Former champs back atop EWC

Joey Payeur

Three thirds equalled one whole headache for Les Morrison and Oliver Gibbons.
But with their newly-acquired winnings, the pair can purchase a whole truckload of Aspirin–and then some.
Morrison, who hails from Baudette, and his Morson-based partner followed their trio of third-place finishes with their second career title at the 16th-annual Emo Walleye Classic over the weekend.
The duo took home the $5,000 winners’ cheque, and another $1,500 in earnings for other achievements, with their two-day total of 22.03 pounds–the fourth-most ever at the EWC.
They also recorded the second-highest margin of victory in tournament history (10.81 pounds).
“I told him we’ve got to do better than third this year,” chuckled Morrison, referring to his chat with Gibbons before hitting the water.
The 33-team tournament threatened to yield its lowest top weight ever up until the final stages of the top 10 boat parade Saturday.
Dan and Josh Pollard of Emo–one of three father-son teams to crack the top 10–moved from second place after Day 1 to first place temporarily with a total of 11.22 pounds.
That was even less than the 11.32 pounds recorded by Bill Godin and Ralph Galusha back in 2010–the second of their all-time best four EWC titles.
But Morrison and Gibbons, who led after Day 1 with 7.13 pounds, including the big fish of the day (3.84), saved the best for last.
Morrison held aloft about a five-pounder that had the crowd oohing and aahing before Gibbons brought the house down with the whopper he pulled out.
The lunker tipped the scales at 7.22 pounds–giving the pair a Day 2 total of 14.90 for the biggest bag of the tourney and boosted them up to 22.03 overall.
The 10.81-pound edge over the Pollards trailed only the gap of 11.28 between 2005 winners Doug McBride and Steve Ballan over Dale LaBelle and Wayne Angus.
“We stuck in the same spot for about five hours [Saturday],” noted Morrison, who went west from the boat launch site with Gibbons both days.
“I got the five-pounder at about 10:30 a.m. and then Oliver latched onto the big one at 1:30 p.m.”
Gibbons, who now has three EWC victories to his credit after winning the very first tourney in 2002 with Harvey Cochrane and then again with Morrison in 2013, candidly chimed in with a huge grin, “I was just dragging it in right to the net.”
“I was almost puking, I was so excited,” he added.
“He was jumping up and down and screaming,” laughed Morrison, who also finished second in 2008 with John Swetnik.
“We figured we had [the victory] at that point.”
Morrison and Gibbons, like most of teams this year in a change from the normal strategy, headed west instead of the usually more popular easterly direction to find their fish.
“We’ve been going west ever since they opened it up right to the U.S. bridge [at Baudette],” said Gibbons.
Morrison, meanwhile, said the reason for their success in the EWC is pretty simple.
“We decide on a plan before we even get here,” he remarked.
“But it’s always kind of a toss-up, depending on the year.”
Josh Pollard, in his second year of fishing with his dad, wasn’t overly disappointed they couldn’t stay in the “hot seat” one team longer.
“The way the fish were out there, it was hard to expect that much,” he noted.
“The first day, we got one nice one that certainly gave us a boost,” added Josh.
“But it’s kind of more about making memories and having good times.”
Dan Pollard, who almost set a record of the longest time between EWC wins after last capturing the tournament in 2004 with Dale Hartlin, had a plausible theory to the lack of big fish brought in this year.
“My guess is it’s because there must have been an early spawn and most of the big ones all moved out of the area already,” he explained.
“I just figured that was the case because of the warm weather and the ice-out happening early in the lakes.”
The older Pollard hoped their success, and those of some of the other family teams, will inspire more people to try their luck in future years at the EWC.
“It’s nice to see fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren, and teams like that taking part,” he said.
“Hopefully, it will help get more families to come out.”
“To have three father-son teams in the top 10 proves you don’t have to be a professional to get the top prize,” Josh Pollard stressed.
One of those duos was Emo’s Todd Grennier and his 10-year-old son, Kalin, who took third spot with 10.68 pounds.
Jim Steele and Ed Bullied of Emo placed fourth (10.43).
Emo Inn owner Aaron Bisson and Fort Frances realtor Chad Jack had a successful partnership in their first time together at the EWC–becoming the only other team to reach double digits in nabbing fifth place (10.32).
Frank Grunewald and Frank McWhinnie of Red Lake, who originally held the “hot seat” before the top-10 parade began, wound up in sixth (9.83).
Ryan O’Connor and Patrick LeMaistre claimed seventh place (9.66), with another father-son tandem in Emo’s Dale and Curtis Hartlin nabbing eighth (9.60).
Former two-time champs McBride and Ballan slipped from fifth place after Day 1 to finish ninth (9.39), with Keith Wilson and Roy Morrison rounding out the top 10 (9.20).
While the fish caught mostly were of the smaller variety, the ability of the teams to catch them practically was universal throughout the two days.
Day 1 made history as the first day in the EWC’s existence that no teams were skunked completely and every team caught four fish.
That almost repeated itself on Day 2, with Devlin’s Grant Swire and Leroy Wilson of International Falls the lone team not to record a weight.
The duo did catch two small, sickly walleye on Saturday, but decided to give them a better shot at surviving by letting them go free before returning to the boat launch.
The most intriguing and mildly-chilling numerical anomaly of the weekend befell the team of Devlin’s Irwin Hughes and his daughter, Amber.
Sporting unlucky No. 13 on their boat as assigned to them by the tournament committee, the duo reeled in two-straight days of exactly 3.33 pounds.
Their total added up to 6.66–the Biblical “number of the Beast” that refers to the devil.