Joe Fellegy, long known as one of the best fishermen to ply the waters of Mille Lacs, will speak at the annual Brainerd Elks Fishing Fling on Wednesday night.
Interestingly, the man whose name is synonymous with Mille Lacs was born and reared in New Ulm. His parents built a small resort on the north shore of Mille Lacs in the 1950s and when Joe was 14 he began taking customers fishing in a small boat. Today that boat rests in tall grass behind Fellegy's house, a reminder of a vanished time when small craft still predominated on the big lake.
Fellegy ran a launch for more than 30 years and was on the water daily from the May opener into October, save for a few days taken off before Labor Day. This was in the days before lake maps and GPS. Fellegy, sometimes referred to as a "human GPS," helped Orrin Tutt, owner of Tutt's Bait in Garrison, produce "King Tutt's Mille Lacs Walleye Whiffer Lake Map" in the early 1990s. Fellegy had a mental map of his fishing grounds, including dozens of mud flats far from shore, and Tutt said he was amazed at how accurately Fellegy's mental map was when compared to actual data from a GPS.
"Some called it a special skill," Fellegy says. "But maybe it had less to do with genius and more to do with the fact that I was lucky enough to be out there every day."
Fellegy's research for "Classic Minnesota Fishing Stories," one of the books he's written, helped oust several state record fish, including a largemouth bass record that stood for 20 years.
"It's ironic," Fellegy says, "that I did this favor for Minnesota bass anglers, since I often refer to bass as 'stinking.'"
The book's 40 storytellers from across the state include a familiar Brainerd-area fishing names: Harry Van Doren, Royal Karels, Al Lindner, Babe Winkelman and Gene Shapinski. He was in Nisswa when Marv and Judy Koep had a grand opening for the new Marv Koep's Nisswa Bait Shop in the early '70s.
Fellegy has been an outdoors writer since 1970. Along the way he has met many of the Brainerd area's notable fishermen and periodically has been hired to write for local tackle manufacturers. Current catalogs of Lindy's Legendary Fishing Tackle and Nature Vision (Aqua-Vu) hold Fellegy's wordsmithing.
"Years ago," he recalls, "Al Lindner and I put together a book on bass. His writing skills weren't very polished and I didn't know much about bass. So we made a great team!"
Today Fellegy writes a weekly column, "Rockin' the Boat," in Outdoor News, providing him with a forum in which to sound off on Minnesota's fishing topics of the day. This week's column, for example, includes his opinions about the coming law that will require sportsmen to provide a Social Security number in order to buy fishing and hunting licenses, and background for DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam's recent trip to Mille Lacs.
In a collaborative effort with the Outdoor News, Fellegy publishes the Mille Lacs Fishing Digest, a quarterly publication he founded 11 years ago and distributes through bait shops and resorts.
At the Fishing Fling, Fellegy, who is a Mille Lacs area history buff, is expected to talk about his recollections of Brainerd's long-time connection with Mille Lacs, including the city as a destination for commercially caught Mille Lacs walleyes a hundred years ago. He also will tell stories about his Mille Lacs fishing experiences, give opinions on current Minnesota and Mille Lacs fishing topics and provide anecdotes about Brainerd and Mille Lacs fishing personalities, "not all of whom are celebrities."
A question and answer session will follow the presentation, which is expected to begin at 8 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased from any Elks member or at the lodge. Phone 829-2643.
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