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My Worst Walleye Tournament with Johnnie Candle

Whether a walleye tournament fisherman, a bass tournament fisherman, a crappie or a catfish tournament angler, we’ve all endured bad tournaments. So, what happened to cause a tournament fisherman to have the worst tournament he’s ever had? Johnnie Candle shares his experience.

Johnnie Candle awards

This tournament was at the beginning of my rookie season in 1994. Fishing an event on Lake Sharpe in South Dakota, which is a giant reservoir on the Missouri River. I actually have a trophy today on my wall for this tournament called The Red Lantern Award. Back in the day, when the train was the primary form of transportation not only for goods but also for passengers, on the backs of the trains were usually red lanterns to signify that those were the last cars on the trains. This award was not meant as a joke or a spoof, because usually when you finished dead last in a tournament, you’d had some sort of really bad luck. That’s what happened to me. 

To start off the day, I was in the middle of the pack. Before the tournament, I had purchased a newer, used boat that was better than the old boat I’d been using. I trusted the dealer that I had bought the boat from that all the equipment on the boat was in tip-top shape. On day three of the tournament, when I was out on the water, something went wrong with the boat and the motor gave out on me. I had no way to get back for the weigh-in because it was over 50 miles away from where I was. When you didn’t make the final weigh in, your weight was zeroed for that day. I went from the middle of the pack to last place. 

That didn’t feel good to finish dead last, but I still have that trophy sitting on the shelf in my office. And a lot of people ask me, “Why on earth would you celebrate a last-place finish?” I always answer with a smile and say, “It looks really nice sitting right next to my World Champion trophy.” 

I think a tournament fisherman must remember how he’s started in tournament fishing. Fishing Lake Sharpe in a damaged boat was a real tough lesson to learn as a rookie. But I didn’t quit just because I finished dead last in one of the first walleye tournaments I’d ever fished. 

That Red Lantern Award trophy probably means as much to me - if not more - as any other trophy I’ve won in tournament walleye fishing. I think many beginning anglers get discouraged and quit fishing and competing if they receive a trophy for being dead last. However, that trophy gave me the incentive to work harder, fish harder and try to not ever win a dead-last trophy again. I won that trophy more than 25 years ago, and I’m still going to walleye tournaments and doing well in a good number of them.  So, the Red Lantern Award trophy is a nice reminder of where I’ve come from, and where I started to get to where I am now. 

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