ALPENA - One day into the Michigan Walleye Trail's first-ever event in Alpena, the only two teams with local fishermen are in first and second place out of 22 teams.
Hubbard Lake resident Wayne Van Dyke and his partner, Saline resident Bruce Mueller, led on Thursday with a 22.77-pound total for their five fish limit, followed by John Kruttlin of Lincoln and Ryan Sagady of Saginaw with just over 21 pounds. The annual amateur tour, organized by the Saginaw Bay Walleye Club, uses a circuit of three two-day tournaments throughout Michigan to qualify the top 30 teams for a three-day championship event.
Event organizers said they chose Alpena to host the championship this year for its diverse ecosystem and word-of-mouth reputation, but only 22 of the 30 invited teams were able to make it, and Friday's fishing was canceled due to high winds. Van Dyke, who has been fishing in the tournament before as well as in the Masters Walleye Circuit and several FLW walleye tournaments over the past few years, said the competition is stiff, and fishing in home waters is not always an advantage.
"The guys that fish this championship all qualified to get here and they're all really, really good fishermen. It does help, knowing a body of water, but I think it's kind of a remarkable thing that these two teams are in the lead, because generally what happens on your home waters is things don't always go well for you. Sometimes it's bad to fish on your home waters ... but we were just fortunate," he said. "Things just happened to work out for us."
Local fisherman Bob Baughman, a veteran of many tournaments but an interested spectator this time, echoed that sentiment.
"They've got a little bit more insight, if only because they've fished it more often, many more tournaments than the other guys. However, the caliber of the fishermen that are out there - there were other guys fishing in the same areas who also caught fish," he said. "It's certainly been tough for many, but there are other guys who are catching fish."
According to Van Dyke, the fishing in the bay has been good so far, but the weather has limited mobility, so success has been all over the map; four teams came in on Thursday having reached the five fish limit, four teams came in with no fish at all, and the rest had everything in between. He said he thinks visiting fishermen have been "really impressed" with the town so far following a good captains meeting and a lot of support from the Thunder Bay Walleye Club, and he was happy to see Alpena chosen as a championship location.
"I was pretty excited. I've been fishing the Michigan Walleye Trail with my friends, it's what I do, but it's kind of fun to have that come right here to Alpena, right in your back yard. I was really hoping it would showcase Alpena a little bit, and I think it has," he said. "We have a really good fishery here. People don't know about it as much as people around here do. I was hoping it would bring in some business for our local businesses and so forth, so I'm excited."
Final weigh-in will be 3 p.m. today, and an awards dinner will name a "Team of the Year" and hand out $16,000 in cash and prizes to participating fishermen, though the winner will be the team with the highest three-day total. With competition canceled on Friday, Van Dyke and Kruttlin have only today to hold their leads.
Baughman said he thinks Van Dyke and Mueller have a "great shot" at keeping first place, and Van Dyke is cautiously optimistic.
"(Mueller) and I have been in this day one position a couple times, and it didn't carry through, we didn't get it done after the first day, so we'll wait and see," he said. "Over a three day tournament, you have to put it all together, so we're going to wait and see what happens here.
Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693.