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Updated: Champions Tour anglers find bass aplenty on the chain

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Boats take off from the docks at the Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center for the afternoon session of the Classic Bass Champions Tour Championship that was held on the Alexandria Chain of Lakes on Aug. 31. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)2 / 2

The Alexandria area has become quite a bass destination for anglers in recent years, and more proof of that came with a tour stop on Aug. 31 that featured some of the top anglers in Minnesota and across the Midwest.

The Alexandria Chain of Lakes played host to the Classic Bass Champions Tour championship on Friday. Among those in attendance was Seth Feider, a Bloomington native who fishes on the Bassmaster Elite Series. He didn’t fish Friday but was on the water to help promote the stop.  

The Champions Tour is an individual tournament series where each angler is paired with a boat official who tracks and records each legal fish. Every bass that is caught that meets the 12-inch minimum length requirement counts toward the anglers weight/score. Fish are immediately released and the overall winner is based on total poundage of fish, not the top five bass that is the standard of many tournaments.

“This is kind of a unique deal, at least here in Minnesota,” Champions Tour angler Andy Nitchals of Willmar said. “I don’t know of it going on anywhere else in the country, either. I do like the style of catch, weigh and release. It’s good for the fish.”

This tour format tracks live scoring online. That adds some intensity for the anglers who now know exactly where they stand in a tournament as the day is progressing.

“Most tournaments you have no idea how you’re doing,” Champions Tour angler Mike Walters of Maple Grove said. “Here, the pressure is intense. It’s full throttle the whole time.”

Anglers took off from the docks at the Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center at 6:45 a.m. and fished for four hours before a break in the action. The chain was broken up into two sections, with anglers fishing one section in the morning and the other section for four hours in the afternoon. That was done to make sure anglers knew a number of target areas on the lakes. On waters like the chain, finding multiple areas to fish has become relatively easy.

“There’s a lot of fish out here. It’s crazy,” Walters said after pre-fishing for the event on Thursday. “Our strategy is just to catch as many fish as possible. Not necessarily the biggest.”

Many anglers during pre-fishing were blown away by the numbers of fish on the chain, but those who have fished these lakes over the years commented on the size structure, as well.

Dean Capra of Blaine won Friday’s tournament in Alexandria with 47 fish and a total weight of 80 pounds, 10 ounces. Capra has been fishing tournaments since 1976 and figured he has fished the Alexandria Chain 20 or 30 times. A lot has changed with the fishery since he was last here almost a decade ago.

“When you’re talking 10, 15 years ago, we could catch a million little tiny ones and now they’ve grown up,” Capra said on Thursday. “The fishing has gotten quite a bit better. Whatever they’re doing here with the DNR or whoever is taking care of the fishery, they’re substantially bigger than what they were.”

Capra was mixing up his tactics all week and finding fish anywhere from two to 22 feet of water. That’s pitching up to docks all the way out to finding smallmouths and largemouths on the deep weed lines and everything in between.

“Being this is catch as many as you can, I have to keep trying different things,” Capra said. “The best fishing is on the weed lines, but that’s not where you’re going to catch the most fish. There’s a variety. You have to fish docks, fish the middle range and then on the outer edge of the weeds. The bigger ones seem to be on the outer edges. The middle ones that you can fish with the crankbaits and moving baits, you can catch a lot of little ones, which was good here.”

The biggest fish of the tournament was a 5-pounder caught by Arnold Helgerson, but numbers were the name of the game here. Each of the top 10 finishers on the chain caught at least 30 fish over the eight-hour event.

Alexandria's Matt Gilbertson defended his home course by taking second in the championship with a total weight of 73 pounds, 9 ounces. Matt Peters was third at 73 pounds, 4 ounces and Tim Schroeder was fourth at 70 pounds, 13 ounces. 

The Classic Bass Champions Tour started in 2017. Each of their stops were on Minnesota waters this summer, providing a top-level circuit that current and future anglers in the state can set their sights on.

Creating those future anglers is another big emphasis on the tour. The boat officials on the Alexandria stop included kids from the local high school fishing team. Kids from the team got the chance to be on the boat all day with anglers to track results. That also meant seeing firsthand how these anglers go about their business.

Walters said young anglers who want to fish on a competitive circuit like the Champions Tour can benefit most by getting on the water as much as possible and by volunteering at events like this.

“You’re then spending an entire day in the boat with guys who might fish the FLW Tour all the way to some of our best Minnesota guys,” Walters said. “They’re all in this, and we’re holding nothing back. They’re going to see exactly how we work a spot. How we’re approaching it. What we’re using and why we’re using it.”

That’s ultimately a greater purpose of tours like these. Winning an event is good, but ensuring these tournaments move on into the future isn’t lost on the anglers.  

“They’re the future of what we’re doing,” Champions Tour angler Matt Pasma of White Bear Lake said. “The more kids we can get involved, the better it is.”

(Editor's note: The top 10 finishers in the originally published story were incorrect in some cases with live leaderboard weights and fish totals not being final at the time the story went online.)

CLASSIC BASS CHAMPIONS TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP - ALEXANDRIA CHAIN OF LAKES

TOP-10 FINISHERS - Dean Capra - 47 fish, 80 pounds, 10 ounces; Matt Gilbertson - 73 pounds, 9 ounces; Matt Peters - 73 pounds, 4 ounces; Tim Schroeder - 70 pounds, 13 ounces; Andy Walls - 70 pounds, 1 ounce; Corey Brant - 67 pounds, 4 ounces; Nathan Whiting - 66 pounds, 13 ounces; Bob Perkins - 62 pounds, 14 ounces; Arnold Helgerson - 58 pounds, 10 ounces; Jeff Bosshardt - 53 pounds, 1 ounce

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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