Anglers battling through 'wacky weather' in preparation for National Walleye Tour stop in Chamberlain
“These fish are fun to catch. Everything works. That’s the great thing about the Dakotas,” Pro angler Brian Bjorkman said of the Missouri River system.
CHAMBERLAIN-OACOMA, S.D. — South Dakota’s sporadic weather has made for some tough fishing conditions on the Missouri River this spring, but anglers are battling through in preparation for the Chamberlain-Oacoma National Walleye Tour tournament.
From cold 40-degree days with winds gusting as high 50 mph to sudden 90-degree heat waves, anglers have seen a wide gamut of weather that's making it difficult to figure out the fish patterns before the two-day event begins Thursday, April 28.
Pro fisherman Chase Parsons, the reigning champion of last year’s Chamberlain-Oacoma tournament, has spent about a week pre-fishing the Missouri River. While the cool temps and high winds are making it difficult to understand the movement of the fish, Parsons said the warmer weather that’s expected later this week could have a big impact on the fishing come tournament time.
“It’s going to start getting these fish moving along. Some are spawned out and some are not, but that’s how it is this time of year,” he said. “There are definitely fish down there, but it seems like they are a little bit behind from where they were last year.”
In two days of fishing during last year’s Chamberlain-Oacoma tournament, the Wisconsin angler weighed in 31 pounds of walleye to claim first place by jigging fathead minnows in shallower water. With a little over 100,000 acres of water to fish, Parsons said he’s found some success around the same areas of Lake Francis Case as he did at last year’s Chamberlain stop.
“Last year, we found some fish in real shallow water toward the south. The water temperature is almost identical this year compared to last year,” Parsons said.
The Chamberlain-Oacoma stop is the second of this year's National Walleye Tour that will feature 100 professional anglers and 100 co-anglers. Anglers competing in the event will hit the water at 7 a.m. and weigh their walleyes by 3 p.m. at the Cedar Shore Resort.
Each year, the series of tournaments are held in a variety of bodies of water in the northern portion of the country, including lakes and river systems. The first tournament of this year’s tour on the Detroit River in Michigan brought some of the harshest fishing conditions many longtime National Walleye Tour anglers have experienced.
As a 19-year pro angling veteran, North Dakota pro angler Brian Bjorkman, of Fargo, has fished plenty of waters. What makes Lake Francis Case unique, Bjorkman said, is the ability to use a wide variety of fishing tactics and find success.
“These fish are fun to catch. Everything works. That’s the great thing about the Dakotas,” Bjorkman said. “I don’t care if you like to jig. I don’t care if you like to troll. It all works.”
After fishing his way to second place at the Detroit River stop in late March despite frigid weather and near freezing water, Bjorkman is eager to welcome some warmer days ahead for the Chamberlain-Oacoma tournament.
Bjorkman has noticed some changes to the river system over the past couple of days he’s pre-fished.
“The water temp is changing, and it was warmer when I first got here. Now it’s cooled down a bit. These fish don’t really know what the heck is going on right now,” Bjorkman said. “I’m waiting for this thing to stabilize a little bit to start to put a little pattern together.”
For Ben Teets, a pro angler from West Fargo, N.D., figuring out the patterns of walleye has been challenging to say the least. But he’s hoping the warmer days ahead, paired with the spawning, will make for a good two days of fishing river.
“It has these fish a little confused. We’re dealing with 50-degree temperature swings, but I’m anticipating weather to straighten out a bit and get them fired up and going,” Teets said.
Although Parsons is no stranger to Lake Francis Case, he’s bracing for a tougher tournament this time around due to the recent cold fronts that have hit the area.
As Parsons put it, cold fronts are “not a good thing for fishing.” Despite the cooler temperatures he’s been battling on the water in recent days, Parsons said he’s finding some success with a variety of fishing methods.
“It’s been cold and crappy all spring here, so I don’t think it’s affecting the fish too much. It’s not like the water temperatures have fluctuated way up and down, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Parsons said, as he made his way out on the river Monday morning. “Typically, with cold fronts, you want to slow your presentations down. If you’re trolling crank bait, you might want to go to a smaller crank bait like a flicker shad.”
The prize for first place pro anglers is a new Ranger fishing boat with a Mercury engine, along with a $15,000 cash payout. For co-anglers who are not considered professional anglers, first-place finishers take home $6,000. Winners of each tournament are decided by the heaviest cumulative weight of the walleye caught during the two-day event.
After the Chamberlain-Oacoma stop, anglers will compete in two tournaments in Wisconsin to wrap up the regular season. This year’s championship tournament will take place Aug. 24-26 in Dunkirk, New York on Lake Eerie.