CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sean Hoernke used to be one of the most promising up and coming pros on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour.
The 31-year-old professional angler from Magnolia, Texas, has built a solid fishing résumé over the last five years of his career, which includes a Wal-Mart FLW Series win, a Stren Series win, a BASS Open win – and as of Sunday, an FLW Tour win.
With his National Guard Open win on Lake Norman today, Hoernke is not an up-and-comer any more. He has arrived as one of the top sticks in the professional fishing business with an impressive résumé that will likely only get stronger.
Over the two days of the tournament’s final round, Hoernke demonstrated the kind of focus, adaptability and consistency is takes to be one of the best by checking in limits of 13 pounds, 5 ounces and 13-11, while his competition struggled to keep pace.
In the end, Hoernke amassed a two-day total of 27 pounds even, which gave him a 4-pound, 7-ounce margin of victory – an impressive gap on a lake where ounces usually separates winners from the rest of the pack.
“The four are complete,” Hoernke said after his victory. “I’ve won at every level of FLW competition – BFL, Stren, FLW Series and now the Tour. Now I’ll wake up in the morning and set some new goals. But I’m going to relish this win for a day or two first.
“I’m a competitor, and the truth is I get mad when I don’t win. I’ll spend the whole drive home being mad at myself when I don’t do well. So I’ll enjoy my drive home for a change.”
Though Hoernke got a supercharged start out of the gate with a shad-spawn bite the first day of the event for 15 pounds, that bite died on him, and he spent the rest of the tournament sight-fishing new water each day.
“When I woke up each morning, I had no idea where I was going to fish,” he said. “And that really turned out to be the key for me winning this tournament – no set agenda. Other than that shad-spawn dock I fished first thing each day, I fished the entire tournament on new water. New fish were moving up every day, and the key was to stay on 100 (trolling motor setting) and find the new ones as they moved up. I burned so much fuel and battery today, just covering all new water. I skipped over dozens of little bass to find ones that had thicker shoulders.”
Another key was not letting any particular sight-fish eat up his clock.
“By today I had really learned how to read these fish,” he said. “I’d give each decent fish five to seven minutes to react to my bait in a certain way. I let several fish burn up my time earlier in the week, and I learned from that. If they didn’t want to play after five to seven minutes, I moved on to the next one.”
Hoernke – like several other pros in the top 10 – also made a key lure change for his sight-fish late in the week. Instead of using weighted baits that dropped into the bed, Hoernke discovered that the fish would react to weightless wacky-rigged baits much faster.
“Earlier in the week I caught a lot of my sight-fish on a shaky head,” he said. “But by today, you could tell the fish were not as threatened by something on the bottom. They were positioned a little higher in the beds, and a 4-inch weightless wacky worm really got their attention much faster. When it would flutter by them, they’d snap it up.”
For his win, Hoernke collected $150,000. And there’s a pretty good chance that won’t be his last big-time payday in professional fishing.
Moynagh clings to second
Throughout the event, Moynagh used a weightless wacky worm, a Salmo Skinner and a swimbait to fish pockets above and below the Highway 150 Bridge.
The wacky worm was made up of a 1/0 hook and an All-Terrain Tackle Stick worm, fished on 8-pound-test Gamma fluorocarbon.
The first few days the wacky worm was his bread and butter, but today he went to the Salmo Skinner – the same topwater he used for a top-10 at Norman last year – to catch four of his keepers.
“The cloud cover kept building all day, and it just seemed right for that Salmo,” Moynagh said. “It’s a lipped minnow bait, and I twitch it on the surface to make it splash and dive. For some reason fish on this lake really like it.”
Canterbury got a huge blast out of the gate on day one when he weighed in 18-5 with big bedding fish he had found way up the river. But once he caught those, he had to resort to bank-burning during the tournament to find new bedding fish.
Over the last two days he blistered the banks with a one-two punch that consisted of swimming a Berkley Hollow Belly swimbait at a quick clip and following it up with a drop-shot.
Some of his better keepers bit the Hollow Belly, but others would just come up and flash on it, giving away their location.
Once the game of hide-and-seek was up, Canterbury would use a Jackall Cross Tail Shad on a drop-shot rig with 6- and 8-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line to catch the bedding fish.
“I caught every bedding fish that I pitched that Cross Tail shad to this week, except for one,” Canterbury said. “It was amazing how good they would eat that bait on a drop-shot rig.”
Pugh sight-fished above and below the 150 bridge all week. His main sight-fishing gear included his own homemade 5/16-ounce jig and a shaky head made up of a 3/16-ounce PJ’s jighead teamed with a Berkley Power Shaky worm.
Today he resorted to walking a Bomber Long A on the surface for a few of his keepers, and the rest came sight-fishing.
“I’m afraid I made a bit of a tactical error today by not allowing myself enough time in one place I’d been saving all week,” Pugh said. “I got in there this afternoon, and there were fish everywhere, but they had kind of moved around and relocated. By the time I figured out where they were, it was time to go.”
Browne spent his week above the 150 bridge looking for new fish each day.
“I had one pocket that seemed to replenish with quality fish each day, so I’d check that first,” Browne said. “But after that, I’d cover new water to find new fish. And I think that was a big key for guys who did well in this tournament – covering new water to find new fish. Spending the whole day revisiting used water did me no good.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the National Guard Open on Lake Norman:
6th: National Guard pro Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., two-day total of 19-11, $28,000
7th: Bud Pruitt of Spring, Texas, two-day total of 18-4, $26,000
8th: Castrol pro Mike Surman of Boca Raton, Fla., two-day total of 17-10, $24,000
9th: Art Ferguson III of St. Clair Shores, Mich., two-day total of 17-9, $22,000
10th: Snickers pro Chris Baumgardner of Gastonia, N.C., two-day total of 12-12, $20,000
AOY heats up
With three FLW Tour events down and three to go, the Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year race is beginning to heat up.
Now leading is Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., with 568 points. He is followed by Lewis Smith Lake champion Michael Bennett of Roseville, Calif., with 562 points. Berkley pro Glenn Browne is in third with 559 points.