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Background Info: We were first approached by Boomer Esiason in 2005 about hosting an event to raise money for the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis (BEF). Boomer, with his son Gunnar and his daughter Sydney, enjoyed a 5 day vacation at Aikens Lake in July 2005. Although never really having fresh-water fished before, they caught on really quick… especially Sydney! She became known as the “Walleye whisperer” while she was at the lodge. She had the uncanny ability to “feel” bites 10-15 seconds before anything ever nibbled on her bait (Click Here for More) Aikens Lake partner Dale Jensen has long been a supporter of the Boomer Esiason Foundation, being named their MVP in 1997 (Click Here for More)
The Esiason family loved their experience at Aikens Lake. So, it was at that point that we started exploring different fund-raising events that could be hosted at Aikens. It started out as a small invitational trip for 12-16 fishermen each donating a specific amount to the BEF. It then evolved into a tournament-style trip. Eventually, we teamed up with In-Fisherman and the PWT walleye tournament circuit and the idea was born. An “all-star” field of the top 10 finishers during the 2006 PWT tournaments would each fish with a celebrity in order to raise funds for the BEF.
Many prominent companies stepped up to the plate to help make this event a success. Black & Decker, Under Armour, Johnsonville Brats, Berkley, Lowrance, DeWalt, Canon, and most noticeably Office Depot made the event a fundraising success!
We hosted the Shootout over a frigid week in late September (we actually had to extend our season by a week to accommodate them!). The pros all showed up early and had 2 ½ days to pre-fish Aikens. Most used trolling techniques as no fresh bait (minnows, crawlers, leeches) was allowed for this particular tournament. The tournament itself lasted two full days from 8AM to 5PM (with a 60 minute break for shorelunch… another treat the pros weren’t used to!). Despite the cold temperatures, the action was hot and it didn’t take the pros long to hone in on the large schools of monster walleye at Aikens! The action was hot both on the lake and also in the evenings in Big Molly’s Bar. Card games (those poker pros sure can read a hand!!!), live music, and general bacchanalia was the nightly theme.
In the end, over $100K was raised though this event. All the PWT pros, their celebrity partners, and the rest of the In-Fisherman and BEF representatives left Aikens with some cherished memories.
For the PWT, this tournament broke two significant barriers: 1st - It was the first event they ever held outside the USA. In fact, it became the pre-cursor to events in Ontario (Lake Wabigoon) in subsequent year.
2nd – It was the first ever “CPR” tournament for the PWT. The style of “Catch, Photograph, and Release” had never been used. In what could become a standard for future tournaments around North America, no fish were kept in livewells or weighed-in at the end of the day… all that the contestants returned to the docks with at the end of the day was a Canon camera loaded with pictures of their fish on official yardsticks and a log book of their day’s catch. After downloading all cameras, fish were verified by tournament judges right down to the 1/4” before total length scores were announced.
This style of tournament, while tougher to adjudicate, has too many positive ecological and competitive benefits to ignore. There is no danger of accidentally killing fish that don’t survive a full day in a livewell. As well, no longer are contestants limited to slot size fish or maximum lengths on any specific body of water… they can now count all of their biggest fish in any day!
The BEF was started in 1993 the moment Boomer learned that his young son Gunnar has Cystic Fibrosis. According to the BEF website (www.esiason.org), Cystic Fibrosis is a fatal genetic disorder that affects more than 30,000 Americans, usually the most vulnerable among us: our children. Although cystic fibrosis is not yet curable, the good news is that the situation is not hopeless. Since 1993, they have raised over $50M for Cystic Fibrosis research, and in that time the average life expectancy of a child with the disease has nearly tripled from early teens to late-thirties!
Official Press Releases:
Rick Schroder, Mike Gartner, Kris King, Dave Krieg, Les Stroud and Friends to Fish for a Cause
Inaugural PWT Celebrity Shootout Walleye Fishing Event Benefits Boomer Esiason’s Foundation, September 18-21, 2006 Rick Schroder, Mike Gartner, Kris King, Robert Williamson III, Dave Kreig and other celebrity fishing fans, will team up with the top ten professional walleye anglers from the Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North America’s most prestigious and influential walleye fishing circuit, September 18-21, to help raise funds for The Boomer Esiason Foundation, which provides financial support to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. The event, which takes place in Manitoba, airs on The Outdoor Channel as part of the In-Fisherman PWT television series airing October 2006 through March 2007. Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, an exclusive fly-in destination in Canadian Shield bush-country terrain, will host this Inaugural PWT Celebrity Shootout Walleye Fishing Event.
Celebrity fishing enthusiasts include: NHL greats Kris King and Mike Gartner, NFL player Dave Krieg, poker stars Hoyt Corkins and Robert Williamson III, Les Stroud (star of the Discovery Channel’s Survivorman), actor Rick Shroder, and Scott Flansberg (the renowned “human calculator”).
Professional walleye anglers include: Mark Christianson, Bobby Crow, Andy Kuffer, Mark Martin, Sheldon Meidinger, Ron Seelhoff, Bill St. Peter, Dave Van Oss, Jim Carroll, and Daryl Christianson.
“Fishing events have long played a role in calling attention to causes like finding a cure for cystic fibrosis,” says Esiason. “I was just at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge last summer with my two children and it was an experience of a lifetime. This event is a unique opportunity to show the world the amazing sport of walleye fishing, the beauty of Manitoba and, most importantly, to benefit finding a cure for cystic fibrosis.” Esiason’s son Gunnar was diagnosed with the disease in 1993.
The competition is a pro-am format with each professional walleye angler drawing a celebrity partner for two days of fishing. Teams will measure, photograph and release their fish. In a unique, and tasty, twist to the tournament scene, teams will dine lake-side at noon for an official Canadian shore lunch on the first day of competition.
“Having the PWT’s top anglers at Aikens will showcase the excitement and popularity of walleye fishing,” says Pit Turenne, general manager of Aikens. “It will also be the first time that the PWT takes its tournaments north of the border into Canada.” The PWT, a 17-year-old sporting event, is part of the In-Fisherman Communications family. In-Fisherman is the fishing industry’s leading communicator.
The 2006 PWT Celebrity Shootout Raised More Than a $100,000 For the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis
Aikens Lake, Sept 2006: The top ten In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail pros in the Johnsonville Brats Angler of the Year race were joined by celebrities for a fun-fishing event held at Manitoba’s Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge.
The winners were pro Mark Christianson, full-time walleye pro and guide for 29 years and Robert Williamson III, World Series of Poker winner. In accepting the first place trophy, Williamson said, “This was a great week and to thank the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis (BEF), I will donate an additional $10,000 to help the cause.” Christianson said, “He’s the most positive guy I’ve ever met. He told me we’d win before heading out on day one, and he had never caught a walleye.
This was the first measure, photo and release event for the PWT. Pros were paired with celebrities and their top five fish were counted daily. The first place team measured a total of 240.75 inches. Second went to pro Bobby Crow and World Series of Poker winner, Hoyt Corkins with 239.50 inches.
Pro Ron Seelhoff and Discovery Channel’s “Survivorman” Les Stroud tied for third with pro Sheldon Meidinger and actor Rick Schroder. Both had 238.25 inches. The other top PWT pro participants included Bill St. Peter, Jim Carroll, Mark Martin, Dave Van Oss, Daryl Christensen and Andy Kuffer. Their partners were Dale Jensen, Arizona Diamondback owner, Kris King and Mike Gartner, NHL Hall of Famers, Scott Flansberg, the human calculator, Dave Krieg, former Seattle Seahawks quarterback, and Don Lamont, Travel Manitoba.
Many special accolades went to the Aikens Lake Lodge staff. “The setting in Manitoba’s wilderness, walleyes of all sizes, the fly-in experience and food fit for a king were enjoyed by the entire crew,” said, Jim Kalkofen, PWT executive director.
Proceeds by major sponsors will benefit the BEF. PWT sponsors E-Cell and StowMaster donated an extra $5,000 to the Foundation. Nick Koken, representing the Foundation said, “This was a great event for the BEF.”