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Lunker Days, family events start today to kick off Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic

Nick Swanson, Erik Fitzgerald, and Logan Mistic volunteer to help move benches in preparation of the ninth annual Kraus Anderson Walleye Classic set for Saturday on Lake Bemidji. In the background are other Bemidji Youth Hockey members Tyler Geerdes, Otto Grimm and Tony Geerdes. Not pictured are Alexis Swanson and Matt Fitzgerald. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper1 / 2
Duane, right, and Travis Peterson celebrate after winning the 2008 Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic. The father and son team is back to defend their title at the 2009 Walleye Classic. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren2 / 2

As Saturday's Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic approaches, anglers, community members and families can enjoy more than just fish. Activities, food and events are being held today to open the event.

A Boats and Floats Parade, Lunker Days events and a "Meet and Greet the Anglers" fish fry are happening in downtown Bemidji. The tournament begins at 7 a.m. Saturday for fishing teams.

The tournament, which began in 2001, was created to fill a niche for an event in the area.

"We were chatting about how nice it would be to have an event that showcased Lake Bemidji and its resources here," said Bob Fitzgerald, tournament director.

A similar event, the Duluth Big Jig, took place in Duluth, and Fitzgerald saw an opportunity to create a community event for Bemidji.

"It was a relative success right out of the chute," he said.

Now, eight years later, anglers come from around the Bemidji area, as well as the five-state region, to participate in the tournament, he said.

"It's been fantastic from that standpoint, he said. "The angler response was good for a tournament of this caliber in the area."

The tournament is made up of 100 teams of two anglers each. The team with the highest total registered weight of five fish will win. The first prize rings in at a solid $10,000, and cash prizes are awarded to the top 15 teams.

Teams are made up of friends, business partners and family members. Some father-son teams, such as last year's tournament winners, Duane and Travis Peterson, are signed up to compete again, while others are signing up together for the first time.

Kelly Curb, a former winner of this tournament, will be fishing with his son, Riley.

"I was just wanting to take my kid fishing, honestly," Curb said in a telephone interview. "I've fished tournaments before and I had such a good time."

Curb said this would be Riley's first time spending eight hours in the boat.

Anglers can fish both Lake Bemidji and Lake Irving for the tournament and weigh-in will begin at 3:30 p.m. in front of the Paul and Babe statues.

Fitzgerald emphasized that the tournament wasn't just about the fish or winning money. At the core, he said, it's all about giving back to the community.

Beneficiaries of the tournament include Special Olympics, Fishing Has No Boundaries, Let's Go Fishing, Take a Kid Fishing, Bemidji Youth Hockey and Boy Scouts.

These groups will also act as volunteers to help set up and tear down the event as a part of their experience with the tournament.

Fitzgerald said the event is a lot of work, but the impact it makes is worth it.

"You're exhausted; you look at each other and say, 'Are we going to do this again?' It's a resounding 'yes' every time," he said.

Tournament headquarters are at the Lake Bemidji waterfront.

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