ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- Drake Herd cut his teeth in competitive fishing by gaining experience and winning some tournaments on west-central Minnesota waters.
Herd is a veteran angler on many of the best walleye lakes he grew up around in Douglas and Otter Tail counties. But in terms of his place on the Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s National Walleye Tour, the 34-year-old is very much a young up-and-comer working to establish himself.
“It’s the biggest walleye tour. The names you used to read about and the guys you see on TV, that’s who you’re competing against in this thing,” Herd said. “You think you’re a good fisherman in your area. You got your local lakes dialed in. That’s good and great, but now go against 100, 125, 150 guys who are the best in the country and you’re going to a lake you might not have been to in four or five years. You’re constantly learning stuff from them.”
Herd is about to embark on his fifth season fishing on this tour. His top finish at a single event came at the three-day championship on Lake of the Woods in September of 2018 when he took sixth place out of 71 professional anglers with a total weight of 39.35 pounds.
Herd and his wife, Ivy, just had their third child in early April. Drake owns his own custom tackle company called Renegade Outdoor Innovations. It is a busy schedule between work and home, but he is committed to fishing each of the four stops on the 2021 NWT and hopefully the three-day tour championship Sept. 22-24 in Ottertail if he can qualify among the top 40 pros in the angler of the year point standings.
“My wife is very gracious with that stuff, and it allows me to chase that dream,” Herd said.
The first stop on the tour is April 29-30 when anglers fish the Missouri River out of Chamberlain, S.D. Herd said it has been about 15 years since he last fished out there.
Water levels can be especially variable on river systems from year to year. Knowing those current conditions right at tournament time is instrumental to giving each angler the best chance to hit the ground running once they arrive for pre-fishing almost a week ahead of the first competition day.
Herd will scout water systems electronically through maps just like a hunter might before going to a new piece of land.
“Then we’re trying to talk to as many people as we know out there just to kind of see where the water levels are,” Herd said. “That’s a big starting point.”
Pre-fishing ahead of the tournament is from sun up to sun down no matter the weather.
“I’m assuming it’s going to be anything from jigging to trolling, to casting jigs or casting crankbaits,” Herd said.
On a river like the Missouri, anglers have more than 100 miles worth of water to work with. There will almost certainly be a bunch of fish caught at this time of year. The key will be locating enough big ones in a tournament where the daily limit is five fish, including two over 20 inches.
“Honestly, I think one of the biggest keys is trying to find those fish early in pre-fishing,” Herd said of what it takes to get near the top of the leaderboard. “If you get onto fish the first couple days you’re there and then you can duplicate that in other areas, it just gives you that many more options come tournament days.”
Herd is coming off what he said was maybe his worst season on the tour. He still finished 24th in the angler of the year point standings among 181 professionals who fished anywhere from one to a full four events on the tour.
Anglers can’t have a bad day of fishing on the national tour if they want to have a chance at winning a tournament or being near the top of the season point standings.
“You’re done as soon as you have a bad day of fishing,” Herd said. “There’s only four events and then the championship is the fifth event. You have to stay on your toes, and you have to pray that you have eight good days of fishing.”
It’s a process of getting to the level where younger anglers like Herd gain the confidence that they can win tournaments at this level.
“It’s one of those things you think about every other day it seems like,” Herd said. “These guys are some of the best in the country. Do I feel like I can compete with them? Yes, absolutely. But when you go there, a lot of these guys have families, and as much as I hate to say it, you have to focus on the fishing while you’re there or the other guys will bury you....I’m excited about the schedule (this year), especially that it’s coming to Ottertail if I can make it to that championship.”
Anglers on the tour head to Sturgeon Bay, Wis. May 27-28 before stops on Lake Erie (June 24-25) and Lake Oahe in Mobridge, S.D. (July 29-30) ahead of the championship in Ottertail.
“I won a few tournaments up there and it kind of got me my start in this whole thing,” Herd said of the prospects of fishing in a tournament of that magnitude so close to home. “It’s not very often in a major circuit that you can say you can maybe sleep in your home bed at a stop like this and have a chance at winning 100-some thousand dollars.”
Herd finished 26th at the 2020 championship tournament in Huron, Ohio. Jason Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., won that tournament with a 15-fish total weight of 73.25.
Herd learned quickly how difficult it is to give yourself a chance to win on this tour. With a little more experience under his belt, he is eager to see if he can position himself to do that on a regular basis this summer.
“I’m gaining so much knowledge at each one of these events,” Herd said. “It’s crazy how much you learn, and then you go to the next event and you feel like you’re so much better off. Hopefully in the future I can get it done.”