CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. — When anglers from around the region converge at the Arrowwood Resort at Cedar Shore in Oacoma this week to take part in the National Walleye Tour, they’ll be looking to reel in the big one.
But members of the Chamberlain and Oacoma communities are happy having already reeled in a big one — the tournament itself.
The Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Walleye Tour will take place April 29-30 on Lake Francis Case, one of the premiere walleye fishing spots in South Dakota, and bring with it hundreds of professional and amateur anglers and their dollars to shops and stores in both communities.
Having an event like the tour is a big deal for the communities, said Taryn Reidt, director of the Chamberlain-Oacoma Chamber of Commerce.
“We are very excited to be hosting this,” Reidt said. “Everyone has rallied and come together to make this happen.”
The tournament, one of four regular-season competitions on the tour that leads up to the Sept. 22-24 championship tournament in Ottertail, Minn., was originally scheduled to be held in the community in 2020, but the arrival of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of that event. But organizers were keen to return when the pandemic slowed down.
Now it is right around the corner, and Reidt said that local officials are ready to pick up where they left off.
“(The National Walleye Tour) approached the chamber last year and we were all for it, and then COVID-19 happened and it was canceled,” Reidt said. “This was pretty much a start over.”
A national event such as the tournament coming to a community like Chamberlain, with a population of around 2,500 and Oacoma, with a population of around 400, means the influx of dollars that can flow into a community can make a big impact on spring business. Reidt said it was unclear exactly how much a tournament like this can bring in, but she did study some of the economic impact at a recent National Walleye Tour tournament in Devils Lake, N.D..
“We’ve done a little research on the economic impact, and I think it’s going to be positive. Look at Devils Lake. They had quite an impact when they visited,” Reidt said.
Statistics indicate that approximately 174 anglers competed in the Devils Lake tournament, and of those, 36% stayed at area resorts, 32% stayed at local motels and another 16% stayed at local campgrounds. The average angler spent around $1,375 during their stay, pumping in about $250,000 into the community, its businesses and its services over the course of two days.
There are expenses in hosting the event. The cities of Oacoma and Chamberlain split the $10,000 hosting fee, but the benefits of having hundreds of professional fishermen in town should easily exceed the costs.
“We’re hoping to boost our economy, as people struggled last year with COVID-19, and we want to do whatever we can to get that boosted. These are our neighbors and friends, and we want to see them succeed,” Reidt said.
Members of the business community are getting ready for the flow of anglers that will stream into town next week. At the Main Street Cafe & Market in Chamberlain, owner Margie Allen said she’s thrilled to have a fishing tournament of this magnitude coming to the community.
And she likes to take advantage when fishing tournaments are in the area. The eatery has a tradition of opening early when tournaments come to town to give some of the participants a chance for an early breakfast before they have to hit the water, often before sunrise.
“This is a pretty large (tournament). I’m super excited because it brings more traffic to town. We open at 5 a.m. to accommodate any tournaments,” said Allen, who has owned the Main Street businesses for 18 years.
Spring usually sees fishing traffic begin to pick up, Allen said, before it blooms fully in the summer months. Having a resource like Lake Francis Case is invaluable to drawing outdoorsmen from around the region, and in this case, it’s drawing hundreds of them at a time. That should translate to more people walking through the door for a bite to eat, Allen said.
“When the water thaws out we see more foot traffic with fisherman and guides. It’s great that people come down to our area to do that,” Allen said.
DeNell Adamson is the manager of North Bay One Stop in Chamberlain, a convenience store that specializes in bait and tackle.
“It’s really good. Really good for the community and the town,” Adamson said. “I’m sure they’ll be coming to town, even though (the tournament) is on the other side of the river. The store is a bit out of the way, but we’re hoping they stop in and get some gas and refreshments.”
Adamson said the store had only been open since June after being closed for two years and had struggled somewhat with the COVID-19 pandemic. But events on the scale of the National Walleye Tour can help turn things around, and it’s something he hopes he and other businesses will benefit from.
The arrival of spring has already ushered in more business, Adamson said, so he expects next week will be no different when the professionals show up. He’s stocking up on inventory, including his popular bait minnows.
“We have the largest minnows in four states, that’s a 100% guarantee. Every fisherman says we have the biggest minnows in four states, so I’m getting another 10 gallons today,” Adamson said.
Like other business owners in town, he’s ready to welcome the tour with open arms.
“The coffee is always on. Come in and tell us how you did,” Adamson said.
John Hloucha, owner of the Chamberlain Food Center, said business has already picked up now that the area is seeing sunnier skies. But he also figures it will be a bit busier than usual with so many anglers coming into the community at once.
“”We’re expecting it to be (busy),” Hloucha said. “Once the river opens up, we start picking up.”
For the tournament, he said the store is stocking up on extra beer, liquor and ice, as well as popular food items like steaks, but for the most part he said staff are ready to go to make the visitors feel welcome and offer them the best service they can.
It also gives them a chance to promote the Chamberlain and Oacoma communities, he said, and having the National Walleye Tour in town is a good way to spread the word of the world-class fishing available in central South Dakota.
“We’re kind of built around that with the campground and the hotels. It’s a nice, relaxing place to come and visit. The town is always friendly and always willing to help,” Hloucha said. “I would tell (the visiting anglers) to stop in and check out some of the local businesses, for sure.”
The Arrowwood Resort at Cedar Shore in Oacoma is serving as the host site for the tournament, and it is expected to be near capacity when the tournament kicks off next week.
“We’re not full, but we’re about 90% full for the tournament, and we expect it to be when it comes around. We’re super busy right now,” said Karla Brozik, sales manager and marketing director for the resort.
The resort has 99 hotel rooms, as well as an additional 16 smaller rooms across the street from the main complex. Arrowwood Resort hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year, from wedding receptions to business conferences, but fishing in general and especially events of the magnitude of the National Walleye Tour make a big impact in the summer months.
And while the room bookings are great, the exposure the communities can get from hosting a high-profile event like this one is something that is difficult to get any other way.
“For us, it will give us exposure to fishermen on a national level. This will be a nationally televised tournament,” Brozik said.
Craig Gill, general manager for Arrowwood Resort, agreed that getting the names of Oacoma, Chamberlain and Lake Francis Case in front of a wider audience can only broaden the appeal of the area to people who may not have considered visiting before.
“Just having that many people hearing about Chamberlain and Oacoma, it bolsters our ability to become a destination,” Gill said.
Reidt agreed that the publicity and exposure is likely the most valuable benefit of having the National Walleye Tour on Lake Francis Case.
“It’s very valuable. I’m not sure you can put a number on that,” Reidt said.
For now, the people and businesses of Chamberlain and Oacoma continue to prepare for the big event next week. Most expect an uptick in business, if they’re not seeing it already. But most are certain that the National Walleye Tour made the right choice in making its way to central South Dakota in 2021, and would like to see it return down the road.
"I think people are excited and ready for it and we’re hoping to make a good impression."
— Taryn Reidt, Chamberlain-Oacoma Chamber of Commerce Director
For those coming to town who may have never visited Chamberlain or Oacoma in the past, they’re bound to find the communities, the people, its services and its recreational options of the highest class.
And the fishing isn’t too bad either, Reidt said.
“There are not only fishing stories, but also fishing realities,” Reidt said. “I think people are excited and ready for it and we’re hoping to make a good impression.”