Pro fisherman Kevin Carstensen was having the week of his competitive fishing life when disaster struck late Saturday morning.
The Merrill man was leading last week’s National Guard FLW Walleye Tour Event on Minnesota’s Leech Lake when the alarm went off on his motor due to low battery power. He was able to get help–“the camera guy called another boat for the jumper box”–but not before the day’s fish, including two north of 26 inches, died in his live well from a lack of oxygen.
That meant he would be assessed a huge 2-1/2 pound penalty.
“I was really concerned because that tournament sometimes comes down to ounces,” Carstensen said.
But Carstensen’s honey hole and simplified technique pushed him into a 6-1/2 pound lead, so he took top honors by four pounds with 15 fish totaling 41 pounds, 11 ounces, even after losing the penalty weight.
“I’m still a little bit in shock,” Carstensen said Sunday. “It’s tough fishing against those guys. They’re the best guys in the United States. That would have been pretty disheartening to lose a tournament over a mechanical (failure).
“I had a lot of third, fourth and fifth places when I fished the Master Walleye circuit. That was a team circuit, where you fished the whole tournament with the same partner. I’ve always been a bit of a bridesmaid.
“I started by hand-picking (FLW) pro-am events a few years ago. Last year I started doing the full (FLW) circuit, and this year I’m going to do the full circuit.”
The win earned him a cool $63,000 top prize, by far his best in 15 years of competitive fishing. A total of 190 anglers from 17 states competed in the tourney, 95 pros matched up with 95 amateurs.
“I’ve got this huge trophy and big cardboard check and a real check on the table right in front of me,” he said. “I’m wondering what day I feel like cashing it, because it’s pretty nice.
“I know guys that fished (competitively) 15-20 years and never won one. That’s why I feel fortunate. You’ve got to put three good days together to win it.”
Leech Lake has a slot limit, allowing five walleyes per day, with two over 26 inches and three slotted from 14.5”-18”.
Carstensen switched things up a bit in this year’s event.
“I was dragging the bottom with crawlers on a rig with a 3/8-ounce weight. The longer the crawler the better,” Carstensen added. “I really simplified my fishing this week. During practice I decided I was over-thinking it too much and so I went with what was working and that was dragging a rig on the bottom. Sweet and simple.
“I have struggled on Leech in the past. But I think I have finally figured some things out between last year’s championship and this tournament. The lake is definitely growing on me!”
His location seemed to buck conventional wisdom, too.
“The area that I was fishing was way north on the lake,” Carstensen said. “It was about a 10-by-10 foot area that just kept replenishing every day. I was fishing shallow, about 4-to-6 feet of water, along a transition line. There was about a 12-foot hole in the middle of it but the fish didn’t seem to go there. I tried fishing through it but got nothing. All the action was along the transition line where you could see where the water went from light to dark.
“My spot needed a lot of boat traffic because there was a huge shiner spawn going on, and when the boats would go through they would stir up the shiners and trigger the walleyes to feed. That was unique. A lot of guys won’t fish a spot with a lot of traffic, especially when it’s shallow like the spot I was on. What hurt me (Saturday) was there was no boat traffic at first. At 8:00 we started getting traffic and the fishing really turned on.”
Alan Wegleitner, Somerset, Wis., won the co-angler division and $6,000 in large part due to fishing with Carstensen on the final day.
“When we first got to our spot this morning I thought this guy was nuts,” said Wegleitner. “We were fishing thick cat tails, but then we got our first walleye within 10 minutes, I realized he wasn’t crazy. We had some problems with our equipment, but Kevin was great and we fished through it.”
Merrill’s Dan Meisner won $950 for 5th place in the co-angler division, with 13 walleyes weighing in at 32#, 12 oz.
Co-anglers fish each day with a different pro.
On top of the huge winning pay-off, Carstensen relishes the fact that the 150 points he picked up pushed him to 8th in the season series.
“The top 40 teams make it to the championship, so I’ve got to stay in the top 40,” he said. “That’s very important to me. If I can have a decent finish in some of these other tournaments, I should make it.”
Helping Carstensen in his quest is the location of the next event on the circuit–on Green Bay out of Oconto, Wis. on July 21-23.
“That’s good for me because I like fishing Green Bay,” he noted. “The FLW used to have a league, too, with a one-day tournament. I had some good finishes there in the league.”
If the fish are biting, it likely will take a heavier total catch than 44#–Carstensen’s approximate total before the penalty–to take down the top prize on Green Bay.
“For Leech Lake, that’s very good weight, because the 26-inch fish don’t weigh as much as they would on Green Bay,” he said.
Carstensen did hit on 5-of-6 overs in the three-day tourney, nailing a 27-1/2” beauty on opening day, 26-1/4” and 27-1/2” fish on Day Two, and 26-1/8” and 26-1/2” walleyes on Saturday.
The 2011 National Guard FLW Walleye Tour Championship will be held on the Missouri River in Bismarck, N.D., Sept. 22-25. Anglers are also vying for the coveted Angler of the Year title, which earns them a place in the 2012 Walleye Tour Championship, as well as $10,000 for the pro and $2,500 for the co-angler.
Coverage of the Leech Lake tournament will be broadcast in high-def on VERSUS during the FLW Outdoors on Aug. 21 from 12:00-1:00 p.m. (Central). FLW Outdoors, hosted by Chip Leer, is broadcast to more than 500 million households worldwide.
Carstensen, a Medford native, has lived in Merrill since 1990. He is married to the former Diane Teeples. He sells insurance and also works on outboard motors and ATV’s when not gone on the fishing tour.