The room almost wasn't big enough for the meeting. Extra chairs had to be rounded up.
People came from as far away as Hibbing. Interest was high and the discussion lively.
The first meeting of the newly formed Brainerd Walleye Alliance took place Wednesday night at Paul Bunyan's Sports Bar and Grill and the response was more than the founders had expected. More than 75 people crowded into a meeting room at the back of the bar to hear plans for an alliance that could change the state of walleye fishing in this area and beyond.
Opinions on what needs to be done were not in short supply, but that was not surprising. More than half of all licensed anglers in Minnesota pursue walleyes at some time during the year. Around here that percentage is undoubtedly much higher. You might say that what's good for the walleye is good for the Brainerd angler. That would suggest the time is right for an alliance dedicated to the preservation of good walleye fishing.
"We hope to see huge results from this 10 to 15 years down the road," said Chuck Carlson, a Brainerd resident who helped create the alliance and who was elected its first president at the meeting. "We hope this is the start of a statewide network. We want to create a united voice and become a political influence."
Membership in the alliance costs $20. Half of that sum will go directly into local stocking projects. Thirty-one people signed up Wednesday night. Meetings will take place at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. A guest speaker will attend each meeting and present tips on how to become a better walleye fisherman. Wednesday's speaker was Jim Kalkofen, director of In-Fisherman magazine's Pro Walleye Trail. He presented techniques for catching shallow-water walleyes in weeds.
"There's a group of hardcore anglers out there who are making a difference, groups like we have here tonight," Kalkofen said as he began his presentation. "It's an important group and an important night."
The Brainerd Walleye Alliance is the first branch chapter of the larger Minnesota Walleye Alliance, which was formed 13 months ago in Minneapolis and presently has 160 members. Other chapters may be formed soon in Grand Rapids and Alexandria. Alliance founder Paul Hartman attended Wednesday's meeting and was impressed by the turnout. "We haven't had this many people at any of our meeting in the cities," said Hartman, who presented the Brainerd alliance with a check for $500 to help pay for start-up costs.
Mike Jensen, a professional walleye angler from Minneapolis and president of the Minnesota Walleye Alliance, also addressed the meeting. He said tourism is the third largest industry in Minnesota and that improved walleye fishing will lead to improved tourism.
Jensen also said the DNR's walleye stockings last year totaled 83,000 pounds, an all-time low. Lack of money was the reason and that theme dominated the discussion at this first meeting of the Brainerd Walleye Alliance. Jensen said the alliance can help alleviate the budget shortfalls that prevent the DNR from rearing and stocking more walleyes. A variety of fund raisers are being planned that will help the DNR build rearing ponds and finance other projects.
"The DNR has never been more willing to work with outside groups," Jensen said.
That statement was echoed by Tim Brastrup, DNR area fisheries manager, who said he was disappointed a prior commitment prevented him from attending Wednesday's meeting.
"I'm really looking forward to working with the alliance," Brastrup said. "I want to get in on the ground floor, learn their goals and help them achieve them. We all want the same thing and this will be a new era of cooperation."
John Blong, a Baxter resident who was elected treasurer of the alliance, said the feeling is mutual. "We hope we can become a valuable tool for the DNR," Blong said. "For example, if they place a slot limit on a certain lake we could help them determine if it's working. Our group could be drawn on for input. It might even save the DNR a lot of money."
The alliance is seeking corporate sponsorships and already has been contacted by area resort owners and lake association members. It also plans to offer youth memberships in the near future. Fishing trips, both local and distant, will be offered to members.
A board of directors was formed Wednesday night. It includes Chuck Carlson, president, Jeff Stirewalt, vice president, John Blong, treasurer and Earl Wolleat, secretary. Other members include Chad Grover, Mike Lepel, Butch Blasing, Tom Schwegman, Bob Hanson, Dave Sapletal, Kurt Yelle, Travis Peterson and Glen Belgum.
For more information on the Brainerd Walleye Alliance call Carlson at (218) 828-6362 or Stirewalt at (218) 828-2177.
Goals and objectives
The Brainerd Walleye Alliance has established six goals:
1. Improve the quality of walleye fishing in the Brainerd lakes area.
2. Improve walleye fishing throughout Minnesota.
3. Organize concerned anglers into a unified voice in government.
4. Support the DNR in its efforts to make accelerated walleye stocking a reality.
5. Lobby for the reallocation of existing funds raised by sporting groups that have been misdirected into the state's general fund.
6. Lobby for increased DNR funding that reflects the interests of the sporting groups from which the funds are generated.
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