With change, comes opportunity. That’s especially the case for three former FLW Walleye League anglers. In late October, FLW Outdoors announced drastic changes to their walleye programs. For starters, the Walleye League was eliminated. In addition, the Walleye Tour greatly reduced the cost of entry and expanded to two divisions – Western and Eastern.
As soon as the news hit, dissension was the only consensus among the fishermen. Understandably, some long-time tour pros were opposed to the changes. But for the successful weekend angler, these changes opened the door to compete at the highest level.
Minke moves up
Case in point is Dusty Minke. For the past four years, Minke has been a mainstay in the Minnesota Division of the Walleye League. In his young career, he’s won two League qualifiers and nearly claimed last year’s Walleye League Finals on Lake Wissota. He’s also tried his hand on the tour level – fishing one event each of the past two seasons. He’s always wanted to do more, but it was never quite economically feasible.
“If they would have kept the Tour the way it was, I don’t think I could have done it,” Minke said. “Fishing just the Western Division is still a jump. It’s three events and a championship, but it’s more days of fishing. Now we’re looking at a whole week instead of a weekend. That’s a lot of time to take off from work.”
Minke is friends with many of the biggest names in walleye fishing – guys like Chris Gilman, Ted Takasaki and Perry Good. Although he favors the changes, he understands if others don’t.
“For some of those guys, this was their bread and butter; they’re frustrated. And I’ve always wanted to be at that elite level. But for me, this came at a perfect time. I wanted to step up but I couldn’t really afford it and I couldn’t take the time. This is just a great opportunity.”
Minke works with North Country Marketing Ltd., a manufacturers representative firm specializing in outdoor and shooting products. As a full-time employee, he never really pursued sponsors because he didn’t have the time to perform the necessary promotional duties. While other pros worked sports shows and conducted seminars, Minke was always busy at North Country.
“Now that I’m fishing the Tour, I’ve picked up some nice sponsors like Optima Batteries, Northland Fishing Tackle, Kruger Farms, Big Tooth Tackle, R&R Marine and Formula Propeller. These are companies that saw me perform in the League and encouraged me to try the Tour. Basically, the League put me in this position – so I will always be grateful for it.”
In 2010 Minke will be running a new Ranger 618 Tiller with a 90-horsepower Yamaha on the back. By tournament standards, it’s on the small end of the boat-motor continuum.
“If I had to fish the Eastern Division on big waters like Lake Erie I might be in trouble. But I feel pretty confident I can fish competitively (with an 18-footer) in all the Western events. My goal this year is to win Angler of the Year and to win a tournament. That’s lofty, but I am pretty confident; you have to be in this sport.”
Kriese’s long wait is over
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Duane Kriese. While Minke is still a young buck, Kriese is an established career and family man. At 47 years old, he’s waited for this opportunity for a long time.
“My priority has always been spending time with my family,” said Kriese, a manager at City Wide Insulation. “I have a wife and three kids – two boys, one is 24, one is 21 and my daughter is 15 and will be starting high school next fall. I knew if I fished professionally I would miss out on a lot of family time. And I didn’t want to do that. But they are at the age where they can pretty much take care of themselves. And now it’s time for me to go fishing.”
Kriese lives in Shakopee, Minn., and is well versed on many classic Minnesota walleye waters. He’s fished PWT events on the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. He’s fished Walleye League tournaments on Cass, Leech and Bemidji and he too has dabbled on the Walleye Tour. What scared him about fishing a full Tour season was heading out east to massive open-water lakes that were completely unfamiliar.
“I was probably going to fish some of the Tour if they hadn’t made the changes. But now I can fish the entire Western Division. I just didn’t want to go out east and be blind-sided. Once they went to two divisions it was a no brainer. It cuts down on travel time and travel expenses. And less travel time means less time I need to take off from work.
“I really like being able to stick just to the Western Division. In my mind, that was the death of the PWT. Driving from Bull Shoals, Ark., to Dryden, Ontario, is too much – especially with gas the way it is. This is my side of the Upper Midwest I guess. And that is huge. This is something I’ve waited to do for many years and this particular format made it happen for me.”
Bro goes West
As a full-time guide on northern Minnesota lakes like Cass, Bowstring and Winnibigoshish, Brian Brosdahl’s summers are extremely busy. He’s also instrumental on the promotional side of the fishing industry. For example, he has own line of Frabill-branded ice fishing rods. He’s also designed a variety of panfish lures for Northland Fishing Tackle – known as Bro’s Bug Collection. In fact, Brosdahl estimates the ice fishing side of the sport accounts for nearly 70 percent of his livelihood.
“Sponsor wise, I’m a lot different than most professional walleye fishermen,” he said. “I have nothing to lose because I didn’t gain my sponsors through tournament fishing. My main sponsors like Frabill, Northland and Hummingbird think open-water fishing is just a bonus. What tournament fishing really does for me is sharpen my skills for guiding. The stress level is about the same because clients want to be catching fish too.”
That being said, Bro has enjoyed considerable success. He’s never won an FLW Outdoors event, but he’s finished in the top 10 in six of the 21 tournaments he’s entered. Last year he took third place at the Walleye Tour qualifier on Leech – cashing a check for over $12,000. In addition to FLW events, the Max, Minn., native competes in local walleye tournaments and a few bass competitions. While Bro has always had the itch to fish a full tour-level season, he could never quite fit it into his schedule.
“This year I decided I wanted to do fewer tournaments, but quality ones. And I’m also curious to test other waters. If I don’t schedule these tournaments (outside of northern Minnesota), I’ll never get to see or do other things. I’ve never seen Oahe. And I’ve only fished Devils in the winter for perch. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the championship is on Leech – one of my favorite local lakes. I really want to make it back there.
“I’ve had fun doing the FLW tournaments. The consistency (in how the tournaments are administered) is what I like; you know what you’re getting with FLW. I had always planned on doing the Tour full time at least once. I was on the fence but I operate under the philosophy that you only live once. It’s going to be interesting and fun.”
Season opener looms
The season-opening Eastern Division event of the 2010 Walleye Tour season is slated to take place April 8-10 on the Detroit River and the Michigan side of Lake Erie.
The season-opening Western Division event takes place May 20-22 on the St. Croix River and Pool 3 of the Mississippi River.