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Hillsboro angler looks back on Russian tourney

Members of the Team USA Predator fishing team were Brett Root Ericksen (from left) of Illinois, Ben Blegen of Minnesota, Nate Winters of Wisconsin and Shawn Hennings of Hillsboro, N.D. (Photo courtesy of USA Predator Fishing Team)

Shawn Hennings had the kind of fishing adventure few American anglers ever get the chance experience earlier this month, when he fished Russia's Ivankovo Reservoir on the Volga River north of Moscow as a member of the U.S. team competing in the World Predator Fishing Championship.

Hennings, 46, of Hillsboro, N.D., and his three USA Predator Team partners—Brett Ericksen of Illinois, Nate Winters of Wisconsin and team captain Ben Blegen of Minnesota—finished 12th out of 13 countries that competed in the Sept. 2-3 event, won by a team from Romania.

Sean Warner, a Minnesotan who speaks Russian, was the team's international delegate and translator.

In a phone interview, Hennings said the American team spent too much time the first day of the tournament fishing zander—a European cousin of the walleye—and that hurt them.

They targeted the zander in 20 feet to 40 feet of water.

"Unlike our walleyes, when they swing at it and they hit, if you don't set the hook, they don't come back again," Hennings said. "You don't get a second chance."

Teams competed with two anglers to a boat along with a tournament official who measured and logged each fish and whether it was big enough to count; fish then were released. Teams could register as many legal-length fish as they could catch.

Yamaha furnished eight boats built especially for the tournament, Hennings said, and Russian professional fishermen who weren't on the country's tournament squad supplied additional boats, all of which were equipped with modern electronics.

Size mattered

Catching zander wasn't a problem, but catching zander large enough to meet the minimum 40 centimeter requirement—about 15½ inches—proved to be a challenge, Hennings said. Most of their zander measured 9 to 11 inches.

Zander can weigh more than 40 pounds and measure longer than 45 inches.

"Some people told us we could have caught monster zander in there three weeks earlier, but the weather changed and the water changed," Hennings said."They all went up the river, and we couldn't fish the river so they weren't there."

The "snap reeling" technique used when fishing zander also had a learning curve, Hennings said.

"We spent most of the time trying to learn the technique," he said. "I took 50 pounds of tackle, and I could have left 49 at home. They don't like it, and they didn't want it."

Hennings fished with Blegen the first day of the tournament and Ericksen the second, when the American team shifted gears and targeted northern pike. That proved to be a more productive choice, and the U.S. team finished seventh for the day, which lifted their overall tournament placing.

Hennings had the U.S. team's largest pike and one of the largest of the tournament at 24 inches. He had his best luck throwing a small gold spoon given to him by a Russian guide.

"I caught eight fish with that," he said. "Once we got down to what they wanted, it wasn't real difficult to catch them, I guess. My Russian guy told me, 'You fish too big and too fast.' I had to slow down a little bit and downsize my gear a little."

Deluxe venue

Teams competing in the World Predator Fishing Championship stayed at the Konakovo River Club about 80 miles north of Moscow. The U.S. team arrived in Moscow on Monday, Aug. 28 and returned to the U.S. on Monday, Sept. 4 on a flight that took them from Moscow to Amsterdam to Minneapolis.

"They rolled out the red carpet for us," Hennings said. "Anything we wanted, anything we needed. Any anxiety people had about us going over there got put to rest very quickly."

World tournaments such as the Predator Fishing Championship are a big deal in Europe, and large crowds turned out both for the morning departures and afternoon check-ins, Hennings said.

"Every radio and TV station in Russia interviewed us at least once during the week, if not twice," Hennings said. "It's not a big sport yet in the U.S."

Hennings, who competed in the 2014 World Ice Fishing Championship in Belarus, also is a member of the U.S. ice fishing squad that will compete in the 2018 championship in March in Kazakhstan. And as the top angler on the U.S. Predator Team in Russia, he is guaranteed a spot on the American squad that will fish next year's Predator Fishing Championship, which will be held either in England or Poland.

The U.S. team didn't place as high as members had hoped, Hennings said, but the tournament still was a great experience learning a new style of fishing on an unfamiliar body of water.

"It was quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to, for one, fish in Russia and for another, to fish the Volga River," Hennings said. "It was a fantastic experience. The Russians were absolutely fantastic hosts, our meals were prepared every day by a three-star chef so going hungry really wasn't an option.

"You can't find a bad thing to say about our hosts, the Russians or any of the teams that were there," he said. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

• On the Web:

For more information on the USA Predator Team, including a complete list of sponsors, go to usapredatorteam.org.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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