Big Fish Bring Big Bucks to Lake Vermilion

By Jodi Summit
Published: Monday, March 03, 2001908
The Timberjay - Volume 15, Issue 41

Hosting a muskie tournament with a $100,000 purse is a big task for a medium-sized resort on Lake Vermilion, or even two resorts.
But Bob Airis, at Bay View Lodge, and Ed Tausk, at Vermilion Dam Resort, were full up to their gills during the Simply Fishing Muskie Classic which lasted five days in September.
“I’d like to see them come back next year,” said Airis, “These fishermen were not intrusive, they weren’t like the bass fisherman lurking around docks.”
Both Airis and Tausk said the tournament filled their resorts during a fall week that is not typically busy. And both resort owners were impressed with the tournament participants’ sense of sportsmanship and respect for the lake and other boaters.
“They really followed the rules,” said Tausk, “they slowed down coming through the narrows and the fish always stayed in the water.”
Airis also had good things to say about the muskie fishermen.
“I heard one person say they saw a tournament team coming into a spot, but when the tournament team realized some local fishermen were fishing there, they just waved, and left the area.”
Catch and Release ethics
The Simply Fishing Muskie Classic was a first for the lake. And it was a tournament that really lived up to its catch-and-release image.
“Judges had to witness the release of the live fish at the boatside,” said Tausk, “If the fish was hurt, the team would be disqualified.” Tausk added that a fall tournament date meant colder water, and better overall survival rates for the released muskies.
Airis said the number of over-50 inch muskies caught, considering the poor fishing conditions, was impressive. He said tournament organizers estimated that Vermilion was producing more large muskies than any other lake they had based the tournament on.
By basing the tournament at two locations, the organizers also spread out boat traffic at both ends of the lake. In addition, the tournament started at 7:00 a.m., so there weren’t any complaints about early morning noise.
Airis said the only problem was the low number of judging boats. The tournament requires that any fish caught be kept in the water until a judge arrives to measure it. With the size of the lake, at least 30 judges are needed to make sure that fish can be measured and released quickly.
If the tournament is to return to Vermilion next fall, more judge boats will be required. Judge boat volunteers are reimbursed for their expenses, up to $75 per day. They are also included in all tournament functions, including a special judges’ reception.
The tournament went ahead without local support from the Lake Vermilion Resort Association and the Lake Vermilion Sportmen’s Club. Airis said the reputation of other fishing tournaments, especially bass tournaments, had soured some lake residents and business owners on the idea of hosting tournaments locally.
The tournament attracted 160 fishermen, most of whom came up to the lake prior to the tournament to scope out the fishing hot spots. In addition to Bay View and Vermilion Dam, many other local resorts filled beds due to the tournament, and local marinas saw increases in gas sales and repair business due to the event.
Half a million dollars impact
According to Bob Mehsikomer, president of Simply Fishing Inc., the tournament and the pre-tournament fishing trips had an economic impact of $500,000 -$600,000, based on independent surveys done by their group.
“Right now we are negotiating to bring it back to Vermilion,” he said, “But we do have two other markets that are campaigning for it.”
Mehsikomer said they are looking for more support from local businesses and individuals who would be willing to volunteer as judge boats.
“We could use help from lots of the smaller businesses,” he said, “Not just large corporate sponsors.” This year, corporate sponsors included Gander Mountain, Ranger Boats, Shimano and Beckman Nets. Bay View Lodge and Vermilion Dam also provided financial support, he said.
“We need to get it out there that muskie guys aren’t bass guys,” he said, “They fish differently. They manage their resource. Muskie have the lowest population biomass in the system.”
Walt Moe, president of the Sportmen’s Club of Lake Vermilion, said his impression of the tournament was very positive.
“This was probably one of the best run tournaments I’ve seen,” he said, “with the least impact to the lake.” Moe said the Sportsmen’s Club would be discussing the tournament at their next meeting, but that so far, he hadn’t heard any negative comments about the tournament’s impact on the lake, the resource or local residents.
Mehsikomer said this was the first large muskie tournament they had sponsored in the last six or so years.
“This was the largest, richest muskie tournament in the history of the sport,” he said, “nothing rivals it.” The prize money, which equaled 100 percent of the entry fees, meant an $80,000 top prize. Prizes could have been as high as $200,000 depending on the number of boats entered.
The tournament will be televised, nationwide, in January, on the Sportsmen’s Channel, I-Life Network, Fox Sports and possibly TV-41 of Minneapolis.
“There could be a million viewers who see the show,” Mehsikomer said.
The decision on whether or not Vermilion will host the tournament again next year may be made as soon as later this month, when Mehsikomer travels back to Vermilion to meet with the two host resort owners and other possible sponsors.

Anyone interested in helping sponsor the tournament or who wants more information on working in a judge boat should contact Bob Mehsikomer at 651-429-3351, Simply Fishing Inc., 1890 Center St., Hugo, MN 55038. Or visit their website at