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Author: Frank Ross
Tournament Time - Minus 48 hours.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Milford Lake State Park was a whirlwind (just had to get the Kansas tornado reference in) of activity as Cabela's promotions staff worked to set up for their second National Team Walleye Championship to be held near of Junction City, Kansas.
While setup crews worked to spot various components of what will be a very elaborate weigh-in, boats were being pulled from the water and trailered past a giant Jumbo-Tron television system being erected in front of a massive grandstand. A few curious anglers stopped to ask questions, and when I spotted the noted team of Karen and Kevin McQuoid, from Isle, MN, I had a few questions of my own.
This husband/wife team has been fishing together for six years and created so much excitement on the tournament circuit that they were added to the impressive roster that makes up "Team Cabela's." With their track record of top finishes, I was anxious to see how they were doing on a lake so far from their traditional circuit of experience.
"We arrived late Sunday, got our fishing licenses, went through the zebra muscle inspection and got our family settled in. We've brought the RV with our kids and grandma, so it's going to be a family trip. Today was only our second day on the water," Karen explained.
What do you think of Milford Lake so far?
"We love the lake. It's real scenic and there are a lot of pole-benders out there, and a lot of different species. Today we caught just about everything, spotted and striped bass, catfish and walleye. We've been to a number of tournaments where you just hope to get five bites a day and here you are catching 40 to 50 fish a day, easily. It's fun fishing," Kevin began.
"The catfish spawn must be starting because we caught an awful lot of catfish up on the rocky areas. I think they're pushing the walleye off of the rocks, where they normally spawn. We're catching a few walleye on the rocks, but not many compared to the numbers of fish that we're catching elsewhere. We've fished two days now and pretty much covered the entire lake. There's a lot of great walleye structure, and we've caught walleye using every technique except bobber fishing. Maybe we'll try that tomorrow," he said, smiling.
The McQuoid family, anchored by patriarch Terry McQuoid is famous, or perhaps more accurately, infamous for winning tournaments with this simple, subtle presentation. Kevin refined what his dad taught him, and has passed it on to his wife Karen who is making her own name in the tournament world. She is currently holding 13th place on the co-angler side of the prestigious RCL walleye circuit, which this duo is fishing in addition to a full schedule of team events.
When queried about duties and responsibilities on the tournament trail, both were very positive. Kevin volunteered, "I'd like to say that by now we both do what ever is necessary and needs to be done." Then Karen added, "We've been together six years now, and Kevin hasn't thrown me out of the boat even when the trailer didn't get hooked up that time and drug for a while, or when I lost a six-pound fish at the net that cost us a win. I don't know too many guys that would take their girlfriends out for a date and teach them how to fish. I grew up fishing with my dad, but Kevin has taught me an awful lot also.
Why Milford Lake
One of the very exciting aspects of this event is that anything is possible. There has never been a major national tournament on this lake, and local techniques are pretty basic. That's one of the things that attracted Cabela's organizers. Chris Bahl, Cabela's External Relations manager was instrumental in the site selection process, in that this is his home waters, where he caught his first walleye. Once Milford Lake made the preliminary list, it was pretty much a done deal according to Bahl. "We put the tournament out to bid to numerous communities and this area was very aggressive. The area Convention and Visitor's Bureau has been super. They wanted this tournament very badly and have pulled out all the stops. I've never seen an area with so much enthusiasm for walleye angling," Bahl said.
"I knew this was a great walleye lake, and the best thing about Milford, from a National Championship perspective, is that there is no tournament knowledge base for anglers to draw from. It's going to be a very interesting championship," he said.
The McQuoids echoed Bahl's theory on tactics. Even though they were understandably reticent about giving out too many details. "We've caught walleye on everything we've tried from pitching jigs along the shore, live bait, trolling crankbaits and spinners. The only technique we tried that didn't really produce was casting crankbaits, but we really didn't give that much time," Kevin said.
Probing for more details, I asked, "If tomorrow were day one of the tournament, what would be the first thing you'd do?"
"The surface temperature is 70 degrees, it's like a summer day back home on Lake Mille Lacs. There the big fish would be deep. If tomorrow were day one, I'd start out trolling crankbaits at, say, 13 to 20 feet. We've caught a lot of walleye trolling, but haven't figured out how to catch the 10-pounders yet. We caught two nice five-pound fish today, but I know someone is catching them. Cranks are what I start with anyway," he said.
"Any particular crankbait?" I probed.
Kevin looked at Karen and both grinned. "Shad-Raps" he said. That's not a secret, I'll give you that much.
Casually, I dug deeper. "Color?"
"Shad-Raps," and that was the end of it.
Guess we'll just have to wait for the weigh-in to see where they fall on the color spectrum. Not surprising, with over a hundred thousand dollars of green riding on the outcome!