BOARDMAN - Hermiston's Kino Gabriel and partner Greg Osborne of Coulee City, Wash., took top honors Sunday at the High Desert Marine Walleye Derby, with 12 fish totaling 43.02 pounds over two days of fishing.
Fifty-three paired teams of recreational anglers from all over the region set off Saturday and Sunday onto the Columbia River, braving sweltering heat well into the 90s. From 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., they tried to pull in as many walleye as possible, adhering to a daily limit of six fish with no more than two fish exceeding 24 inches per day.
In an uncharacteristic turn of events, tournament officials had to disqualify one team's Sunday score, which would have earned them third place overall at 35.22 pounds.
According to event coordinators, two teams reported that Ron Fears of Hermiston and Gary Day of Wenatchee, Wash., were using three fishing rods, a violation of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations. Neither Fear nor Day commented about the allegations.
Other than that, however, it was business as usual.
Crowds began to converge at the reader-board stage around 2:20 p.m. as the first boats headed toward the dock.
Emcee and aptly-named owner of Hermiston's High Desert Marine Rod McKenzie eventually took the stage, immediately alluding to the regret of having to disqualify a team. He asked for support, to which he received shouts of "It's a done deal, Rod!" and "Don't worry about it!"
Once every team was accounted for, Gabriel and Osborne celebrated their win.
The team brought in 21.61 pounds Saturday and 21.40 pounds Sunday. They also won the event last year.
"Last year it was sick how easy it was, how big of fish we caught, and how many we caught," Gabriel said.
"Every place we went we couldn't do wrong last year. This year it was a struggle every minute," Osborne said.
Whereas the team picked up its two large fish early on Saturday, Gabriel said they had the opposite problem Sunday, quickly catching good-sized "slot" fish (those under 24 inches) and only one larger fish.
Gabriel confessed to losing some good ones.
"We had two big ones come off. We lost them in some brush or something," he said. "Yesterday I completely botched a net job, and we lost one about 23 inches."
Struggle or not, they won big, splitting $3,970 in prize money.
Adding insult to injury for the runners-up, the two even managed to win a pair of fishing rods during a bonus drawing. McKenzie compared it to Bill Gates winning the lottery.
Coming in second were father and son John and Jacob Grubenhoff of Pasco. After leading Saturday with the highest one-day weight total of 25.14 pounds, including the second overall biggest fish (9.56 pounds), their second-day hauls of 17.32 pounds couldn't quite keep them on top.
"Yesterday was good. Today was real slow," said son Jacob. "They changed the current a little bit, started spilling a little more water over the dam. As soon as that happened it was pretty dead."
Father John Grubenhoff, long-time veteran of the event, who missed only one outing since the very first, said he wasn't fazed by the obstacles that tend to trip up those less experienced with the area.
"I welcome the breeze or the wind any time we can get it," he said. "The wind knocks about half the teams out right off the bat."
"I've lived down here my whole life, so the heat's not that big of an issue," he added. "Dip your hat in the water about every five minutes and put it on your head. That's what you do."
Because of the disqualification, brothers Fred and Andrew Denny took third overall. They had 14.71 pounds on Saturday and 16.06 pounds Sunday.
"The wind in the morning took us off our morning bite here in the flat," Andrew Denny said. "We kind of compensated for that. We had other places to go where the wind wasn't as big a factor."
He pointed out to a spot only about 200 yards beyond the boat launch where Fred Denny caught the team's big fish (7.38 pounds) at the end of the day, helping to send them to the top tier.
About the disqualification, he said, "That's not the way you want to get bumped up to third place."
The biggest single catch (9.90 pounds) went to anglers Pete Vermeulen (who caught it) of Benton City and Jim Lockridge from Pasco.
Most contestant talked about a bit of wind during the mornings, but everyone acknowledged the intense heat.
"We like to see more fish. We'd like to see bigger fish," McKenzie said. "It may be the fact that the weather we've been having - the extreme high pressure and heat - could have some effect on those bigger fish," which, he said, are temperamental.
As for the controversy, McKenzie said that in his 25 years of involvement in the local tournaments, there was only one other team disqualification.
"It's something, had we not known about it, it could have gone by. But it did happen and we were made aware of it."
The Boardman derby is second in the four-part Columbia River Walleye Circuit. The next event will take place on Aug. 4-5 in Camas, Wash., followed by the Oregon Governor's Cup in Umatilla the weekend after Labor Day.
1. Kino Gabriel, Hermiston, and Greg Osborne, Coulee City, Wash. Day 1: 21.62 pounds. Day 2: 21.40 pounds. Total: 43.02 pounds.
2. John Grubenhoff, Pasco, and Jacob Grubenhoff, Pasco. Day 1: 25.14 pounds. Day 2: 17.32 pounds. Total: 42.46 pounds.
3. Andrew Denny, Kennewick, and Fred Denny, Kennewick. Day 1: 14.78 pounds. Day 2: 16.06 pounds. Total: 30.84 pounds.
4. Ron Sawyer, Moses Lake, and Dave Chambers, Kennewick. Day 1: 14.40 pounds. Day 2: 16.32 pounds. Total: 30.72 pounds.
5. Pete Vermeulen, Benton City, and Jim Lockridge, Pasco. Day 1: 12.46 pounds. Day 2: 17.68 pounds. Total: 30.14 pounds.
6. Mike Davis, Vancouver, Wash., and John Legg, Bend. Day 1: 21.12 pounds. Day 2: 8.54 pounds. Total: 29.66 pounds.
7. Fritz Lamb, Kennewick, and Kevin Shearer, Tri Cities. Day 1: 14.94 pounds. Day 2: 14.30 pounds. Total: 29.24 pounds.
8. Travis Hyder, Boardman, and Wren Hyder, Boardman. Day 1: 14.82 pounds. Day 2: 14.40 pounds. Total: 29.22 pounds.
9. Jimmy Laposi, Kennewick, and Jimmy Laposi Jr., Kennewick. Day 1: 23.44 pounds. Day 2: 5.18 pounds. Total: 28.62 pounds.
10. Brett Sorenson, Vancouver, Wash., and Mike Zook, Boardman. Day 1: 13.72 pounds. Day 2: 14.68 pounds. Total: 28.40 pounds.
Biggest Fish: 9.90 pounds. Pete Vermeulen, Benton City, and Jim Lockridge, Pasco.