Canadian Walleye Tournaments Going Strong
Nov 8th, 2012 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Nov 8th, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Author’s Note: The status of the walleye tournament world with a vision for the future will be explored throughout this series. Industry leaders, observers, participants (past and present), sponsors, professional and amateur anglers, host communities, marine and tackle manufacturers, and tournament organizers will offer their opinions.
Part Six deals with some of the tournament activities north of the border. John Butts, closely allied with walleye tournaments for decades, and a past PWT winner and an Angler-Young-Angler champion, said, “From Ontario to Alberta, walleye tournaments are really strong.”
John sells Kingfisher and Alumacraft boats in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario, and Kingfisher in the US. He’s on the road half the time, but also guides deer hunters and fishes local tournaments. He is past director and chairman of the Walleye Masters in Dryden, his hometown.
After fishing internationally and criss-crossing the walleye “belt,” John feels several factors have led to Canadian tournament success: good management and organization, solid sponsorship, fewer tournaments overall compared to the US, most walleye tournaments are the only community event all year and people rally behind them, weekend tournaments don’t compete with other “local” anglers because most have entered, and most events are non-profit with money going to the payout or back into the community.
John and Joe Barron took over the Walleye Masters after some lackluster years when entries dropped to about 60 boats. With a consistency and enforcement of rules, increased payout due to sponsorships, and the involvement of Shaw TV (tournament is aired live in Canada coast-to-coast), the field quickly doubled.
“The PWT Can-Am on Lake Wabigoon here in Dryden grew the popularity and excitement and showed the Canadians they were on equal footing with the Americans,” John said, “I’m sort of surprised more US tournament guys aren’t involved up here.”
He cited the major stand-alone tournaments like the Golden Walleye Classic, Lake of the Prairies and Vanity Cup in Alberta, with some paying $100,000 for first place and a waiting list to enter. The Saskatchewan Walleye Trail draws more than 100 teams per event. Ontario anglers can pick from Dryden, Red Lake, Minaki or any (or all) of the Northern Ontario Walleye Tail tournaments. John said the list grows each year.
Cory Nephin is president of the board of the Northern Ontario Walleye Trail, and said the goal of the circuit is to attract grassroots anglers to travel to other tour events, learn and become confident enough to fish more tournaments. “We started in 2003 with four existing tournaments and grew to six. Most events that join fill their fields.” He lives in Geraldton, and said prior to his local tournament coming onboard, 60 to 70 teams fished. “Once on the circuit, it’s full with 115 boats and 20 on the waiting list. Already, 70 boats are paid for the June tournament, and by February, it will be full,” he said.
NOWT events run full fields of 80 to 130 boats, depending on the water size. Contestants are familiar with and prefer the Canadian shield lakes, but Sault Ste. Marie was added due to cancellation of the Timmins event because of forest fires. “The Soo will take time to build, since the river system is so different from the familiar lakes for most,” Cory said.
He said each tournament is unique. NOWT provides scales and the computer weigh-in program. “Anglers are treated well,” he said, “with nearly every angler winning something for the $200 to $350 team entry fee.” Boat parades are customary with great turnouts, a free steak dinner is part of each event, young anglers are catered to, and a key factor (to success) is that these are big events in small communities.
NOWT payouts are $10,000 for first, $5,000 for second, $4,000 for third, with the top 10 and big fish paid. The Angler of the Year receives a 14-foot PrinceCraft boat, with $1,000 for second and $500 for third. Each team member receives points for the team’s place, and carries those forward when fishing with other partners or individually. There is no championship. The 2013 schedule and details are at nowt.ca. Cory can be reached at 807-854-8698.
The Shaw Walleye Masters has become “The Event” in Dryden each Father’s Day weekend. Andi Kidd, Sports, Recreation and Events Investment Coordinator with the Dryden Development Corporation said, “The Walleye Masters is the biggest event next to the Winter Festival. It has been embraced and adopted by the entire community.”
Tournament Director Joe Barron, with several key tournament “win” feathers in his cap said, “This has been turned from a fishing event into a community event built around walleyes.” He applauded the city of Dryden for their commitment. The Masters has grown to the largest prize-structure walleye tournament in a three-province area, Joe said, “The goal is to continue to expand and draw more out-of-town teams.”
With the “Big Show” atmosphere, the 126 teams play to a full house in the Dryden arena. Shaw has 10 cameras in the arena with a helicopter eye-in-the-sky. On day one, anglers arrive in golf carts with their fish to the stage show which is televised in northwest Ontario and Manitoba. “The show goes national at 5 p.m. Sunday as the final 10 teams parade into the arena in their boats towed by new Ford trucks,” he said.
Andi added, “The arena is packed, and up to NHL game-energy levels. Kids, teens, seniors, families, they’re all cheering. The top 10 teams have the added bonus of being accompanied by the top 10 youth anglers from the Junior Walleye Masters, known as the Bob Izumi Kids, Cops and Canadian Tire Fishing Day.” These youngsters fish from the Dryden Government Dock with assistance from 25 police officers. The field grew from 60 to 80 last year, with 100 youngsters anticipated in 2013. “They weigh everything from sticks to bike tires, and last year a 9-pound pike and dozens of walleyes.
The Shaw Walleye Masters team entry fee is $350, with $20,000 to first place. The big walleye daily pays more than $1,000. The top Lund team earns $2,500. Last year, the second place team fished from a 14-foot Lund. The slot limit allows two walleyes over 18 inches and three under 18 inches per day. Eight and nine pounders usually take the big fish pots.
Andi said the economic model for a 150 team event, with 25 US teams and 25 from out of Ontario would add $150,000 to the local economy and $200,000 to the provincial economy. The publicity about the community and its recreational opportunities are priceless. Tournament sponsors include Mercury, Lund, Shaw, MinnKota, Dingwall Ford, CKDR, MacPrint, the city of Dryden, AWCL Printing, McAuley & Partners and a host of other local and provincial partners. For information: Dryden.ca and drydenwalleyemasters.ca. Or, [email protected]
These are interesting perspectives from the walleye world north of the border, and provide food for thought in the US walleye tournament game.