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Bilbrey & Keep Top PMTT’s Mercury Marine Summer Challenge

 The Eagle River Chain of Lakes lived up to its reputation of being a musky factory on June 24-25 as the Professional Musky Tournament Trail held its Mercury Marine’s Summer Challenge qualifier. Some of the best musky anglers in North America took part in the annual tournament hosted by the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Troy Bilbrey of Wyoming, Minnesota, and Dalton Keep of Scandia, Minnesota, were crowned champions of the PMTT qualifier.

The musky fishing was phenomenal with a one-day record set on Saturday with 59 muskies registered. Nineteen more were caught Sunday, for a total of 78 for the tournament. Conditions were perfect as water temperatures were 68 degrees and the skies overcast for most the event. Cool air temperatures kept pleasure boaters off the lakes, which may also have been a factor for better fishing.

Earning first place was the team of Troy Bilbrey of Wyoming, Minnesota, and Dalton Keep of Scandia, Minnesota, who trolled bucktails in five to seven feet of water just off the weedline and first breakline. Trolling was legalized in the area in 2015, and Bilbrey and Keep figured they had always wanted to try trolling on the Eagle River Chain, and it paid off. The two anglers caught muskies measuring 37 1/2, 38 1/4 and 40 inches, which was enough to take home the first place trophy and almost $20,000 for their efforts. They also won $1,000 in the coveted Ranger Cup, which is awarded to the top Ranger Boat owner in the event. 

Top teams at Eagle River included, from left: front — first place team of Troy Bilbrey and Dalton Keep; back row — third place team of Joey and Jason Summers, and the second place team of Brian Blettner and Tyler Maney.

In second place were local guides Brian Blettner and Tyler Maney of Three Lakes, Wisconsin, who trolled modified walleye-sized Husky Jerk crankbaits. They outfitted the baits with larger hooks for better hooking, and trolled 4 mph over rock and mud flats. Their three muskies measured and they boated three that measured 35, 39 3/4 and 40 1/2 inches. The two anglers don’t consider themselves trollers, but had tried their technique on other lakes they fish and caught muskies.

Placing third was the father-son team of Jason and Joey Summers of Lino Lakes, Minnesota. Along-time, successful participant in the PMTT, Jason is now passing his knowledge on to his 12-year-old son. The pair trolled, with Joey reeling in four muskies that measured 32 1/2, 33, 35 3/4 and 36 1/4 inches — all caught by 10 a.m. on Saturday. The muskies were the first Joey had ever caught.

In fourth place were Mark Lijewski of Minocqua, Wisconsin. and Jeff Piazza of Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin, who caught their muskies casting and trolling perch-colored crankbaits. Lijewski boated the big fish of the tournament with a 45 1/2-inch hybrid, which nicely added to two 32-inchers they had also caught.

Rounding out the top five were Nick Kost of Bemidji, Minnesota, and Chris Padrnos of Brainard, Minnesota, who caught muskies that were 32 1/2, 37 and 39 1/4 inches. Their pattern was slow-trolling crankbaits off the breaklines and in open water.

Tournament Director Tim Widlacki thanked the PMTT`s sponsors, especially Mercury Marine for sponsoring the tournament and the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce for hosting the event. Other sponsors include Ranger Boats, Musky Hunter magazine, Keyes Outdoors, Musky Mayhem Tackle, Chaos Tackle, Muskies Inc., and Vitaminerals.

The PMTT’s next qualifier will be Musky Hunter Magazine’s Fall Meltdown on Cass Lake, Minnesota, August 25-26. For information visit www.promusky.com or call the PMTT office at (815) 478-4092.

Mark Lijewski’s 45 1/2-inch tiger proved to be the largest musky of the tournament.
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