Published May 03, 2009, 12:00 AM

'Big old fish'

As another Minnesota fishing season opens this weekend, the state walleye record has remained untouchable for 30 years.

By: By Kevin Schnepf , INFORUM

As another Minnesota fishing season opens this weekend, the state walleye record has remained untouchable for 30 years. LeRoy Chiovitte of Hermantown caught his 17-pound, 8-ounce state record May 13, 1979, on Seagull River where it enters Saganaga Lake in the northeastern tip of Minnesota on the Canadian border. The closest anyone has come to catching a walleye that big was on July 4, 1989, when University of Minnesota president Bob Bruininks caught one that weighed 17 pounds, 6 ounces on Loon Lake along the Gunflint Trail.

With that in mind, five area fishing experts were asked the question: Can Minnesota’s 30-year-old walleye record ever be broken?

Tom Backer

Professional walleye angler

“I would be very surprised,” said Backer, a Fargoan who has been fishing walleye tournaments for 26 years. “With the restrictions we have on some of the rivers now, you don’t get to catch those pre-spawn walleyes.”

Chiovitte caught his record fish in cold weather, when walleyes were spawning late.

Backer said the biggest walleye he has ever caught weighed just over 14 pounds on the Columbia River on the Washington-Oregon border. “There are some bodies of water in the country to get those fish over 15 pounds,” he said. “But they are few and far between.”

Ross Hagemeister

Fishing guide

“I guess I don’t see it happening,” said Hagemeister, a guide for the last 14 years based near Otter Tail Lake, Minn. “I don’t want to sound hopeless. You just don’t see that size anymore.

That’s a big, old fish.”

Hagemeister said the biggest walleye he’s landed in his boat weighed 12 pounds. He said another 17-pound walleye would more than likely be fished out of a river.

“A fish that weight would probably have to hold spawn,” he said. “You need the perfect food, the perfect everything for them to get to 18 pounds. But there are freaks of nature.”

Dave Friedl

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

“It’s certainly possible ... there are some big fish out there,” said Friedl, former area fisheries supervisor in Detroit Lakes who is now a clean water legacy specialist in Fergus Falls. “The odds of that happening are probably greater on some of the larger bodies of water.”

Early in his career, Friedl was a fisheries technician in the area where the record fish was caught. During the spawing run, he remembers seeing a 19-pound walleye.

“I remember holding it my arms ... that was a really big fish,” Friedl said, noting 25-year-old males in that area. “Some live a long time. The forage and slow growth rates allow them to grow quite large.”

Chad Maloy

Past president of FM Walleyes Inc.

“I think it would be pretty tough,” Maloy said. “But I would never say never. There’s a fat chance of that happening, but you just never know. That’s what keeps you fishing. You never know what Mother Nature puts out for you.”

Maloy said the largest walleye he has seen was the 16-pound that Bob Jensen of Fargo caught in Manitoba. The biggest one he has caught weighed 12 pounds out of Lake Erie.

“In order for a fish to get to 17 pounds, you have to throw back those 10 pounders for it to get that big,” Maloy said. “Most people are lucky to catch one 10-pounder in their lifetime.”

Gary Peterson

Ken’s Tackle bait shop

“No, I don’t think it will ever be broken,” said Peterson, whose shop sits on the west side of Otter Tail Lake, Minn. “There is so much fishing pressure on a lot of the lakes. That one was caught because of a lack of fishing pressure. That one had time to grow.”

Peterson said the biggest walleye he saw was a 13-pounder this past winter.

“That was a beautiful fish,” Peterson said, adding the state record will more than likely be taken from a river. “Catching that 17 pounder had to be an ideal situation. That would be a blast. I don’t know how a person would be able to handle it.”