It’s almost time for the 23rd annual Rainy River Walleye tournament, a fishing competition that anglers and spectators alike look forward to.
A host of activities will take place between Thursday, September 15, to Saturday, September 17, such as a boat parade, fishermans dinner, beer gardens, a mix & mingle, an open mic and karaoke, kids mini tournaments, silent auctions, and raffles, to name a few. But the main focus, of course, will be upon the waters where over 100 anglers will participate in friendly competition to catch the biggest fish.
There is a team of two anglers per boat. The anglers who catch the highest total weight will stand on a stage, in front of a cheering crowd, and win a cash prize of $15,000.
Several anglers who have been participating in the Walleye tournament for multiple years spoke with Fort Frances Times about their favorite fishing experiences. In honor of the unwritten rules of the tournament, none of the anglers divulged their favorite tackle or secret fishing spots.
Ted Heyens began fishing as a young boy with his family. As years passed he sharpened his skills and started participating in tournaments, such as the Walleye competition. Today, he likes to spend time fishing with his kids as well. He says his favorite part about the activity is being on the quiet waters in nature.
“I prefer the Rainy River actually. Yeah, born and raised. So this is where I spend my life,” he says. “It's got everything in it. It's got walleye, bass, it’s got pike in it. It's got some lake sturgeon in it, and it's got a good walleye run in the spring, and a good walleye run in the fall. So you can easily catch a 10 pound fish.”
Heyens and his brother-in-law have won the walleye classic twice already.
“We just lucked out and caught a fish each day. Just do everything right and hopefully the fish will bite for ya.”
Kyle Olsen has been competing in the Walleye tournament for three years with one of his closest friends, Zach Tolen, and can’t imagine anyone else as his fishing partner.
“I grew up right on Lake of the Woods. Everybody fishes around here. My dad fishes a lot. My dad got me into it,” he says.
Olsen’s biggest catch was a 31 inch walleye from Lake of the Woods, one of Ontario’s well-known spots for multi-species fishing in North America.
“We've got a couple of secret spots,” he says. “The rivers are hard to fish. You never know what you're gonna catch on the river, you never know where you're gonna catch them. You could pre fish the day before and catch a lot of fish, but the next day there's no fish.”
When asked what his least favorite aspect of fishing is, Olsen replies, “When the fish aren’t biting.”
Candy Greengrass has participated in the Walleye competition for as long as she can remember. For many years, she and her fishing partner Julie Tiboni competed as the only women's team. Greengrass recalls special moments spent eating, laughing, and catching up with her friend on the boat, but also the friendly banter and competition between her team and the men’s teams.
“A lot of the guys are really good with us because they want to see us succeed. And they want to see us catch the big fish. And you know, they kind of sorta sometimes tell us what they're doing, but I don't believe it.” Greengrass says she quickly learned the unspoken laws of the game, which involves not divulging too much information about where to fish and which tackle to use.
“We had our spot and all the guys knew where our spot was. They waved to us going by, laughing, because we don't leave the bridge. But we started expanding and driving a bit farther and broadening our horizons. We catch fish, but it's more just us getting out there and having fun and being part of that whole tournament,” she says.
Greengrass and Tiboni both share birthdays that coincided with the annual fishing competition, before the competition was moved earlier in September, which made the Walleye weekend even more memorable. Greengrass recalls silly photos of her sitting in a bathroom celebrating her 40th birthday.
One of her most memorable moments was when she got a lure stuck in her finger.
“I change my hook a lot. Julie and I both have different fishing styles. She's a keeper of her lure for a long time, and I’m a changer-upper. Constantly. And as I'm fishing around in my tackle box looking for something to present to these fish, I got a lure stuck in my finger,” Greengrass says.
“It was quite hilarious. Julie ripped the lure right out. It wasn’t where I really had to go to the hospital, but we laughed and laughed after, and she did a little bit of doctoring on my finger. But, you know, we fished on and everything was good, and all is good in the world. But she was quite excited about pulling this lure out of my fingers.”
Greengrass says she enjoys seeing the entire community coming together, and notes that there are activities for all ages.
“It takes a whole whole community to make this run. It's definitely a well oiled machine. And it's super fun.”
Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times