Those We Honor

You’ll find more than just fishing celebrities in this list. One can make a significant impact
on the lives of many without ever being well known. It is important to honor all of
those who had a great influence on the great sport of fishing, whether famous or not.
Corporate advances tend to be much more visible to us. For it’s their products that
shape the evolution of the sport of fishing.

Joe Fellegy

Joe Fellegy

Inducted 2001

Fishermen are inducted into the Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota as guides, promoters, tournament anglers, manufacturers, educators or legislators. Under which category do you place Joe Fellegy? Guide, promoter or educator? Fellegy has been all three. The Hall chose to induct him as a guide in recognition of his long career running a launch service on Mille Lacs. It started when he was 14 on the lake’s north shore, where his parents owned the Early Bird Resort. The leadhead jig hit the tackle scene at this time and jigs and light line were all young Fellegy needed to catch walleyes.

Word spread around the lake that the kid on the north side knew his stuff. “The old guys in the neighborhood thought I was some kind of boy wonder,” Fellegy recalls. “I enjoyed taking people out and trying to catch more fish than the next outfit.” Some of those early trips were made in a 15-foot wooden boat his father built in a night class he taught in New Ulm. Today the boat lies hull-up in tall grass next to Fellegy’s garage. “Looking back on that time,” he says, “it’s a wonder we didn’t drown. I wouldn’t get in that boat today. But as a kid it didn’t bother me.”

In 1957 the senior Fellegy built a launch boat and the next summer young Joe took it out for the first time, initiating his career as a launch captain. In 1969 Fellegy got his own launch and opened “Joe’s Guide Service.” Except for a one-week break in August, he guided seven days a week from opening day in May until Oct. 10. Customers used his rods and reels; no foreign tackle was allowed on board. “I learned as a kid it was a fiasco if a customer brought his own tackle,” Fellegy says. “By mid-day they would say, ‘Rig us the way you are.’ I hated down time. Rigging tackle, untangling lines, it all works against you. On any given trip I’d have 40 rods on board. We might be bobber fishing, slip-sinker rigging or deep water trolling on the flats. My customers were guinea pigs. If I had eight lines going I experimented with different blade styles, sizes, colors, jighead colors on bobber rods, you name it. I’d get up at 6 a.m. and get the bait and tackle ready. Then it was time on the water with a break at noon for filleting, untangling lines and re-rigging for the afternoon run.”

In the evening I would plot the next day. “There were years when I went 100 days in a row, and there were many streaks of 60 to 80 days. It was a labor of intense love.”
Fellegy pulled his launch into port for the final time in 1989 and a 30-year guiding career was put to rest. “I got to that mid-40s crunch where I realized there were other things that interested me,” he says. The former launch captain, who had earned an English degree from St. John’s University in 1966, began writing books and periodicals, including “Mille Lacs Fishing Digest” and “Classic Minnesota Fishing Stories,” perhaps his best-known works.

A lifelong history buff, he has researched the history of Mille Lacs and written extensively about the 1837 treaty litigation and the politics surrounding it. In a weekly column in the “Outdoor News” he continues to examine fish-management issues and other topics on the outdoor scene. Yet Fellegy says some days he misses the life of a fishing guide. “You get used to the moods of the lake, the weather and the rare things I saw out there,” he says. “Those juices still flow whenever I look at the lake. Like today. We had a south wind and I was thinking of a dozen different rock humps I might be sitting on. I had adventure, fun and sport that some people work a lifetime to taste only in their retirement. I made it the centerpiece of my existence for 30 years.”