For some agonizing minutes, it looked like the 7.9 pounds of fish Harvey Cochrane and Oliver Gib-bons weighed in Saturday on the final day of the inaugural Emo Walleye Classic wouldn’t be enough to win.
But then it was discovered three of the four fish brought in by Team #19 (Bryan Hughes and Trevor Croswell), who held a slim 0.06-pound lead, were over 18 inches in length—one more than the rules allowed.
As such, they were penalized the largest fish (3.46 pounds) and ended up in fourth-place overall, meaning the derby crown and $9,500 first prize belonged to Cochrane and Gibbons, with a total of 15 pounds even.
“The fish that was over by a 16th of an inch. On our scale, it said 17-and-a-half inches,” Hughes, a 25-year-old Devlin native, said afterwards.
But the official measuring scale at the weigh-in was the one that counted, not the one in their boat, said Ed Carlson, director of angler services, who with the 13-person tournament committee halted the final announcement to make their decision.
Because Ontario sportfishing regulations were adhered to, and only two of Team #19’s four fish were over 18.1 inches, their Day Two weight officially was 4.60 pounds, emcee Lionel Robert explained to the crowd.
Hughes said discovering the miscalculation while on stage in front of 500 spectators was the hardest experience to deal with.
“We weren’t worried about anything [while waiting],” he recalled. “We thought we had first or second place, at least. But when they started double-checking, we thought, ‘Oh no. No way this is happening.’”
Cochrane sympathized with their situation after shaking hands with them before the awards ceremony.
“They weren’t feeling too well,” he said. “It all boils down to trying to win. In tournaments, you have to watch your length.”
Jody Shypit and Mike Graham, who led the derby after Day One with 9.26 pounds, only managed to weigh in 4.56 on Saturday to finish second with a 13.82-pound total, earning $4,400.
Both teams pocketed an additional $600 each for having the respective “big catch” of the day, and also qualified for the Wal-Mart RCL Championship in Red Wing, Mn. this fall.
Wayne Angus and Dale LaBelle, who teamed up to win the Rainy River walleye tournament back in September, took third place—and $2,500—with 13.76 pounds.
Despite the sudden turn of events, Hughes and Croswell were gracious in defeat and pleased with their outing, which included a $1,900 cheque for fourth place (11.58 pounds) and an additional $600 for being the Top Crestliner boat/Yamaha motor team.
“We didn’t expect to do this well. We were just looking to beat our friends. But we got off to that good start and it took off from there,” said Hughes. “[But] we congratulated the winners. They won.”
It was consistent fishing on both days by Cochrane and Gibbons—teamed up together for the first time in a tournament—that topped the 44-boat field. And their strategy was simple: staying in water that was only three-four feet deep.
“We mainly went west [towards Manitou Rapids] and only moved once or twice,” said Cochrane, 31, a Fort Frances resident who called Gibbons in as a last-minute replacement for Virgil Allan after he couldn’t get his boat ready.
“It’s just the dirty of the water, the oxygen level, and they’re just capable of staying that shallow,” he remarked.
Cochrane said Gibbons, one half of the Bergland duo (with Jason Gibbons) that won last year’s Kenora Bass International, was an excellent replacement—but not his first choice.
“Actually, I called around,” he laughed. “I called six or seven guys before I called Oliver.
“He was still out at the lake Thursday night. I picked him up that night and we were ready to go Friday,” he added. “We didn’t even get a chance to pre-fish.
“But Oliver’s one heck of a fisherman. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Rounding the top eight finishers were Doug McBride and Steve Ballan with 10.60 pounds ($1,200), Dale Faragher and Ken Burnell with 9.96 ($800), Larry Henry and Dave Bonke with 9.42 ($700), and John Bodnarchuk and Pete Hapka with 9.16 ($600).
The latter team also won $600 for having the “big fish” for Day One (4.78 pounds). Greg Bombay and Terry Prichard won $600 for the “big fish” on Day Two (3.44 pounds).
Emo’s Greg Hartlin and Tyler Mann won $600 as the “most improved” team, reeling in 5.90 pounds on Day Two after being skunked on the first day Friday.
McBride/Ballan and Ted Heyens/Kelvin Caul won $250 each for being closest to the “hidden weight.”