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Hoyer’s Unconventional Approach Leads to Extraordinary Results

Mercury walleye pro’s aggressive tactics derive from musky background.

Hoyer’s Unconventional Approach Leads to Extraordinary Results

In less than a decade, John Hoyer has built a reputation as one of the most accomplished anglers in the sport of tournament walleye fishing. In summer 2022, he became only the second pro to win two National Walleye Tour (NWT) Championships, joining fellow Mercury Pro Team member Jason Przekurat. Soon after, Hoyer joined the Mercury Pro Team himself, and the industry took notice.

While his passion for fishing was innate, Hoyer’s rise to the top of the walleye world was largely related to a different fish species – the ever-elusive musky.

Formative Years

“Growing up, my dad was a Lutheran pastor in Brainerd, Minn.,” recalled Hoyer. “One of my earliest fishing memories is when we were trolling Gull Lake one October in big, 3-foot waves. I was about 3 or 4 years old, and my dad also had one of his parish members with. My dad hooked a 10-pounder, but right as we’re netting the fish the handle breaks. I lunged to grab the net, the member about had a heart attack and my dad grabbed me by the back of the life jacket. To lunge for the net as a young child – that was just my instinct.”

The family moved to Calgary, Alberta, for most of John’s formative years, before returning to Minnesota when John was 14, where his dad, Rev. Phil Hoyer, presided over St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Litchfield.

“At that point, I pressured my dad into getting a boat,” John said. “We got a 16-foot TRACKER®, and when I got my license, my parents let me drive that thing around and fish as much as I wanted.”

A top math student with an analytical brain, John graduated from Litchfield High School and began studying at North Dakota State to become a civil engineer. Two years into the program, he called a career audible and became a union carpenter, while beginning to shift his fishing focus more seriously toward muskies.

“In 2007, I bought a Ranger® 618T mainly for musky fishing,” John said. “I remember that little tiller had a $300 monthly payment. I forced myself to guide so that the boat would pay for itself.”

Catching Musky Fever

At that point, Hoyer was consumed by muskies, Minnesota’s apex predator.

“I would fish walleyes up to the first weekend in June. That’s when musky fishing opens in Minnesota,” he said. “I wouldn’t walleye fish again until the lakes froze up in December. I would musky fish every chance I got.”

Hoyer continued to build his guide business by running trips in the evenings while balancing his carpentry career. With some flexibility from his supervisor, guide trips became multi-day excursions and expanded beyond the Twin Cities metro area to include lakes such as Vermillion and Mille Lacs.

His fishing career took a dramatic turn in 2013, when he met up-and-coming walleye pro Dusty Minke at the Leech Lake Walleye Tournament in Walker, Minn.

“Up to that point, muskies were my priority, but I was still such a fan of walleye tournaments,” John recalled. “I had followed all the major circuits. Dusty told me his team was always looking for co-anglers to join them. Then he called me in April to come prefish the Lake Erie NWT. I had never fished Erie before, and to go with Dusty, Korey Sprengel and Bill Shimota, that was my dream walleye trip.”

Hoyer went on to win the tournament as a co-angler. The following year, he fished the entire season as a co-angler and won 2015 Co-angler of the Year in a landslide, never finishing worse than fourth. That early success built his confidence and validated that he had the skills to compete.

So, in 2016, Hoyer made the jump to the professional ranks, balancing tournament fishing with carpentry and guiding until 2019, when he was finally forced to choose between carpentry and professional fishing. A back injury on the job made that decision easier.

“I went on an insane streak that year on the NWT where I won at Marinette (Wis.), took second at Sault Ste. Marie (Mich.) and won the championship on Devils Lake (N.D.). I took that year as a sign from God that this was the right move.”

Fast and Aggressive for Walleyes

Marinette and especially Sault Ste. Marie were eye-opening outcomes. The common denominator between the two was casting.

“At Sault Ste. Marie, I was fishing as aggressively as possible in musky spots. I would cast a (Berkley PowerBait Power) Swimmer into the thickest cabbage, snap the bait as hard as I could to clear the cabbage, and they’d bite it on the fall. I was letting it free fall as fast as it possibly could, and they would absolutely inhale it.”

This unconventional, reactionary walleye bite was directly influenced by Hoyer’s experience as a musky angler.

“In my 15 years of hardcore musky fishing, I learned so much about how a musky thinks, reacts and behaves. If a musky has to catch a meal, it’s never going to be easy. What I eventually realized is that if I took the bait away and even accelerated it, my conversion was off the chart.

“I always have that constant picture in my head: If a fish is following my bait, how aggressive can I work it? How can I trigger it to bite? Maybe you yo-yo it, kill it or let it hit bottom. But internally, figuring out how to trigger a predator to strike is what drives me.”

Hoyer eventually realized that an aggressive approach also applies to walleyes. This was reinforced the first time he witnessed a walleye crush a Rapala® Jigging Rap® fished aggressively.

“It was just unbelievable to me that a walleye could catch up to that bait. It made me realize a walleye is every bit the predator that a musky is.

“I’ve witnessed footage where walleyes will just follow crawler harnesses, but so few of them commit. I want to work the bait faster and harder. The more the bait has to get away, that’s how you trigger those strikes. It’s truly a disappointment whenever I have to go back to anything conventional or slow moving.”

At the Forefront of New Technology

Like many of the sport’s top competitors, Hoyer has also become an ace with his electronics. He used his Lowrance® ActiveTarget™ last August at the NWT Championship, when he unlocked a shallow-water pattern on Lake Erie’s eastern basin, a fishery traditionally dominated by open-water offshore trolling in summer.

His winning pattern was almost identical to the 2019 NWT Sault Ste. Marie event, where he ripped swimbaits through cabbage. This time around the vegetation was eelgrass, but otherwise the pattern was the same.

“That snapping action is the most fun way to catch a walleye – end of conversation,” Hoyer said. “To see how fast they come and hit it on ActiveTarget is literally breathtaking. I knew after Sault Ste. Marie that I would eventually have the chance to put something together like that on the Great Lakes. That was my No. 1 secret. Then last August, after some practice time, I realized this might actually work; this might actually be it. To do it in the championship, that was euphoric.”

The technology reinforces Hoyer’s preferred fishing style – his aggressive tactics – and enhances his ability to dial in a pattern quickly, giving him more “data” to input into his decision-making process.

“In musky fishing, you’re forced to think analytically. You have to be able to uncover a pattern from the smallest details with limited encounters,” he said. “Now in walleye fishing, those patterns are glaringly obvious. It’s like a big alarm bell to me. When I started snapping that swimbait through the cabbage at Sault Ste. Marie, it was like ‘bingo.’ Musky angling made me do that. It makes you be absolutely detail-oriented. Now seeing it happen on ActiveTarget is just more feedback. It accelerates the process.”

And that’s good news for Hoyer’s chances to continue this incredible climb through the walleye ranks.

John Hoyer competes on the National Walleye Tour from a Ranger 620FS Pro boat powered by a Mercury 300hp Pro XS® outboard. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram, or watch him in action in his online show “Tour Level Gold.”

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