'Proud of the way we do it:' Chamberlain-Oacoma bracing for another National Walleye Tour
"We have a fantastic fishery on Lake Francis Case. Anytime you can bring that many fishermen and fisherwomen, they are going to come back," Chamberlain Mayor Chad Mutziger said.
CHAMBERLAIN-OACOMA — After hosting what city leaders dubbed an “amazing event” in spring 2021, the National Walleye Tour is coming back to Chamberlain in late April, bringing with it a huge economic impact.
While the Chamberlain-Oacoma area is already renowned among South Dakota anglers as one of the premier walleye spots in the state, Chamberlain Mayor Chad Mutziger said the Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops National Walleye Tour put the Missouri River walleye hub on the national map.
“The fishing community as a whole is pretty tight knit. We have a fantastic fishery on Lake Francis Case. Anytime you can bring that many fishermen and fisherwomen, they are going to come back. Especially with the success they have in Chamberlain,” Mutziger said. “The national publicity that it brings is tremendous.”
The April 28-29 tournament will bring 200 anglers to Lake Francis Case, where they will square off in the second tournament of this year’s National Walleye Tour.
Some of the biggest names in the pro angling business and up-and-coming amateurs will descend on the small Missouri river town to compete for a new boat, prize money and points for Angler of the Year. The April 28-29 Chamberlain-Oacoma stop is the NWT’s only tournament in South Dakota this year.
After learning officials chose Chamberlain as a NWT tournament host this year once again, it filled Mutziger with “a lot of pride.”
With the rich history of walleye fishing on the waters of Lake Francis Case, Mutziger said the two-day tournament has become a communitywide event.
“When it comes to this walleye tournament, we are proud of the way we do it. And I think they recognize that,” Mutziger said. “Chamberlain is a very accommodating community, and the fishery is just fantastic.”
The small Missouri River town attracts a steady flow of walleye anglers throughout the spring and summer who spend time and money in the community, but Mutziger said the event had a profound economic impact on the area in its first year in 2021.
Considering many hotels and restaurants in the area are very familiar with anglers spending time in Chamberlain each year, Mutziger said the community is set up perfectly to host the tournament.
Chad Pinkelman, executive director of Chamberlain’s Chamber of Commerce, said the tournament has shown the angling community that the Chamberlain-Oacoma area is more than just a premier walleye hub. He said it’s provided a “tremendous amount” of exposure to the natural beauty and rolling hills surrounding the Missouri River in central South Dakota.
“Being able to get big name anglers and new people familiar with our town helps keep our community as a key tourist destination in the state is a great opportunity. This tournament has done that,” Pinkelman said. “The whole community comes together for this.”
Each year, the series of tournaments are held in a variety of bodies of water in the northern portion of the country, including lakes and river systems.
During last year’s Chamberlain stop, anglers raved about Lake Francis Case’s walleye fishing. After all, it was the only tournament in 2021 that every pro and amateur angler caught their limit of walleye.
Chase Parsons, a pro Wisconsin angler who claimed first place last year in Chamberlain, hailed Lake Francis Case as a “walleye factory.” Parsons’ 31 pounds worth of walleye he reeled in during the 2021 event earned him a $81,922 check, including $15,000 in 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 following his Chamberlain tournament victory last year in late April. "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."
The tournament setup entails a pro angler fishing with an amateur co-angler. Together, the anglers have eight hours each day to reel in as big of walleye as they can catch.
With the first tournament of the 2022 NWT in the books, anglers competing on the tour this year will be looking for more favorable weather in Chamberlain after battling near freezing temperatures and strong winds in late March on the Detroit River in Michigan.
As a Chamberlain native, Mutziger said predicting the weather for the April 28-29 tournament is “anyone’s guess.” Regardless, he’s confident the anglers will have success on the waters of Lake Francis Case.
“They had to battle some cooler weather on the first day of the event last year, and they still caught plenty of fish,” Mutziger said. “I think the unknown weather we have makes it a little more interesting and challenging for these anglers.”