It’s been quite a two-week stretch for me.
Earlier this month, I got my first taste of fishing. Then this past weekend, I had the opportunity to witness my first-ever fishing tournament—the Emo Walleye Classic.
Once again, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect heading into the event.
What did a fishing tournament entail? How exciting could it possibly be to watch someone else fish? And really, how fun was it going to be to watch the fish get weighed?
However, if I’d learned anything from my previous fishing experience it was not to jump to conclusions.
I set out Saturday around noon to meet up with tournament volunteer and official spotter Shane McDonald, who graciously had agreed to take me out on the Rainy River to get a few pictures of the action for the Times.
As I met Shane on the dock in Emo a half-hour later (after narrowly avoiding a deer on the drive out of town), I couldn’t help but think I have a pretty sweet job.
Sure, the hours are long and no one will ever mistake my bank account with Donald Trump’s, but how many jobs pay you to ride in a boat and take pictures of anglers on a beautiful summer’s day.
As I stepped into the boat, I mentioned to Shane that there definitely were worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. He laughed and two minutes later we were off.
For the next couple of hours, Shane ferried me around, explaining some of the finer points of fishing the river as I shot pictures of teams trying to reel in the “big one.”
We returned to the dock just in time for me to head up to the Emo-La Vallee Arena for the start of the final weigh-in. I thanked Shane for his time and knowledge, and made my way up the hill.
What immediately struck me as I entered the arena was the number of people in attendance.
Now, I have spent a lot of my life going to concerts of various bands over the years and I couldn’t help but feel a similar type buzz in the air. People definitely were excited.
I still didn’t really understand why they were so worked up, but it didn’t take long for me to figure it out.
As the first teams made their way into the arena with their day’s catch and waited at the side of the stage for their turn with weighmaster Grant Meyers, I became intrigued.
My interest intensified as the first big fish of the day was pulled from a basket. I was determined to see how my first walleye, good old “Hank,” would have fared against the fish being brought into the arena.
(I’m pretty sure “Hank” would have landed me in the money, but I digress).
The action peaked as the top 10 anglers from Day 1 arrived on the scene. And I honestly can say I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
For those readers who have never witnessed the sight, allow me to describe it as best as I can.
The top 10 teams from Day 1 are towed—still sitting in their boats—into the arena and paraded before the crowd before stopping in front of the stage.
They then remove their fish, one at a time, from the live-well on the boat and hold them up for all to see. Classic rock tunes blare out of the speakers and the crowd goes bananas.
It took all of three boats to be paraded in in this fashion for me to completely get caught up in the moment, forget my journalistic impartiality, and start cheering, as well.
What can I say? I got caught up in the moment.
The highlight of the weigh-in undoubtedly was the battle between tournament leaders Jody Shypit and Gary Noga and the third-place finishers from Day One: Todd Grennier and Eric Lessman.
Grennier and Lessman had a good-sized basket but would it be enough to overtake Shypit and Noga’s monster walleye they’d brought in earlier?
I honestly can say I was on the edge of my seat as the fish flopped for what seemed an eternity. When Meyers announced Grennier and Lessman had pulled into the lead, I cheered along with the rest of the arena.
The pair of district anglers went on to win the tournament and I interviewed them both as they came off the stage. The thing that really struck me as I spoke to them both was how much they loved their sport.
They didn’t care that they’d just won $11,000 for first place in the tournament. They were just happy with the win.
Athletes who are happier with their accomplishment than they are with the reward? What a novel idea.
It’s been quite a two-week stretch for me.