Anglers from 23 states are trying to hook some big prize money this week.
The $2.49 million 2008 Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour is holding the third of four qualifying events this week on Cass Lake, with opening-day takeoff at 7 a.m. today at Stony Point Resort.
The $461,500 local event will feature 124 boats of professional anglers and co-anglers who are randomly paired each day and will fish for a combined boat weight.
The pros are competing against other pros for a top award of $100,000. The top prize for co-anglers is $20,000.
The event is a difficult time for pro angler Mark Christianson of Walker, whose father died Friday. Ken Christianson's funeral was Tuesday.
"He's the reason I started fishing," Christianson said. "He took us fishing all the time. ... It's been a pretty difficult week for me, but I'm sure that he would want me out there fishing."
"I know he's up there watching and I'm hoping he's going to send me some luck," he said. "Hopefully he's looking down on me and will help me get that big fish that will win this thing."
Anglers will take off today, Thursday and Friday at 7 a.m. at Stony Point Resort, with weigh-ins there at 3 p.m. Each boat may weigh in five walleyes each day.
The full field will compete during the three-day opening round for one of 10 final-round spots based on their three-day accumulated weight. Weights carry over to Saturday, with the winners determined by the heaviest four-day weight.
Saturday's takeoff will start at 6:30 a.m., with weigh-ins beginning at 4:30 p.m. at Wal-Mart in Bemidji.
Daily takeoffs and weigh-ins are open to the public. Fans can also try out a Ranger boat simulator. Saturday's events will also include children's fishing clinics and activities with pros from 2:30-4 p.m. at Wal-Mart.
The top 50 pros and 50 co-anglers will advance to the $650,000 FLW Walleye Tour Championship in Bismarck, N.D., Sept. 24-27.
The final stop of the FLW Walleye Tour will be July 23-26 at Bays de Noc in Escanaba, Mich.
Coverage of the tour will be shown on Fox Sports Net Sept. 14 as part of the FLW Outdoors television show.
"We appreciate the hospitality of the Bemidji-Cass Lake area," said Sonny Reynolds, director of walleye operations for FLW Outdoors. "We really enjoy being here with one of our premiere events. We certainly encourage people to come out to the weigh-ins ... and see some of the top fishermen in the country."
FLW Outdoors, named for Forrest L. Wood, the founder of Ranger Boats, is the world's largest fishing organization.
As part of the local festivities, Dondelinger Chevrolet in Bemidji hosted Chevy Pro Night Monday night, treating fans to appearances by Team Chevy Angler Tom Keenan, 2007 Walleye Tour Champion Coppertone pro Dustin Kjelden. Land O' Lakes pro Eric Olson, Folgers pro Denny Lantzy, Berkley pro Scott Allar, G3 pro Jonathan Shoemaker and 2007 Angler of the Year BP pro Jason Przekurat.
While co-anglers are sometimes novices who gain experience from the tour, many are already very accomplished, Reynolds said. "We have a lot of fishermen that fish as co-angers that are very good fishermen, but don't fish pro because of time constraints or money constraints," he said.
Area pros in the competition are Christianson; Daniel Dejaeghere, Chad Benson and Rick Franklin of Bemidji; Brian Brosdahl of Cass Lake; Reggie Thiel of Laporte and Carl Adams Jr. of Blackduck.
Area co-anglers are John Bollinger of Bemidji, James Wessels of Hackensack, Jeff Woodruff of Walker, Jeff Zbasnik of Laporte, Al Debes of Walker and Karl Dobmeier and Wayland Moen of Hines.
With cool temperatures and high winds in the forecast, weather will likely play a big part in the tournament, Christianson said.
The chill in the air was a jolt for Jayme Gordon, FLW Outdoors communications specialist. "I came from 95 degree weather (in Kentucky)," she said.
"I talked to a few of the fishermen and they said the weights are down - it's good just to get five walleyes in a boat," Gordon said. "They're expecting the weights not to be as good as they thought originally."
But some local pros say that although the fish may be elusive, they may make up for it in size.
"I think people will be surprised," Dejaeghere said. "The bite's a little tougher this year than it's been in some years," but there are more big fish in the lake than usual, he said. "There's a lot of strategy and a little bit of luck involved."
"There have been some really nice fish caught," Christianson said. "There should be some pretty good weights. The difficult task will be trying to be consistent and have a good weight every day."
While Cass Lake is one of the smallest bodies of water on the tour, "it's got a ton of structure," Dejaeghere said. "It spreads the boats out. ... There are tons of spots to fish."
Christianson, a fishing guide who has taken people fishing on Cass Lake for 31 years, predicts anglers will have to reach 40 pounds to make the final cut.
"Then maybe 53-55 pounds would definitely have a chance to win after the final day," he said.
On the Net: flwoutdoors.com