Historic Gull Lake ready for Governor's Fishing Opener spotlight

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2014 - 12:53 AM

When Gov. Mark Dayton fishes Gull Lake on Saturday, he’ll become part of the lake’s renowned history, which includes Indian chiefs, gangsters, gamblers and resort visionaries.

hide

Boaters having fun on Gull Lake in this undated photo from Grand View Lodge. Photo courtsey Minnesota Historical Society.

Dutch Cragun was 8 in 1940 when his dad bought 7 acres on Gull Lake near Brainerd and built a few cabins, launching the family’s resort business.

“I was in charge of worms, minnows and frogs,’’ Cragun, now 82, said with a chuckle.

He didn’t know it then, but selling bait to anglers launched his long career on Gull Lake, where he turned the little family business into Cragun’s Resort — one of Minnesota’s largest and best known. It’s one of several iconic resorts on Gull, a gorgeous 15-mile-long stretch of water with an unrivaled rich history that includes prehistoric Native Americans, illegal gambling, gangsters and even murder.

Combine that back story with fishing, boating, world-class golf and other activities, and you have a destination steeped in lore that has attracted scores of people for decades — one of the most popular vacation spots in the state.

Come Saturday, the storied lake and another of its fabled resorts — Grand View Lodge — will serve as headquarters for the Governor’s Fishing Opener, kicking off Minnesota’s fishing season. And shining the spotlight, again, on Gull Lake.

Northern Lake Minnetonka

Gull Lake’s beauty and bounty have been an allure for thousands of years. Woodland Indians occupied the area dating to 800 B.C., and tourists today can visit ancient burial mounds. More recent remnants of Indian history remain: Gull Lake’s Hole in the Day Bay — where 10,000 anglers fish each winter in the world’s largest ice fishing contest — is named after Chief Joseph Hole-in-the-Day, who was murdered by rival Indians in 1868 on a trail between the Gull and Crow Wing rivers.

Great stands of white pines were the enticement for white settlers. Indians relinquished their lands under treaties and moved to the White Earth Indian Reservation. Chief Hole-in-the-Day’s lands at North Long Lake and Gull Lake were sold to timber and railroad interests, spurring settlement.

A dam at the Gull River helped loggers float logs to sawmills, and later railroads were built to haul logs. Those railroads also started bringing visitors lured by the many lakes and superb fishing.

“It was said you could wade in the shallow water in spring and the northerns were so thick you couldn’t walk,’’ said regional historian Jeremy Jackson.

Wrote the Brainerd Dispatch in 1893: “The finest fishing in Minnesota is at Gull Lake and the tributary waters, and the day is coming when it will be a smart rival of [Lake] Minnetonka.’’

Added the newspaper: “The railroad now runs within three miles of it and a steamboat for pleasure parties is nearly ready to be launched upon its waters by a party of Brainerd men interested in building up and advertising the beauties and pleasures to be seen and enjoyed in that vicinity.’’

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a dam on the lake in 1912 to control water levels, raising Gull about 5 feet and allowing boaters to motor to 10 other lakes and bays — the Gull Chain of Lakes.

Cabins, resorts and hotels sprang up.

Among them was Grand View Lodge, launched by M. V. Baker in 1919, who owned 3,000 feet of lakefront when he built a lodge to house prospective land buyers. It later provided lodging for parents of youngsters attending Camp Lake Hubert for Girls and Camp Lincoln for Boys at nearby Lake Hubert, and eventually became a thriving resort.

More than fishing

Grand View manager Mark Ronnei has witnessed the transformation of his resort and Gull Lake. The predictions that Gull would become another Lake Minnetonka have come true. Multimillion-dollar year-round homes have replaced humble summer cottages.

And people come for different reasons.

“When it first started, it was all about fishing,’’ said Ronnei, 57, who has worked at Grand View for 37 years. “It was a Memorial Day-to-Labor Day operation. It’s evolved.’’

The late “Brownie” Cote, owner, added tennis courts, then a golf course. Nearby Cragun’s and Madden’s resorts also built golf courses, making Gull Lake a golfer’s destination. Conference centers and spas followed. So did snowmobiles and snowmobile trails.

Why Gull Lake?

“Gull is deep and clean and cold,’’ Ronnei said. “It’s a big lake with places to go. There’s 14 places to stop and have a sandwich or beer, and lots of beautiful houses to see.

“And it’s that magic distance from the Twin Cities — the northern suburbs are just over 2 hours away. That makes a lake home or weekend resort experience very doable.’’

Said John Taylor, 67, longtime Gull Lake resident and former president of the Gull Chain of Lakes Association:

“It just seems to have an allure. I’ve met so many people over the years who stay at a resort and end up buying a cabin and staying here. There’s just something unique about it. It’s hard to put into words.’’

Visitors still come to Grand View to fish, Ronnei said. And Gull is still noted as a stellar walleye and bass lake. But many guests come for the golf, spas, yoga, cooking classes, wine tasting seminars and kids programs.

Last summer, 73 percent of the boat traffic on Gull Lake was recreational, and 27 percent was fishing-related, said Marc Bacigalupi, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries manager in Brainerd.

“People used to come here to fish,’’ said Marv Koep, 72, former bait shop owner and fishing guide who helped form the legendary Nisswa Guide’s League, a roster of fishing guides that included Al and Ron Lindner, Gary Roach, Harry Van Dorn and Koep.

“Now it’s golfing,’’ Koep said. “Fishing isn’t the priority anymore. That changed when the mom-and-pop resorts quit.’’

But ice-out occurred last Saturday, and they’ll be plenty of anglers on Gull this weekend, including Gov. Mark Dayton and his entourage.

Gangsters and gambling

Not all of those who have come to Gull Lake were attracted by the scenery and good fishing. Erv Anderson constructed Big Bar Harbor, a watering hole, built partly over the water on the north side of Gull in 1938. It soon became famous for illegal gambling, including slot machines, which was not uncommon in that era. An estimated 8,500 one-armed bandits were in use around the state in 1946.

Law enforcement was left to the counties, and was sporadic and often ineffective.

“Bar Harbor is in Cass County, and the county seat is Walker, 50 miles away,’’ said Cragun. “By the time the sheriff’s posse came down from Walker, someone always tipped them off and gave them time to roll the slots out to pickup trucks.

“After the sheriff left, they’d have the machines up and running within an hour.’’

Gambling also brought gangsters.

“They were all over,’’ said Cragun.

Luther Youngdahl, who ran for governor in 1946, supposedly was hiking with Boy Scouts late one evening when he encountered the gambling at Bar Harbor and decided to stamp out slot machines. He was elected and pushed for passage of a law that allowed authorities to revoke licenses of businesses caught with gambling devices. The resorts and bars complied, sometimes posting signs: “Youngdahl was here.’’

Bar Harbor continued as a well-known supper club with the “big bands’’ such as Woody Herman, Jimmy and Tomy Dorsey, and Duke Ellington. Recently renovated, it remains a popular attraction.

Dayton and other visitors Saturday will find things tamer on Gull Lake these days. And Dutch Cragun is ready for another summer season with visitors, new and old.

“I’ve made a career out of helping people enjoy themselves,’’ he said. “I can’t think of anything better.

“It’s a good life.’’

 

Doug Smith • 612-673-7667







 

  • related content

  • Send us your fish tales, photos

    Monday May 12, 2014

    Another fishing season begins

  • The entrance to Grand View Lodge back in the day.

  • Jim Kostreba, Grand View employee, works on spring cleaning around Grand View Resort, in this view looking back from Gull Lake at the historic lodge. A wedding was going to take place later that afternoon, May 3.

  • Fun on the lake in yesteryear: Anglers with their haul, above. Boaters cruised Gull Lake.

  • Cragun's Resort in the early days. ORG XMIT: MIN1404291615332693

  • Right: Dutch and Irma Cragun traded memories of running their resort, Cragun’s on Gull Lake, as they looked over the lake from the balcony off of Dutch’s office. They have been married for 49 years. Behind them on the far shore are the lakeshore cabins that make up part of the resort complex.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Detroit
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Golden State 71 3rd Qtr 7:48
Orlando 55
Brooklyn 67 3rd Qtr 3:35
Philadelphia 58
Portland 71 3rd Qtr 4:10
Charlotte 69
Washington 51 3rd Qtr 8:35
Cleveland 62
LA Clippers 44 2nd Qtr 2:29
Detroit 45
New York 40 2nd Qtr 2:23
Dallas 38
Toronto 59 2nd Qtr 2:06
Atlanta 53
Milwaukee 26 2nd Qtr
Minnesota 24
Sacramento 18 1st Qtr 2:54
Houston 28
Utah 29 1st Qtr 0:01
Oklahoma City 31
Indiana 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Denver 8:00 PM
Phoenix
Memphis 9:30 PM
LA Lakers
Winnipeg 2 2nd Prd 1:25
Buffalo 0
Washington 1 2nd Prd 1:19
NY Islanders 2
Philadelphia 0 2nd Prd 20:00
Detroit 1
NY Rangers 2 2nd Prd 20:00
Tampa Bay 2
Carolina 0 2nd Prd 17:44
Florida 1
Toronto 0 2nd Prd
Pittsburgh 2
Los Angeles 2 1st Prd 6:00
Minnesota 0
Chicago 8:00 PM
Colorado
Calgary 9:30 PM
San Jose
Robert Morris 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 61
Rochester College 35 FINAL
Eastern Mich 68
Marist 68 FINAL
Fresno State 64
Butler 74 FINAL
North Carolina 66
Liberty 50 FINAL
Morgan State 51
Denver 57 FINAL
Belmont 78
American Univ 64 FINAL
Hampton 60
Sacred Heart 72 FINAL
James Madison 79
Northeastern 54 FINAL
Massachusetts 79
Samford 71 FINAL
Kennesaw St 84
ULM 48 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 61
Hawaii 75 FINAL
East Carolina 73
Missouri 74 FINAL
Chaminade 60
UCLA 65 FINAL
Oklahoma 75
North Florida 72 FINAL
Elon 65
Oral Roberts 69 FINAL
Milwaukee 66
Chicago State 61 FINAL
Western Carolina 66
Purdue 87 FINAL
BYU 85
Furman 54 FINAL
Duke 93
San Francisco 72 FINAL
Evansville 79
Wisconsin 58 2nd Half 9:27
UAB 30
Davidson 86 2nd Half 7:18
UCF 60
Albany 59 2nd Half 3:38
Colgate 55
Longwood 40 2nd Half 11:52
George Washington 54
Delaware State 63 2nd Half 7:01
Iona 103
Trinity Baptist 51 2nd Half 5:49
Jacksonville 58
Cleveland State 29 2nd Half 7:54
Louisville 35
St Johns 49 2nd Half 11:52
Minnesota 53
PSU-Harrisburg 40 2nd Half 7:17
Navy 51
Richmond 63 2nd Half 7:24
NC State 66
Grambling St 50 2nd Half 4:30
Notre Dame 75
Georgia State 70 2nd Half 7:30
Oakland 63
Campbell 49 2nd Half 7:42
Ohio State 73
Goucher 36 2nd Half 7:15
Towson 79
Bryant 31 2nd Half 5:39
Vermont 58
Miami-Ohio 33 2nd Half 12:20
Virginia Tech 58
Mount St Marys 26 2nd Half 10:20
Wake Forest 63
Lafayette 50 2nd Half 9:33
Yale 68
UMKC 45 2nd Half 10:11
Youngstown St 50
Canisius 32 2nd Half 18:17
Cornell 37
Va Military 35 2nd Half
West Virginia 53
Lehigh 25 1st Half 7:57
DePaul 16
UC Riverside 19 1st Half 7:56
Loyola Marymount 12
Morehead State 27 1st Half 7:49
Marshall 18
Miss Valley St 25 1st Half 6:00
North Texas 28
UNC-Asheville 19 1st Half 7:39
South Carolina 27
Tenn Tech 29 1st Half 5:26
SE Louisiana 23
Texas Southern 15 1st Half 4:54
SMU 24
Radford 18 1st Half 6:04
TCU 19
TX-Pan American 17 1st Half 7:05
Utah 27
Wayne St-NE 17 1st Half 7:50
South Dakota 26
Kansas State 14 1st Half 7:30
Pittsburgh 17
Northern Ill 0 1st Half 18:27
Iowa 3
Fla Gulf Coast 7:30 PM
Green Bay
Carroll (MT) 8:00 PM
Montana
Florida A&M 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Auburn 8:00 PM
Oregon State
Eastern Ky 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Stetson 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Northern Ky 8:05 PM
Eastern Wash
Utah Valley U 8:05 PM
Idaho State
Florida 8:30 PM
Georgetown
Georgia 8:30 PM
Gonzaga
Northwestern 8:30 PM
Northern Iowa
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
California
Arizona 9:00 PM
San Diego St
Utah State 9:00 PM
UC Davis
Alabama State 9:30 PM
North Dakota
Portland State 10:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Tulsa 10:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Pacific 10:30 PM
Alaska-Anchorage
Missouri State 11/27/14 1:00 AM
Colorado State
Ohio U 24 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 21
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Kennesaw St 74 FINAL
Seton Hall 77
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 55
Illinois-Chicago 40 FINAL
Northwestern 61
UT Martin 75 FINAL
Samford 79
Niagara 63 FINAL
Binghamton 52
Radford 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 72
East Tenn St 69 FINAL
Indiana 97
North Dakota 72 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 52
Marshall 49 FINAL
Cornell 58
Oral Roberts 43 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 54
LSU 0 Postponed
Texas-El Paso 0
Boise State 59 FINAL
Yale 53
Evansville 35 2nd Half 10:29
(22) West Virginia 60
(4) Tennessee 51 2nd Half 7:57
Chattanooga 54
Delaware State 60 2nd Half 1:35
Mount St Marys 63
Bradley 52 2nd Half 6:35
Columbia 48
Providence 41 2nd Half 7:07
Dayton 61
Presbyterian 41 2nd Half 1:21
Xavier 45
Albany 44 2nd Half 7:34
Canisius 43
VA Commonwealth 38 2nd Half 6:44
William & Mary 42
Alabama A&M 36 2nd Half 9:20
Alabama 55
Colgate 25 2nd Half 7:21
(22) Georgia 50
Memphis 63 2nd Half 4:43
Southern Ill 73
Oakland 27 2nd Half 20:00
(16) Michigan State 41
Utah Valley U 24 2nd Half
UC Davis 35
Butler 7:00 PM
BYU
TX-Pan American 8 1st Half 7:33
(6) Texas 25
McNeese State 12 1st Half 6:12
(7) Texas A&M 35
Milwaukee 27 1st Half 7:12
Marquette 25
Northern Ariz 14 1st Half 11:52
TX-Arlington 16
Jackson State 11 1st Half 11:04
Chicago State 25
Indiana State 22 1st Half 6:32
South Alabama 10
Kansas State 0 Postponed
Santa Clara 0
Long Beach St 8:00 PM
Alaska-Anchorage
Iona 8:00 PM
Kansas
Fresno Pacific 9:00 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close