THOMPSON, N.D.-When Mike Olson placed fourth in the recent Cabela's National Walleye Tour championship on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota, it erased any doubts the fishing fanatic might have had about competing against the top walleye pros in the country.
As partner in a landscape business, Greenworks Landscaping and Fencing, and with a TV fishing show already on his plate along with the Fargo Ice Fishing Show-a trade show making its debut Dec. 7-9 at Scheels Arena in Fargo-Olson, 34, could have been excused for questioning the sanity of competing on the country's premier walleye tournament circuit and all of the travel and expense that requires.
In his first-ever NWT tournament in May on Wisconsin's Lake Winnebago, he finished in 101st place, following it up with a similar finish in June on Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron. Then, in late July on Devils Lake, Olson watched a hot bite in the days leading up to the tournament go south when a strong north wind rolled in the day the competition started.
"Everything I had going for me shut off just overnight," he said.
Olson qualified for the NWT championship Sept. 5-7 by virtue of fishing all three of the qualifying tournaments, and he made the opportunity count with his fourth-place finish. In the process, he continued the track record of success he's had fishing smaller tournaments on Lake of the Woods.
"It was a scary step," Olson said of his decision to fish the NWT. "You're fishing against some of the best of the best, and the regular season didn't go real well for me. I found myself kind of questioning the choice that I made. I know I can catch fish, but did I make the right choice to make this jump?"
That question was answered on Lake of the Woods.
"It felt really good to put a good solid performance together in the championship to validate the move that I made," he said.
Game of strategy
Fishing on Lake of the Woods has been excellent, and there were no concerns about catching walleyes going into the NWT championship; catching the right fish was the tricky part. A protected slot limit on Lake of the Woods that requires anglers to release all walleyes from 19½ inches to 28 inches meant the pros and their co-angler amateur partners had to bring four solid "unders" to the scales and one "over"-a walleye over 28 inches-each day in their five-fish bag to have a shot.
"You've got to have those 'unders' to make a good bag, and on day one, I really had almost the perfect bag," Olson said. "I couldn't have gotten much closer."
In second place after the first day, Olson was in seventh after day two, which put him among the top 10 pros with heavy-enough weights in the 71-boat field to qualify for the third and final day of the championship.
Olson says his goal going into the tournament was to finish in the top 10 and qualify for the final day. A bounce here or there-especially on the second day, when he lost a couple of big walleyes-and Olson says he could have won the Lake of the Woods tournament.
It was that close.
Olson and his co-angler partners caught their fish trolling crankbaits with lead-core line in the deep basin of Big Traverse Bay.
"We had our chances to win it all, but we just couldn't get those big fish day two in the boat," Olson said. "We had them on, darn it. Those Lake of the Woods walleyes are the meanest and hardest-fighting walleyes a guy ever runs across."
'Fish Addictions TV' host
An Ada, Minn., native, Olson perhaps is best known as host of "Fish Addictions TV," a fishing show entering its third season on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin. The show, which Olson says is "80 percent ice fishing," takes the host and a revolving crew of anglers from throughout the region to destinations across the Midwest and Canada.
"I'm on every show, and then I have a staff of 14 people all around the upper Midwest," Olson said. "When we go film, I put out there, 'Hey guys, this is where we're going,' and whoever can make it or wants to make it, they come and participate."
The seeds for "Fish Addictions TV" were planted nearly a decade ago. Social media was just starting to gain traction, Olson recalls, and he shared a photo on a fishing forum of a "walleye of a lifetime" he caught on Lake of the Woods.
"I really just got ripped for it," he said. "People said, 'That's not as big as you say it is' and blah-blah-blah.
"I took something that I was frustrated about because I caught a fish of a lifetime, and I was on Cloud 9, and it was almost like they beat me down, and I didn't like that feeling. I wanted to create an atmosphere, a fishing community, that didn't have that atmosphere."
From its start in 2011 as an online forum, "Fish Addictions" morphed into YouTube videos and later a TV-quality YouTube fishing show before becoming the "Fish Addictions TV" program that now airs on FSN and FSW.
"Our show isn't just about fishing," Olson said. "I want you to learn about fishing. I want you to learn about the area. I want you to learn about how we got from Point A to Point B and I want you to understand fishing is a lot more fun with your friends and family and kids and all that kind of stuff.
"It's not just about a tactic and a species. It's about the whole rounded experience."
Olson says he lets the bite dictate filming plans. In a few days, for example, he's headed to northern Manitoba to shoot a "Fish Addictions TV" lake trout segment on Lake Athapapuskow, which produced a monster lake trout through the ice during a shoot last winter.
"We're going to try to do the same thing open water and film another episode up there," he said.
Later in the fall, winter sports show season kicks into full swing, and the "Fish Addictions TV" crew will be on the road doing promotional work when they're not on the ice.
Olson figures he fishes more than 160 days a year between ice and open-water season. All this while juggling the responsibilities of family-he and his wife, Laura, have a daughter, Abby, 10; and sons Jacob, 8; Alex, 5; and Conner, 7 months-work as a partner with his brother, Jonathan, in the landscaping business, and his "Fish Addictions TV" venture.
And now, after his recent finish on Lake of the Woods, Olson is adding full-time touring walleye pro to the list.
"Without good help and family support, it just doesn't happen," Olson said. "To be in the top 10, that's an achievement in itself. To come out fourth place against all these guys is an absolute treat for sure and definitely gave me a boost going into next year."
Given all of that, "Fish Addictions" is an apt name for his TV show.
"I just love fishing," Olson said. "Fishing is a challenge to me every single day to learn something new. That's really why I love it. Because it's endless learning, no matter if it's the guy that first gets in the boat or the guy that's been in the boat or on the ice for a lifetime.
"That's what I love about fishing. You're constantly learning from all abilities."