Closer than Close, 2006 NTC Champs Shave it Thin
Author: Frank Ross
June 24, 2006: After two days of tough angling competition on South Dakota's Lake Sharpe, all the numbers were crunched and the results add up to the closest finish in the history of Cabela's National Team Championship, and perhaps the entire history of walleye angling.
The difference between first and second place was a scant .02 pounds, hardly a fat drop of water. Indeed, five other positions were separated by less than one tenth of an ounce, and anglers tied for 15th place as well as the last spot in the highly-coveted Top 25 All American Angler race.
The team with that slight edge was two brothers from Farmington, PA, Mark and Richard Fike with a combined two-day, 10-fish weight of 23.05 pounds. Certainly this sweet victory, $25,000 in cash and a new Ranger 618VS, powered by a Yamaha 150 VMax will make the 22-hour drive home much more enjoyable.
The Fike's made the big run south to Joe Creek, where they spent both days pulling spinners rigged with Mack's Smile Blades until they ran out. "We had 50 Smile Blades and lost them all pulling in areas with stumps and heavy grass. We were working tight to the contours and when the wind came up the fish moved in to 4 or 5 feet of water. We just moved in tight and picked them up one at a time," Richard said.
"I picked up a Sportsman's Connection map of the lake on the Internet and we found that spot on the first day. What I've always said is don't argue with the map, and it said that the spot produced good catches. We used the same pattern both days. Bronze and red blades worked best for us, but I caught the last fish on a gold blade, and that one made the difference in winning," Richard said.
The two seemed stunned beyond functioning on stage, commenting that they were both shaking and too nervous to collect their thoughts. A large contingent of Pennsylvania teams were on hand to fill in the blanks with boisterous cheers that echoed across the water born on story winds that blew up near the end of the weigh-in.
Brian Mensing and his son, Mason, of Gillette, Wyoming may have had their hopes dashed for a championship, but the new Ranger 618VS, 150 Yamaha VMax that they won for being the highest finishing Ranger Complaint team certainly took the edge off. This father/son team has been fishing tournaments together for four years, and took the competition to the mats both days, holding the lead after day-one with a 12.79-pound basket. Brian had been fishing with his brother-in-law, but paired up with his son in 2002. When asked if he ended up with the best angler, dad's answer from quick in coming. "You better believe it," he said.
Not to be outdone, third and fourth place teams were separated by on .07 pounds. The Kansas team of Dick and Larry Bieker edged out the Colorado team of William Ianiro and Richard Stebbins, Jr. Another team of runners, the Biekers found success along the Joe Creek area, alternating between Lindy rigging and pulling jigs and crawlers using spinner blades with a color combination of smoke and yellow. The two fished along the weedline in five feet of water on the north shore, just east of the creek mouth to produce their 21.37 pound tournament total.
Rick Stebbins, Jr., and William Ianiro were another team that believed in the Joe Creek area enough to put the hammer down. "Today the wind was blowing so hard we had to put out drift socks to slow down our presentation, pulling bottom bouncers with 6-foot leaders. We used both leaches and crawlers, but for us, leeches worked the best. We used two pounds since we started pre-fishing. Yesterday we had a good morning bite and then it dropped off until late in the day when we got our last fish. We were working between two points with a saddle in between and weeds on both sides. The saddle was sand and gravel and that's where we got the big female today, right in the middle. We thought we had about seven pounds and now we've got to sweat it out," Rick said, as they temporarily took the lead.
Brian and Mason Mensing also picked up another major award, winning the $500 Ford Maximum Payload award for the largest basket (12.79 pounds) on the first day of competition while Tim Hoffman and Scott Placzek captured the same honors for the final day with an almost identical weight of 12.78 pounds. The Stihl Chain Saw big fish award went to William Ianiro and Richard Stebbins, Jr. for their 7.04-pound fish on day one, and to Larry and Dick Bieker for their 5.98-pound fish weighed in today.
Total fish caught during the event was 1,823 and the total weight amounted to 2,866.84 pounds, and that's a lot of fish by any measure.
At the beginning of the qualifying season, 65,000 anglers took a shot at proving their skills worthy of the Cabela's National Team Championship. That field was narrowed to 250 teams, and a field of 222 that showed up to compete on Pierre, South Dakota's Lake Sharpe. Every walleye technique know to man was tried, but in the end it was persistence with spinner rigs, the courage to take a chance and run over 50 miles one way, and the smallest winning margin in NTC history that made the difference.
Across the nation, the qualifying process for the 2007 NTC has already begun.