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South Dakota angler lands 31-inch walleye to take lead of National Walleye Tour in Chamberlain

“It was a good day on the river. We mixed it up a bit today,” Austin Earley said of the fishing tactics that he used to reel in five walleye weighing in at a combined 18 pounds.

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Austin Earley, right, and Danny Swenson, left, hoist the walleye they caught on Thursday during the opening day of the National Walleye Tour in Chamberlain-Oacoma. The duo reeled in five fish that weighed just over 18 pounds to take the lead of the tournament.
Adam Thury
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CHAMBERLAIN-OACOMA — As a longtime South Dakota angler who calls Lake Francis Case his “home body of water,” Austin Earley knows how to catch big walleye in the Missouri River system.

On Thursday in Chamberlain-Oacoma, it showed. The Brookings, South Dakota, native fished his way to the top of the leader board of the National Walleye Tour on Thursday in Chamberlain-Oacoma by reeling in five walleye — including a 31-incher — that had a combined weight of a little over 18 pounds.

“It was a good day on the river. We mixed it up a bit today,” Earley said of the fishing tactics that he and his co-angler, Danny Swenson, used to take the lead of the Chamberlain-Oacoma tournament. “I love spring walleye fishing on Lake Francis Case, and I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

After a slow start to the day, Earley and Swenson started catching walleye mid-afternoon by pitching jigs with live bait.

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Anglers competing in the National Walleye Tour in Chamberlain fish the shorelines of the Missouri River on Thursday during the opening day of the two-day tournament.
Adam Thury

Earley’s biggest fish he landed came later in the day a few hours before 3 p.m. weigh-ins at the Cedar Shore Resort in Oacoma, when the South Dakota pro angler reeled in a 31-inch walleye that weighed a little over 11 pounds.

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Swenson, the North Dakota co-angler who was paired up to fish with Earley on the opening day of the two-day tournament, was more than impressed with Earley’s angling skills on the Missouri River.

“He’s a hell of a fisherman,” Swenson said of Earley, who has competed in walleye tournaments on the Missouri River for more than two decades.

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.

While the sporadic spring weather that the Chamberlain-Oacoma area experienced in recent weeks made it difficult for anglers to figure out the patterns of the walleye, Earley said the calmer, warm weather this week made way for some "great fishing" on Thursday.

“It’s been one of the worst springs on record, but we finally caught a break this week and today,” Earley said of the recent weather patterns.

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Highlights from the 2022 National Walleye Tour on the Missouri River near Chamberlain on April 28, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Leading up to the tournament opener, the Chamberlain area saw wind gusts up to around 50 mph and temperature swings hovering from 40 to 90 degrees, causing parts of the river to pool up with mud. Avoiding muddy waters was a decision that paid off for Earley and Swenson.

“They won’t bite in that muddy water. But we found some nice spots today,” Earley said.

As anglers gear up for the final day of the Chamberlain-Oacoma tournament on Friday, they will likely have to battle some rain and potential thunderstorms. Friday’s forecast is calling for a high of 60 degrees with about an 80% chance of rain and possible thunderstorms in the afternoon.

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The rain doesn’t have Earley concerned for a good day of walleye fishing on Friday, but the potential for lightning and thunder is what he’s leery of.

“The rain won’t hurt too bad at all, but any lightning will make it really tough tomorrow,” he said.

Earley and Swenson are heading into the final day of the tournament with a tight lead among a field of 143 pro anglers and co-anglers. North Dakota pro angler Cody Northrup’s 17-pound bag of walleye has him in a close second behind Earley, setting the stage for a dramatic finale of the Chamberlain National Walleye Tour stop.

MORE NATIONAL WALLEYE TOUR COVERAGE:
There are four South Dakota pro anglers – Ted Takasaki, Brian Bashore, Mike Zell and Duane Hjelm – who are among the top 40 in the Angler of the Year standings
A 42-year-old Fargo-Moorhead business owner has seen success on the National Walleye Tour, but it is his success with cuticles and acrylics that helped pave the way to fishing tournament wins.
South Heart resident Cody Northrop captured bronze at a South Dakota walleye tournament last week.
“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.
"I like that I can just grab my poles and gear and head out here to fish after a day of work and not have to get everything ready like you do for a boat," said Dana Dozark, a Chamberlain area angler who fishes the Missouri River shorelines.
This is the second straight year the NWT is holding an event 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.
National Walleye Tour anglers give tips, tricks heading into April 28-29 stop in Chamberlain, S.D.
"We have a fantastic fishery on Lake Francis Case. Anytime you can bring that many fishermen and fisherwomen, they are going to come back," Chamberlain Mayor Chad Mutziger said.
Alexandria's Drake Herd solidifies Angler of the Year spot with a sixth place finish on final day.

The pro angler who catches the heaviest weight of walleye combined over the two days of fishing will take home over $100,000 and a new Ranger fishing boat.

“I’m feeling good about tomorrow with the water clearing up a bit, but we will see what the weather brings,” Earley said.

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Highlights from the 2022 National Walleye Tour on the Missouri River near Chamberlain on April 28, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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