by Jake Flaa
“Never a repeat winner in 13 years.”
That’s what was going through every anglers head as they prepared for send off at the 14th Annual Kraus Anderson Walleye Classic (KAWC) on Lake Bemidji on June 7th. The excitement for what the day had in store for our three Wounded Warrior Guide Service teams was almost unbearable. You could feel the tension on the water as all one hundred boats waited for the clock to strike 7 o’clock a.m.
I don’t know who was more excited, me or the Veterans, when they started calling out numbers and sending people through the buoys one by one. All anglers were hitting the water looking for five perfect fish. They needed to catch three fish under the twenty-inch mark and two over the twenty-inch mark. The two-angler team with the most weight at the end of the day got to take home $12,500 and most importantly, the title of Champion.
The KAWC has become more and more well known as one of the hardest tournaments to win in all of Minnesota. All of the best anglers in the Bemidji area have fished the tournament all 14 years and because of the increasing popularity of the tournament and the huge winning pot, there has been a lot of people traveling from out of town and out of state to test their luck on Lake Bemidji.
I gave the anglers some time to put fish in the boat before I got into the camera boat and did a loop around the lake. We pulled up to the first couple of boats and immediately people started to show off their big fish. It was not long before we came across one of our Wounded Warrior Guide Service teams. As we approached they started shaking their heads: no big fish yet, but they had some nice under-twenty-inch fish. Moving further along the group of boats we ran into Mike Winkler. When we got closer I could see the huge smile on his face. We knew he had some good fish. He quickly pulled a 27-inch walleye out of the livewell for a picture and got back to fishing. We moved on across the lake and found another one of our Wounded Warrior Guide Service teams, Aaron Templin and Sam Floberg were a little more excited than the last team we came across and for good reason. Aaron had three perfect under 20-inch fish in the live well already. With the excitement building because of all the big fish we had seen we ran back to shore for lunch.
At around 2 o’clock we made one more run around the lake. The bite had slowed down for most guys and people were biting their tongues. Not many people would even share a fish with us. When we made it to the Wounded Warrior Guide Service team that we had checked with first, we slowly worked our way closer to them. As we got closer Drake, the captain of the boat, quickly waved us away. He was feeding a fish his big red tail and he knew it was a big one. We backed off and watched the events unfold. When he set the hook and the rod doubled over everyone in the area had big eyes as they watched Drake fight this big fish. Kris grabbed the net and as the fish got close to the boat, he dipped and got the fish. They landed their big 24-inch fish right in front of everyone especially the cameras. We moved on and ran into one of our other Wounded Warrior teams. When we pulled up they both had huge smiles on their faces. We knew from early they had their perfect under 20 inch fish in the live well. These smiles only could mean one thing: Aaron and Sam had landed two great “over” 20-inch fish. We left them alone and went back into shore to prepare for weigh-ins.
We patiently awaited all the teams to get back into shore and anticipated some great weights coming across the stage. As things moved forward there was a lot of 10 to 12 pound bags that landed in the middle of the pack. I watched Sam check in his bag and walk towards the stage. When he got on stage and put his fish on the scale we were all in high hopes they would have weight enough to at least be in the top ten. As John Crane announced the weight at 13.81 lbs, we all cheered as it put Aaron and Sam in 5th place. The next part of the weights all seemed to blend together until we saw Winkler emerge from the tent in back with his basket of fish. As he approached the stage we all got extremely excited. “16.33 lbs” exclaimed John Crane putting Winkler and Moran in the hot seat. Only one weight left to come across the stage and it was not enough for the title of KAWC Champion. A big congrats to my good friend Winkler on claiming the bragging rights of being a Kraus Anderson Walleye Classic Champion! Will you be the first repeat winner of the tournament next year?
For pictures of the event check out the Wounded Warrior Guide Service Facebook page.