CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. — For over 40 years, the Allen family's guide service has provided memorable walleye fishing trips for countless groups of anglers along the Missouri River.
The group of longtime fishing guides at Allen’s Missouri River Guide Service have built a reputation as some of the best in the business. On Thursday and Friday, four of those local guides will have an opportunity to showcase their angling skills on the water they grew up fishing during the National Walleye Tour, which is taking place in Chamberlain-Oacoma for the first time.
While professional anglers from across the country are flocking to the Chamberlain area this week to gear up for the tournament, the Allen family's guide service has been a staple that’s kept the prestigious walleye fishing culture strong. Each year, the family-owned company guides hundreds of groups along the Missouri River, exposing fishing enthusiasts to the one of the premier walleye hubs in the Midwest.
“It’s a special thing to see this big of a tournament get hosted in our backyard. Walleye fishing is what we love around here,” said Garry Allen, owner of Allen’s Guide Service. "Lake Francis Case is a walleye factory."
While seeing the Chamberlain/Oacoma area host the national tournament on the waters he grew up fishing means a lot to Allen, the 75-year-old angler is proud to have four of his guides representing his fishing business on a national scale as professional anglers.
As the Allen's fishing guides look to reel in big enough walleye to claim the championship at the first tournament of this year’s walleye tour, some of the nation’s top pro anglers will be standing in their way. But Allen has all the confidence in the world that his guides will be the “toughest” pro anglers to beat out of the pool of 200 fishermen competing in the two-day tournament. After all, experience on the waters of Lake Francis Case is on their side.
“If our guides, who are pros as well, get beat, then those fishermen have a lot to hang their hats on. I think our guys are going to be really, really hard to beat in this tournament,” Allen said. “They know this area better than pretty much anybody around. They’ve been fishing almost their entire lives.”
Glenn Eimers is one of Allen’s longtime guides who has been fishing the Missouri River and Lake Francis Case since he was a child. When he’s not guiding, the Chamberlain native usually has a line in the water.
“As a kid, you watched pros compete in tournaments. It’s just awesome to be able to have the opportunity to go out and compete against the best,” Eimers said. “Lake Francis Case is just a great fishery, and it is cool to be showcased in the body of water where I was raised fishing.”
Regardless of the outcome, Mike Allen, Garry’s son, is proud of the Chamberlain/Oacoma communities and the area's outdoor community for embracing the national tournament that’s bringing more exposure to one of the most prime walleye fishing hubs in the Upper Midwest.
“This is great for Chamberlain, the Missouri River and the entire state. It will give our area so much great exposure,” Mike Allen said.
Although the tournament isn’t the first national fishing event the Chamberlain area has hosted, Garry Allen is anticipating it to be the “biggest one” yet. He hopes it will lead to more events down the road.
“I think this is going to be the biggest tournament we’ve had by far,” he said. “All of the economic impact it is having is just another awesome part of it all.”
Testing the waters
As the two-day tournament nears, many of the anglers have been pre-fishing the waters of Lake Francis Case over the past few weeks to feel the fishing out. Considering a majority of the professional anglers competing in the national tournament are from out-of-state, many of them are not too familiar with fishing the Missouri River in central South Dakota.
That’s also why many of the anglers have been pre-fishing in recent weeks. The guides began seeing some of the pro anglers hit the water to pre-fish roughly two weeks ago. Among the most effective methods Garry Allen expects to see from the anglers are jig fishing with minnows and flicker shads, which he said have shown to be working well thus far.
“They’re fishing north near the Crow Creek area using a jig and minnow in about 22 to 26 feet of water. They have been going strong from what I’ve seen,” Garry Allen said. “They are also catching them on some flicker shads in deeper water. Most of the guys will be fishing with flicker shads I believe.”
As part of the rules of the tournament, anglers have all of Lake Francis Case to fish, which Eimers said is a large boundary to work with. The lake stretches a little over 100 miles, with about 540 miles of shoreline. In total, the lake covers 102,000 acres, which has a maximum depth of 140 feet.
With the different stages of walleye spawning in Lake Francis Case, Eimers said fishing conditions are looking “great.” Judging by the success his guides have had on the river this spring, Garry Allen said the tournament is taking place at the right time.
“The bites are changing everyday. Some fish are post-spawn and some are pre-spawn fish being caught. But it’s been great fishing this spring, so you hope you just get the right bites on day one and day two,” Eimers said of the fishing conditions.
What will it take for the winning angler to claim first place? Garry Allen predicts a cumulative weight of around 30 pounds of walleye will be enough to take the championship home. As part of the tournament rules, winners are decided by the heaviest cumulative weight of the walleye caught during the two-day event.
While weather can change quickly, the Thursday and Friday forecast is calling for mostly sunny skies with highs around the upper 60s and 70s, and winds gusting around 10 to 15 mph. For this time of year, Garry Allen said the weather forecast on the days of the tournament will make for ideal walleye fishing.
“With the nice weather and great fishing we’ve had this spring, this is Mother Nature’s way of telling us this tournament was meant to be a great one,” he said.