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Grand Rapids duo wins Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic

Bill Litchke, left, and Dave Carpenter, right, of Grand Rapids wave to the crowd on the waterfront after winning the Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic on Saturday. At right is weigh-in master of ceremonies Tracy Pogue. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Dave Carpenter and Bill Litchke battled through challenging conditions to edge the defending champions Saturday in the Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic on Lake Bemidji and Lake Irving.

The duo checked in with a five-walleye limit of 14.54 pounds and left home for Grand Rapids with a $10,000 championship check.

Carpenter and Litchke waited on the hot seat on the waterfront stage for over an hour, watching challengers weigh their catches and walk away without taking away their seats.

They became the new champions when defending champions Travis and Duane Peterson of Bemidji were unable to pull ahead on the final weigh-in of the afternoon with a catch of 13.22 pounds.

Litchke and Carpenter pulled ahead with their biggest catch - a 5.36 pounder.

Finishing third was the Colter-Hernesman team with a catch of 12.84 pounds, buoyed by one catch with a weight of 5.15 pounds.

The Peterson-Rude team was fourth at 12.53 pounds and the Schneider-Solberg team was fifth at 12.42 pounds.

Bob Fitzgerald, director of business development at Kraus-Anderson and the tournament director, characterized the tournament as a success despite not filling the 100-boat field.

The Classic, which benefits non-profit groups, attracted 85 entries in the ninth annual contest.

"I was talking with other (fishing) tournament directors around the region and I think we need to count our blessings that this many people showed up, quite frankly," Fitzgerald said.

The recession had an impact on the field in this was the first year where there was not a waiting list to enter the tournament. The entry fee per team is $480.

Tournaments in the past drew anglers from western North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

That missing group can account for some of the drop-off, making this year's Walleye Classic more of a regional event.

"But I think having this many people show up is a testament to the organization of the tournament, our volunteers and the community of Bemidji," Fitzgerald said. "Other tournaments are just about fishing. Our tournament is not just fishing - we have the parade, the fish fry on Friday night - a lot of our participants also bring their families. You can tell all the anglers and the kids are having a ball just by the crowd we have at weigh-in time."

About 1,500 people showed up to the waterfront Saturday afternoon to watch the competitors weigh their catches.

It was a tough weigh-in that indicated the conditions the anglers battled on the water.

"The weather patterns over the last day was definitely a challenge for the field and it affected the fishing," Fitzgerald said.

Thunderstroms rolled through the Bemidji area Friday night, then morning sun was broken up by a few rain showers before the early afternoon brought sunshine and temperatures in the 70s.

"Mother nature really couldn't make up her mind today and I think that affected the quality of the field, there weren't any really big bags out there," Fitzgerald said.

When Travis and Duane Peterson won last season, their winning weight was 16.85 pounds. In last season's tournament, the top seven teams were all over 15 pounds.

In the nine-year history of the classic, there has never been a repeat winner.

Fitzgerald said that's not the only unique thing about the Classic.

"What sets this tournament apart from most fishing tournaments is that it's a community event and all of our proceeds go to charity," Fitzgerald said.

Over 250 volunteers helped in this year's tournament and Fitzgerald said that the tournament has raised $300,000 in its first eight years. He estimated Saturday's event brought nearly $40,000 more to selected beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries of the Walleye Classic are the Special Olympics, Bemidji Youth Hockey, Let's Go Fishing, Take a Kid Fishing, Fishing Has No Boundaries, Boy Scouts and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"We would like to thank the community for their support, the participants, the sponsors and the Downtown Development Authority - Thanks for coming out and supporting us," Fitzgerald said.

The 10th Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic will be held on June 12, 2009.