Anderson: Walleye could have been record proves 4th of July fishing can be hot

Like the 4th of Julye As the weekend approaches, walleye anglers fear that the days of easy picking are over. Throughout May and early June, a jig thrown in 8 feet of water with a minnow could put a dinner’s worth of Minnesota’s iconic finfish in a boat. More capricious now and tighter-lipped walleyes in midsummer are often hard to come by, and never more so than on Independence Day, when boat traffic and bottle rockets disturb the peace, even fishes.

Yet, as Martin Luther observed, “All that is done in the world is done by hope.” The same goes for fishing. Otherwise, you might as well sell the boat, along with the rod and reel.

Yet that 4th of July long ago – in 1989 – Robert “Bob” Bruininks wasn’t particularly hoping to catch a walleye. small boat on Loon Lake off the Gunflint Trail, rigged with a #6 hook adorned with a spinner and leech.

“I had two young guys with me who graduated from Dartmouth with Todd, our eldest son,” Bruininks said. “They didn’t know anything about fishing. But I thought we might get lucky, at least with the bass.”

In 2002, Bruininks would be named president of the University of Minnesota, a position he held until 2011. A distinguished administrator, as he was a professor at the U, his tenure as a kingpin of the school was marked by multiple triumphs.

Yet among some walleye anglers in Minnesota, those accomplishments are seen as mere footnotes to what Bruininks achieved on Loon Lake on that hot, sunny, windless July 4, 1989.

“At first I thought I had a problem,” he recalls. “Then the problem started to move.”

Originally from Michigan, Bruininks, as a young man, was a wilderness guide for the Detroit YMCA. Enrollees in his charge were first camped out on short excursions, before being bussed into the Ontario wilderness for two weeks of paddling and bushwalking through harsh country.

“I was 20 and that experience taught me to love what is widely known as Quetico-Superior country,” Bruininks said.

So it was in 1968, after Bruininks accepted a teaching position at U, that he moved to Minnesota. Almost simultaneously, he drove to Duluth, then to the Grand Marais and beyond to the Gunflint Trail to claim his own part of the North Woods.

“I found a lot of things on roadless Loon Lake,” he said. “I had a 12ft boat and used it to carry everything I needed to build a cabin.”

Originally a three-season trail and winter snow corridor on which Native Americans pushed their dogteams, the 57-mile Gunflint Trail has been paved since 1979. It gained timeless recognition, at least among anglers, when the On May 13, 1979, near the furthest point of the Lake Superior Trail, the late LeRoy Chiovitte of Hermantown caught a 17-pound, 8-ounce walleye, a huge state record that still stands today.

Chiovitte, who died in 2019 at the age of 82, caught his lead in the Sea Gull River between Sea Gull Lake and Saganaga Lake – waters that are no longer open to fishing this early in the season for protect spawning fish, of which the Chiovitte walleye was .

When on July 4, 1989, Bruininks left his cabin for a few hours of fishing, he was well aware that the big Chiovitte walleye had been caught not far from the Gunflint Trail from Loon Lake.

Yet on the same day when the ‘snag’ he hooked started to move, he had no illusions that the fish on the end of his line could rival Chiovitte’s as the biggest walleye ever caught. in Minnesota.

“When I finally brought the fish to the surface, I said to the two young guys with me, ‘Take the net,'” Bruininks said. ‘They said, ‘What net?’ It turns out that we had no net.

“So I told them to row us quietly to shore, which they did, and when the water was shallow enough I got out and landed the fish by hand.”

The conditions in which the fish were caught belied those generally associated with a productive walleye fishery.

Shallow water in spring? No, walleye was caught in deep water on July 4th. Cloudy sky? No, sunny. “Chop” of walleye on the surface of the lake? No, the lake was calm. Fish caught early in the morning or late at night? No, it was taken around noon.

“I took the fish to Loon Lake Lodge, where I thought they had a certified scale, but they didn’t,” Bruininks said. “But I was there for a long time. Willard Johnson was the owner at the time, and he wanted to take a bunch of pictures of me outside the lodge. He said, ‘I don’t want Gunflint Lake to get credit for this. fish.” ”

The big walleye was transported to another resort, which also did not have a certified scale, before being brought to Gunflint Lodge, where it weighed 17 pounds and 6 ounces – 2 ounces less than Chiovitte’s record.

Two hours passed between when the fish was caught and when it was weighed, likely reducing its weight by 6 ounces or more if it had been weighed earlier.

At 37 inches long, Bruininks’ walleye was 1.25 inches longer than Chiovitte’s. And unlike the fish of Chiovitte, those of Bruininks did not bear spawn.

Throughout his years as president of the U, Bruininks kept a mount of the great walleye in his office (it is now in the Bell Museum at the U).

“One thing a fish like that does, when people hear about it or see an amount of it, it changes their interactions with you,” Bruininks said.

“When I took over at the U, we had a big shortfall. I thought rather than laying off, the best way to deal with that was to convince everyone to freeze wages. I’m went to eight unions and three groups of employees to ask them to accompany them.

“The first question I always asked was, ‘Are the big guys freezing their salaries too, or just us little ones?’

“I would reply that everyone was freezing their salaries, adding that I had also canceled the car allowances of U executives, including my own.”

With such minor details out of the way, more important matters could be discussed.

“The second question I would have had was,” Bruininks said, “How did you catch that walleye?” ”

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