Alexandria’s Drake Herd and his father, John, have traveled to a lot of different areas around the country fishing on the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s National Walleye Tour in recent years.

Both have had some good days on the water, but the 2021 tour opener while fishing the Missouri River near Chamberlain, S.D. is a stop they won’t soon forget.

Drake is in his fifth season fishing the pro division on the NWT. His best finish had come in 2018 when he took sixth place on Lake of the Woods, but he eclipsed that April 29-30 in South Dakota when he moved from 32nd place after day one all the way to a tie for second. Drake and Tommy Kemos of Oconomowoc, Wisc. both finished with 30.20 pounds of walleyes, but Kemos won a tiebreaker as Herd finished third in the end.

“I’m just super excited. It’s great to get off to a good start in points,” Drake said. “It’s just a huge boost to your confidence early in the year. It takes a little pressure off.”

Alexandria's John Herd, left, and Ryan Rieger, center, smile as their big catch, a roughly 28-inch walleye, is loaded into the weigh-in bag by Mark Kimmerle during the National Walleye Tour event in Oacoma on April 29, 2021. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)
Alexandria's John Herd, left, and Ryan Rieger, center, smile as their big catch, a roughly 28-inch walleye, is loaded into the weigh-in bag by Mark Kimmerle during the National Walleye Tour event in Oacoma on April 29, 2021. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)

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John Herd fishes alongside many other top amateur anglers from around the country in the co-angler category in these NWT tournaments. He travels with Drake to these stops and then gets paired with a different pro-angler.

John fished with Ryan Rieger of Bell Vernon, Pa. on April 29 and the duo was on top of the leaderboard with five fish weighing in at 19.29 pounds after day one. Co-anglers are re-paired with a different pro on the second day, and John fished with Brian Dahl of Sioux Falls, S.D. Their 12.04 pounds put John at 31.33 total pounds, good for second place and a $2,712 payday.

“He’s there with me all the time traveling and wishing me the best of luck,” Drake said of his dad. “He’s done well in some other tournaments as a co-angler, but for him to take second too was pretty crazy...It’s awesome seeing him do that and seeing him get excited about it too.”

Drake fished against 112 other anglers in the pro division and had five fish weighing in at 13.38 pounds on day one. That left him 5.91 pounds behind Rieger for the top spot. Rieger ended up seventh overall with a total weight of 28.30.

“Honestly, I was very relaxed,” Drake said of going into day two in 32nd place. “The first day, it really only took me about 45 minutes to get my under 20-inch fish that were all about 2.2 to 2.5 pounds. So I made that huge run south to try to get a big one. It just didn’t pan out that day.”

The Missouri River around Chamberlain produces a bunch of walleyes in the 14-17-inch range. Good for eating, Drake said, but not so much for winning a tournament. The key is finding a couple of big fish over 20 inches.

Drake traveled north on the river system on day two and knew he had to stay patient. He noticed during pre-fishing that many of the walleyes on that stretch were still pre-spawn and weighing a half pound to a pound more than some of the post-spawn fish of the same length.

“Those big fish, they were unicorns. If you got one, you knew it was a huge boost,” Drake said. “I just needed to get that lucky bite and capitalize on it. That second day about 11:30, we got that 27-incher. That was huge. I was jacked then because you just don’t see those fish out there. It’s a rarity. Then the next pass to get a 19.5 and another 22-incher, it was just, ‘Oh my God, we do have a chance at this.’ It really calmed my nerves and we were done at 1:45 p.m. and taking the nice leisurely drive in.”

Drake’s day-two weight for his five-fish limit was 16.82 pounds, which was the biggest bag of the day. His third-place finish overall got him $13,802 cash, with a few contingencies he hopes gets that up to about $15,000. Chase Parsons of Denmark, Wisc. won the tournament at 31.70 pounds for a $81,922 check, which included $15,000 cash and a new Ranger fishing boat.

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“We were just dragging jigs right on the bottom down current,” Drake said of his approach. “We would zing them out behind the back of our boat and drag down current anywhere from 0.8 to 1.3 miles an hour. You could hardly jig it. It was interesting talking to Chase and Tommy (Kemos) afterwards. You just couldn’t hop it at all. You had to drag it on the bottom and they would pick it up. It was kind of a weird bite, but that’s how we caught a lot of them.”

The top 40 professionals in the point standings through four regular-season stops will qualify for the NWT championship on Otter Tail Lake Sept. 22-24.

Drake came into this year’s tour season hoping to consistently establish himself near the top of the leaderboard among many of the best professional walleye anglers out there. So far, so good after one stop. Up next is the two-day tournament at Sturgeon Bay, Wisc. May 27-28.

“This just gives you confidence in what you’re doing,” Drake said of carrying this momentum forward. “Green Bay, I’ve done well and I’ve also done horrible out there. But this gives you that confidence that you’re doing stuff right and you hope you can find that school on Green Bay and stay up there in points and maybe make a run at this thing.”