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Boreal Community Media

The story of how the biggest walleye ever caught in Minnesota is coming home

May 25, 2022 10:31AM ● By Content Editor
Photo courtesy of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society

Exclusive Boreal Community Media content by Laura Durenberger-Grunow - May 25, 2022

It’s 1979. The location is Seagull River, Minnesota, where it enters Saganaga Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail. It was during this time that the biggest walleye ever recorded in Minnesota was caught by someone named LeRoy Chiovitte. And now that walleye is coming home in an induction ceremony that will take place on Sunday, May 29, 2022. 

Chiovitte, of Hermantown, pulled the 17 lb, 8-ounce fish out of the water, and to this day still holds the state record for the largest walleye. At 35 ¾ inches long, and 21 ¼ inches in girth, the only walleye to even come close to this one was caught on July 4, 1989, by then-University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks. Bruininks was fishing on Loon Lake along the Gunflint Trail when he pulled a 17 lbs, 6-ounce walleye out of the water. While his walleye was close to breaking the record, it was weighed two hours after it was caught. This has caused some people to wonder if it had been weighed right away, would it have broken Chiovitte’s record?

Being a native Minnesotan, I know that walleye are a big deal. But I wasn't familiar with any of the requirements for obtaining the "record-breaking fish title", and was curious about how that process worked. For clarification, I spoke with Bill Douglas, President of the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center who said: “the size amongst fishermen and women to be considered a trophy walleye, or "Hog" as we call them on the Gunflint Trail, is 28"-30."” 

So in the world of fish stories, I know the walleye Chiovitte and Bruininks caught are quite large based on Douglas's description. But how does one know if they have an official potentially record-breaking-sized fish? For that information, I turned to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR). 

According to the MN DNR, there are two types of state records:

The first is based on catching and keeping the biggest fish in each species based on certified weight, which is where the fish Chiovitte and Bruininks fall into. 

The second is for the length of a caught-and-released muskellunge, northern pike, lake sturgeon, or flathead catfish.

To enter a fish for consideration, you must have it weighed on a state-certified scale which you can find at butcher shops or bait shops. Next, you take the fish to an MN DNR fisheries office, where they will give an official identification. From there, you must fill out an official application and send it back to the MN DNR along with a photo and official measurements of the fish. Finally, you must tell all your friends and family the story of how you caught your fish. Not required, but highly recommended. 

And speaking of fish stories, I asked Douglas if he could share some of the Chiovitte’s fish story with me, which he willingly did. 

According to Douglas, “when LeRoy (who was 42 at the time and a frequent visitor to Saganaga Lake) caught his record walleye, it made several long runs. He was using 8 lb. test line with a shiner minnow on a single hook. It wrapped around their anchor twice. His fishing partner Loren Palmer had to untangle the fish from the anchor line while landing the walleye with one hand. When he maneuvered it into the net, the hook came loose.”

Saganaga Lake is known for its strain of large walleye and is popular among fishermen and women for that reason. I couldn't help but wonder if that was the case, how likely would it be that Chiovitte's record-breaking walleyes would eventually be beat?

"LeRoy's walleye record is likely to stand for a very long time," Douglas said. 

The reason is that the Saganaga Lake area is now closed to spring fishing to protect spawning walleyes. So if you were hoping to try your hand at catching your own "hog" in that area, you'll have to wait. Luckily, there are lots of other great lakes along the Gunflint Lake to test your luck. 

I then asked Douglas why the fish was being donated, and why the Chik-Wauk museum was selected (besides the fish being caught in a nearby location). 

"Chiovitte passed away this winter, so the family was looking for a home for his fish. A campaign was headed by Bonnie Schudy, the Chik-Wauk Campus Director, to have the fish come to Chik-Wauk. Many letters and emails were sent to the family urging them to donate the prize to Chik-Wauk", he said.

At the event on Sunday, May 29, 2022, the fish will be unveiled by Chioviette’s family who are attending as honored guests. The Chik-Wauk Museum plans to encase the walleye on a custom stand and mounted inside a glass case, which will protect the fish for a lifetime according to the Douglas. The organization also confirmed that the fish will be on full, permanent display after the induction in the Watercraft Exhibit Building.

As for President and professor emeritus Bruininks’s ‘close-to-record-breaking’ walleye? That has been donated to the Bell Museum of Natural History on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus. Douglas urges fishermen and women of all ages to visit the Bell Museum to see Bob’s walleye (and all the exhibits) if they don't have the chance to see the state record at Chik-Wauk.

Douglas wrapped up by sharing with me that as an organization, “Chik-Wauk is very, very excited to receive this gift.” He goes on to say that “fishing has been a big part of the history of the Gunflint Trail since its inception. So to receive this gift as a big piece of that history, it is a major contribution to our many professional exhibits.”

The record-breaking walleye induction ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 29, 2022, from 4-6pm. There will be a silent auction with several fish-related items, along with the option to make a donation. Due to flooding at the Chik-Wauk campus, the event has been moved to the Seagull Community Center. 

Here is the schedule for the event:

◦ 4:00-4:45 Fish stories and socializing. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own fish photos and stories to share. 

◦ 4:45: Induction ceremony

◦ 5:00: Guest speaker Bob Bruininks tells his big walleye story 

◦ 5:45: Silent auction will be closed and winning bids awarded. You do not have to be in attendance to win.

The event is free and open to the public. Masks are optional. 

For more information, visit the Chik-Wauk Museum and Gunflint Trail Historical Society website