After a bone-chilling season opener on the Detroit River, the National Walleye Tour, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, swings west to Lake Francis Case, a Missouri River reservoir in south-central South Dakota. Last year, Francis Case represented new water for the vast majority of the field. After two days of fast and furious tournament action, pros Chase Parsons and Tommy Kemos stole the show by finishing first and second with the same pattern. Back by popular demand, a return visit is slated for April 28-29, which is roughly the same time frame as last year. What remains to be seen is whether or not the same tactics will once again prove productive.
The two major variables heading into the season’s second event are water level and water temperature. While the Missouri River was stable last April, South Dakota experienced a severe drought during the summer and fall. Water levels are currently rising, but it’s entirely possible many of the best spots from last year’s tournament will be high and dry. In addition, the Midwest has experienced a colder-than-usual spring, which is slowing down the typical seasonal migration. All in all, there are plenty of walleyes to catch, but the playbook may have to be altered.
“I’m excited to go back,” said Parsons, the Nitro pro. “I know they’re catching a pile of fish out there right now, which will be fun coming off of a tough Detroit bite. Here’s the deal. I absolutely love fishing anywhere on the Missouri River system. It doesn’t matter if it’s Chamberlain, Oahe or Sakakawea; I just love it. I love getting away from the packs of boats and finding my own thing.”
Kemos, a friend and fellow host on the popular “The Next Bite” television show, agreed.
“It’s a super fun place to fish,” added the Triton pro. “It will be an interesting event because there was definitely an education provided last year. Some of the conditions are going to be similar, yet others will be different.”
Parsons and Kemos both recalled a major pro-am event in 2011 where Parsons won by trolling spinnerbaits through the Lake Oahe trees. The following year when they returned, they assumed that pattern wouldn’t hold up.
“We just figured everyone is going to be pulling spinnerbaits, so we basically wrote it off and assumed we’d have to do something different,” explained Parsons. “It turned out that the tournament was won with the same program on the same spots. Long story short, we’re not going to make that same mistake again. Yes, we’ll have an open mind, but I’m still going to look for a shallow pitching bite.”
Walleye fans will remember that Parsons and Kemos made a mega run south in search of tournament-winning quality. While they weren’t catching nearly as many walleyes as most of the field, they found both quality slot fish and overs.
“We were targeting the backs of creeks,” Parsons said. “I’m talking the back, back, where it comes up and it’s just sand. In practice, we caught some prespawners, and during the tournament we caught some postspawners. I assume that they were going back there to spawn. The water was dirty, but you could see the fish plain as day on side scan. Some of the bays had catfish, pike and smallies, and some of the bays had mainly walleyes. They were just sitting way back in the warmer water in 2 to 8 feet.”
Parsons and Kemos used 1/4-ounce jigs with fathead minnows to entice these lethargic fish.
“How we were catching them last year is no longer a secret,” added Parsons. “The realistic thing is that this year it could be won trolling deep with leadcore and Berkley Flicker Shads or Flicker Minnows.”
Kemos explained that the validity of the shallow bite rests largely on the water level. In simplest terms, if the water continues rising, the fish will stay shallow longer.
“The Missouri River got crazy low again last year,” Kemos stated. “This event could be a matter of finding new banks, new shoreline. If we get rising water, they will stick around shallow longer. And when the fish are still in the spawning areas, I think jigs will dominate. If the water stays low, I think it will be more of a trolling tournament. I sound like I’m beating a dead horse, but water level is going to play a huge role.”
Kemos would use his Garmin SideVu to locate the shallow-water fish, but then cast at them with forward-facing LiveScope.
“Last year, we put that program together pretty quick at the end of practice. There were a couple places that we didn’t get to in the tournament, and those places are now top on my mind. We understand that others are going to check it out. There’s not a ton of water down there, so five or six boats could make it pretty tough. When you give people an education, you have to expect that they’re going to try and figure it out.”
Kemos and Parsons both believe 30 pounds is the likely benchmark to take home the title. Last year, Parsons officially weighed 31.70 for 10 fish, while Kemos garnered 30.20 for nine.
“I think the weights will be fairly similar,” concluded Kemos. “Last year, we really did maximize that bite. You’re trying to get 19-inch slot fish and some 24-inch-plus overs. We were fortunate enough to get some overs in the 27-inch range. It might come down to finding a place with a few heavy prespawners and of course, it’s always huge to catch the bigger overs. If you can get good overs, it almost doesn’t matter what you put with them. I expect it to be another good tournament.”
Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Central time from Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center at Cedar Shore, located at 1500 Shoreline Dr. in Oacoma. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at the Arrowwood Resort Ramp, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each day with the winner in each division being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.
The National Walleye Tour consists of four regular-season events and a no-entry-fee championship. Each regular season event is a two-day, pro-am tournament and delivers over a 100 percent payback. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers.