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Author: Frank Ross
If anyone should decide to put up a billboard promotion with the theme of "Been There, Done That," Ken and Jean Seffron would have to be at the head of the list for the photograph. I'd say poster child or more correctly children, but these two are 66 and 65 respectively.
This morning is registration day for Cabela's National Team Championship, being held on Milford Lake near Junction City, Kansas. A collection of 250 teams of anglers has made their way here from 22 different states, and the Seffrons know many of them. The Seffrons now live in Iowa, but Omaha was their home and tournament base of operations for 46 years.
After 47 years of marriage, these two play off of each other like a vaudeville team, each complementing the other's weaknesses. Ken can't remember details, but Jean is the historian and quick to fill in the details of tournament dates, fish sizes, and placement. "I've got three more years to get her trained," Ken said as Jean rolled her eyes. "We'll hit the half-century mark of marriage then, and I figured it would take me that long," he said.
Jean was quick to add, "If I can train him to stop knocking the big fish off with the dip net, we'd do a lot better in these tournaments. We'd have won the Nebraska Governor's Cup if Ken hadn't knocked off an eight-pounder with the net."
After a few minutes of good natured kidding, Ken admitted that he has knocked off a few big fish, and he also admitted that Jean catches the most big fish, which of course was his excuse for doing it. With the number of big fish she catches the opportunity is higher than for him, he reasoned. Over the years there have been many big fish that didn't get knocked off, and their home is filled with a large collection of trophies as well as Jean's collection of 2500 owls.
"We've been members of the Kansas Walleye Association since 1988, and Ken was a co-founder of the Nebraska Walleye Association in 1989," Jean noted. "Yep, we started with nine members and now there are over 400. The second meeting we ever had was on the tailgate of my old pickup," Ken added.
As they ambled through the tournament area, anglers come up to speak, and it's like old home week. They chat about previous tournaments and of course, the bite on Milford Lake. One angler asked if there were any walleye in the lake, with a poorly disguised attempt to elicit information out of Ken. Without taking the bait, Ken sidestepped the question with generalities.
"Shoot, this lake is full of big walleye, and they're in great shape. This is a very healthy fishery. The biggest fish I ever caught in a tournament came out of this lake, unfortunately it was on the last day of the pre-fishing period. It weighed 10.6 pounds. That was a Kansas Walleye Association tournament in 1992," he added.
With the couple quietly ensconced in the grandstand, away from prying ears, I did some baiting of my own. "Ken," I began, "you won the North American Walleye Angler's tournament on Lake Sakakawea on live bait. What year was that?" Ken came back with 1995, but Jean pointed out that it was on August 19. I assume, but have to ask the question anyway. "What tactics are you two going to use for this event, live bait?" I queried.
"The only time you'll see me pulling crankbaits is when I'm desperate. When I do use crankbaits, I prefer Mack's Sugar Bun or the Walleye Magnet. We'll be pulling bottom bouncers with Real Bait spinners and plain Owner hooks, with crawlers and leeches. I fish with crawlers and Jean uses leeches," he said.
"I won't touch a crawler," Jean quickly added. "When Ken was fishing the pro tour I kept them supplied with crawlers. I'd go out every night and pick them up with a McDonald's plastic fork and put them in a bucket, but I won't touch them. If they're only biting crawlers Ken baits my hook, otherwise I use leeches."
"Since Ken has admitted that you catch the most big fish, and you only use leeches, could there be a clue in there that Ken should pay attention to," I asked. Jean was quick to agree, but Ken only laughed. He's a confirmed crawler man.
"How long have you two been fishing tournaments as a team?" I asked.
"Ever since 1988. Ken started fishing with his brother, but he got tired of buying $500 hats. We had an old dog that was sick. I stayed at home to take care of her, and when she finally died I started fishing with Ken. We've been on the road with the RV for the past 90 days. Been down to Arizona fishing for stripers, fished two RCL tournaments and when we get home after this event, we'll be home one day and then leave for North Dakota and a tournament on Devil's Lake. After that we'll be back home on July 19," Jean explained.
"How's the pre-fishing been?"
"We haven't done a lot. We fished the first two days real hard then I took a friend out for a couple of hours and haven't been out since. We've got six good spots. They're not great, but they ain't bad," he grinned. "We made a pass through one and had four keepers on at the same time. But, the secret to winning this event, or any tournament for that matter is a big kicker fish. We would have won this tournament on Mille Lacs last year but on the last day I had a nine pounder that was a quarter of an inch too short for the slot. I measured it three times and it just wouldn't stretch. I looked at it, threw it back into the water and said, "there goes two new boats." That was a tough one, but we're really out here to have fun. If we do well that's great," he said.
Looking out on the lake, hardly a breeze was stirring, in an area noted for stiff winds. Ken observed, "If it holds like this, without wind, it's going to be tough for a lot of guys. It's going to take 45-pounds to win this event. That's a four pound average," Jean added.
Steering the boat back to the present, I probed for more information. "Any tricks you'll be using at this event out of the ordinary?" I asked.
With his trademark grin, Ken replied simply, "We pull bottom bouncers, on the bottom. There are a lot of tricks, or secrets we've picked up over the years. People say that you can't use ounce and a half bottom bouncers effectively, but I do. You can learn a lot of secrets the way I have, by fishing tournaments and trying different things," he said, still grinning.
I had to grin myself. This wise old bird has something up his sleeve but he's not going to give it up unless it's on the stage holding another trophy. And I guess that's the way it should be. Anyone who holds up this trophy should have to earn it the hard way, like Ken and Jean have gotten all of theirs.