This isn’t a story about two young cousins winning a recent walleye tournament, although Charlie and Jace Peterson did stump the field in the Knights of Columbus Walleye Classic on Minnesota’s Lake Bemidji. No, it’s more about how a couple kids matured into productive and principled young men by way of the water.
23-year-old Jace Peterson is the son of angler and public-school educator Travis Peterson and grandson to Northland Fishing Tackle forefather Duane Peterson. Charlie Peterson also calls Duane grandpa and is the son of Craig Peterson, another angler and teacher. Duane is brother to Northland founder John Peterson. All reside in the Bemidji area. Clear as mud?
We will, however, begin with the mindset and mechanics that went into winning the event, because they’re fraught with life lessons and reflect the classy character of these two inspirational kids.
Jace’s 28+ incher, big fish for the tournament.
Charlie and Jace are certifiable bass addicts, mining the region’s countless and often underrated bass fisheries. State records prove that southern and western lakes and reservoirs claim the biggest bass on the map, but pound-for-pound in a day’s catch, Minnesota’s fisheries often beat their warmer water counterparts.
Despite the boys’ penchant for green and brown fish, they applied to fish the regionally renowned marble-eye tournament, competing against some of the best sticks in walleye world. Winning the Knights’ tournament carries prestige and thunder amongst area guides and respected walleye hooks, so a couple young bass-heads taking the trophy is a bigger deal than you might think.
Entering the only low-profile bass boat in the tournament, among a field of high-sided aluminum and big glass windshields, the boys masterminded a plan that pulled key elements from their bassing program. Most importantly, they went with a shallow weed strategy, having hooked countless bycatch walleyes while targeting bass over the years. You see, in northern natural lakes, walleyes frequent the thick, dark, and cool edges of vegetation like cabbage and coontail, as well as hunker in the peacefulness and shade of pockets. There, they feed opportunistically on perch, juvenile panfish, crayfish, and sundry baitfish. These “weed walleyes” sometimes spend the entire summer in the salad.
Secret weapon: Northland’s new Weedless Stand-Up Fire-Ball Jig.
Advanced technology also played a pivotal role. Charlie and Jace stood shoulder to shoulder on the casting deck, picking the weeds apart with forward-facing sonar. Unlike the average walleye angler, they weren’t as concerned about what was under the boat, but rather the walleyes they’d yet to encounter.
“These younger anglers absorb information so quickly, and embrace technology more than us older guys,” explains Jace’s dad Travis. “Younger minds are so much more receptive.” Goes to the notion of how so many anglers often “fish memories,” paying less care to what lies ahead.
Charlie Peterson elaborates on their forward-facing sonar technique: “The transducer is on the trolling motor, so when fish appear on the screen, we know the trolling motor is pointing right at them.” Charlie says walleyes were appearing 60 to 70 feet out, and once marked, they’d put on the breaks and cast Northland’s brand-spanking-new Weedless Stand-Up Fire-Ball Jig with live shiner minnow. (Watch for details on the new jig soon.)
The fish were in heavy cabbage weed from 6- to 12-feet. They’d pitch at the fish, let the jig and minnow settle, hold the rod tip up, let the bait glide toward the bottom, and work it back slowly until the thunk. They fished 1/8-ouncers in Glow Watermelon on 6-lb. fluorocarbon line. Bemidji’s hyper-clear water is best fished with stealthy line.
Surely, absorbent minds and the embracing of technology were crucial, but the boys also relied on basics learned and honed during their formative fishing years. “They know that fundamentals still matter,” says Travis. “You still have to feel a bite and know when to set the hook.”
Immaculate hooksets were required when slip-bobbers were in play. “We switched to pre-rigged slip-bobber rigs when we saw single fish or double, which were usually bigger walleyes,” says Charlie. “It’s how Jace caught the 28 ½ incher, big fish for the tournament.” They employed Northland Lite-Bite Slip Bobbers with a plain hook, lively leech, and barrel sinker/swivel to dive through the vegetation.
In the end, Charlie and Jace divvied up the $12,500 purse, and we’re guessing split the big fish money, too. But the pot pales in comparison to the value of what fishing has taught them over the years. “Fishing builds character in so many ways,” says Travis, having watched the boys mature into young adults.
The individual components that strengthen the collective character aren’t lost on Travis, either. He explains: “For one, fishing provides the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships. People fishing together in a boat really must get along and communicate. They’re also working toward a common goal, which is essential to success. That demands teamwork.”
Fishing also condenses age gaps. “You end up spending time with people of all ages,” says Travis. “And younger anglers gain more respect for their elders, learning from them with an open mind.” You might dread listening to Grandpa wax nostalgic from his recliner at Thanksgiving, but move that conservation to the boat or bank and it takes hold.
Other qualities Travis has seen with Charlie and Jace spawned from their fishing lifestyle. “The boys are patient, which isn’t a feature for some of today’s youth. Charlie and Jace are also detailed and disciplined in their approach to fishing. They study, make a plan, and stick to it.” All qualities parents hope for their kids and future employers want in a hire.
Charlie and Jace have taken this greater skillset to the marketplace, too. Charlie has risen to Marketing Director at Northland where he focuses on social media, keeping his finger on the pulse of marketing trends in the social space. Jace interned for Northland after finishing his degree at Bemidji State University. He’s presently working the wires for fulltime employment in mass communications with an emphasis on filming and video production.
Fishing is so much more than a pastime. It’s a team building exercise, family affair and character maker. The Peterson boys are living proof.