If you happen to have a major river, an abundance of hotel rooms, boat launches and, of course, fish, they will come.
Oh, it doesn’t hurt to have high water in one segment of the river where anglers couldn’t slide their boats into the Mighty Mississippi River even if they wanted to.
Those are the main reasons why La Crosse is a last-minute host to the three-day, 200-team Cabela’s National Team Championship beginning Thursday.
The walleye fishing event, which features two-angler teams from 21 states, will include daily weigh-ins (3:30 p.m.) at the Clinton Street bridge launch area. The total purse will surpass $270,000, according to the present and CEO of The Walleye Federation (TWF), Robert Cartlidge.
“In the Quad Cities, the river is still coming up, so that is why we had to make a move. The ramps are under water,” Cartlidge said of the originally scheduled site. “When we knew we had to make a move, La Crosse came to mind immediately.
“We looked at Red Wing (Minn.) and Lorain, Ohio (Lake Erie), but since we had originally scheduled this event for the river and teams have been planning to fish this for a year now, we wanted to keep it on the river.”
The event, which Cartlidge said is the first major walleye tournament to be held in La Crosse, also hinged on the availability of hotel rooms on such short notice. La Crosse, Cartlidge said, simply had more rooms available than other sites considered.
“Hotel rooms, that was a huge draw for us to go to La Crosse. Red Wing didn’t have enough hotel rooms. With La Crosse the sheer number of hotels and lodging made it possible,” Cartlidge said.
“UW-La Crosse had its graduation tonight (Friday) and Saturday, so all the motel rooms were about full, but there were many more available when we needed them. And Sunday is when the bulk of the 400 anglers will come in.”
The tournament will have some professional anglers competing, but the tournament, Cartlidge said, is most made up anglers from fishing clubs around the country. The two-person teams do have to qualify for this annual tournament, and come from Montana, New Mexico and New York, to name a few states. There are more than a dozen teams from the area that have qualified, Cartlidge said.
“This particular event is geared toward grassroots anglers. It is a once-a-year deal where all the local walleye clubs fish their local events, and the top anglers come to this.”
The winning team pockets $25,000 in cash, along a Mercury-powered Ranger boat. A second boat-motor combination is possible, too, making a possible total winning team’s share $165,000.
Those unable to attend the event will be able to watch the weigh-ins stream live online at walleyefederation.com or at a later day on NBC Sports Network’s “Americana Outdoors” and the Pursuit Channel.
“La Crosse has always wanted this event, but for some reason or another it just has not worked out. We have talked about it. It is a good deal for La Crosse as they got the event way cheaper than it normally goes for,” Cartlidge said. “We did that because it kept us on the river.
“We never held a walleye tournament in La Crosse before, but the moon and the stars aligned for this one.”