The massive map takes up most of one wall in Marc Bacigalupi’s smallish office at Brainerd’s DNR headquarters.
But in Bacigalupi’s world, at least at this stage, the map of the greater Brainerd lakes area may as well be, well, actual size.
No, it’s no substitute for the real thing for the new Brainerd area fisheries supervisor, who admittedly hasn’t gotten out into the places on that map as much as he would like. At least not yet. But it does represent a life-sized challenge for Bacigalupi.
And it won’t be easy. He has big shoes to fill and big vacancies to make up for, what with the recent retirement of longtime fisheries supervisor Tim Brastrup and several other Brainerd fisheries veterans, who took about a century of experience with them. But Bacigalupi says Brastrup stops in on occasion and remains a valuable resource. And with the experience the office was able to retain and an influx of some young talent, Bacigalupi looks to the future with great optimism.
“There’s a lot to know about the area, but I think I’m a quick learner,” he said. “The existing crew is good about filling in the blanks — about giving input but still allowing me to make the decisions.
“We’ll try to do the best we can on a case-to-case basis. That’s a major challenge for me — to do the best we can with what we have. We’re at base-level staffing at this office and at most offices across the state. We’re not in a position to be everywhere.
“It’s definitely a time of transition. But a real opportunity. I’m learning how things were done in the past but I think I have a fresh perspective of how we can do things a little differently.”
Bacigalupi, 37, who hails from Pine City, came to Brainerd via Waterville, where he was the assistant area fisheries supervisor from 2006 until taking the Brainerd job. He started in Brainerd on Sept. 27. He also worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1999-2000 and served as a DNR fisheries specialist in Eden Prairie from 2001-2006. He majored in biology and chemistry at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and earned a master’s degree in fisheries from the University of Minnesota.
“Staying in the lab all the time and getting out into the field once a year didn’t appeal to me,” Bacigalupi said of his decision to get into field-related work. “I knew I wanted to go into fisheries management. I grew up fishing (on Cross Lake near Pine City). I had that background and came back to it by refining my search over time.”
But fishing was a passion long before it was a profession for Bacigalupi. He remembers catching a 31-inch walleye on Lake of the Woods, a 34-inch lake trout through the ice in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and a 42-inch northern pike from a canoe in the Boundary Waters. Make that from the shore in the BWCAW.
“We were in a canoe with no net so my fishing partner paddled to shore so I could land it,” Bacigalupi said, laughing. “That (the Boundary Waters) was a formative thing for me — camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing. I’d go six to seven times a year.”
But now that his passion is also his profession, such trips have dwindled through the years. Even since arriving in the Brainerd lakes area, he hasn’t gotten out often — work-wise and for the fun of it. But this has been an extra chaotic time for Bacigalupi. Besides selling the family’s house in Mankato, finding housing in Brainerd and making the move to the lakes area, Bacigalupi’s wife Jacquelyn had the couple’s second child Jan. 16 — Joseph, who joins brother Connor, 2. She worked as an assistant regional fisheries supervisor in New Ulm up until having the baby.
“Stuff at home has been crazy,” Bacigalupi said. “We had our second baby Jan. 16 so the ice fishing season came to a screeching halt. I still got out (to the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza six days later), and I’ve gotten to go (fishing) a couple of times on North Long Lake. I love walleye fishing.”
He should fit in nicely here.
“Walleye management will always be a big topic here,” Bacigalupi said. “And we’ll continue to get egg quotas from the Pine River run. And Gull Lake is a good example that a good fishing opportunity is created by stocking.
“A huge challenge out there is trying to affect how we use our lakeshore areas,” he added. “Those are important areas. We have little power to affect those lands above water. The Legislature and society as a whole have to decide to give us the tools to affect change.”
Of his goals as fisheries supervisor, he added that he wants to “communicate with fishermen, youth and other stakeholders just what it will take to protect, maintain and improve upon the outstanding fishing resources we have around here. In short, we’ll all have to work together and there will have to be give and take.
“I received a promotion to come here. I’m honored and proud of that. It’s a dream job and I don’t take that lightly. I can’t wait to hit Mille Lacs. There are some amazing fisheries within a half-hour drive of here.”