In just two short years fishing full time, Duane “Dewey” Hjelm has established himself as arguably the most dominant pro angler on the National Walleye Tour. In 2022, Hjelm went on an unprecedented run during the NWT’s final three events where he finished second, first and second. His season culminated with the NWT Angler of the Year, widely considered the most coveted award in walleye fishing. If the first three events of 2023 are any indication, Hjelm’s streak isn’t over yet.
After taking second at the season opener on the Illinois River, Hjelm “survived” with a 22nd-place finish on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago. Last week, the NWT visited Hjelm’s home state of South Dakota. While the newest member of the Rapala® Pro Staff considers Lake Oahe his home water, the season’s third tournament launched downstream on Francis Case, a 107-mile Missouri River reservoir. Nonetheless, Hjelm adapted to the shad forage base and reasserted his Dakota dominance. For his third NWT victory, Hjelm earned a prize package valued at over $95,000.
Dominant Angler, Dominant Lure
The common denominator between his last two wins is the Rapala® Jigging Rap®, Hjelm’s favorite bait.
“That’s how I won the NWT last year at Green Bay too,” quipped the 35-year-old. “It’s crazy how much money I’ve won on that bait. Going into this tournament, I pretty much knew that’s what I was going to do; it’s my favorite style of fishing. I love casting at individual fish with my ActiveTarget. In slot tournaments like this one, you don’t cast to small fish. You have to be picky. You’re literally casting at only the marks you need to catch.”
With surgical precision, Hjelm would quickly drop down the No. 7 Jigging Rap®, attempting to nearly hit the walleyes on the head. This is the beginning of his fast, aggressive strategy, a strategy that lies in stark contrast with his easygoing, almost stoic personality.
“I was mainly fishing trees, but instead of targeting the larger groups of trees that go on for miles, I was looking for more individual trees that weren’t as pressured. When I’m fishing the Jigging Rap® in the trees, I’m going after it. One out of 10 times they will hit right on the fall. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll give the rod a couple pops to keep the bait above the fish.”
Gauging the temperament of the Francis Case walleyes with his electronics, Hjelm realized the traditional Jigging Rap® snap wasn’t the ticket.
“I adjusted to a longer, 3-foot pull. It was more of a pull (on the rod) than a snap, just to keep it in front of their face. They didn’t really want to chase it; they did not like the keep-away game this week.”
Hjelm would start each morning towards the back of a creek not far from takeoff. When he arrived, the walleyes would be suspended as shallow as 15 feet. Later in the day, they would slip out to 30 or even 40 feet. Hjelm would also sample a main-lake hole that consisted of a 35-foot cup between two points. While the creek accounted for more of his fish, the cup produced his pivotal 25-inch kicker. The No. 7 was clearly his bread and butter, but he occasionally dropped down a No. 9 Jigging Rap® for a faster fall.
“Under cloudy conditions, I used the more neutral and more pearl-type colors. Helsinki Shad and Pearl White were two of my best colors. When the sun would come out, I would switch to Chrome Blue. The creek had dingier water, so when I was back there I would use Glow Green Tiger and Glow Slimy Lime.”
Minor Mods, Major Results
Hjelm also made two minor, yet important modifications.
“On just about all my Jigging Raps®, I would swap out the bottom hook and add a No. 6 VMC® Bladed Hybrid treble, the ones with the willow blade that rotates. The other thing I did was connect my baits with the CRS Crankbait Snap. I like those snaps because I change out colors a lot, but it also allows that bait more freedom, which optimizes its action.”
Hjelm’s main line was 10-pound Sufix® 832® Advanced Superline® in Low-Vis Green with a 6-foot, 14-pound Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon leader.
Fellow Rapala® Pro Staffer Dylan Nussbaum also found success with the Jigging Rap®. Nussbaum, who finished second, targeted his unders by dancing the No. 9 Jigging Rap® in deep water, just above the timber. For his walleyes over 20 inches, the young Pennsylvania pro went shallow, opting for a 3/8-ounce VMC® Neon Moon Eye Jig with a fluke-style soft plastic.
With two events left on the 2023 NWT schedule, Hjelm is once again perched on top of the Angler of the Year standings. With 578 points, he holds a 21-point lead over Minnesota pro John Hoyer, his close friend and travel partner, while Nussbaum sits third with 551 points. To date, no NWT pro has ever claimed back-to-back AOY wins.
“I will admit that Angler of the Year has popped into my head, but I honestly don’t want to think about it,” concluded Hjelm. “I don’t want to put any more pressure on myself. We still have two tournaments, and both should be fun, summertime events with aggressive walleyes. I can’t wait to get back out there.”