South Dakota angler battles rain, wind to claim National Walleye Tour title with 31-pound bag in 2 days
“I’ve been fishing here since I was a teenager, and it feels great to get my first National Walleye tour win on this body of water,” said Brookings angler Dustin Kjelden.
CHAMBERLAIN-OACOMA — After spending two decades of walleye fishing the waters of Lake Francis Case, it was Dustin Kjelden’s turn to win a National Walleye Tour tournament on the river he knows best.
Of all the spring walleye tournaments held in Chamberlain-Oacoma over the years, this one was perhaps one of the most challenging yet, with sporadic rain, extreme temperature swings and high wind gusts that the area has experienced in recent weeks. But Mother Nature couldn’t stop the Brookings, South Dakota pro angler from claiming the National Walleye Tour tournament title on Friday.
“I’ve been fishing out here since I was a teenager, and it feels great to get my first National Walleye Tour win on this body of water,” Kjelden said.
In the two-day tournament that featured 134 pro and 134 amateur anglers from across the country, Kjelden and the co-anglers he was paired with reeled in 10 walleye with a combined weight of just over 31 pounds.
Two big days of fishing on the Missouri River — a place he calls his “home body of water” — helped him take home an $88,598 check and a new Ranger fishing boat. Oacoma pro angler Troy Lorensen put together a big two days on his home body of water to finish second with a 30 pound bag of walleye in two days, narrowly trailing Kjelden.
“The further we got away from the spawn, the fish showed up in the same areas they do every year,” Kjelden said.
While the opening day of the tournament on Thursday provided calm 60-degree, sunny weather, Friday brought just the opposite. Anglers hit the water on Friday morning with 30 to 40 mph wind gusts and a steady flow of rain that made for a challenging day of walleye fishing.
As a longtime South Dakota angler who has fished in a myriad of conditions, the wind and rain didn't phase Kjelden on Friday.
Kjelden said he trekked about 40 miles on the river the first day to find the fish. However, he landed all five of the fish that weighed out to 16 pounds on Friday by staying close to the Cedar Shore Resort boat dock where weigh-ins took place.
“I ran only about 5 miles today,” Kjelden said.
Anglers turned to a myriad of fishing tactics, but Kjelden stuck to trolling crank bait on both days of the tournament. And it turned out to be the right decision.
“Trolling cranks worked out well. Finding where the fish were in these conditions was the key, and we relocated quite a bit,” he said.
South Dakota pro anglers represented the state well, as nine of the top 20 finishers were from the Mount Rushmore State. Of the nine pro anglers who placed in the top 20, four were Chamberlain-Oacoma area locals. Lorensen, Ray Wellman, Lee Pulse and John Mohnen, were the area pro anglers who fished their way into the top 20 and earned checks.
During last year’s National Walleye Tour stop in Chamberlain-Oacoma, all anglers caught their limit of five fish on both days of the event. But this year, more than 40 anglers weren’t able to land their daily limits, showing the effects that the sporadic spring weather has had on the walleye fishing.
Minnesota angler claims first place for co-anglers
The extreme weather swings tested Minnesota co-angler Drake McCarthy’s walleye fishing skills. But the 20-year-old amateur fisherman was up for the challenge, as he reeled his way to claim the Chamberlain-Oacoma tournament title for the co-anglers.
McCarthy landed a massive 28-inch walleye on Friday with heavy rain and wind gusts pelting him on the river, which was the biggest fish he reeled in during the tournament.
“It was brutal out there today. It started to get real windy and rainy at around 11:30 a.m. today, but trolling lead core was working out well for us,” McCarthy said of the conditions on the water on Friday.
After two days of fishing, McCarthy managed to haul in just over 30 pounds of walleye to claim the co-angler title and take home a $9,352 check.
Although McCarthy and Kjelden did not get paired up to fish together during the two-day tournament, they both used the same lead core trolling tactics to land big walleye on Lake Francis Case.
“Right when we got out today, we caught a 19.5 inch fish and a couple 18-inchers. We threw one back right away, and then caught a 22.5 inch fish. Right after that, I caught that 28.5 incher,” McCarthy said.
As part of the tournament rules, anglers are allowed to keep two walleye over 20 inches long, while the rest must be smaller in length. Each boat can weigh up to five walleye.
Although McCarthy grew up fishing lakes around the southern Minnesota region, he’s been figuring out the Missouri River system over the past four years he’s been co-angling in the National Walleye Tour. McCarthy said there’s no shortage of walleye roaming the waters of Lake Francis Case.
“This fishery has a very healthy population of fish,” he said of Lake Francis Case. “We caught probably 100 fish on the first day.”
McCarthy’s strong performance on the Missouri River has him in position to turn pro in the near future and earn the co-angler of the year title.
With two regular season tournaments on deck before the finale in Dunkirk, New York, on Lake Erie, Kjelden and McCarthy have strong momentum to qualify for the Lake Erie championship. Pro anglers and co-anglers must be in the top 40 to stamp a ticket to the National Walleye Tour championship.