McBride, Ballan conquer the river Pair crowned walleye kings

While millions watched the New England Patriots show why they are the best in the world at what they do this past Sunday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Doug McBride and Steve Ballan were doing the same before several hundred people at the seventh-annual Rainy River Walleye Tournament.
Trailing Norm Hyatt and Brian Bonot by 2.18 pounds after Saturday’s weigh-in, both knew they would need a big day on Sunday to give themselves a chance at being crowned the “Kings of the River” given the duo had won the Emo Walleye Classic this past spring.
But things looked hazy Sunday morning—literally.
An abrupt change in the weather overnight caused a thick fog to roll onto the Rainy River, delaying the boat launch for 90 minutes that left many restless and others content.
“We had mixed feelings about the fog,” said Hyatt, who brought in 17.03 pounds on Saturday with Bonot, which turned out to be the biggest bag of the tournament.
“We thought the longer people don’t get to fish, the better it is for us, which is not the way to look at it,” he admitted.
The fog was so bad that “you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of the boat,” noted Ballan.
But when he and McBride finally were able to gun the motor and get to their spot, they quickly reeled up three fish although it took a while more to get that fourth one (around 1:30 p.m., they recollected, with the cut-off time being 2:45).
And even though their 9.98-pound bag was over five pounds less than Saturday’s 15.12-pound haul, it still was good enough to give them the win and the first-place prize of $12,000.
“It’s incredible,” said a beaming Ballan. “Just incredible, and I can’t believe it.”
Even before the top-five boats were pulled through the big tent, it seemed the tournament already had been decided.
“We knew that we didn’t have enough,” said Bonot, who ended up finishing third with Hyatt after a disappointing 5.06-pound bag on Sunday for a total of 22.09 pounds.
In fact, 53 of the 81 teams brought in lower weights Sunday compared to Saturday.
One team that was able to figure out the river after the dramatic weather change was Rainy River native Chris Stone and partner Shannon Jonasson of Sleeman, who rocketed up the leaderboard after bringing in 14.86 pounds.
They had been in eighth place after recording 8.66 pounds on Saturday and waited nervously to see if their 23.52-pound bag would hold up.
It did not, finishing second behind the 25.10-pound total of McBride and Ballan.
“McBride and Ballan are really good fishermen and we knew that if we wanted to beat them that we had to get some big fish,” said Hyatt, who was competing in just his second RRWT with Bonot (they had placed 22nd last year).
And though they knew they didn’t have enough weight to get the big cheque, the duo were more excited than a couple of teenagers about being pulled through the tent.
“That’s what we wanted to do—we wanted to get pulled through the tent,” said Bonot, who split the $3,000 third-place cheque with Hyatt, who agreed the tent “was a great experience, and it was more than I could imagine.”
Stone and Jonasson earned a cheque for $6,000 for their efforts.
Ballan and McBride, meanwhile, were quick to thank someone who made it possible for them to claim the “Kings of the River” title.
You see, McBride’s original partner for the RRWT was his son, Zach, having put their names in way back in January. But when McBride and Ballan won the Emo tourney, it changed things.
In order to claim the “Kings of the River” crown, the same team must have competed in both the Emo and Rainy River tourneys. So when Zach got a call from his dad last Monday with a request, the son obliged.
“Dad called me up and asked me if I could give it up, and I said sure,” said Zach, who had an inkling his dad and Ballan would do well over the weekend.
“I saw them sitting at the dock and I was going to go and talk to them, but I didn’t want to know, so I decided to wait it out and it worked out in the end,” he added.
“I’m very appreciative of what he did, and I’m very thankful to him,” said Ballan.
The pair earned the “Kings of the River” moniker by a jaw-dropping 28.29 pounds over Hyatt and Bonot, who only netted a disappointing 0.54 pounds at the EWC.
They celebrated in different ways in the end.
“I’ve got to got to work tomorrow morning, and I didn’t sleep at all last night because I was just so pumped, so I’m heading for bed,” noted Ballan, who resembled Grizzly Adams with his untrimmed beard.
“We’re going to have a big meal with the family,” said McBride, “and take care of the Visa bill tomorrow.”
In related news, 35 youngsters entered the kids’ tournament and when all was said and done, Tyler Thunder won the biggest fish award with a 26.5-inch northern pike.
Carson Noga was recognized as the most promising angler after bringing in a 15.6-inch walleye (he was leading the tournament up until the last 15 minutes) while Kevin Zhang took third place with a 15.2-inch walleye.
Jayleen Anderson was the other most promising angler after catching a 10.5-inch walleye while Joel Ottertail won the longest cast competition.