LANSING — It was 32 degrees with a finger-numbing breeze out of the north and a wind chill plunging into the teens.
And it was snowing.
Yet there was Kenda Nelson with a smile warm enough to thaw the city of Lansing as she and husband Eric awaited the final weigh-in at the Cedar Valley Walleye Club’s Oct. 24-25 season-ending tournament on Pool 9 of the Mississippi River.
Thanks to Kenda’s 7.90-pound walleye, the Nelsons, of Rio, Wis., overtook brothers Tim and Tom Ahrens for the victory with a two-day, 10-fish total of 23.64 pounds. Team Ahrens, the first day leaders with 10.94 pounds, settled for second with a final weight of 19.04.
Tournaments aren’t the main event for the CVWC. They aren’t about big paydays or shiny trophies, although there are berths in Cabela’s National Team Championship up for grabs. The competitions are more about husbands and wives, fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons and brothers enjoying a resource and a sport the club is dedicated to protect and enhance for future generations.
The nonprofit CVWC was established in 2003, driven largely by Dr. Ken Budke, a dentist in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area with a passion for walleye fishing, and his close friend Pat Wagner. Initially, there were a dozen members.
“This is not just a passing fancy,” Budke said in a 2003 interview. “It is a passion, and I believe if you surround yourself with people that share your beliefs, you can get things done and enjoy yourself doing them.”
Tim Ahrens is one of the people who shares those beliefs. He’s been the CVWC president since 2013 and has witnessed steady growth. There are more club members than ever — 154 this year from Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois — involved in more activities and projects than ever.
While this year’s agenda has been curtailed by the pandemic, the club typically pursues an ambitious schedule. The club has a booth at the UNI-Dome boat show and sports show. It stocks walleye fingerlings in small area lakes every year. It provides fishing instruction for a large group of kindergarten students. It joins the Black Hawk County Conservation Board to host geology students from Waterloo West High School for a day of outdoor education.
The CVWC teams up with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to provide expertise and assistance to young anglers during an annual trout stocking at North Prairie Lake in Cedar Falls. It partners with Impact Outdoors, another active organization dedicated to promoting outdoor activities, to host an annual Family Fun Day at George Wyth State Park that includes fishing, kayaking and archery among activities for kids of all ages, capped off with a fish fry. It provides sponsorship for interested kids and handles the fishing education for the annual Outdoor Journey for Girls that takes place at Hickory Hills Park south of Waterloo.
Club members work with the Iowa DOT to do an annual highway cleanup. They provide manpower for the DNR to build and place pallet structures designed to enhance habitat in lakes like George Wyth that lack natural cover. They’ve helped provide data for DNR studies. They’re currently working with Hawkeye Tech to improve shoreline access at North Prairie Lake.
Last year, with the help of a generous club member who matched its financial commitment, the CVWC established the Cedar Valley Walleye Club Outdoor Scholarship Fund to annually help a second-year student in Hawkeye Tech’s Natural Resources Management program.
As with most clubs, a minority of the members does the majority of the work.
“It is a lot of work,” Ahrens said. “It definitely keeps me busy.
“There’s kind of a personal story I tell quite often. We had a group of kids out at George Wyth and there was a student who hadn’t ever fished and didn’t want any part of fishing. I asked her to just come give it a try.
“The other kids were casting way out into the lake, but I told her to just drop her lure right below her feet off the dock. She caught a six-inch crappie, then a little green sunfish, then a couple more sunfish. When they told us lunch was ready, she stayed right there and wouldn’t quit fishing.
“That makes it all worthwhile.”
Ahrens put a smile on that girl’s face that day.
Someday, she just might light up a cold, dreary day like Kenda Nelson.