NWT Insider Report: Kjelden completes Chamberlain comeback
May 3rd, 2022 by Keith Worrall
Modified May 3rd, 2022 at 10:09 AM
By Brett Carlson
OACOMA, S.D. – For the better part of a decade, Dustin Kjelden was near the summit of the professional walleye world – trading blows and holding his own with the likes of Jason Przekurat, Tom Keenan, and Dean Arnoldussen. In 2009, he called it quits when work and family obligations proved to be too much. Last year, he restarted his professional career on the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. His return season was solid as he finished 17th in the points race and qualified for the no-entry-fee championship. Today on Lake Francis Case, his home tournament water, he emphatically announced his return with a trip to the winner’s circle.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted the 42-year-old Kjelden to revisit his priorities and reconnect with his passion.
“Once tournament fishing is in your blood, it’s always there,” said the Brookings, S.D., native. “I’ve been wanting to get back in for a while. The first COVID year, 2020, taught me that life can be crazy, and that life is too short, so I jumped back in the following year.”
Despite impressive accolades that include a pro-am championship victory in 2007, Kjelden wasn’t sure his skills were still up to par.
“I had questions if I could jump back in and keep up with these guys. Youth is a huge asset in this sport. Back when I was winning, I had youth on my side. It’s awesome to know I can still compete. Chalk one up for the old guys.”
What Kjelden did intimately understand was the seasonal migration of the Missouri River walleyes. Despite a mediocre practice, he knew what areas would start firing as the walleyes finished spawning. In addition, the river’s turbid waters were slowly clearing after a blustery practice period.
“I just knew what areas would be turning on as we got further away from the spawn, and I was confident that the big females would show up. They (the larger female walleyes) still needed time to recoup.”
Kjelden started his tournament by running 40 miles south. That eventually proved to be wasted time as all 10 of his weigh fish came between the White River and town.
“The big run didn’t work, but it was worth checking as it can be a big-fish area. So I came back closer to town and started catching fish.”
Kjelden said he did his damage trolling leadcore with Berkley Flicker Shads. Under sunny conditions on day one, white was the best color. In cloudier conditions on day two, he used bright neon.
“I was trolling them slower than normal, around 1.8 to 2 mph, working the edge of the main river channel in 14 to 20 feet. I was running leadcore with 12-foot and 6-foot Denali Rods. There’s not a lot of structure, which is why leadcore is so efficient here. Historically, crankbaits win the day on this body of water. What Chase (Parsons) and Tommy (Kemos) did last year with jigs was really impressive, but that’s a small window.”
With steady action on day two, Kjelden had a few difficult decisions to make.
“I already had a 25-incher in the box, and then I caught a 21-incher. In practice, I didn’t see a lot of overs, so I sat there thinking about it, contemplating it. Then I thought about some past tournaments where I threw away the winning fish. I knew it would be tougher with the rain and stormy conditions, so I kept it.”
Kjelden was able to improve two more slot fish, and then he came in at noon.
“To bring in 15 pounds two days in a row is very difficult, so it worked out well. The key to winning was not getting hung up on certain spots. That’s how you win on reservoirs. It’s run-and-gun style fishing, and you have to be searching for fish, not just stuck on previous spots. Things just came together for us in this tournament.”
Kjelden’s day-one weight was 15.46 pounds, and today he improved to 16.30 pounds. He started the day in seventh place and finished first with a cumulative total of 31.76. He earned a Ranger 2080MS powered by a 250-horsepower Mercury Pro XS, plus $15,000 cash and another $2,603 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total package worth $88,598.
“It feels great; I’m pumped up.”
Lorensen happy with second
Like Kjelden, fellow South Dakota angler Troy Lorensen was remarkably consistent. On day one, the local Oacoma, S.D., fisherman caught a 14.89-pound limit. On day two, he improved to 15.25, giving him a two-day total of 10 walleyes weighing 30.14 pounds. Lorensen also had success at last year’s Chamberlain event, finishing 8th.
“I am super happy with taking second,” Lorensen said. “To be honest, my prefishing was terrible. I ended up just going with my knowledge of the river. I went to a spot that usually holds both good overs and slot fish this time of year. I stayed in one area and grinded it out. Everything came on crankbaits with leadcore.”
On day one, Lorensen caught two overs. On day two, he boated only one, but it was an incredibly fat prespawner. While it measured only 24 inches, Lorensen said it weighed well over 6 pounds.
“Honestly, I was surprised that jigging was so successful last year. It’s tough to do it consistently for two days. The crankbaits are typically going to give you a better chance at consistency. The one thing I’ve learned about this place is that the fish will open their mouths, but you’ve got to be there when they do.”
Northrop slips to third
With two nice overs on day one, Cody Northrop thought he had a realistic shot at winning the tournament. Today, he was again able to cobble together two overs, although they shrunk a bit.
“We were catching the slot fish this morning; I just couldn’t get an over,” said Northrop, the winner of the 2020 NWT event on Lake Sakakawea. “At 10:30, I made the decision to run 30 miles south to a big fish spot where I caught one of my overs yesterday. I had time for about two passes, and I ended up getting a 20 1/2 and a 19-inch slot fish. Then we had to drop the cameraman off and head back. I had time for one more pass by the ramp, and with about 20 minutes to go I caught a 20-incher.”
At times Northrop was in sight of Kjelden, and the two ran largely the same crankbait programs.
“It was all crankbaits, all the time for me. Bombers (24) worked best as we followed contours at 2 mph. We ran our leadcore with a 6-foot Denali rod out the back and a 12-foot Denali rod on the side. The soft tip lets you know when you have a bite, and the power is great for fighting fish in current.”
With the bigger overs, Northrop weighed 17.92 on day one, and on day two, he managed 12.09. His total weight of 30.01 pounds placed him third.
“I’m just familiar with fishing Missouri River reservoirs, especially what postspawn fish look for. I’m absolutely happy with third place.”
Arnoldussen rallies to fourth, Coon retains fifth
Rounding out the top five are pros Dean Arnoldussen and Jeremy Coon. Arnoldussen, the 2017 NWT Championship winner, skyrocketed up the leaderboard today with 18.76 pounds, the second-heaviest limit of the tournament. Combined with his 10.75 from day one, the veteran Wisconsin stick finished the tournament fourth overall with a total weight of 29.51 pounds.
Coon, the local stick from Wolsey, S.D., managed limits of 15.55 and 13.08. He finished fifth with a cumulative weight of 28.63 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the NWT event on Lake Francis Case:
6th: Sammy Cappelli of Poland, Ohio, ten walleyes, 28.33
7th: Ted Takasaki of Sioux Falls, S.D., ten walleyes, 27.95
8th: Tommy Kemos of Oconomowoc, Wis., ten walleyes, 27.59
9th: Keith Kavajecz of Deerbrook, Wis., ten walleyes, 27.59
10th: Ray Wellman of Pukwana, S.D., ten walleyes, 27.52
The NWT swings east for its third event of the 2022 season, held June 9-10 on the Mississippi River in Prairie du Chien, Wis.