Few have the on the water experience that these two gentlemen have, Joe Fellegy, 72, of Baxter, and Ray Nepsund, 87, of Park Rapids. They are career fishing charter captains on two Minnesota premier fishing lakes - Mille Lacs and Winnibigoshish.
Fellegy's father bought land on the north shore of Mille Lacs Lake where he built a resort and the resort's first charter boat. Nepsund's grandfather introduced him to fishing, a passion evolving into a business ferrying people around on Lake Winnibigoshish, based out of Denny's Resort.
Fellegy started guiding in 1958 with a small boat while in high school.
"Word got out amongst the resort guests, seeing my catches of nice walleyes. Guests wanted to fish with me," Fellegy admits.
Later, he took his place piloting the families 30-foot charter boat.
Nepsund's passion and love of big lake fishing sprouted from a seed planted in the early years while living in southern Minnesota. March 1972, Nepsund started repairing Denny's Resort's charter boat engines. Later that fall, he took his first charter excursions.
The two met when Nepsund repaired the transmission on Fellegy's charter boat. Recently, the two sat down to talk about the past and future of fishing in the state of Minnesota.
Fishing electronics arrived on the scene in the sixties, changing fishing forever in their opinion. Then came leeches in the seventies creating a live bait revolution.
" One group of fishermen from the Twin Cities booked a trip with Nepsund, bringing with a coffee can full of leeches. Minnows on a strip on spinner, that day was producing limited success. It was time to give leeches a try. Walleyes inhaled the leeches and limiting out was easy," Nepsund recalls.
Fellegy, fished every day from mid May, taking a week off before Labor Day, then back on the water until mid October. Charter fishing customers became a fishing method testing laboratory. "Had fifty or so rods all pre-rigged on the boat to save fishing time. Bait presentations and techniques were compared and noted to when and where worked best," says Fellegy.
Bobber fishing rocks, live bait rigging with long leaders, small hooks and jigs, all techniques perfected by Fellegy's charter customers.
Charter fishing was popular. Big water is intimidating to anglers; experienced charter captains played an important role to find fish, then get customers back to the dock safely. Since that time charter fishing has declined in popularity. Today's electronics are loaded with maps and pre-marked fishing areas. Nepsund admitted to sharing his favorite fishing locations with Hot Spot Lake Maps, a company producing lake maps designed to aid anglers. Resulting in fishermen equipped with state of the art fish finders and hot spot maps to find successful fishing areas on their own.
Fellegy feels the decline in fishing popularity is caused by a change in family structure. "Young people have other distractions and activities these days and it is more expensive to go.
The fishing industry is promoting sales of equipment instead of the "sport of fishing," says Fellegy. Both agree dropping the state's walleye limit to four is a good idea, feeling it should have been done years ago.
Fellegy retired from charter fishing in 1990, moving to Baxter. Nepsund charters summers on Lake Winnibigoshish, operating out of McArdle's Resort.