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PWT's top amateur fishing with the big boys this week

Aaron Abaurrea says tournament fishing can be a powerful drug. "When you're out fishing for fun with a buddy and he hooks a 4-pound walleye, you're like 'All right,' and you might be kind of slow to get the net and if the fish gets away it's like...

Aaron Abaurrea says tournament fishing can be a powerful drug.

"When you're out fishing for fun with a buddy and he hooks a 4-pound walleye, you're like 'All right,' and you might be kind of slow to get the net and if the fish gets away it's like 'Well, there's more where that came from,'" Abaurrea said.

"But when you're fishing in a tournament and your partner hooks a 4-pound walleye, you're jumping up and you've got the net ready and you're coaching him and doing everything in your power to make sure he doesn't lose that fish. And then when you get it in the boat, you're like 'Yeah!'

"They are both fun ways to fish, but when you get in a tournament it heightens the experience. Everything is that much more exciting. And then you can't get enough of them."

Abaurrea, an angler who counts Fargo and Carrington, N.D., as home, will definitely have a heightened experience this week in Houghton, Mich. That is where he is fishing in the Professional Walleye Trail Championship.

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The tournament will include the

27-mile Portage Canal, Portage Lake and the Torch Lake system -- bodies of water in the Upper Peninsula that produce some of the biggest walleyes in Michigan.

The tournament runs Friday through Sunday.

Abaurrea is the lone amateur fishing the tournament, which includes only the top 50 anglers from the six-tournament PWT circuit. Abaurrea qualified by virtue of being the circuit's Amateur of the Year, meaning he had the best cumulative finishes during the season.

In the PWT Championship, Abaurrea will be allowed to fish as a professional -- meaning he is eligible to win the $63,000 first prize ($30,000 plus a new boat, motor and trailer) out of the $600,000 purse. Also, if an angler breaks the Michigan state record walleye of 17 pounds, 3 ounces during the tournament, he will win a $1 million bonus.

"It is really the World Series of walleye fishing," said Abaurrea, who says Devils Lake (N.D.) is his favorite walleye fishing water. "It is quite prestigious."

It is also a dream come true for Abaurrea, a 42-year-old owner of a real estate appraisal business. He has fished many local tournaments in North Dakota and Minnesota for the past several years. He said he's done well, including a first-place finish with a partner this summer in the 150-team Devils Lake (N.D.) Chamber of Commerce tournament.

Abaurrea said he planned to fish the PWT circuit as a professional this summer, but he was not accepted on the tour. So he fished the Western Division of the circuit -- including tournaments at Lake of the Woods, Minn., Lake Pepin, Minn., and Lake Oahe, S.D. -- as an amateur (who win merchandise instead of cash).

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He said things worked out just as well because the year was a learning experience and he gained a spot in the PWT Championship field.

"I don't have a whole lot of experience doing this compared to the rest of the guys here, but I feel like I have just as good a chance to win as anybody else. That's the way I'm looking at it," Abaurrea said.

Even if he doesn't win, Abaurrea hopes the experience will jump-start his career as a professional walleye fisherman. He said he plans to turn pro next summer, and hopes he can land a large sponsor willing to back him with $15,000-$20,000. After two or three years of successful tournament fishing, Abaurrea said, his goal would be to quit his real-estate appraisal business.

"To do this right, you have to devote yourself full-time to it," he said. "The guys who are coming out here every other week don't really have much of a chance.

"I'm not sure if people really realize how competitive professional walleye fishing is. These guys are good. They'll be fishing in New York one day, drive to South Dakota and then be fishing the next day on an entirely new body of water they know nothing about," Abaurrea said. "It's work. It's good work, don't get me wrong. But the guys who fish 10 tournaments a year are ironmen, they're just nuts."

It's a club Abaurrea hopes to join.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580

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