The Harsh Reality by: Kara Wattunen

My second season as a “tournament angler” things were a harsh reality check onto how things went for some people. I suppose a reality check is needed for everyone, and welcomed. I just was not expecting it to challenge me most of the season. Self-preservation mode was in full effect.

I walked into my first rules meeting for the National Walleye Tour an absolute wreck… the pro I was supposed to travel home with was leaving. Going back to Minnesota that day and not fishing the event. Meaning he was leaving me in Ohio, with no car (since I flew) and no way to get to the tournament launches and such. I sat next to someone, I literally had no clue who this guy was, just trying to not break down because I was stuck. I was able to wrangle rides from anglers to and from my hotel and managed to find a way all the way back to Minnesota. I mean seriously, who the heck just leaves someone in a state with no way home?

In our first AIM tournament, my partner, another female, and I were running into a channel on the Mississippi River when all hell broke loose. I have NEVER heard alarms like that go off in a boat and go figure, it would be ours in our first event of the season. We dropped down the trolling motor so we didn’t get swept away and Katey could fish while I worked on the problem. The cowling was pulled completely off, I was hanging off the back of the boat in the water, and we were in deep trouble. I couldn’t see an obvious issue in the motor but all the manual said was to return to the dock immediately. Boats, other tournament boats, were flying by super close to us while I tried to wave them down and nobody stopped. Nobody.

I was raised on the water, and when someone waves you down, you at least slow down to talk to them and see what the problem is. No questions asked. Guess that isn’t the case. Katey and I turned the boat around to try and use the trolling motor to go against the current on the Mississippi River when it was up a few feet and moving fast. You can imagine how well that worked… A little boat pulled up alongside of us noticing we were in trouble, and towed us to a dock. Why wouldn’t another tournament boat stop and help when people are in trouble? No fish or amount of money is as important to me as my safety and others on the water around me.

After the disaster on the Mississippi, I headed to our second stop on the National Walleye Tour in Winnebago. I was feeling this tournament! Never having fished this body of water I was super excited to see new places, and try new techniques. Having a great day one, and holding a big bag for day two as well, the wait in line at the bump tanks was exciting. A pro, whom I had considered someone to look up to, took a peak at our bag. Mind you, this pro said I couldn’t travel with their team or even pre-fish with them because “a girl would make it uncomfortable.” When he realized I was going to place in a check he decided to get lippy… “you know it’s mandatory that when a co finishes in their first check you buy us all drinks right?” My answer back was, “well if you would have let me travel with y’all I’d be more than happy to do that!” Other anglers around us laughed and clapped because A) there aren’t many girls who even fish the NWT and B) I wasn’t taking him pushing me around. Needless to say, that pro hasn’t really spoke to me, but has spoken about me quite a bit. Makes you think who you can really trust and consider friends doesn’t it?

The next stop led me north to Leech Lake. A walleye MECA in Minnesota. Fishing my second tournament with a new partner, I knew the learning curve would still be there. As we sat at the rules meeting, I became very aware of a conversation going on about my partner and myself. Like really guys? I was seriously 4 chairs down. I’m not deaf! To save money, I tend to camp because it is relaxing. This camping experience was everything but that. I knew we had some bad weather headed our way so when I starting hearing loud thuds on my truck, which I tricked out so I could sleep in there if I was alone, I wasn’t surprised. But when I heard the laughter with the thuds, I knew something was up. I opened my eyes to see splatters all over my truck windows… of eggs. I peeked my head up to see a group of 5 gentlemen proceeding to egg my truck and boat.

I was scared and angry. Two choices were at my fingertips- either open the door and get egged myself to scare the guys away or wait until they are done. I chose the wait option. It seemed like hours… each egg that hit my truck and boat I felt like I cried harder. I couldn’t understand why they were doing this. What did I do to these guys to cause them so much hatred that they felt the need to damage my property? When the eggs stopped, I waited a little bit then climbed out of my truck, unplugged my boat, and drove out of the campsite. There was a place with a hose hooked up that I could wash the eggs off my rigs. Now being about 3 am, I needed to sleep for a little longer, so I found a parking lot to just stop in closer to Walker and caught some sleep.

The day didn’t start out well with the lovely activities of others, but then Leech Lake got the best of my rig… We hit a few huge waves just right that all my electronics went out, my front live well busted and my windshield detached. My partner and I got to safer water where we had to make a choice. His fiancé was with, whom he doesn’t get to spend a ton of time with due to his military, the boat was damaged and we had a bad storm rolling in fast.   Our choice was clear, time to head in. We ran to the landing, where I called the Tournament Director to tell him what happened and ask where we should turn in our equipment. Another team saw us make a phone call and started a lovely rumor about us getting disqualified because we used a phone. I absolutely love to learn about myself from others stories, don’t you?

The season ended a few months later, leaving me with a lot of choices. Do I continue fishing in tournaments? Do I even want to put up with the bull crap that goes on when people don’t like you and want to see you fail? It took me a very long time to decide yes or no. I looked at my everyday surroundings at work with my students in an elementary setting. What would they say if I quit? What does that show them? When times get tough just quit your dream and goals. Nope, I cannot do that to them or myself. In my classroom, we work hard until the results we want to see appear. We don’t back down in the face of adversity, so why would I back down from these challenges.

I am looking forward to a new season, with new challenges! Teamwork is essential and I am so happy to be teaming with some amazing companies that truly value not only me as an angler, but most importantly a person. My values are able to not flex and I can do what I feel is right and in the best interest of everyone. 2017 better watch out because I’m coming for you!

6 comments on “The Harsh Reality by: Kara Wattunen

  1. Robert C on

    Kara,
    Keep your head high, I’m glad your fishing. You have what it takes, I saw it first hand! I had a tennis coach tell me all sports are 80 percent mental. Fish against the fish and call the cops if someone is throwning stuff at your rig! See you on Tour!

    Reply

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