Last year was the first attempt for Mark Thompson and Jerry Messer at winning the Rainy River Walleye Tournament—and it didn't go so well.
They obviously figured things out in a hurry.
The duo from Sauk Centre, Mn. skyrocketed from 50th place last year to the top of the heap this past weekend, capturing the title—and the $15,000 first-place cheque—with a two-day total of 24.98 pounds.
Thompson and Messer only have fished the two RRWT events and one other tournament as a competitive tandem, making their success in Rainy River all the more remarkable.
“We work together well," said Messer. "We catch the right fish and we think a lot alike.”
Thompson has been in the RRWT for the past 12 years while Messer only has been on hand the past two.
But that lack of time together didn't keep them from pulling in the top bag of the tournament with their 15.66-pound haul on Friday.
Then their 9.32 pounds on Saturday was good enough to fend off the team of Aaron and Tony Bisson, who finished second (22.24).
“I've seen Day 1 leaders before and they're flying around trying to hit as many spots as they can,” Thompson recalled.
“We stuck to our plan, just fished the same two or three areas we liked during pre-fishing, and that's it,” he noted.
“We didn't want to waste time running around.”
Instead of a bait-and-switch approach, Thompson and Messer switched bait to positive results.
“On the first morning, we were using crank baits,” noted Thompson.
“But in the afternoon, we changed to jigging and it turned out pretty good,” he remarked, adding he and Messer hit paydirt heading west on the river towards Lake of the Woods when most teams had turned their bows to the east.
“We didn't plan on winning,” laughed Messer when asked what they were going to do with their newfound winnings.
Thompson had a different answer.
“Our wives have got that money spent," he grinned. "We've already been told that.”
As for coming back next year to try and defend their title, Thompson and Messer were all for it.
“There's a lot of good teams in this field and it's amazing to see teams who have won it more than once with the quality of the fishermen here,” said Thompson.
Brian and Jim Ney had the biggest bag of Day 2—13.72 pounds—to move up to third place overall (21.62).
Jenna and Jason Yeo came in fourth (21.14) while Christian Armstrong and Noah Nault slipped from second after Day 1 to fifth after managing just a 6.16-pound haul on Day 2 (20.82).
Cory Larocque and Nicole Armstrong more than doubled their Day 1 catch to wind up in sixth place (20.29) while former RRWT champs Doug McBride and Steve Ballan cracked the top 10 for the second-straight year (20.08).
Cliff Westover and Mark Jodoin secured eighth (19.17), followed by four-time RRWT champs Oliver and Jason Gibbins (18.98) and Brian Major Jr. and Brian Major Sr. (18.87).
Defending champs Jim Hall and Joe Bonhomme couldn't find the magic this year, winding up in 17th place (17.16).
Tricia Bombay and Greg Bombay Sr., the 2015 champs, only managed to land 4.36 pounds over the two days to finish 81st in the 83-team field.
Chris and Shannon Stone, former two-time top-five finishers, also struggled this year as their mark of 3.77 left them in second-last spot.