Arnoldussen wins 2001 Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Championship

Collects $400,000, largest cash prize in walleye tournament history

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Dean Arnoldussen doesn't view himself as a professional fisherman. Instead, as he put it, "I just love to catch fish."

Well, he's really loving it now. The Kaukauna, Wis., native caught three walleyes weighing a collective 11 pounds, 2 ounces Saturday and won the Pro Division of the 2001 Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Championship. He collected a history-making $400,000 for the victory.

"I don't think it has sunk in yet," said a wide-eyed Arnoldussen, hands clutching the oversized cardboard check written in his name for $400,000. "I'm a pretty reserved guy, but I'm thrilled."

He should be. Arnoldussen estimated his previous career earnings as a competitive fisherman topped out at $7,000. Today he took home the largest payout ever won by a professional walleye angler in a tournament - and he did it by fighting through a terrible day of fishing.

This morning, frigid temperatures and a wrong-way wind greeted the six pro finalists as they took off from the mouth of the Fox River in Green Bay. Going for broke, all six competitors headed out onto the big water of Green Bay despite foreboding conditions. Four of them - Arnoldussen, brothers Tom and Mark Keenan and Patrick Neu - were all friends using a team approach and were headed to the same profitable fishing location they had shared throughout the week.

Around 28 miles out near Ocono, Wis., the four boats stopped and called back to base for help. Green Bay was throwing 5- to 10-foot waves at them on their run, which not only slowed their progress but threatened their safety as well.

"Mother Nature threw everything she had at us," said Neu, who hails from Forestville, Wis.

"It was like they let the wind out of our sails," Arnoldussen said of the decision to stop.

All four anglers received permission to trailer their boats back to the takeoff point and relaunch onto the Fox River, which was much calmer but also less generous with fish. Plus, they had lost a lot of time making their futile attempt at Green Bay.

"I'm a father first and a fisherman second," said Mark Keenan, a 37-year-old from Appleton, Wis. "I think I made the right choice."

Things looked bleak for the four Wisconsin finalists, a tight-knit group of fishing buddies who this week came to be dubbed the "Posse."

However, things soon turned around for two of them. Mark Keenan's younger brother Tom, of Hatley, Wis., nailed two keeper walleyes not more than 15 minutes after relaunching onto the river. Using No. 5 Shad raps in two to three feet of water, the fish weighed a collective 7 pounds, 7 ounces and earned him $75,000 for second place.

"On Tuesday I went to the river to practice a bit and I learned how to catch a few fish there," Tom Keenan said. "And it earned me a lot of money."

Arnoldussen, though, was the Posse-member best served by the decision to turn around. "I've fished the river my whole life and I found a couple of good spots," he said.

Fishing under bridges near downtown Green Bay, he landed two walleyes trolling Shad raps on lead-core line with an offshore planer board. His third and last walleye came using a fireball jig with a night crawler.

Meanwhile, back out on Green Bay, Friday's leader Paul Meleen of Onamia, Minn., had made it to his spot and was battling the swells - and catching fish. He couldn't muster the same kind of enormous stringers he produced on days two and three, however, and placed third with two walleyes weighing 6 pounds, 7 ounces. He earned $37,500.

"I was fishing a shoal (near Henderson Point) with 12 to 17 feet of water," he said. "But the 8- to 10-foot waves would drop (the water depth) down to six feet. ... It was really tough, but I had to go. You saw what I did the first day on the river." Officially, he caught zero fish on day one fishing the Fox River, but made the biggest comeback of the tournament after heading out to Green Bay on day two.

"He was crazy for going out there," said Arnoldussen. "And we were crazy for attempting it."

The rest of the field had a little less luck than the top three. Mark Keenan, Neu and Tom Zollar of Green Bay all laid goose eggs Saturday on account of the nasty conditions. Keenan and Neu simply couldn't recover in time to catch the Fox River walleyes. Due to tiebreakers, Keenan placed fourth and took home $25,000 while Neu placed fifth and won $16,000.

Zollar, like Meleen, braved big, bad Green Bay and got walloped by boat trouble and locomotion problems. "I knew it was going to be big today," he said. "I went on and pretty much sunk the back of my boat." He earned $12,000 for sixth place.

While they didn't all catch fish Saturday, the Wisconsin Posse still had cause to celebrate their strong collective performance at the 2001 RCL championship.

Said Tom Keenan, "I have no regrets. We placed one, two, four and five. It's going to be a big party tonight."

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Tags: headline-story  jeff-schroeder 

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