By KIM FUNDINGSLAND
Cody Evans, left, joined Brian Merkel for his first Governor’s Cup appearance. Merkel has fished the event multiple times, the last 13 with “Walleye Jack” Trail of Carpio. Trail was unable to attend this year’s tourney.
A veteran Governor's Cup fisherman didn't make it to the ramp this year. "Walleye Jack" Trail of Carpio bowed out of the tournament for this first time in memory. He had fished every Governor's Cup since 1976.
"I've got lung cancer and every time after chemo I end up in the hospital," said Trail. "I didn't dare go in the boat."
Trails' fishing partner for the past several years has been Brian Merkel of Minot. The Trail-Merkel team finished fifth in 2002 and 17th in 2005.
"Jack said to give 'em hell," said Merkel. "I gave him reports both nights, but wished he could have been there. He said he just didn't feel well enough. I missed him tremendously."
Cody Evans of Berthold took Walleye Jack's seat in the boat, knowing he had some very big shoes to fill.
"I kind of felt bad. Everybody was asking about him," said Evans. "From what I hear, Jack is an unbelievable man."
"Walleye Jack has been around this tourney for years," added Dennis Jeffrey, Garrison. "They won the Beulah tourney once and always fish hard. He's been one of those teams in this tournament that you know you have to beat."
Merkel, who is still in the process of renovating his Minot home following the 2011 flood, was scheduled to fish this weekend's Dakota Walleye Classic with Evans.
"We're team No. 1," said Merkel. "I'm going to save the sticker for Walleye Jack so he can always be No. 1."
As much as Merkel missed Walleye Jack at the Governor's Cup, he enjoyed fishing with Evans. Evans is a former Arizona resident and avid bass fisherman. He caught his first walleye while pre-fishing for the Governor's Cup July 15. It was a 26 1/2-incher that tipped the scale at 6.75 pounds.
"My bass boat is for sale now," said Evans. "Brian was unbelievable. He showed me so much. I'm sold on walleye fishing. It's just unbelievable. While we were out there we caught seven species of fish. In Arizona it was all bass, trout and crappie."
Credit a rejuvenated Lake Sakakawea with helping fuel Evans' enthusiasm. Of course, having his first walleye be a big one didn't hurt either. The team finished 70th in this year Governor's Cup with a weight of 24.45 pounds.
"We got bit but just didn't get the right size fish - no big one," said Merkel.
As for Lake Sakakawea, Evans was impressed with both its fish and its immense size.
"From where we were I could see the contour of the earth," said Evans. "It is much bigger than our local lakes in Arizona."