Sole female duo captured hearts

Team #28 may have finished 32nd out of the 45 teams competing in the inaugural Emo Walleye Classic last weekend, but they certainly were at the top of the list for memorability.
With their fun hats, sweatshirts, and boat all proudly proclaiming them as the “Walleye Queens,” Lil Pihulak and Jose Balcewich—the only all-female fishing duo of the tourney—kept the crowd entertained with their chutzpah and fearless underdog determination.
“I just love fishing, I enjoy the competition,” Pihulak said over coffee at the Sister Kennedy Centre in Fort Frances on Monday, where she was signing up for this week’s District 1-A Senior Games.
“I don’t expect to beat the men but I’ve had my days.
“I fished with Ann Grabowski in Dryden and we caught an 8.7-pound walleye. We got the big fish of the day, the two of us,” she recalled. “We had great fun. We’re out there trying.”
The “queens” reeled in a 1.42-pound walleye on Day One of the Emo tournament (Friday) and then caught a 2.86-pounder on Day Two for a 4.28 total.
Pihulak has been fishing in tournaments for 18 of her 75 (almost 76) years. When her youngest son was a teenager, he wanted to go fishing so she took him in a little skiff.
“From there on, I just kept going. I now have an 18-ft. Lund with a 115 Johnson,” she said.
“I’d go fishing until dark. The guys would send a search party out for us,” she laughed.
Former Rainy River First Nations chief Willie Wilson gave her the nickname, the “Walleye Queen,” on a bus tour years ago and it’s been with her ever since.
Pihulak is a veteran of inaugural tournaments—she fished the first Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, Rainy River walleye tournament, Lake Despair Lodge’s “Castin’ for Cash” (bass), and now Emo Walleye Classic.
“Just to be in the first is an accomplishment,” she said. “It was a great weekend. The fishing was slow for most of it, and the river was very dangerous.
“I did nick my prop and skag because there are so many rocks in the river.”
And while many of the anglers likely took it easy the day after the tournament, Pihulak was out and about visiting with friends and family until 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Then Monday morning, she was off to an early start again.
“I have a very active life,” she admitted. “I just got through a week of pre-fishing and the tournament, and now I’m signing up for the Senior Games.”
There aren’t many all-women teams in fishing tournaments but Pihulak loves the competition. “I’m not a cookie-baking, sock-knitting grandma,” she chuckled.
She’ll be paired up with Andrea Turgeon again for the Rainy River tournament in September.