MOBRIDGE, S. D. -- Heading into the last day of the National Walleye Tour tournament on Friday, Kent Andersen’s back was against the wall, as the pro angler was sitting in 16th place.
After starting the day off hot on Lake Oahe, reeling in a massive 32-inch walleye, followed by a big 28-incher, Andersen knew he was in the hunt to claim the tournament championship in Mobridge. As he approached the stage at weigh-ins on Mobridge’s Main Street on Friday afternoon, the Alexandria, Minnesota, native had fans on the edge of their seats.
In front of a packed crowd, Andersen’s bag of fish weighed in at 24 pounds, giving him a combined two-day weight of 41 pounds and propelling the angler over the then-leader, Adam Anderson, who caught 38 pounds of walleye in the two-day outing. Andersen's strong finish earned himself a $79,500 check, $15,000 in payouts and a new fishing boat.
“This goes to show you never give up. The spot I got the 32-inch and 28.5-incher this morning was the spot my brother found in practice, so I want to thank him,” Andersen said. “Almost all of my big fish came on lead core. I was running anywhere from eight to 10 colors, and that was definitely key.”
For Andersen, who now resides in Wisconsin, the tournament victory was special, as it struck an emotional chord. One of the fishing rods Andersen used was his late father’s, who died in 2016 after competing in the same tournament at the same body of water where he reeled his way to a championship finish on Friday.
“The last tournament my dad fished in 2016 was here. He passed away shortly after it, that rod had been sitting up on the shelf since, so I took it out with me. I had him with me out there today,” an emotional Andersen said.
Jared Pokrzywinski, of Devils Lake, North Dakota, took home the tournament championship for the co-anglers. Pokrzywinski landed just over 40 pounds in the two-day tournament.
The North Dakota angler stayed consistent throughout both days of the tournament, catching a 16 pound bag the first day, followed by a whopping 24 pound bag on Friday. While he used a variety of fishing techniques, he said his decision to pull crankbaits in around 60 to 80 feet of water Friday is what made the difference in landing the big fish.
“We pulled cranks, and used the down imaging. We were fishing in 80 feet of water and were right above trees. I’ve never done anything like it,” Pokrzywinski said.
For Andersen, the first fish he caught Friday measured 23 inches, but his decision to throw it back in the river paid off. The next walleye he landed was his biggest of the day, measuring 32 inches. As part of the tournament rules, each angler is allowed two fish over 20 inches, while the rest of the five fish limit must be under that size.
“My partner said, ‘I can’t believe you just threw that back.’ But then I got the 32-incher, and said that’s why we throw back 23-inchers,” Andersen said, igniting laughs from the crowd.
As cooler 80 degree temperatures set in on Friday, bringing with it brief spouts of rain in the morning, the anglers had to deal with a variety of elements on the water.
Anglers hit the water at 7 a.m. and had to weigh their day's catch of walleye by 3 p.m. on Mobridge’s Main Street, where a packed crowd gathered to watch. The pro-amateur style tournament allows each boat to have two anglers, and 107 of the fishermen are pros, while the remaining 107 are amateur co-anglers. Each pro angler fishes with a different co-angler in the tournament, which are selected randomly.
With 231 miles of water to fish along the Missouri River, Andersen said it was tough to determine how far to go to find a spot he was confident in. But he said the southern portion of Lake Oahe is where he had the most success.
“Once I got the two 20-inch overs, I headed down south to fish the area I caught about a dozen fish yesterday that were about 18 to 19-inchers,” he said.
With Friday's win, Andersen solidified a spot to compete in the championship tournament of the walleye tour. Heading into the last regular season tournament of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Walleye Tour in Mobridge, Andersen was sitting in 33rd place in the Angler of the Year standings. To qualify for the championship tournament in the late September event, pro anglers and co-anglers must be in the top 40. It will be held on Otter Tail Lake in Ottertail, Minnesota.
However, Pokrzywinski awaits to see if his first place finish on Friday will be enough to land him a spot to compete in the tour championship event in late September.
While Lake Oahe was foreign waters for Pokrzywinski, the Devils Lake man said it’s “one of the best” river lakes he’s ever fished.
“The fish are just huge here. This is so healthy of a fishery, it’s unbelievable,” Pokrzywinski said, as he held his co-angler trophy on stage at the weigh-ins. “I plan on making this an annual stop for sure.”