Published August 01, 2009, 11:23 PM

Ernie the Angler proves to be ‘reel deal’

Admit it, fisherpersons, you joined me in believing Ernie the Angler is merely a gimmick to sell advertising, didn’t you? He is as fake as his dock in his fishin’ reports on Channel 8, right? He doesn’t know a rod from a reel, right?

By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald

Admit it, fisherpersons, you joined me in believing Ernie the Angler is merely a gimmick to sell advertising, didn’t you? He is as fake as his dock in his fishin’ reports on Channel 8, right? He

doesn’t know a rod from a reel, right?

You and I are wrong. To be precise, we are more than 10 feet of wrong.

The proof came Friday in the Media Fishing Derby before the 22nd annual Cats Incredible Catfish Tournament. Ernie is Rob Horken in real life, just like Superman is Clark Kent in real life. Horken works at WDAZ-TV as an executive and as Ernie, gobbling up valuable, precious minutes of the sports portion of the news Thursdays with his fishin’ tips for fisherpersons.

Friday, Horken was WDAZ’s fishing guide for the media tournament on the Red River, a day before the real tournament began. His team included fishing amateurs such as news reporter Casey Wonnenberg, who confided that the biggest fish she ever landed before Friday was a belly-up goldfish in her aquarium.

Meanwhile, the Herald’s fishing juggernaut included outdoors reporter Brad Dokken and former outdoors reporter Kevin Grinde. Each spends more time on the water than Babe Winkelman, Roland Martin and Michael Phelps combined. The third member was me, who can’t even bait his own hook. I was placed on the squad as a mercy move so Channel 8 and the two local radio giants wouldn’t be thoroughly embarrassed. The plan was to just mildly embarrass them.

Well, look whose faces are the color of red snapper today. The Dream Team Minus One was edged by WDAZ in the fishing contest.

By edged, I mean that the WDAZ squad caught five catfish that measured a combined 10 feet, 3 inches while the Herald squad landed one catfish that was 6 inches, roughly the same length as the bait, cut-up suckers.

With Ernie as the boat navigator and fish-finder, Wonnenberg and Co. landed catfish as big as 37 inches, estimated to be an 18-pounder. Considering the biggest catfish in the previous 21 years of the tournament is 26 pounds, that’s a whopper.

The other four catfish averaged 22 inches, giving the team a total that could have been a winner in the real tournament of 150 teams. That’s especially true considering local experts say the fishing the past week or so has been slowest in many years. As further evidence, two of the other four teams didn’t land a single catfish.

Our 6-incher deprived us of a chance at the Conservation Award, given to the team that did the best job of not depleting the fishery.

We had a sweat, however. One teammate (rhymes with “windy”) got a monster cat to the edge of the boat before his line snapped. “Must have been rocks,” the Dream Teamer said.

The fishing may have been slow, the near-miss may have been disheartening and the backlash on my reel may have looked like a beehive, but at least the weather was bad. It rained for most of our four hours on the water, which was helpful in washing away the nose-curling, bloody bait from my hands.

So, I asked guide Tom

McDonald, what is the fun of catfishing that draws competitors from across the United States? “Once you catch one, you’re hooked,” he said. “You’ll see.”

I’m still waiting since all I caught Friday was pneumonia. Meanwhile, Casey Wonnenberg, with fishing experience amounting to a goldfish and a scooping net, already understands.

The credit clearly goes go Ernie, who has no need to use rocks as an alibi. So when he tells you to jig for walleyes in 10 feet on Devils Lake, or use nightcrawlers on spinners in Lake Bemidji, pay heed. The proof stacks higher than a basketball rim.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com.

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