball-head river jigs – 3/8-oz in calmer conditions and 1/2-oz in the wind. His best colors were Smokin Shad, Albino, Magic Man, and Chartreuse Shad. When the sun was out, he would opt for the brighter colors.

> “The deeper fish liked the Smokin Shad with the blueish color. Magic Man was a great color to go back on them with.”

He was throwing them on a 7′ 1″ medium, extra-fast action Fenwick World Class, 3000-size Abu Garcia Zenon X spooled with 10-lb Berkley FireLine and a 12-lb Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader.

With his presentation set, the elephant in the room was location. Water clarity is of the utmost importance on Erie, which means yesterday’s waypoints might have no value.

> “After several days of Small Craft Advisories, the cans area was the cleanest water I could find. “There were still prespawners too. I knew I could drive around and find fish, but a pod of big ones was still a needle in a haystack.”

On day 1, Hoyer drove straight north out of Port Clinton. When he got north of D can, he started to see the greenish water he sought. Slowing his Ranger to 20 mph, he marked three big ones and stopped to investigate, even though he had yet to arrive at his intended destination.

> “They didn’t bite in the morning, but that was normal. They started biting at 11, and it was game on. I had 2 prespawners that went 8 and 7.5 (pounds). The rest were postspawners that weighed just over 6 pounds.”

Day 2 started calm, but then blew relentlessly out of the northwest. Hoyer again visited the cans, stopping when he observed the right visibility. Never did he travel more than 10 miles from the ramp.

> “It was the same thing. There was some aggression where they would follow the bait, but the bite didn’t really start until 11 or so. It was blowing like crazy, so it was hard to land casts accurately. At times, there were 3-, 4-, and even 5-footers.

> “I finally got a 27-incher, and then some smaller fish. I returned to the top of my drift and spotted a big one. It took about 20 casts in the wind, but when it finally committed, it was touching the back of its throat. It was a 29- or 30-inch 9-pounder. Forty-five minutes later I caught another 8-pounder after again returning to the top of my drift.”

On the way in, Hoyer upgraded once more with a short, but plump 6 3/4. The end result was 10 walleyes over 2 days that weighed 69 pounds, 13 ounces. With a 5-pound margin of victory, Hoyer earned a total prize package valued at over $116,000.

> “Battling those conditions was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in tournament fishing,” he reflected. “I learned a lot this week. The prespawners were floating west in the undertow – hugging on the bottom out of the current. The prespawners were heading west, and the postspawners were heading east and generally sitting up higher.”

Not surprisingly, Hoyer described his cadence in the dirty water as aggressive.

> “It was still a reaction bite, but a reaction bite within a small strike zone. The bites either happened instantly, or they denied it. It’s like you were forcing them to make a decision.”

Hoyer’s latest run might be the most dominant stretch in the history of professional walleye fishing. He won the 2022 championship on Erie’s Eastern Basin, the 2023 championship on Devils Lake, the 2023 Angler of the Year, and now the 2024 season opener.

> “When we go to these places, I know what I should be doing, but this approach is like a never-ending challenge to me; it’s almost personal, and it’s so entertaining to interact with the fish. You find yourself absolutely captivated by what you’re learning on the screen. Then you get to watch how a walleye assaults a bait. To get to feel that all the way up through your wrists and hands, it’s indescribable. There’s never been anything more fun.”


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