OACOMA — It’s been over a decade since Chase Parsons fished Lake Francis Case, but the Wisconsin pro angler found his groove from the moment he cast his first line in the water.
As Parsons hauled his second bag of walleye to the weigh-ins Friday in Oacoma, the Wisconsin angler was feeling pretty good about his odds of finishing in the top 10 of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Walleye Tour tournament. Little did he know his 31 pounds of walleye that he caught during the two-day tournament would crown him the top spot and a $81,922 check, which included $15,000 cash and a new Ranger fishing boat.
“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,” Parsons said of the Missouri River. “The last time I was here in the Chamberlain-Oacoma area was in 2007, but I love this system. Chamberlain is right up there at the top of some of the best places to fish the river.”
Parsons saw success using live bait throughout the tournament, which was held in Chamberlain-Oacoma for the first time of the National Walleye Tour’s existence. The fathead minnows he used proved to be the right choice, as he was able to reel in four walleye over the 20-inch mark. His largest fish of the tournament measured roughly 27 inches. After his first day on the water, Parsons caught 15 pounds of fish, followed by another 15 pound bag on Friday.
“When the water is cold like this and the fish are lethargic, it is really good to put a large fathead on the line. That was the game changer for us,” he said.
Heading into the final day of the two-day tournament Friday, Parsons was sitting in fifth place among the 100 pros competing, trailing a 19 pound bag that was the leader of Thursday’s opening round.
As part of the rules of the tournament, anglers had all of Lake Francis Case to fish, which stretches a little over 100 miles. In total, the lake covers roughly 102,000 acres and has a maximum depth of around 140 feet. Parsons said he was hooking a lot of fish in “much shallower” water than he thought.
Considering it’s been over a decade since he fished Lake Francis Case, Parsons, along with many of the anglers, trekked to Chamberlain about a week before the event to feel out the waters. The decision to pre-fish was one that Parsons said he “did not regret.”
“Some of the fish have spawned and some haven’t. The fish were a lot shallower than what most people were going in these bays,” Parsons said. “We worked hard and put a lot of hours in during the pre-fish. It was cold as heck, but I was glad I did it.”
Chamberlain-Oacoma’s own Troy Lorenson made his hometown proud, as the local pro angler finished in the top 10 out of the 100 pros. Lorenson reeled in 28 pounds of walleye to finish eighth overall in the tournament, earning him a cash prize. Pros who finished in the top 28 won prize money. Four South Dakotans finished in the top 10 on the pro angler side of the event.
On the co-angler side, Minnesota native Chris Stassen fished his way to the top of the 100 amateurs. Stassen’s 31 pounds of walleye propelled him to a first place finish, narrowly topping the second place finisher, John Herd, of Alexandria, Minnesota.
While many of the anglers weren’t too familiar with the waters, Stassen is no stranger to Lake Francis Case.
The amateur angler has been fishing the Missouri River in Chamberlain-Oacoma for nearly a decade. As a Marshall, Minnesota native, Stassen doesn’t have to travel very far to fish Lake Francis Case, which is a little over a three-hour drive from his home.
“I absolutely love this place. I’ve been coming here every year for the past seven years,” Stassen said. “These pros put me in the right spots, and I just had to make the right casts.”
Making his way toward the weigh-ins Friday, Stassen said he was confident that he fished his way to the top 5. But he didn’t expect to come out on top of the five co-anglers who were in the lead with 27 to 28 pounds of walleye.
Chamberlain native Brennan Lockwood finished in ninth place among the co-anglers, earning himself a top 10 finish.
Anglers hit the water at 7 a.m. and had to weigh their day's catch of walleye by 4 p.m. on the Arrowhead Cedar Shore resort on both days of the event. 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.
Chamberlain proves to be successful host
Out of all the walleye spots in the Upper Midwest, Chamberlain-Oacoma was chosen to host the opening tournament of this year’s tour for a reason, tournament director Anthony Wright said.
“This is just a great fishery,” Wright said. "It is one the best in this area, and we saw that today."
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. Mobridge is one of the remaining locations on deck for the summer tour, making South Dakota the only state to host two of the National Walleye Tour tournaments this year. Pro anglers and co-anglers who finish in the top 40 in the regular season events will qualify to compete in the tour championship on Sept. 22-24 in Ottertail, Minnesota.
Wright deemed the first event of the tour a “huge success.” Considering only one boat didn’t catch their limit of five walleye throughout the entire two-day event, Wright said Lake Francis Case proved its prestige as one of the best walleye fishing hubs in the Midwest.
“It’s incredible to see how many boats weighed in all of their five limit of fish. I couldn’t have been happier with how well this tournament went. We love Chamberlain,” Wright said.