Brian Gehring, The Bismarck Tribune, Published October 06 2013
Bismarck man chases his walleye dreamBISMARCK – A Bismarck fisherman made quite a splash in the inaugural season of Cabela’s National Walleye Tour.
Jacob Ell capped off the season championship tournament Sept. 19-20 on Devils Lake with a 13th-place finish to propel him into 11th place overall for the season.
Ell, a 2006 graduate of Bismarck High, lives in Stanley while working as an instrumentation controls technician for Whiting Petroleum in New Town and still calls Bismarck home.
The Devils Lake championship was the fourth tournament on the tour this year and while Ell did not make the top 10 for the final day, he cashed a check for more than $5,000 for the event.
The Cabela’s tour kicked off its season in Red Wing, Minn., on the Mississippi River on April 26. The NWT is in its first year after other walleye circuits like the Professional Walleye Trail and FLW (Forrest L. Wood) circuits folded.
Ell said he is most at home fishing the Missouri River. Following the other tours when they made stops in Bismarck is what sparked his desire to try his hand as a pro.
“The PWT coming to the Civic Center is really what got me into it,” he said.
Ell also credits his father, Mike Ell, for being his biggest behind-the-scenes influence.
“I’ve fished the river since I was a kid with my dad. ... I fished my first tournament when I was 14,” he said.
“Dad has always been there, even when I’d hit a log and take out the lower unit,” he said. “Dad would take the boat in right away and get it fixed so I could get back on the water.”
The NWT format is the same as other walleye tours; pros fish with a different amateur on the first two days with the top 10 teams advancing to the championship on Day Three.
Ell placed eighth at Red Wing, 19th at Port Clinton, Ohio, on Lake Erie in mid-June and near the bottom of the field – 97th – July 26-27 at Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
“That wasn’t a good event for me,” Ell said. Typically there are around 125 teams, give or take a few, in a NWT tournament.
Ell said during pre-fishing he was on fish consistently. But that, along with the weather, changed when tournament time rolled around.
He said a shift in wind direction and intensity was a game-changer.
“The fish I was on moved and I wasn’t able to stay on top of them,” he said.
He said the top thing he took away from that experience was trust your electronics and adapt. “That’s probably the one thing I need to work on the most,” he said.
Going into his first year as a pro, Ell said he didn’t have too many butterflies and thanks to his dad, he kept his expectations realistic.
“Obviously I wanted to do well ... and I was pleased, especially fishing some new waters,” he said.
Ell said it had been a lot of years since he had fished Devils Lake and things have changed.
Still, Ell said, he managed to get some good advice along the way.
“My dad helped me keep my head straight and keep me grounded,” he said.
But others, like pro Chris Gilman who won the title, had a hand in his success.
Ell said he was able to travel with Gilman some this year and the veteran’s advice was fairly straightforward.
“Chris told me just go out and fish and don’t let the little stuff bog you down,” he said.
Locally, Ell has received sponsorships from Challenger Industries and Cloverdale Meats that help him cut expenses by covering entry fees.
He said another local angler, Sheldon Meidinger, also was instrumental this year.
“Sheldon borrowed me lures for Lake Erie and gave me some tips,” he said. “The fishing there is different ... the colors are different ... everything is different.”
Meidinger said he first met Ell this year while fishing some of the spring tournaments. He said he heard about Ell’s quest to go pro through a friend, and thought he could help.
Meidinger fished the PWT, FLW and RCL (Ranger, Crestliner, Lund) tours and although he has been off the circuit for five years, he said he knows it can be a tough nut to crack.
“You get on some of these waters and you’re fishing against other teams that are sharing information with each other,” Meidinger said.
For the Lake Erie event, Meidinger said he loaned Ell some spinner blades and other assorted tackle – it’s what fishermen do for each other come tournament time, he said.
“It’s like a core family,” he said. “Everyone is there to help each other out.”
Meidinger said fishing big waters like Lake Erie can be intimidating, but oftentimes success comes from within.
“I told him to stay confident ... and go out and do the same thing you always do,” he said.
Meidinger said on Devils Lake, Ell made a decision that might have cost him a few spots on day one, but he made a nice comeback on the second day.
“I’ve seen it before ... guys coming back from 50th place to win it,” Meidinger said. He said the key is to learn something every time out on the water and take it with you the next time.
While cracking to the top 15 in his first year was satisfying, he said maybe one of the best moments came at Port Clinton.
He said his co-angler one day was Troy Fink, a major in the Army. On the boat they talked about the biggest walleye Fink had ever caught, a 28-incher on Mille Lacs earlier this year.
“I told him we were going to break that record,” he said. “(And) a few minutes later one took the (planer) board completely under.”
It turned out to be a 30-inch fish, he said.
Ell said going into next season, his philosophy will remain the same, based on advice from his father.
“Keep your day job,” Ell said, laughing. “Dad reminded me there are only a handful of guys out there making a living at this.”