CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. — Hundreds of professional and amateur anglers will flock to the Chamberlain-Oacoma area next week to fish one of South Dakota’s premier walleye destinations.
For decades, the central-South Dakota communities located on the Missouri River have attracted anglers from across the region. And now, the walleye fishing hub has been chosen to host a national tournament event on April 29-30 that will bring in 200 anglers. The two-day tournament hosted by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Walleye Tour will mark Chamberlain’s first time hosting the event.
Among all of the fishing locations in the upper Midwest, Anthony Wright, tournament director, called Chamberlain, a city about 85 miles southeast of Pierre along the river, a “great walleye” fishing destination that’s suited to host a great tournament. With a full lineup of anglers competing in the tournament, including 100 professional anglers and 100 amateurs, excitement is high for the upcoming event.
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“We know it is a prime spot for walleye fishing, and it is in a nice location for us to open the first tournament of the year there,” Wright said of Chamberlain, noting it will be the first tournament of this year's National Walleye Tour. “The city has opened their arms up for us to make it all happen. It will be televised, so this will be a big deal.”
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. The National Walleye Tour has been putting on pro-am tournaments for just under a decade.
The Chamberlain/Oacoma tournament will be one of four regular season competitions leading up to the Sept. 22-24 championship tournament in Ottertail, Minn. Pro anglers and co-anglers competing in this year’s National Walleye Tour must finish in the top 40 to qualify for the championship round.
“We try to go to river systems, natural lakes and man-made lakes to mix it up and keep the anglers on their toes. That way everyone will have a chance to fish the type of waters that they like more,” Wright said. “Some people like trolling, casting or flipping a jig, and they have an opportunity to do that with how we have our tournaments set up. We like doing a river system first because it is a constant flow of water, and we don’t pick places that could have a cold front come through and freeze the water like places could north of South Dakota. That’s why we are having the tournaments further north like Wisconsin and Minnesota take place mid-summer to avoid that freeze.”
Pro angler Jason Przekurat is no stranger to the waters of Lake Francis Case. The veteran angler will compete in the tournament as the reigning National Walleye Tour champion. Coming back to fish the Chamberlain area during the post spawn has Przekurat eager to cast his lines and kick the walleye tour off.
“I’ve been there three times around that time frame,” he said in a press release. “The one thing I know is that we’re going to catch ‘em. It can produce 30 to 50 fish a day. It’s a weird system where you can pitch a jig in 2 feet of water or vertical jig out in 35 feet. Both methods will catch fish during the post spawn.”
While pro angler Korey Sprengel, the reigning National Walleye Tour Angler of the Year, is excited to hit the water next week, he's prepared to take on any unpredictable elements that South Dakota is known to experience in April.
“With southern South Dakota, it could snow 4 inches the first day of the tournament, and the next day it could be 70 or even 80 degrees,” Sprengel said. “That’s how fast things change there, especially that time of year, so you better be prepared. Francis Case is a great place to go to catch a lot of fish."
The remaining slate of regular season tournaments for this year’s tour will take place in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., in May, Huron, Ohio, in June and Mobridge in July, making South Dakota the only state to host two of the events leading up to the championship in Minnesota.
Anglers will hit the water at 7 a.m. and weigh their walleyes at 3 p.m. Each boat will consist of two anglers, and each competitor will fish with a different angler during the two-day tournament, which are chosen at random, Wright said. To enter in the tournaments, an angler must be a member of the National Walleye Tour.
“It is a pro-am style tournament, and they will all be competing for two different pots of money,” he said. “Anglers are out in Chamberlain now pre-fishing to prepare for next week.”
The prize for first place pro anglers is a new Ranger fishing boat with a Mercury engine, along with a $15,000 cash payout. For co-anglers who are not considered professional anglers, first place finishers take home $6,000. Winners of each tournament are decided by the heaviest cumulative weight of the walleye caught during the two-day event.
Since the tour’s inception in 2013, Wright said it’s steadily grown each year. The effects of the pandemic have only added to the growth, Wright added, noting the pool of anglers seeking to compete in the series of tournaments is maxed out this year.
While South Dakota has been one of few states to remain open throughout the pandemic, Wright said it wasn’t a deciding factor in choosing two cities in the state as hosts. However, he said it is an added “bonus.”
“This tournament is really getting strong and big. Bass Pro events are just going gangbusters. All of our amateur tournaments have also been sold out months before it begins,” Wright said. “I’ve seen more people fishing than ever before since the pandemic. People are starting to turn to the great outdoors more, and fishing is one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors. And we know South Dakota loves their great outdoors.”