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Chamberlain-Oacoma proves it's 'perfect fit' to host National Walleye Tour tournament for years to come

“I’d say every two to three years, we will be coming back here. It’s just too good,” Tournament Director Anthony Wright said of the Chamberlain-Oacoma area

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Anglers hoist their fish on Thursday during the weigh-ins of day one of the National Walleye Tour in Chamberlain-Oacoma.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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CHAMBERLAIN-OACOMA — After hosting two consecutive National Walleye Tour tournaments, the Chamberlain-Oacoma area has proven itself as a “great place” to host the event that brings around 300 anglers.

While Tournament Director Anthony Wright said the goal is to fish new spots each spring and summer to add more challenge for pro and amateur anglers who compete in the tour, Chamberlain-Oacoma managed to be an exception to that rule. Wright said the “amazing Missouri River system” that’s known for its prime walleye fishing, strong community support and hotel accommodations make Chamberlain-Oacoma a “perfect fit” to host a tournament.

“We knew Chamberlain had said anytime you get a chance, come back. It was a perfect fit for the second stop of the year,” Wright said. “All of the fishermen love coming here. You try to skip a year and go back the next year, if it was a good spot.”

How exactly does a city become a host site for the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Walleye Tour?

According to Wright, cities who are interested in hosting a two-day tournament throughout the spring and summer tour must pitch a proposal and pay a fee to host a tournament. To host the two-day walleye tournament, the fee is $10,000. Chamberlain and Oacoma each paid $5,000 to cover the $10,000 host fee in 2021 and this year.

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Anglers bring their bags of fish to weigh-ins on Thursday during the opening day of the National Walleye Tour in Chamberlain-Oacoma.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Each season, the National Walleye Tour hosts four regular season tournaments in different bodies of water, including lakes and river systems in the northern portion of the country, where walleye fishing reigns supreme.

Out of the four regular season stops during last year’s tour, Chamberlain-Oacoma was the only tournament where every angler competing in the event caught their limit of five fish each day.

“This is a heck of a body of water, but the key in this tournament is catching the 20 inch and over. You can catch the 20 inch and under pretty much anywhere in the system,” Pro Wisconsin angler Chase Parsons said of Lake Francis Case last year after winning the Chamberlain-Oacoma tournament in 2021. “I love this system. Chamberlain is right up there at the top of some of the best places to fish the river.”

Although Wright indicated the slate of 2023 National Walleye Tour tournaments will likely not include Chamberlain-Oacoma since it’s rare to host a tournament in the same spot back-to-back years, let alone three years in a row, he said the central South Dakota communities will “definitely” be hosting another National Walleye Tour stop in the near future.

“I’d say every two to three years, we will be coming back here. It’s just too good,” Wright said.

Last year, Chamberlain-Oacoma hosted its first ever National Walleye Tour, and the economic impact it had has city officials and local businesses “very pleased” with the event.

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Anglers fish the shoreline on Thursday during the opening day of the National Walleye Tour in Chamberlain-Oacoma.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Tournament provides ‘huge’ economic impact on local businesses, hotels

The fishing tournament brings about 300 anglers to Chamberlain-Oacoma, who typically stay at local hotels for a week leading up to the two-day event. Looking at sales tax numbers from last year during the late April walleye event, Jona Ohm, a member of the board of directors on the Chamberlain-Oacoma Area Chamber of Commerce, said it’s clear the tournament provides a “very large” economic impact that makes hosting it “well worth it.”

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“This event has brought more national exposure to our great communities, and I think it will have a long lasting economic impact on our area for years to come because of that,” Ohm said. “Many local businesses and hotels saw just how much of an impact this great event has. Having 300 anglers come to our area for several weeks in April is a great way to kick off the summer tourism season.”

An economic impact survey conducted by the Chamberlain-Oacoma Area Chamber of Commerce and Conventions and Visitors Bureau showed last year’s National Walleye Tour held in late April helped boost sales tax in both Chamberlain and Oacoma. According to the economic impact survey, the city of Chamberlain saw a $25,000 increase in sales tax during the month of April in 2021 compared to April 2020.

Hotels in Brule County – the county where Chamberlain is located – collected $556,523 in sales tax in April 2021. Hotels in neighboring city Oacoma, which is located in Brule County, collected $234,773 in sales tax.

“At the Baymont Inn many of our guests went over to watch the weigh in each day. Families of the fishermen also stayed at our hotel along with professional and amateur fishermen. Love to see the locals in the tournament fishing as well,” said Curt Wagner, manager of the Baymont Inn in Oacoma.

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Tournament officials prepare the fish for Thursday's weigh-ins at the Cedar Shore Resort in Chamberlain-Oacoma.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

The economic impact survey also revealed that the event has strong community support, as 91% of the survey respondents indicated they would like to see the tournament continue coming back to Chamberlain-Oacoma.

Local pro angler Troy Lorensen competed in last year’s event and finished in eighth place, helping take home a nice check. Lorensen said the amount of time that pro anglers spend pre-fishing Lake Francis Case has a big economic impact in itself.

“The normal pros were out fishing by March 15, bringing lots of revenue to the local area businesses. We are the perfect place for the NWT to begin their season. I talked to several of the pros and co-anglers, and they all had very good things to say about the local businesses and how exceptional the hospitality was from such a small community,” Lorensen said of last year’s event. “Please bring the tournament back.”

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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