Bigger is better for Evinrude Walleye Classic winners
By Fishing the Wildside
Walker, Minn. -- Thinking big is nothing new for Steve Fuller and Mike Pederson.
That philosophy has guided them in their careers as a Bemidji attorney and a Walker dentist, respectively. Last weekend during the Evinrude Walleye Classic, that train of thought carried them past 199 other teams to their first major tournament championship.
Fuller and Pederson celebrated their 10th anniversary as Classic partners by catching 12 walleyes weighing an impressive 44.75 pounds on the waters of giant Leech Lake. They outdistanced Walker's Mark Christenson and Akeley’s Harvey Lueck by more than six pounds on a weekend when walleyes were plentiful and large.
Mike McKee and Tim Vigen of Bemidji were third with 37.64 pounds, Tom and Dean Wilson of LaPorte were fourth at 37.57 and Jason Slipy of Andover and Tim Ash of Millville took fifth at 35.79 pounds.
The 200 teams in the $100,000 tournament that highlighted a celebration of fishing in Walker caught 1,207 walleyes weighing 3,184 pounds and an average of 2.64 pounds each over the two days of competition. There were 24 teams that weighed at least 30 pounds and nine that finished at 35 pounds or better.
The key for Pederson and Fuller was using big redtail chubs – the largest they could find.
It’s a pattern they always test on Leech in early June, and one that usually produces.
“We had confidence the big minnows would work and that would be our best chance,” said Fuller. “We spent a lot of time chasing down big minnows that cost $7 a dozen.”
“We weren’t getting a lot of fish, but they were quality fish,” added Pederson. “We thought we could get six fish each day.”
Working water ranging from 18 to 36 feet deep, Pederson and Fuller rigged their chubs with walking sinkers and six-foot leaders. Fuller said hooking the chubs through the top lip only might have been a factor, too.
“I had gone all my life hooking minnows through both lips,” he noted. “A few years ago with these redtails … they are so active I think they stay more active by hooking them only through the top lip.”
Fuller and Pederson got off to a big start Saturday, then brought the title home.
“Saturday, we ended up getting 12 fish, and they were all quality,” said Pederson. The best six tipped the scales at 25.09 pounds, a considerable basket in light of regulations that limit anglers to one walleye over 24 inches apiece.
“Sunday, the wind died down and the sun came out. We were hoping we’d be OK because we were fishing deep water. Our fish were still there, but the bite was much lighter. When the walleyes would take it, we were letting them take the minnow for three minutes or more sometimes.”
Fuller and Pederson got exactly six bites Sunday – all by 9:30 a.m.
“We didn’t miss a bite, we didn’t miss a fish and we landed them all,” said Fuller.
Their 19.66-pound second-day weight was more than enough.
It was an emotional victory for both anglers, who paid tribute to their fathers after winning a Lund boat, Evinrude outboard, E-Z Loader trailer and MinnKota trolling motor package valued at more than $25,000.
“My father Bud Fuller died 20 years ago,” said Steve. “In the 1950s, he was regarded as one of the best fishermen on Leech Lake, at least by the people in Longville, so it carried even a little more meaning to be able to win this tournament.
“Mike’s father was killed in a car accident 10 years ago. His father and I were the best of friends. When his dad died, Mike asked me if I would fish in his dad’s place. I said it would be an honor to do that, so I took Big Dan’s seat in the boat.”
It’s been a good relationship. Fuller and Pederson have two fourths and were 15th last year in the Classic.
“Even had we finished second, I wouldn’t have counted it as a loss,” said Fuller. “We had a lot of fun.
“This tournament is a great deal of fun because you’ve got a chance to win something either through the odd and fun prizes they give out or by finishing in the top 30 or by winning a door prize. Everybody knows they have a chance to win something.”
In those special divisions, Bonnie Westberg of Owatonna and Nancy Nelson of Bloomington won the Abu-Garcia All-Female title with an 8.99-pound catch. They edged out Angie Marin of Selby, S.D., and Connie Kimmerle of Walker, who finished at 5.88 pounds.
The Berkley Power Bait Veteran Angler award went to Mike Barclay and Allyn Kendall of Bemidji with 26.51 pounds. Bill O’Neill of Walker and Gary Schultz of Plymouth were second at 25.16 pounds.
The Trilene Male-Female crown was taken by Dean Jehlicka and Judy Jehlicka of Bloomington with 34.19 pounds that was also 15th best in the overall standings. Al Standly and Bev Standly were one place behind at 33.68 pounds.
The Berkley Gulp! Adult-Youth division was won by Dan Lavrenz and Nick Lavrenz of St. Michael at 23.65 pounds. Ron Hinnenkamp and Dustin Hinnenkamp of Long Prairie were second at 23.08.
In addition, Cody Roswick of Battle Lake and Josh Hagemeister of St. Cloud took the Coleman Cool Under Pressure award for advancing the most places during the tournament. They climbed from 153rd to 65th with a 17.84-pound second-day catch. Kevin Patterson and Dominic Jones of Windom claimed the MinnKota award for finishing just out of the money with 27.05 pounds.
“It was a great weekend,” said Fishing the Wildside’s Chip Leer, the tournament director. “The festival was a huge success. We had hundreds of kids in the park. And from an angling standpoint, the fishing was remarkable. We don’t have anyone get into the mid 40-pound range too often.
“It just shows the quality of fish that are right here in Leech Lake, right now.”
“People want to talk about Leech Lake being down or fished out and how people should go somewhere else,” he noted. “In my view, Leech Lake is the finest lake in Minnesota. Period. End of story.
“If I were only able to fish one lake in Minnesota, I think Leech Lake would be the one because it’s such a diverse body of water.”
For a complete listing of results log onto www.fishingthewildside.com and click on the Evinrude Walleye Classic logo.