As a kid, “Mr. Walleye” Gary Roach spent his spare time on the dock or in the boat. He says he was “always fishing” — as is nephew Tony Roach.
Gary Roach, 76, of Merrifield is a Minnesota walleye fishing legend, and his nephew, Tony Roach, 36, of Moose Lake, is following in his footsteps. Both will appear on the seminar stage at the Northwest Sportshow, which opens Wednesday. In the interview below, the legend and the legend-in-the-making recount their lives in fishing.
Q How did you get started fishing?
Gary I fished first from a dock, and I started as soon as I could walk. This was on Upper Mission Lake, where we lived. I fished with a cane pole, and when I was big enough to row a boat, I headed onto the lake. Upper Mission was good for crappies, bass and panfish. We had to go to Pelican Lake for walleyes.
Tony I also started fishing on Upper Mission, and also from a dock. A dock is a great place for a kid to learn. I grew up in Moose Lake, and every day in summer I’d walk the shores of Moosehead Lake, fishing for smallmouth bass, northern pike, panfish and walleyes.
Q When did you decide to make a living fishing?
Gary I got out of the Navy in 1959. After that, I did a lot of different things. I owned a gas station, and I was in a band for 15 years, playing three nights a week. But I always fished. On nice days I’d get to looking outside when I was at the gas station, and I’d tell the guy who was working for me I needed to make a service call. And I’d go fishing.
Tony I started fishing for money when I was 18. I was lucky and landed a job guiding on Flag Island, on Lake of the Woods. I was in college at the time.
Gary I was guiding on Upper Mission when I was 12. … Later, I’d fished all the lakes in the Brainerd area many times, and one day a guy told me I should go over to Marv Koep’s [bait and tackle shop near Nisswa] and see about being a guide. I didn’t have a boat. But I did have a motor. And Marv gave me a Green Box depth finder. It wasn’t long before I was taking clients out and catching limits of walleyes at a secret lake I knew about that didn’t have a public access.
Q How’d go you from being a guide to being in the fishing promotion business?
Gary While guiding I met Al Lindner. He and his brother Ron were getting In-Fisherman magazine going, and I started traveling, promoting fishing for them. … Then I started promoting on my own. I had as many as 17 people on my “Fishing Promos’’ team that I started with Randy Amenrud, who also traveled to promote fishing and the fishing business.
Tony I studied construction management in college. But I was always fishing. When I got out of school, Gary asked me if I wanted to be on his Mr. Walleye team to fish and promote fishing. It was a great opportunity to show how hard I could work. I wanted to prove myself.
Gary It didn’t take long before people were talking about Tony. If he guided them, he caught fish. He’d always give everyone the best time of their lives.
Q Tony, did you start guiding first, or fishing tournaments first?
Tony I started guiding on Mille Lacs and fishing tournaments there during the monster bites of 2003 and 2004. … But fishing turned pretty tough over the next couple of years, and it was then that I started getting more attention, because I was still catching fish.
Q Gary, how did you get the nickname Mr. Walleye?
Gary That started in Michigan. There was a tournament on Little Bay de Noc, and at the weigh-in, I came on stage with a big bunch of walleyes. As I did, someone said, ‘Here comes old Mr. Walleye.’ Ron Lindner was there and he said, ‘You need to trademark that before someone else steals it.’ And I did.
Q Are you still fishing tournaments?
Tony I fished five tournaments last year. One was a bass tournament, and I won that. But it’s walleyes I really love. Of the 297 days I guided last year, about two-thirds were on Mille Lacs for walleyes.
Gary I fished seven tournaments last year, which is pretty good for a guy 76 ½ years old. That’s how you do it when you’re my age, count the years by quarters and halves, because you don’t know how long you’ll be around.
Q Both of you promote Lund boats.
Gary My dad had a Lund before I went in the service. So it’s what I’ve always owned.
Tony Technically, I’ve been on the Lund team since 2004. But more accurately I was bottle-fed in a Lund when I was a baby, and I’ve been in one ever since.
Q You’re each giving seminars at the Sportshow. What will you talk about?
Gary I’ll be doing mine with Ron Schara, and we’re going to welcome questions about walleye tactics for various situations. Boat control is important, and we’ll deal with that. Also slip bobbers. … And how to stay off a reef and approach fish quietly so they’re not scared off.
Tony I’ll talk about Mille Lacs and how to fish it, and how to fish other Minnesota lakes, too. And I’m going to reveal my top 10 fishing destinations for 2014. Also I’ll talk about youth fishing, and getting kids on the water, which is a very important topic to me. To see our sport continue, we need to make sure kids get out of the house and away from their electronics and doing things outdoors.
Editor’s note: Gary Roach’s Northwest Sportshow seminars will be at 3 and 7 p.m. Wednesday. Tony Roach (www.roachsguideservice.com) will appear Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
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