HUBBARD LAKE What is the difference between an 18-inch walleye and a 20-inch walleye?
About $90,000, champion fishermen Erich Carlson and Wayne Vandyke said Tuesday.
The two were celebrating their first place wins during the dual Cabela's Masters Walleye Circuit/National Team Championship Aug. 22-24. Their victory netted them $120,000 in cash and prizes, and the two hope that once taxes are paid, they will pocket $40,000 each. It also means they will be featured on television specials to air sometime this fall on NBC Sports and the Pursuit Channel.
During the first two days of the event, they snapped up all honors, including $18,800 in cash and prizes, for having the biggest fish, the biggest basket of fish and the biggest weight of live fish. The competition was catch and release in U.S. waters.
The third day, however, was a nail biter. Competing among the top 25 winners, the two started the day with an eight-pound lead. Then the fish stopped biting.
"We struggled," said Vandyke, who lives on Hubbard Lake.
"Big time," Carlson added.
More than 50 miles from the Soo, the pair caught three small fish in the St. Mary's River. But at several other spots, they caught nothing. Finally, with 20 minutes to go before they had to race back up the river, they moved to a hump of boulders in 12 to 25 feet of water. Based on their pre-fishing research and catches, the formation held promise.
"It was Erich's birthday wish come true," Vandyke said.
They caught two 20-inch walleye and threw one 18-inch fish back into the water, bringing home their five largest of the day. But they couldn't rush back to the dock at full throttle, or the fish would be battered to death. Despite the boat's ability to cruise at 60 miles an hour, the two made several stops to refresh the water in their fish tanks and arrived with 10 minutes to spare.
At the final weigh-in they were shocked when they learned they had won the remaining $90,000 in prizes by a mere six ounces. The weight of their total catch was 79 pounds, five ounces.
Winning, said Carlson, who is from Presque Isle, takes "experience, putting your time in and making the right decisions at the right time. And there's always an element of luck."
"You've got to put yourself in a position to get lucky, and that takes hard work," Vandyke said.
Former fishing partner, Bob Baughman, said he was happy for the two, and was among a group of Thunder Bay Walleye Club members to cheer for the local team.
"I don't think there's a secret," Baughman said. "Winners are the guys who keep a positive attitude and keep working."
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.