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'Proud of the way we do it:' South Dakota lake bracing for another National Walleye Tour

"We have a fantastic fishery on Lake Francis Case. Anytime you can bring that many fishermen and fisherwomen, they are going to come back," Chamberlain Mayor Chad Mutziger said.

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Boats line up to come into dock and unload their catch for the day during the second day of the National Walleye Tour event in Oacoma and Chamberlain on April 28, 2021.
Republic file photo
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CHAMBERLAIN-OACOMA, S.D. — After hosting what city leaders dubbed an “amazing event” in spring 2021, the National Walleye Tour is coming back to Chamberlain in late April, bringing with it a huge economic impact.

While the Chamberlain-Oacoma area is already renowned among South Dakota anglers as one of the premier walleye spots in the state, Chamberlain Mayor Chad Mutziger said the Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops National Walleye Tour put the Missouri River walleye hub on the national map.

“The fishing community as a whole is pretty tight knit. We have a fantastic fishery on Lake Francis Case. Anytime you can bring that many fishermen and fisherwomen, they are going to come back. Especially with the success they have in Chamberlain,” Mutziger said. “The national publicity that it brings is tremendous.”

The April 28-29 tournament will bring 200 anglers to Lake Francis Case, where they will square off in the second tournament of this year’s National Walleye Tour.

Some of the biggest names in the pro angling business and up-and-coming amateurs will descend on the small Missouri river town to compete for a new boat, prize money and points for Angler of the Year. The April 28-29 Chamberlain-Oacoma stop is the NWT’s only tournament in South Dakota this year.

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After learning officials chose Chamberlain as a NWT tournament host this year once again, it filled Mutziger with “a lot of pride.”

With the rich history of walleye fishing on the waters of Lake Francis Case, Mutziger said the two-day tournament has become a communitywide event.

“When it comes to this walleye tournament, we are proud of the way we do it. And I think they recognize that,” Mutziger said. “Chamberlain is a very accommodating community, and the fishery is just fantastic.”

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Action from the first day of the National Walleye Tour event in Oacoma and Chamberlain on Thursday. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

The small Missouri River town attracts a steady flow of walleye anglers throughout the spring and summer who spend time and money in the community, but Mutziger said the event had a profound economic impact on the area in its first year in 2021.

Considering many hotels and restaurants in the area are very familiar with anglers spending time in Chamberlain each year, Mutziger said the community is set up perfectly to host the tournament.

Chad Pinkelman, executive director of Chamberlain’s Chamber of Commerce, said the tournament has shown the angling community that the Chamberlain-Oacoma area is more than just a premier walleye hub. He said it’s provided a “tremendous amount” of exposure to the natural beauty and rolling hills surrounding the Missouri River in central South Dakota.

“Being able to get big name anglers and new people familiar with our town helps keep our community as a key tourist destination in the state is a great opportunity. This tournament has done that,” Pinkelman said. “The whole community comes together for this.”

Each year, the series of tournaments are held in a variety of bodies of water in the northern portion of the country, including lakes and river systems.

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During last year’s Chamberlain stop, anglers raved about Lake Francis Case’s walleye fishing. After all, it was the only tournament in 2021 that every pro and amateur angler caught their limit of walleye.

Chase Parsons, a pro Wisconsin angler who claimed first place last year in Chamberlain, hailed Lake Francis Case as a “walleye factory.” Parsons’ 31 pounds worth of walleye he reeled in during the 2021 event earned him a $81,922 check, including $15,000 in cash, and a new Ranger fishing boat.

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Chase Parsons, left, hoists his Pro-Champ trophy while Chris Stassen raises his Co-Champ trophy at the conclusion of the weigh-ins during the second day of the National Walleye Tour event in Oacoma and Chamberlain on April 29, 2021.
Matt Gade / Republic

"This is a heck of a body of water, but the key in this tournament is catching the 20 inch and over. You can catch the 20 inch and under pretty much anywhere in the system," Parsons said of the Missouri River following his Chamberlain tournament victory last year in late April. "The last time I was here in the Chamberlain-Oacoma area was in 2007, but I love this system. Chamberlain is right up there at the top of some of the best places to fish the river."

The tournament setup entails a pro angler fishing with an amateur co-angler. Together, the anglers have eight hours each day to reel in as big of walleye as they can catch.

MORE NATIONAL WALLEYE TOUR COVERAGE:
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A 42-year-old Fargo-Moorhead business owner has seen success on the National Walleye Tour, but it is his success with cuticles and acrylics that helped pave the way to fishing tournament wins.
“I’ve been fishing here since I was a teenager, and it feels great to get my first National Walleye tour win on this body of water,” said Brookings angler Dustin Kjelden.
"I like that I can just grab my poles and gear and head out here to fish after a day of work and not have to get everything ready like you do for a boat," said Dana Dozark, a Chamberlain area angler who fishes the Missouri River shorelines.
“It was a good day on the river. We mixed it up a bit today,” Austin Earley said of the fishing tactics that he used to reel in five walleye weighing in at a combined 18 pounds.
This is the second straight year the NWT is holding an event in Chamberlain

With the first tournament of the 2022 NWT in the books, anglers competing on the tour this year will be looking for more favorable weather in Chamberlain after battling near freezing temperatures and strong winds in late March on the Detroit River in Michigan.

As a Chamberlain native, Mutziger said predicting the weather for the April 28-29 tournament is “anyone’s guess.” Regardless, he’s confident the anglers will have success on the waters of Lake Francis Case.

“They had to battle some cooler weather on the first day of the event last year, and they still caught plenty of fish,” Mutziger said. “I think the unknown weather we have makes it a little more interesting and challenging for these anglers.”

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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