Over the years I have the had the opportunity of meeting many anglers. Some at sportsman shows, on the water or at tournaments.
This week featured Northern Ontario Walleye Trail Pro Angler Mark Jensen is one of those anglers that likes keeping a low profile.
Although Mark is a quite type of guy, many of the top NOWT Pros have their eye on him and for good reason. Over the years, Mark knowledge of Walleye fishing increases each season and it shows in his tournament finishes.
Although Mark has come close several times at winning an NOWT event, many of these anglers know it’s only a matter of time before he does.
It’s my Pleasure to introduce, Mark Jensen as this weeks featured angler.
Q) Where were you born?
A) Timmins, Ontario. I spent most of my early years living on Crescent Avenue.
Q) Who played a role in getting you started in fishing?
A) My entire family and extended family loved to fish. My Father was arguably the biggest influence. It is an activity that just naturally formed part of what we did as a family in the early years. Our summer vacations were spent exclusively at the family cottage. It was a very popular place for our family and friends to reunite, enjoy the outdoors (including fishing) and to share in many a fish fry. I have many cherished memories of angling experiences on this lake, especially with my Father. I remember we us to go fishing after supper when the water was dead calm and cast spoons and spinners near the surface over weed beds. It took but only a few casts before we would see the boil on the water from a Northern’s tail before its aggressive strike.
Q) As a youth, where did you fish and for what?
A) I got my start and spent most of my youth fishing on McIntosh Lake, Iroquois Falls, Ontario. We had a family cottage there and I spent pretty much every weekend during the summer months fishing there with my immediate family, extended family and other cottagers on the lake. This lake is home to Northern Pike, Perch and we caught the odd Sucker and White Fish. I spent the earlier years rowing and fishing from a 14-foot aluminum boat on this waterbody. I must have caught thousands of Pike there over the years and if I would have kept rowing I swear I could have made the Canadian Olympic Team. Eventually I graduated to running the 4.4 Chrysler outboard motor which allowed me to cover more water and to land more fish. Back in those earlier days, the fish finder was my buddy looking into the water over the bow of the boat and spot-lock was the 15 Ib anchor! Although I don’t get there very much anymore, I am thankful the cottage remains in the family.
Q) What age did you start fishing?
A) I can’t honestly recall how old I was when I first started fishing, but I am pretty sure I wetted a line as soon as I was strong enough to hold that two foot long red fibreglass rod sporting a closed face, thumb activated spin-cast reel. Although I can’t remember much of what happened last year, I can still remember trolling in the boat with my family and holding onto that rod with dear life. I recall that dragging the weight of those original lucky strike spoons was challenging enough let alone trying to bring in one of those 5 Ib Northerns that occasionally struck the line. I probably caught a few hundred Pike on that rod before graduating to something more angler friendly.
Q) How did you get into Walleye Tournament Fishing and why?
A) I got my first taste of tournament fishing while living in Eastern Ontario, having competed in an ice fishing tournament for Pike on Constance Lake near Ottawa, a Walleye tournament on the St. Lawrence River out of Cornwall and the famous Walleye tournament on the Bay of Quinte. I finished second in the ice fishing tournament and the other two are not worth discussing. In all cases, the experiences were amazing and it was friends and family that encouraged me to participate. Once I moved back to Northeastern Ontario, I met a good friend while camping at Ivanhoe Lake and we later decided to participate in the Mattagami First Nation Spring Walleye Tournament. Neither of us had ever been on Mattagami Lake before until the first day of the tournament. I remember sitting at the starting line near the end of the field (like boat 77 or something like that) and watching the boats racing to their predetermined hot spots. Just before take-off, my partner looked at me and said “which way to you want to go?” I replied that 80 per cent of the boats went south and the remaining boats motored North. We decided to go North and finished fourth place in our very first Northern fishing tournament. I have been “hooked” ever since this experience. My partner was Jason and we remain good friends and fishing partners today.
The reasons why I like fishing walleye tournaments is that that I obviously love to fish, I am a pretty competitive guy (so my wife and friends tells me) and I like to meet other anglers and to learn from them. Often times new and valued friendships also develop from this. Where can you possibly find a better venue than this to meet new people and potential friends with similar interests? I also really enjoy the challenge of tournaments, the pressure to perform and the experiences you gain. It sort of enhances your senses knowing that a small mistake (like being 20 seconds or so late for weigh-in on day one) can move you from a potential first place finish (and a $10,000 purse) to 11th place and out of the money. I know at least one other angler who knows this feeling very well.
Q) What was your most memorable fishing experiences and why?
A) Although I have had many memorable fishing experiences over the years, perhaps the one that stands out the most was the one-day Angler Young Angler Tournament held on Kenogamissi Lake back in 2010. I refer to this fishing experience as the one that just kept giving. I fished this tournament with my daughters Emily and Tara. It seemed that Team Jensen was destined to win this tournament for some strange reason. It started with purchasing bait (and probably ice cream) from the Cache Campground the day before the tournament. I was with my youngest daughter Tara. The boat, motor and trailer package was on display as well as the particularly large trophies for the winning team. I fondly recall Tara staring at the prize and turning to me and stating that we were going to look great holding those trophies over our heads tomorrow. You have got to love that innocent confidence.
On tournament day, I was not sure what to expect and was hoping that my girls would have some fun on the water. The main challenge would be to ensure that we found fish to keep my girls busy and interested. Fortunately, the first spot we tried saw my eldest daughter Emily hooking into a nice Walleye. I remember Emily yelling and screaming with excitement “this is a huge one Dad”. It surfaced within a few minutes (although it seems like an hour or so) and I just got the net under it before it spit the hook. Turns out that this was the biggest fish caught in the tourney which eventually lead to us winning the event. It was the largest walleye she had ever caught – just under 5 Ibs. I recall Emily being so proud of catching that fish on her pink rod, pink reel and yes, wait for it, pink hook! Shortly after weighing-in, I recollect my wife Janet yelling to us from the shore that we had won the tourney. But the memories did not end here.
After winning the Timmins tournament, we were fortunate enough to represent our region at the 2010 International Angler and Young Angler Tournament held on Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. There we competed with 30+ other teams from the United States and Canada. This was a pretty major event, involving media and television (Adventures North) as well as many renowned Canadian Professional Anglers and other personalities including Jeff Gustafson, Alex Keszler, Gord Pyzer, Steve MacInnis and even Bobby Hull! The format for this one-day tournament saw each of the teams being partnered with a Professional Angler and a fully equipped Lund Boat. Our first challenge was to find bait. After making just three calls, I finally got a lead for some leeches which were apparently non-existent in the area. It did not take long before Gord Pyzer found out and he kindly asked if we can secure a few dozen for his team. How can you say no to the Fish Doctor? Gord took a liking to my daughters and offered to take them on a free musky fishing excursion with him if we won the tournament. There was now even more incentive that ever to win this event.
On tournament day, we were waiting for our captain to arrive. As we waited we say each team being picked-up in 18 to 20 foot Lunds with 200 to 300 HP outboards. We were the last team to be picked-up and we were holding back the tournament start. Eventually we saw 16 foot tiller boat with a 60 HP motor on it. Jokingly, I remarked “could you imagine if that was our fishing boat”. Turns out it was. Unfortunately, there were major issues with our original vessel and we were stuck with the back-up boat. The look of disappointed was very obvious on my daughters’ faces. However, I was quick to point out that our captain, Ben Gustafson (Jeff’s brother), had won this tournament last year and that I would rather fish with him in a smaller boat than someone else who had not won in a larger boat. The girls reluctantly accepted this rationale and jumped into the boat. Ben then asked my daughters if they wanted to catch a lot of walleye today or catch less but much larger ones. Without hesitation, both agreed to go after the big ones. Over the course of the day, my daughters put on a fish-catching display. Emily fought a monster walleye for about 13 or 14 minutes before losing it – she could barely hold the rod and was physically shaking after the ordeal. I think our captain was more disappointed than Emily. Tara had a 20.5 inch walleye on her line, which gained about 8 to 9 Ibs on the way up. This was the first time anyone in the boat, including Ben, had witnessed a monster walleye attempting to eat another of its kind. Unfortunately, the larger walleye let go before we were able to net the fish. Over the course of the day we landed about 15 fish between 20.5 and 28 inches. I landed only one 23 inch walleye but my netting skills proved to be much more sound. It was great seeing Emily and Tara out-fishing their Father – very proud moment indeed!
On our way back to the weigh-in our motor broke down. Ben waved down his brother Jeff, who had one of those 19 foot Lunds with a 225 HP on it, and we were able to jump in Jeff’s boat to make in back to shore. During the weigh-ins we had no idea how well we did until they called our team to meet at another location on the property. We soon realized that our team had one of the top weights of the tournament. Despite being at a major disadvantage with a lesser boat/motor, our boat braking down and providing highly scarce and sought after bait to a competitor, we managed to finish in second place just beating out Gord Pyzer’s team by a couple of pounds. After being paraded onto the stage in a beautiful Lund boat my girls got their first taste of fame, being interviewed on stage with cameras rolling and were featured in a future episode of Adventures North Television. What a fantastic experience! Oddly enough, the adventure does not end here.
Second place finish at the International Tournament earned us a fly-in trip to Makokibatan Lake on the Albany River in Northern Ontario. There we enjoyed a five-day all-inclusive fishing adventure with five-star accommodations and food. It was the first time my family, including myself, experienced a ride in an Otter. We routinely landed many walleye between 19 and 27 inches and enjoyed daily shore lunches. I fondly recall Tara leaning over the boat and running her jig and grub along the surface of the water only to have a monster walleye surface in front of her facing scaring the you know what out of her. There I also landed by largest brook trout at the time and also made the camp’s wall of fame having landed a large enough walleye. After surviving a few harrowing boat rides on this large wind swept lake (which required follow-up therapy for my daughters) and an equally challenging flight home during gale-like conditions, our adventure was finally over. Overall, a lot of great and lasting memories associated with this fishing experience!
Q) List any Anglers that helped you learn more about fishing over the years?
A) As indicated earlier, my Father had the biggest influence on me as an angler in my early years. It was he who tough provided me with basic fundamentals. Like many other budding anglers, I certainly watched all the popular fishing shows to gain more knowledge of fishing techniques, tactics and tackle options. I don’t believe I had an fishing icon that I followed religiously, but Bob Izumi is definitely one of my favourites. Truth be told I have learned a lot from almost every person I have fished with over the years. There is always something new to learn and often times it is the more subtle things as opposed to major revelations
Q) List sponsors and tournament finishes?
A) I don’t have any sponsors. There are many more anglers much more worthy than me for sponsorship. I genuinely convey to people that I am just a guy that loves to fish and hunt. Despite this, I have enjoyed some success along with my teammates at local Walleye tournaments. I started competing in walleye tournaments about 10 years ago and usually participate in two or sometimes three tournaments a year. To date I have earned, along with my partners, about 15 top twenty finishes, including eight top ten finishes. If anyone wishes to sponsor my team, please give me a call? I am in need of new outboard!
Q) Biggest fishing supports over the years. example, wife, family and friend(s)?
A) Besides my family in the early years, my wife and friends have been huge supporters of my growing addiction in more recent years. My wife also enjoys the outdoors as she shares many of the same values that I do. Maybe this is why I married her? She can often be seen in our boat fishing on our home waterbody of Kenogamissi Lake and even on occasion jigging in a hole through the ice. However, sightings of Janet are more common during fair weather conditions and any time after 10 or 11 a.m.! I have to concede that it was Janet who taught me a much better way to clean and fillet Lancaster Perch with very little waste. The knowledge I have picked-up from her is most certainly transferable to other fish species like Walleye. I have also learned a lot from my friends as well as tournament competitors over the years. You can learn a lot just sitting around a campfire sharing a few beer during a tournament. It seems like there is always something new to learn and apply, which helps to make everyone a better angler.
Q) What are some of your favourite fish you like to fish for and why?
A) Walleye is my absolute favourite targeted species. This is likely the result of my exclusive focus on Pike fishing in my early years. Besides the amazing table fair (light and white fluffy meat) which lends itself to a host of possible gourmet recipes, I love the fact that there are days you can boat one after the other and other days when hooking into them is almost mission impossible. In a weird sort of way, both scenarios are equally enjoyable. There is something about tossing in a line and catching enough walleye to provide your family with a truly organic and tasty meal – it is definitely an instinctual thing! While I have landed very large pike, musky, bass, trout, salmon, etc. and even white sturgeon (OK the 18.5 foot white sturgeon was truly a breath-taking experience), there is little that compares to hooking, landing and releasing a pig of a walleye.
Q) What is your favourite fishing technique(s) for Walleyes?
A) I like to use a basic presentation to include a sinker and hook baited with a piece of cheese? On a more serious note, I love to jig, drop-shot and bottom bounce, although I have been known to throw on a Rapala the odd time to take advantage of those suspended eyes.
Q) Why did you agree to have your bio done?
A) As you may know, I am generally a pretty low key guy. The main reason why I agreed to participate is sharing a small, but important part of my bio, is largely a reflection of the ongoing contributions of David Reid to the local and regional fishing industry. He has been instrumental in promoting the fishery, tournaments and many of the great anglers we have in Northeastern Ontario. When I first started fishing tournaments I remembered Dave as one of the veteran anglers to watch-out for (and this is still very much the case). David, in the capacity of a volunteer, formed part of some my most memorable fishing experiences including the AYA win in Timmins where he held Emily’s biggest walleye for a picture and then live released it (or did it jump out of his hands?) and was also there to share our second-place finish in the AYA International Championships in Kenora. Dave is a great ambassador for sport fishing in the North and I simply could not say no.
Q) Any tips you would give to a new Walleye Angler looking at fishing the NOWT?
A) NOWT is a first class volunteer organization. Find a partner and give a tournament a try. You may actually enjoy the experience. Many budding anglers don’t feel they have the proper equipment or the expertise to compete in tournaments. This may be true, but many of the competitors in the NOWT are very accomplished anglers and they got that way from competing and learning from others. I couldn’t think of a better way place to gain the necessary knowledge to grow and develop one’s angling skills. I also emphasize that anyone can catch the largest walleye in a tourney, whether they are in a 14-foot or 20-foot boat, and that should be enough incentive to participate. Who knows, you might even finish in the top 10 like my partner and I did in our first ever Northeastern Ontario Walleye Tournament and we fished in a 16-foot boat with a 60 HP!
Q) What would be some of your greatest accomplishments over the years of fishing.
A) I don’t measure my accomplishments by how well I have done in tournaments over the years or how many fish or how many large fish I catch (although I like catching a lot of large fish). Thinking back, I believe my greatest accomplishment is sharing the fishing experience with others. There is very little that gives me more legitimate pleasure than taking someone out fishing, regardless of whether he/she is a seasoned angler or a first time angler. I routinely have friends and family from all over Canada come to our cottage and fishing generally becomes the focal point of the visit. To be there when someone catches their first or largest Walleye or experiences a large Northern Pike striking a caught Walleye still on the line is priceless. I am a big fan of providing the all-encompassing angling experience beginning with the use of technology to locate the fish, appropriate equipment and techniques to hook the fish, net the fish (also release the larger ones), clean and fillet the fish, preparing and cooking the fish and ending with a world class organic meal. To me it is a normal day on the water, but I know our visitors will remember such outings for many years to come.
I would like to thank Mark for taking the time for this interview and for sharing with us his journey in fishing.