Flash back to 2003 at Milford Lake in northeast Kansas.
Hundreds of fishermen from across the country traveled to a reservoir many of them had never even heard of, and they received a huge surprise in the Cabela’s National Team Walleye Championship.
Yes, Kansas had walleyes. And some huge ones, too.
Many fishermen ended up catching fish exceeding 5 pounds in practice, and the winners of the tournament — Chuck Craig of Scottsbluff, Neb., and Brian Schneider of Mitchell, Neb. — turned in a two-day catch of 10 walleyes weighing 39.32 pounds.
With the tournament returning to Milford this week for its 14th annual championship, many are wondering if the Kansas reservoir once again can make national waves.
That first event took Milford from a well-kept secret to a nationally known fishery. Since then, the reservoir has had its ups and downs as far as walleye fishing goes.
But the reservoir again has plenty of walleyes roaming its clear water. Now it’s just a matter of whether it will produce at the right time.
“The walleye fishing was tremendous a couple weeks ago,” said Rick Dykstra, part of the contingent that attracted the national tournament to Milford. “It’s slowed up since then because of the weather.
“But we know the walleyes are in there. And with this many good fishermen out there, someone is going to figure out how to catch them.”
Jan Kissinger, a guide on Milford, also is looking for a good tournament.
“Before all the rain, I was looking for a tournament as good or better than the one we had in 2003,” Kissinger said. “The quality of our walleyes has been good the last couple of years. We have lots of 4- to 6-pound fish.
“But everything is working against these guys right now. There’s been lots of water coming in, and they’re making big releases. It will be a challenge. But I still wouldn’t be surprised to see someone bring in a big bag of fish.”
One thing is certain: There will plenty of fishermen trying.
The tournament will feature 185 two-person teams vying for the $274,000 in cash and prizes. Those teams of amateur fishermen qualified by doing well in local tournaments sanctioned by the Walleye Federation.
They will begin their chase Thursday at the 16,000-acre reservoir. The total field will compete the first two days, then it will be pared to the top 25 teams for the championship round Saturday. The winners will take home $30,000 in cash and a Ranger boat and Evinrude motor valued at $68,000.
The fishermen will launch at 7 a.m. and weigh in their catch at 3 p.m. each day at Milford State Park Marina.
To reach outdoors editor Brent Frazee, call 816-234-4319 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on twitter@fishboybrent.