Excerpt from “Let’s Go Fishing! Fish Tales from the North Woods” by Eric Dregni is reproduced by permission of the University of Minnesota Press. Copyright 2016 by Eric Dregni. All rights reserved. www.upress.umn.edu
For once, the Minnesota [House] was nearly unanimous when declaring that the walleye was the official state fish in 1965, but some spoilsport (who was probably stumping for the bullhead) voted “nay” in the 128 to 1 tally. In reverence of the lunkers hooked in its waters, Garrison, Minnesota, on Lake Mille Lacs, was soon nominated the “Walleye Capital of the World.”
Not so fast, warned Baudette, Minnesota, which also claimed the title. Many other towns declared for themselves the prominent honor of producing these delicious fish: Ray, Minnesota; Rush City, Minnesota; Bays de Noc, Michigan; Mobridge, South Dakota; Umatilla, Oregon; and Shell Lake, Wisconsin, which now stays out of the fracas by referring to itself simply as “Walleye Country” and has a strange statue of a mutant walleye with two tails to prove it.
The Bismarck Tribune pushed to keep the walleye capital in Garrison, North Dakota, but quoted Fred Snyder from Ohio State University, who insisted that Port Clinton, Ohio, on Lake Erie, was the special spot. “There is no other body of water that produces the poundage per acre of walleye that Lake Erie does,” the professor boasted. Impressively, the town celebrates New Year’s Eve not with a ball drop but by lowering its eighteen-foot walleye, named Captain Wylie, from a crane. A new Junior Miss Walleye is crowned each year as royalty for this “Walleye Madness at Midnight.”
In 2007, Baudette challenged all these other newcomers and tried to trademark the title “Walleye Capital of the World.” Incredibly, the state of Minnesota played favorites and awarded Baudette the trademark for ten years. The town then filed for a federal trademark and had to wade through mounds of bureaucracy from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which requested information about how Baudette would use the title. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in 2007 that the trademark would give Baudette “the right to tell other towns to back off. Indeed, it would give the bureau the right to sue in federal court to prevent unauthorized use of the trademark.” The newspaper quoted Gregg Hennum of the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau: “We don’t want to create any enemies. But it’s business.” In 2015, I checked the status of the application with the receptionist at the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau. “We officially got the recognition about five years ago,” she responded proudly. As far as the other towns that still use the nickname “Walleye Capital of the World,” she told me, “They might call themselves that but they don’t get to use the trademark logo.”
Even if a town holds that title officially, it’s questionable how it can be enforced. Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, succeeded in establishing the U.S. trademark as the “Musky Capital of the World,” but Hayward, Wisconsin, calls itself the same thing, as does Leech Lake, Minnesota, and Lake of the Woods, which stretches from northern Minnesota into Ontario. To further inflame passions, assemblyman Willis Hutnik from the Hayward area introduced legislation in 1955 to the Wisconsin state legislature to make the muskie the official state fish. In the proposal, he mentioned that Hayward is the muskie capital of the world without knowing that Boulder Junction officially held that title. “Incensed by this shameless disregard for their legally secured right to exclusive use of the title, the folk of Boulder Junction rallied together,” explains the website of the town of Boulder Junction. Even though Hayward claims the largest muskie ever caught, Boulder Junction dismisses this as nonsense and contends, “The ‘Musky Capital’ tag has always been premised on the total number of Muskies caught, not the size of one freak fish.”
To resolve the issue once and for all, Representative Ellsworth Gaulke from Lac du Flambeau introduced legislation in 1971 to the Wisconsin legislature to strike the offhand mention of Hayward as a muskie capital from the official record. The Milwaukee Journal on March 9, 1971, reported on how state legislators pass their time and quoted in detail: “In 1955 a misguided, chauvinistic, and overzealous state representative, who shall remain nameless, had the unmitigated gall to introduce a joint resolution which with a certain low cunning referred to the city of Hayward, a blameless community which was led astray by these machinations in Madison, as the ‘muskie capital of the world’ (lower case).” The joint resolution that passed in 1955 “has stuck in the craw of the good people and gentle folk of Boulder Junction like a dratted salmon bone.” The new formal proposal asks “that this blemish be removed, this blot erased, this mote in the eye of Boulder Junction be hereby and forthwith exorcised … revoked, expunged, repealed, and dead as any mackerel.” Even so, citizens of Hayward refer to their town as the “Muskie Capital of the World” (or sometimes diplomatically as the “Muskie Capital of Wisconsin”). And going far beyond some little trademark symbol, Hayward built a 145-foot-long Muskie to prove its point.
“Let’s Go Fishing!”
By: Eric Dregni
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press, 256 pages, $39.95
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