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Record-setting prize package given out to a hearty group of anglers at the 2005 Evinrude Walleye Classic Rainy weather and a newly implemented slot limit did not dampen the spirits of the nearly 200 anglers who fished in this year's Evinrude Walleye Classic held in Walker, MN on Leech Lake. Fishing in teams of two, the anglers spent Saturday and Sunday on the massive waters of Leech Lake searching for up to six walleye that fit into the state-imposed slot. Nothing less than 14 inches of length would be counted and all fish between 18 and 26 inches needed to be immediately returned to the water. There was a trophy fish opportunity for each angler meaning that a team could register two fish over 26 inches. "This is our first slot tourney and it required anglers to take one of two approaches on the lake-either swing for the fences and go after the big fish or try to catch the six fish limit and get the weight that way," Leer said. In the end, the tournament was won by a team that managed to do a little of both.

Steven Rollins and his father Louis Rollins

Steven Rollins and his father Louis Rollins caught five fish each day of the tournament and amassed a total of 18.66 pounds for the weekend. They were in 12th place at the end of Saturday, but clawed there way to the top on Sunday thanks to four fish under 18 inches and one 5.32 pound walleye in the 26 inch plus range. For their efforts, the father and son from Pine River, MN each get to take home a 2005 Lund Classic 16 SS boat equipped with an Evinrude E-Tec outboard. The boat sits on an EZ Loader trailer and is rigged with a MinnKota trolling motor, batteries, chargers and Humminbird electronics.

Yes, each of them received one for a total first place prize value of $42,120. This was the fifth time fishing the Classic for the Rollins team but it was not their first time taking something home for their efforts. In previous years they have placed 16th, 20th and 23rd. Living in Pine River, just a half an hour south of Leech Lake, the two fish the lake quite a bit and said they won the tournament by having a usual day of fishing. "We're normally up here this weekend anyways and we first entered it because we figured we could do as good as the others," Louie said. They were absolutely correct and Louie said they managed to win this year because they accomplished what they haven't been able to do in the past-catch at least one big fish to go along with the smaller ones. "That was especially important this year with the slot in place and I think it really helped even the playing field," Steve Rollins said. This years field of anglers was half of what it has been in years, something Leer said was due to the slot limit, "I know the guys who do the Wave Wackers Tournament on Mille Lacs had the same problem a few years ago so it seems to be a normal hiccup after a slot limit is put into place." Attendance at the Wave Wackers tournament dipped after the slot limit was put in place on Mille Lacs several years ago but recovered quickly when anglers figured out that it meant a different challenge than just catching the biggest fish. "It means the tournament is no longer a meat fest and I think it really highlights an angler's skills because they have to be able to target specific populations of fish," Leer said. The slot limit was put into place by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and will be in place for the next five years. One thing anglers in this year's Classic all reported was that there were plenty of fish to be caught, even if many of them were in the slot. "Even though we didn't have very many fish to register, from an angling perspective I'd rather catch 50 fish and only get to keep two than to only catch two all day," said one angler.

A total of 342 walleye were caught and registered during the two-day tournament 340 of which are still swimming throughout the waters of Leech Lake and none of which are in the slot. Leer said he is very proud that 99.4 percent of the fish were safely released and thanked Aqua Innovations for making that possible. Tons of great prizes One of the great things about the Classic is the fact that participants can be as competitive as they'd like due to the multiple divisions incorporated into the contest, Leer said. The prize package totaled $68, 170 and Leer said they paid back 132.4 percent which demonstrates the generosity of the Evinrude Classic. "We have our sponsors to thank for that and they were all incredible which meant for a better tournament for all the anglers," Leer said. Besides going for the top total weight of all the teams, there are also divisions for male/female team, adult/youth team, all female team, and veteran angler team. "These teams are really fun to follow because they are not your typical tournament anglers but they have a shot at some great prizes just for giving it a shot," he added.

Coming in first place for the Berkley Gulp! adult/youth division was Brad and Austin Michaud, a father-son team. Austin celebrated his 11th birthday during the tournament and the crowd sang to him when he and his father were called on stage to collect their $1,000 prize from Berkley Gulp!. They caught a total of 11.07 pounds which was double the nearest competitor and put them in 17th place overall in the tournament. Two fish weighing in at less than two pounds apiece hardly seems like a winning catch, but it was for Michelle Barrett and Eloise Gelner who took first place in the Abu Garcia all-female division. The two received a $1,000 prize package from Abu Garcia for their efforts and put them in 50th place overall. Those two fish did a lot for the team since 50th place was also the recipient of the $1,000 "Your Lucky Day" award from Northern Lights Casino. Bill Lakotas and James Broman came in first place in the Berkley PowerBait veteran angler division though they prefer to call it the "older than dirt" division. The two received $1,000 from Berkley PowerBait for their efforts. The husband and wife team of Ronald and Kathy Edminster came in 10th place with a total catch of 13.67 pounds. This also put the two in first place in the Berkley Trilene male/female division. They received $1,000 from Berkley Trilene for their divisional title and $1,000 cash for their standings. Saturday's leaders only registered two fish weighing a total of 13.62 pounds, meaning they were both in the trophy category. The team of John Melhus and Jason Pederson were unable to keep their good luck going on Sunday, however, as they registered a total of zero fish. Still, their single day take was the largest bag of the weekend meaning they won the Beckman Big Bag award. Two big walleye over 26 inches was exactly what Melhus had wished for that day which also happened to be his birthday. Northland Tackle Roach-Rigs helped his wish come true that day, he said, but Leer summed it up the best, "Next time you may consider wishing for two trophy fish both days of the tournament." Melhus and Pederson have managed to amass numerous big fish awards over the years and this is the third time they've taken the prize for biggest bag of the tournament.

The first place team of Steve and Louie Rollins could join them as perennial favorites since besides winning the competition, they won the Day Two Beckman Big Bag Award for their 10.75 pound second day performance. Jumping from 12th to first was quite an accomplishment for the Rollins' team, but it wasn't enough for them to win the MinnKota "PowerDrive Award" which went to the team who gained the most from day one to two. Jon Krecklau and John Ford took home that prize after being skunked Saturday and pulling together six fish for a total of 9.44 pounds on Sunday. Something for everybody Evinrude is the title sponsor of the Evinrude Classic and was well represented throughout the event. One of the best ways visitors and anglers could experience Evinrude was by taking a test drive on one of five Ranger boats fitted with an Evinrude motor. Four of the five boats on hand were equipped with the new Evinrude E-Tec engine, the new standard in outboard technology. This was not the first event Evinrude has done this at but the Evinrude Classic did set the record for most test drives this year. "We had a total of 45 test drives which was great even considering the weather," said Krista Heidgerken, senior communication specialist for Evinrude. The demand for test drives was steady the entire day on Sunday and interested visitors even took test drives in the pouring rain. Heidgerken said the family fishing carnival held in conjunction with the Evinrude Classic helped bring in so many folks for the test drives. "It worked out great because there were a lot of kids and they weren't shy about wanting a test drive which the parents were very willing to take," she said. Fortunately for the families who visited the carnival, the rain held off until around noon. When the carnival began at 10 a.m. a total of 300 goodie bags were given out to children in attendance and they all had a great time before the sky dropped more rain. Almost every angler who took the stage said they were impressed with everything the Walker community had to offer. "This is a great, welcoming community and we had a great time in this event as well as in this town," said angler. Something else every angler seemed to agree on was whether they would be back to fish in the 2006 Classic. "Most definitely," was the most common answer with only a few "Very likelys" from the non-committal crowd. Leer said he expects there to be at least 150 teams in next year's tournament which would be a great jump from this year's field of 100. "If this tournament showed anything, it was that Leech Lake is full of walleye and that in order to win a tournament, an angler is going to have to really grind for every pound they can which is the best fun you can have," Leer said. The 2006 Walleye Classic is scheduled for June 3-4, 2006. For a complete run down of the winners and prizes as well as photographs from the event, go to www.fishingthewildside.com. Check the website for information on the 2006 Classic as well as all your fishing needs. A review of the 2005 Classic as well as a preview of the 2006 Classic can be found in the upcoming issues of the "Fishing the WildSide" magazine. The publication also contains valuable how-to articles as well as information on the latest equipment and hot fishing destinations. Pick up a copy at your local sporting goods retailer or take advantage of the special offer available at www.fishingthewildside.com to receive two issues, a Fishing the WildSide hat and sticker for only $12.99.

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