Fresh on the heels of our weekend on Mille Lacs, we had a week to prepare for our first time fishing in the local Kraus Anderson Walleye Classic on Lake Bemidji. A popular 100 boat event, the Kraus raises money for some great local groups like Special Olympics, Fishing Has No Boundaries and Let’s Go Fishing to name a few. We have always come down for the weigh-in and finally decided it was time to take a shot and sign up. Trev and his mom took advantage of the beautiful summer weather to do a bit of pre-fishing during the week. A windy Monday made it tough to fish, but when the winds calmed down on Tuesday and Wednesday they were able to lock in on about 5 good spots where you could literally see the walleyes you were trying to catch. The focus was on shallow, cabbage-covered areas where good numbers of walleyes have been hanging out since the opener. They caught fish on every spot including the nice 25 inch walleye to the left. We could only hope there would be more like it on Saturday. As the week progressed it was fun to hear how others were out doing the same thing and that some very nice fish were being caught. We had a feeling that there were going to be some nice weights at the end of the day on Saturday. Things started off on Friday afternoon with the rules meeting. Teams had to register and pull a number out of a box to determine their starting order. I signed my name and then put on a display of awesome luck by pulling number 100 out of the box. We would be the last boat to pass the starters on Saturday morning. Nice.
My great luck continued on Saturday morning as we prepared to pull out to get bait and head to our designated landing. I put the truck in reverse and the trailer brakes kicked in and forced me to a screeching halt. I rolled forward again, backed up and they locked up again. Now, I understand clearly now what was going on, but at the time it was the first I had learned of this problem. Of all days to happen, it had to be this day. For a few short minutes it looked like we were dead in the water with a boat that we could not back down the driveway. After a call to a very gracious friend who owns the local Lund dealership I had a clear idea of what was going on. The surge brakes were kicking in when I backed up the boat. Something with the backup lights went haywire and they weren’t disengaging the solenoid that kicks in the brakes. So I simply needed to keep the trailer tongue from sliding backwards and keep it from engaging the brakes. A quick operation with a couple of nuts and some tape and we were backing down the driveway. Catastrophe averted. With some time to spare, I headed to the landing and Trev headed to the bait shop and we were soon on the water and headed to check-in.
With the stress of the morning past, we relaxed were feeling glad to just be out on the water with the rest of the anglers. Mr. Joe Vene started the morning with the National Anthem and about 12 minutes later boat #100 made its way past the starters. We headed off to spot #1. This location is no mystery to most anglers who know Lake Bemidji and it was the location where Trev found that nice 25 incher on Tuesday. There were only a couple of boats working the area, so we slipped in and started pitching jigs and shiners. We worked the area for about an hour with nothing to show for our efforts, so we opted to let it go for now and give it a shot later in the afternoon. Spot #2 was another area loaded with thick cabbage, and we pulled in to a large opening between a couple other boats working the same stuff. The cabbage was a bit heavier here, so we stayed just outside the edge and pitched our jigs just into the weeds to try to coax the fish into a bite. We were soon rewarded when Trev hauled in a nice walleye very close to the 19 inch mark. A great under for the live well. We worked up and down this weed line for a while longer and pulled out a few more fish, but soon opted to move on to spot #3. The north end of the lake has scattered patches of cabbage and there were several groups of boats camped around these various spots. Trev had marked a shallow area during the week and we started working around those marks. On his first cast as we arrived Trev boated a smaller keeper. We had plenty of unders, but we needed some improvements and soon got one when I was able to haul in a walleye closer to the 18 inch mark. The spot was definitely loaded with fish, but most of what we caught seemed pretty small and we opted to move on to spot #4. Again, this was a shallow area with scattered patches of cabbage in the southern part of the lake. There was only one boat in this area and we moved to the areas Trev had marked giving them plenty of room to do their thing. Again, we were fortunate to catch a few walleyes as we worked our way south along the shallow weed line. We had improved our weight a bit and now had 14, 15, 17, 18 and 19 inch walleyes in the live well. We needed to find some bigger girls and decided our best shot was back at spot #1. The afternoon was wearing on and there were few boats working this area. We pretty much had this entire area to ourselves until another boat arrived to try their hand at working the cabbage. We made our way north staying just outside the edge of the thickest stuff. I finally tossed out and felt a nice little whack and set the hook into what felt to be a little nicer fish. I had her up near the boat and guessed that it was another 19 incher, but was pleased to find out after Trev pulled it in that we had our first over with a decent 23 inch walleye.
While we both knew that we certainly didn’t have enough in the box to win the tournament, we were both feeling pretty satisfied that we had managed to work a decent game plan to find our five fish without really having to scramble. We worked that area for a while longer when we decided that we could burn up a bit of time looking at a couple of deeper areas in search of a big fish. We really wanted to improve on that 15 incher and would have been happy with anything near the 20 inch mark. We buzzed to about three or four different locations marking fish along the way, but nothing we tried produced a bite. We headed back to the north end to see if we could coax something out of the cabbage up there, but the bite seemed to have slowed down. We didn’t have a ton of time left before we had to head to the weigh-in so we figured we would try ripping through a couple of our spots with shallow running crankbaits to see if we could get a reaction bite out of a wandering walleye. We were able to hit two of our spots, and had a little excitement at the very end when Trev latched into a good fish that turned out to be a hungry northern pike. We took that as our signal to call it a day and packed up and headed over to the west side to line up for the weigh-in.
We speculated on our weight as we headed in. I was guessing we would be close to 10 pounds, a respectable total for this field. We had to play bumper-boats for a while with a pretty stiff wind coming out of the southeast and several boats waiting to get to the docks. I was finally able to get Trev dropped off with our fish and he headed to the bump tanks while I buzzed down what seemed like a mile to pull the boat up on shore. As I was walking back to the stage I heard them call up boat number 100. I guessed that Trev was answering a couple of questions… divulging all of our secrets… and then heard the magic number, 9.64 pounds. We missed 10 by a fraction. As it turns out, the father and son team of Kelly and Kaleb Hanson had a dream day on Lake Bemidji with a coupld of nice 27 inch walleyes and three 19 inchers for whopping 18.08 pound total. Easily the nicest basket I’ve ever watched come in at the Kraus.
So our first Kraus Anderson Walleye Classic is in the books with a 52nd place finish out of 96 boats. We definitely have room for improvement, but we were pleased to come in with a limit. Congratulations to the Hansons on a great showing. We’ll definitely be looking forward to moving a little higher next year.