UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Ohio River

Kvalevog’s chance to dance

Kvalevog’s chance to dance
Toby Kvalevog holds up a nice northern Minnesota walleye he caught while on a recent trip.

As a father of three young children and a full-time teacher and coach at Forestville Middle School in Brainerd, Minn., Toby Kvalevog has a lot on his plate. He also happens to be an incredible angler, and his recent string of success on the Walmart FLW Walleye League has given him an opportunity to slay the giants of professional walleye fishing.

Kvalevog has always been a competitor by nature. After graduating from Bemidji High School in 1993, he was drafted in the ninth round by the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League. Knowing he wouldn't play immediately, Kvalevog accepted a scholarship to play Division I hockey at the University of North Dakota as a goaltender.

For those who aren't hockey fans, UND is located in Grand Forks, N.D., and sports one of the premier hockey programs in the country. While most freshmen redshirt or play sparingly, Kvalevog started Before turning to competitive angling, Toby Kvalevog was a standout goalie. In addition to playing on the U.S. World Junior Championship team, he also started for three seasons at the University of North Dakota.immediately for the Sioux and was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team. The success didn't end after his inaugural season between the pipes either. In fact, he finished his career with the UND record for most games played by a goalie (121), a mark that still stands today. He is also second on the all-time saves list by UND goalies. In his senior season, the Sioux won both the WCHA Championship and the NCAA National Championship. After he finished college, Kvalevog stayed in Grand Forks for two years as a graduate assistant under UND Head Coach Dean Blais.

Sensing the window to play professional hockey was closing, Kvalevog accepted a job in 2000 as a physical education teacher in Brainerd. The job was a perfect fit as his wife Maggie graduated from Brainerd High School. In addition to teaching, Kvalevog would serve as an assistant varsity coach on the Brainerd High School hockey team.

But with his playing days now over, Kvalevog needed something that could fill the competitive void in his life. As a lifelong angler, he turned to competitive fishing.

Fishing for sport

"You either golf, you bowl or you fish," he explained. "I'm a competitive freak, and I chose to fish because I love it and, more often than not, I bring home a check. It's all about the competition between you and the fish.

"It's pretty unique to have to target a specific type of fish (walleyes) on a specific lake on a given day. On some northern Minnesota lakes (like Cass and Leech), you're looking for two types of fish - slots and overs. The protected slot limit is 18 to 26 inches with one over 26. That means you have to figure out the males that are less than 18 inches and females that are over 26 inches in length. Figuring it all out is what makes me tick."

Growing up in Bemidji, Minn., Kvalevog has been catching walleyes since he was 5 years old. He first became interested in guiding as a teenager when he was asked to volunteer with Bemidji's Take a Kid Fishing Program. But in his college years and the years immediately following, his summers were Toby Kvalevog and his daughter enjoy an evening on the water. consumed with directing hockey camps. In 2004 he began guiding during the summers on area lakes such as Gull, Cass and Leech. He now spends anywhere from 60 to 100 days a year on the water.

Consistently putting clients on fish can be difficult, especially during the summer months on Gull, as the lake receives considerable pressure, and the walleyes bury themselves into thick weed growth. He always starts his guide trips with the goal of catching walleyes, but if his patrons get antsy to set the hook, he grudgingly resorts to bass fishing. To make matters worse, his two best fishing buddies growing up, Terry Jacobson and Bill Anderson, have learned to enjoy bass fishing.

"I just have no time for bass; to me, they are too easy to catch - they're almost annoying," said Kvalevog. "The fun part about walleye fishing is figuring out the bite. Walleyes are so finicky, sometimes finding them is nearly impossible. One day they're jumping in the boat, and the next they simply won't bite. When you put the puzzle together, it is so gratifying."

For die-hard fishermen like Kvalevog, competitive angling is so exhilarating it almost becomes an addiction. This obsession is first cultivated as a young angler. When a child catches his or her first fish, their immediate reaction oftentimes determines whether or not they will become a lifelong angler. For Kvalevog, he couldn't get enough of that intricate battle between man and fish.

"My parents live right next to the Mississippi River up in Bemidji. I used to ride my bike to the bank (of the Toby Kvalevog, the 2009 Angler of the Year from the Minnesota Division, holds up a nice walleye. river) just about every day. As I got older, I started going out on my own. I can remember dragging a canoe by myself for over half a mile just to get to some smaller lakes in the area. When I was old enough to use the four-wheeler, I would tow a small boat around with some of my friends."

Although he lived closer to Lake Bemidji, Kvalevog cut his teeth on Cass.

"I had a buddy that lived on Cass, and we'd go there every year for walleye opener. In 1999, I bought my first boat. That was a big deal to be no longer borrowing Dad's boat."

Tournament tested

Kvalevog has come a long ways since then. In 2005, he competed in his first Minnesota Division event of the FLW Walleye League. Not only did he qualify for the League Finals in his first season, he also notched his first top-10 finish, taking sixth on Cass.

In addition to fishing a full Walleye League season in 2008, Kvalevog had the opportunity to fish the Walmart FLW Walleye Tour event on Cass. He actually had no plans to enter it, except that he won the League event on Cass the week prior. Knowing the system and the current conditions, he decided to reinvest his League winnings and take on some of the big names in the sport.

At the time he was a little star struck by competing against the likes of Tommy Skarlis, Chris Gilman, Tom Keenan and Ted Takasaki. But the competitiveness inside him quickly took over, and he went to work. With the right mix of fish, he qualified for the final round of 10 boats in fourth place, which meant his every move on the last day would be filmed for the "FLW Outdoors" TV show.

"To have a cameraman in your boat all day - that was pretty exciting. And then later in the day, I stood next to Pete Harsh in the bump tank, waiting to weigh my fish - a guy I've been reading about for years."

Fishing primarily the same spots he did in the League event, Kvalevog outdueled Harsh and another 120 touring pro anglers - finishing third overall and cashing a check worth over $8,000. Despite not receiving a dime in sponsor contingencies, the 34-year-old won over $14,000 in a single week.

In 2009 the Walleye Tour visited Leech instead of Cass, but Kvalevog put together an eerily similar run. He won the Walleye League tournament on Leech and again reinvested his earnings in the tour event the following weekend. Once again he was among the top 10 - this time finishing seventh.

The highlight of his 2009 season, however, did not take place at either of his two Leech Lake tournaments. In July, Kvalevog finished fourth at the Lake Bemidji Walleye League event. It was his third top-10 finish of the season, but more importantly, it earned him the coveted Angler of the Year title in the Minnesota Division. That means not only does he get to fish the no-entry-fee Walleye League Finals, he also qualifies to compete in the no-entry-fee Walleye Tour Championship, the richest tournament in pro walleye fishing, which offers a six-figure payday to the winner.

"Last year I led the Angler of the Year race up until the last event, so I knew it was a possibility this year if I made the right decisions. I didn't focus on making the (tour) championship; Angler of the Year was the title I was after. Now I have a new goal - winning the Walleye Tour Championship.

"I have never been to Bismarck before, so the Missouri River is definitely new water to me. But I have several hockey connections in the area that fish a ton. I will definitely be listening to their advice as tournament time approaches."

Bismarck beckons

Kvalevog understands the opportunity that is in front of him. Although he is recognized in northern Minnesota as a serious stick, he is a relative unknown on the national level. Not only does he want to get his name out there, he also wants to promote the Walleye League itself.

Pro Toby Kvalevog finished third and earned $8,827."(Tournament director) Sonny Reynolds and his entire crew put on the best walleye tournaments in the business. Without them, I would not be where I am today. The Walleye League is the best of the best at he grass-roots level, and I want to see it continue to grow. I hope that my success can be a realization to other anglers that the League is the best thing out there for a weekend fisherman."

With a hectic family life, Kvalevog is extremely content being one of those weekend anglers. He also enjoys his rewarding profession of education, but the thought of fishing full time has crept into his mind.

"Ten years ago I told my wife I'd like to fish the PWT. Here I am a decade later, the PWT doesn't even exist, and I've only dabbled in the national tournaments. In the back of my mind, there are a bunch of baby steps I have to take like attaining the right sponsors, but ultimately I want to hold that giant check that Skarlis got last year at the championship."

In order to compete full time on the Walleye Tour, Kvalevog realizes he would have to gain knowledge of the diverse fisheries the tour visits.

"Just traveling down to Red Wing for me is an adventure. At the rate I'm going, I'll be 65 before I have all the lakes figured out. I would actually consider fishing as a co-angler for a year or two to learn those lakes before I try them myself as a pro."

But ironically, his League efforts have provided him the rare opportunity to hold that huge championship check without enduring the rigors of a touring season.

"This is a dream come true. I've always wanted to fish against this caliber of anglers, people that I read about in the magazines. It's overwhelming, but at the same time I'm confident in my abilities. I can't wait to get to Bismarck."

For more information on Kvalevog or to book him as a guide, visit www.tobykfishing.com.

Tags: brett-carlson  article 

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