Randy Topper, from Cohasset, and his partner Chuck Hasse, of Walker, recently won big in the AIM Warrior Boats National Championship Shootout in Bismarck, N.D. The championship was a walleye shootout on the Missouri River. Topper and Hasse placed 5th last year at the Lake of the Woods State Championship, which qualified them for the national tournament.
Topper has been fishing competitively since he was 15 years old.
“I fished walleyes with my neighborhood friend’s dad a lot on weekends,” said Topper. “He was fishing the Swan Lake Classic with his partner and asked my buddy and I if we were interested. Of course, we were! We borrowed his dad’s boat and entered our first tournament. Not ever being on the lake before, I picked up a paper map and studied it, locating our start spot, which was a nice point I figured would hold cabbage weeds. We ended up taking second place and I was hooked.”
This first experience has evolved into great fishing success, but not without some hard work. Immediately after finding out that they were headed to nationals, the two began their research on the Missouri River.
“Hours turned into days, days to months, studying maps, past tournament tactics, weights it would take to win and so on,” said Topper on preparing for the tournament.
They were going to be fishing a brand-new spot in a high-stake situation, so they did everything they could to be ready.
In the first few days of practice on the river, Topper and Hasse began to get worried because they were catching a lot of smaller fish. Topper explains that “the best bites in practice came on crank baits and spinner rigs tipped with night crawlers behind planner boards in 7-10 feet of water.”
Later, he said, “Chuck found a shallow bay bite that was yielding about a 20-inch average, which was much better than we have seen throughout the rest of the river. Of course, about the same time, I found some big fish about 45 miles north of takeoff.”
He continued by saying “I was certain this spot would win it, so the next day, we had to make a GPS path through the 45-mile mine field of stumps, trees, and sand bars.”
Unfortunately, when they arrived to the spot, the water level had dropped about two feet from where it was the previous day:
“After two hours of pushing our boats off sand bars in our skivvies, we decided this plan was over,” he said.
They then decided to focus on the spot where Hasse had found the 20-inchers and figured that they had a shot to win it there if they could fish consistently.
Topper and Hasse had set a goal of 15 pounds a day, and after the first day of the tournament, they achieved that goal.
Topper explained that “On game day, we quickly realized that the fishing pressure slowed the fish down quite a bit and we didn’t want to chase crank bait. We adapted in the first hour, slowing our presentation down to all spinners and night crawlers.”
This had worked for them, and the two had known they fished their best game but “[We] were not quite sure if we missed something in practice and somebody found bigger fish.”
After the day one weigh in, they were sitting in second place. Topper said that, at that moment, “we realized we could pull this off.” He says that they knew that if they kept fishing consistently and if no one else got extraordinarily lucky, that they were right there near the top for the finish.
Day two of the tournament yielded similar results. The two had again reached their 15-pound goal. Topper and Hasse, along with the pairs of Dylan Maki with Joe Bricko and Tyler Wolden with Nate Leininger, packed into the truck and headed to Bismarck for the final weigh in.
On the drive there, Denny Fox (the tournament director) called Topper and asked to put the phone on speaker. Fox then asked “how would you all like to be in the top five?” Topper said “the truck erupted. We not only all made it to nationals, but we were all in the top five.” The Wolden/Leininger pair came in 4th, Maki/Bricko in 2nd, and Topper/Hasse in 1st.
With the first-place title, Topper and Hasse came away with a new Warrior 1989DC powered by a 150 Yamaha four-stroke with two Garmin electronics units, which is worth around $58,000.
After the national championship, there was no time for a break. The two were on Lake Mille Lacs for another tournament this past weekend. In that tournament, Topper said they caught a ton of big fish but just not quite big enough.
“It took 51 pounds to win with five fish. Over 10lbs average, which is pretty close to unheard of,” he said.
Despite not placing as well as in the national championship, he said that it was still a blast.
Their next stop is the Mississippi River pools three and four in Redwing, Minn.
“We are chomping at the bit to get there and punch in,” said Topper.