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‘It’s been a wild ride’: Woonsocket native Duane Hjelm earns Angler of Year award

Hjelm's success on the water has helped the South Dakota pro walleye angler amass over $300,000 this year competing on the National Walleye tour, powered by a first place tournament finish and two second place finishes.

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Duane Hjelm, center, awaits weigh-ins during a National Walleye Tour tournament this summer.
Robert Cardenas / National Walleye Tour
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PIERRE — Duane Hjelm will never forget the year he just strung together competing on the National Walleye Tour.

Simply put, the Woonsocket native turned pro angler was a dominant force on the Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops National Walleye Tour this season. His big year on the water solidified his name forever in the pro angling realm and earned himself the coveted Angler of the Year award.

“It’s been a pretty crazy ride this year,” Hjelm said of his successful season that came to a close in late August.

Midway through the season, Hjelm claimed first place at the Green Bay, Wisconsin, tournament by reeling in a whopping 73-pound bag of walleye in two days of fishing Lake Michigan. The top finish earned himself a new Ranger fishing boat and a roughly $102,000 check. He followed it up with a second place finish at the championship finale in Dunkirk, New York.

Coming off his first place finish in Wisconsin, Hjelm returned to his home body of water on the Missouri River in central South Dakota and produced three big days of fishing with his teammate to claim the top spot at the annual Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops National team Championship. Hjelm has resided in Pierre for over a decade, and the Lake Oahe walleye hub that sits in his backyard has helped him blossom into one of the top pro walleye anglers in the nation.

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Out of the five National Walleye Tour tournaments this summer, the only stops Hjelm finished outside of the top five were Chamberlain-Oacoma and Detroit River. Making his 2022 seasons more impressive is it being Hjelm’s first year competing at every National Walleye Tour tournament.

“I decided to go all in this year and compete in every tournament, and I’m glad I did. There is nothing like tournament fishing. I didn’t tournament fish growing up, but I love it,” he said.

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Pierre pro angler Duane Hjelm hoists a massive walleye at a recent National Walleye Tour tournament. The South Dakota angler is coming off a Green Bay, Wisconsin tournament win that helped him take home a roughly $102,000 check and new Ranger fishing boat.
Robert Cardenas / National Walleye Tour

The dominant regular season performances positioned him in second place for Angler of the Year award heading into the Lake Erie three-day finale. Although he finished second behind Minnesota pro angler John Hoyer in tournament standings, Hjelm’s impressive 90-pound bag of walleye on three days of fishing put him on top of the Angler of Year award.

This year alone, Hjelm’s success on the water helped him take home over $300,000 in check money and a pair of new Ranger fishing boats.

His Angler of the Year award grants him paid entry into every National Walleye Tour stop in the 2023 season. And he’ll be back with a vengeance.

While he’s used to fishing the Missouri River system, Hjelm quickly cracked the codes to fishing large lakes and other rivers in Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota.

“It’s weird. You can get out in the middle of these big lakes and not see the shoreline anywhere in sight. You have to pay attention to any current deflections and wind. You also have to pay attention to your graphs,” Hjelm said.

With the success he’s had competing in all of the National Walleye Tour stops for the first time in his pro angling career that began in 2017, Hjelm has a goal to turn competitive fishing into a full-time career. In between competing as a pro angler, Hjelm runs his flooring business and enjoys his time with his wife, who he credited as a key to his success this year.

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“My wife has been so supportive of all this, and I’m fortunate to share this with her. There are only a handful of guys who can say they fish full-time for a living. I’m not there yet, but it’s ultimately what I want to end up doing down the road,” Hjelm said. “It is so hard to finish in the top-10 at these tournaments. You’re competing against the best of the best pros out there.”

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“This was a whole new world for me at first, and I love it,” said Duane Hjelm, a South Dakota pro angler who got his start in walleye fishing on small bodies of water.
There are five South Dakota pro anglers – Ted Takasaki, Brian Bashore, Mike Zell, Justin Sieverding and Duane Hjelm – who are among the top 40 in the Angler of the Year standings

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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