OACOMA — A Pennsylvania pro angler fished his way to the top spot of the National Walleye Tour on Thursday, giving him the lead after day one of the two-day tournament.
After about seven hours of fishing Lake Francis Case on Thursday, Ryan Rieger and his co-angler, John Herd, of Alexandria, Minnesota, reeled in 19 pounds of walleye together during the opening round of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's National Walleye Tour, which was held in Chamberlain-Oacoma for the first time. The out-of-state anglers will hit the Missouri River water Friday morning as the leader of the pack among the 200 anglers competing in the two-day tournament.
"Fishing was great out there today. We went to the spots I had eyed out, threw our stuff in and it was magic. It's going to be tough to duplicate that bag of fish tomorrow, but you hope it was enough to have a decent day tomorrow and still win the tournament," Rieger said.
Although Rieger lost what felt would be one of his biggest fish of the day, it turned out to be a blessing. As he was reeling a large walleye, Rieger said it came off the hook and escaped. Shortly after losing it, Rieger landed a 28-inch walleye, his largest fish of the day.
"Luckily we lost that fish, otherwise we wouldn't have got the 28-incher. He was a little mad, but it was actually a blessing," Herd said of his pro angler partner Rieger.
Considering there is one day left in the tournament, they are keeping their fishing techniques that they had success with quiet. Whatever techniques they used helped them take a decisive lead as the next closest weight to Rieger and Herd's catch of the day was a little over 17 pounds, roughly 2 pounds less than the duo of out-of-state anglers reeled in.
With a sunny 70-degree day on the water and wind gusts ranging from 10 to 15 mph on Thursday, Herd said it made for "great conditions."
Rieger said the river's current was pretty strong, which helped keep the fish moving. When the wind gusts were a bit stronger, Rieger said they were reeling in nice 17 to 18 inch fish. But the bites slowed after the wind died down mid-day, Rieger said.
"Our best luck came when the wind was up. Once it died down, bang, they were gone," Herd said.
Anglers hit the water at 7 a.m. and had to weigh their day's catch of walleye by 3 p.m. on the Cedar Shore resort. The pro-amateur style tournament allows each boat to have two anglers, and 100 of the fishermen are pros, while the remaining 100 are amateur co-anglers. Each pro angler fishes with a different co-angler in the tournament, which are selected randomly.
Roughly 14 to 15 pounds of walleye put fishermen in the top 20 of Thursday's leaderboard.
"As a co-angler, all I have to do is ride along and just fish," Herd said.
Rieger was able to test the Missouri River waters out a bit before the tournament. He pre-fished Lake Francis Case for about a week, which he said helped "a ton."
The Chamberlain-Oacoma event is the first of four tournaments for this year's National Walleye Tour. Next stop of the tour will take place in May at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Pro anglers and co-anglers who finish in the top 40 will qualify to compete in the tour championship on Sept. 22-24 in Otter Tail, Minnesota.
A new Ranger fishing boat with a Mercury engine, along with a $15,000 cash payout is the prize that the tour champion will take home. 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.
"I'm exhausted, but I am feeling good heading into tomorrow," Rieger said.