Mike and Ryan Olson were just little tykes – hardly bigger than the walleye on the stringer – when their dad taught them how to bait a hook and drop a line.
Today, Don Olson and his sons are among the top professional fishermen in the country. In fact, of the 287 two-person teams competing for Cabela’s Master Walleye Circuit 2014 Team of the Year championship, the Olson fishermen are among the top 12.
Don, of Oak Grove, and his partner Randy Carroll, of Oswego, Illinois, are currently in first place; team Mike Olson and his partner Jim Preissner of Chilpon, Wisconsin are ranked fourth; and team Ryan Olson and his partner Josh Klein of Buchanan, North Dakota, are in 12th place.
“There is an instinct, but a lot of practice and learning, too,” Mike said of the Olsons’ angling expertise.
The Olson anglers have netted quite a catch over the years, and since his recent retirement as chief building official for the city of Andover, Don is able to devote full-time to fishing.
“I’ve been pro for 24 years, and now I’ve just retired so this is full-time now,” said Don.
Mike and Ryan have been fishing professionally for more than a dozen years; Mike and his fishing partner placed second and third in the world walleye championship during that time while Ryan and his fishing partner placed first and second in Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit tournaments.
Even better, Mike and his partner won Team of the Year in 2012 and placed second in 2013.
“It takes years of practice. There’s a different technique for each tournament, depending on water and weather conditions. You have to pre-fish, you have to adjust,” said Mike, his dad adding another important note.
“You have to be honest and sincere. Give up everything that you learned that day. It’s new every time,” Don said. And, as owner of Signature Tackle, Don said custom-painted cranks and jigs, and air-brushed gear is essential.
“It’s huge on the small details you’ll use to win tournaments,” he said.
The May 2-3 Masters Walleye Circuit tournament in Hastings was especially challenging, the Olson fishermen said.
The Mississippi River had flooded, meaning the fishermen competed in fast-rising, cold, raging waters.
“It was terrible. It was nuts and we figured out how to catch fish,” said Don. That tournament had the Olsons and their fishing partners finishing in third place (Mike and Jim Preissner), fifth (Don and Randy Carroll) and sixth (Ryan and Josh Klein).
“The boys have studied and trained well,” Don said.
The Olsons compete in eight to 10 walleye tournaments each year on waters all over the midwest, including the Illinois River, Green Bay, Lake Erie, Lake Heron, and the Mississippi River.
“It never gets old. We love it,” Mike said, acknowledging that to fish full time is his dream, but not financially feasible at this time.
“It’s tough to make a living … there are only five guys in walleye country that do it now,” he said.
While Don and Mike are both completely sponsored (Don’s main sponsor is Allstate Insurance; Mike’s is Quality Flow Systems, Inc.) Mike and Ryan rely on full-time work to pay the bills. Mike owns Olson Custom Contracting, LLC; Ryan works construction.
Out of the 237 teams competing in the Cabela’s nationals tournament on Green Bay this year, the top 25 will be named All Americans and will fish-off for two Ranger boats and a cash prize of $30,000.
The Olsons will compete in the World Walleye Championship in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota later this fall.
“We just love to fish and I’m sure I’ll be fishing for the rest of my life, in one way or another,” Mike said.
For the latest news and standings in the Masters Walleye Circuit, visit MastersWalleyeCircuit.com.
Sue Austreng is at