A whirlwind of a win: Alexandria anglers take big payday in first pro tournament
To say Alexandria's Nick Tvrdik and Scott Walker had a weekend to remember on the waters of Cass Lake would be an understatement.
Tvrdik, a native of Alexandria, and Walker, who works at Adams Seed out of Wendell but owns property on Lobster Lake, might have been the most inexperienced duo of the nearly 100 teams during the final stop of the Pro Musky Tournament Trail Aug. 25-26 on Cass Lake.
In fact, Tvrdik had never fished a professional tournament before this stop. For Walker, it had been about 10 years, but he was fairly familiar with Cass Lake. The two won the biggest tournament of their lifetime and split nearly $15,000 and a couple championship trophies for their efforts.
"I put on Facebook last Thursday night on my way up there, 'I'm officially a professional fisherman,' " Tvrdik said with a laugh. "No matter how we look at it. Then a couple days later, I get to say, 'Hey, we won it.' "
A 50-incher off the bat
Tvrdik was introduced to muskie fishing by Walker about nine years ago. He liked it enough to keep fishing for four years despite never boating a fish in that span. Last year, he got six muskies in the boat but says he is still looking for his first 50-incher. He didn't catch it on Cass Lake, but Tvrdik can say he netted the most important 50-incher of Walker's life.
Cass Lake is known as a big-muskie producer, and the Northern Minnesota body of water lived up to its reputation in this tournament. The top 10 teams combined to boat seven muskies that were 46 inches or longer. Tvrdik and Walker caught two fish during the tournament, a 44-incher and a 51.25-incher that won Walker the $500 big-fish award.
Walker says he fishes Cass Lake about twice a year, competing in amateur tournaments there with Tvrdik and even a few professional events more than 10 years ago.
"I went out the first day before the start of (the tournament) and was marking my spots, looking for bait on particular structure," Walker said. "I saw a lot of other guys fishing on not quite what I thought the patterns would be. When a plan comes together, it makes it that much sweeter."
The two were casting Grandma crankbaits near weeds on sand flats. Tvrdik almost immediately had a follow from a mid-30-inch fish, he figured.
"It was amazing," Tvrdik said. "The fish of 10,000 casts. It's a good day when you see a fish, let alone catch one. It was my third cast of the morning, and I had a little one follow and not five minutes later he set the hook on a 51.25-incher."
Multiple attempts to get this fish near the boat resulted in it making another run. Finally, after about the fifth attempt, they got it in the net. Twenty minutes into the tournament, they already had a huge fish to fall back on.
"That's about the best possible scenario to start off the tournament with a 51-inch fish," Walker said. "That's fun to catch anyways, but that definitely adds a little bit more excitement to it."
Walker wasn't done. Less than an hour later, he latched into the 44-incher.
"We were hysterical from fish one, let alone fish two," Tvrdik said.
It was the kind of day for the duo where even a dead trolling motor turned into a positive.
The two fished the last few hours of day one relying on the wind to push them over their preferred locations. When the fishing was done, they scrambled to find a new trolling motor, eventually ending up at L&M Fleet Supply in Bemidji. They had the Minn-Kota trolling motor they were looking for, and the management even cut them a deal after hearing their story.
"They're our first official sponsor," Tvrdik said. "She went and called the regional manager, and he said give them 15 percent off and hats. It was pretty nice."
Closing the deal
It was a whirlwind day for the two, but they still had to close the deal Saturday.
Weather conditions Friday were mostly sunny and 68 degrees with winds gusting to 25 m.p.h. from the southeast. That changed dramatically on day two as clouds and rain came in with temperatures sitting in the mid-60 degree range.
"We got rained on the whole day," Walker said. "Up on Cass Lake in Pike Bay there, I was pretty nervous. We fished hard because you're fishing against the best muskie fisherman in the country on an awesome fishery. You never know what can happen. I wasn't super confident that we had it in the bag by any means."
Sixteen total muskies were caught on the first day before nine more were boated on day two.
The second-place team of Joe Wendolex of Hutchinson and Alex Lauer of St. Cloud caught three muskies measuring in at 43, 41.25 and 30.5 inches. It wasn't quite enough to catch Walker and Tvrdik at the top of the leaderboard.
"It was pretty surreal," Walker said. "We've been planning on doing this for several years and timing just didn't pan out. That tournament trail goes all over the country. I'm in the ag business and certain times of the year I just can't leave. To have them come to a lake that times out well (with my schedule) and a lake we are pretty familiar with, it was pretty awesome. A best-case scenario."
The next stop for muskie anglers on the tour will be Sept. 23-24 for the Ranger Boats World Championship on Lake Minnetonka. Unfortunately for Tvrdik and Walker, they are not eligible to fish it because they only fished in one of the three tour stops during the season.
Walker said he's going to do what he can to make sure they fish in at least two of the Pro Musky Tournament Trail events next year so they qualify for the championship.
Tvrdik and Walker are not done for the summer yet. They will head up north again onto Cass Lake this weekend for the Frank Schneider Memorial Tournament, an amateur tournament but another big event with a lot of teams.
"I can't wait to get back up there," Walker said.