A week into Minnesota’s latest walleye season and LeRoy Chiovitte’s state record walleye is still holding firm.
If you don’t recognize the name, Chiovitte is the Hermantown angler who, 40 years ago, caught a monster walleye that became and is still the Minnesota record for hook-and-line: 17 pounds, 8 ounces, 35 and ¾ inches long and 21 and ¼ inches around the belly.
The stuffed walleye still sits in a glass case in the Chiovittes’ front room.
The big female was caught on the Seagull River where it enters Saganaga Lake on May 13, 1979. Saganaga seems to hold some of the largest walleyes in Minnesota. The weather was cold that year, and many walleyes spawned late. Chiovitte had caught a 12½-pounder on Saturday, the season opener, that was spawned out. He hooked his 17½-pounder at about 8 a.m. on Sunday when it was still full of eggs.
Catch-and-release fishing was just catching on in those days but Chiovitte and his friends weren’t releasing many walleyes at that point. That weekend he and his two friends, Lorin and Todd Palmer of Cloquet, took home 10 walleyes that weighed a collective 86 pounds.
That area of the Seagull River is now off-limits to anglers in the spring, specifically to protect concentrations of spawning walleyes. Chiovitte has said he thinks his walleye record is safe now that spawning fish are mostly off-limits.
“Almost every record fish is full of spawn, and now you can’t fish up there this time of year, so it’s going to be pretty hard to top it,” Chiovitte told Northland Outdoors last week.
Chiovitte, now 82, is in great spirits but is in his third battle against cancer, this time lung cancer. But he still gets out fishing, now more for trout than walleye.
“I just caught a nice three-pound rainbow yesterday, up by Finland in a little lake,” he said. “It’s going to be supper tomorrow night.”
The closest anyone has come to catching (and keeping) a walleye as big was on July 4, 1989, when then-University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks caught one that weighed 17 pounds, 6 ounces on Loon Lake along the Gunflint Trail. It was weighed more than two hours later and it’s possible it might have bested Chiovitte’s record has it been weighed sooner. But we’ll never know.