The Griz was growling.
Sitting in his boat on the Mississippi River near the Twin Cities, he talked about the way it used to be. And the more he talked, the more worked up he got.
“Years back, this part of the Mississippi was just getting hammered because it was so close to the city,” said Dick Grzywinski, better known as the Griz to Minnesota fishermen. “People were catching big walleyes and just letting them go to waste. The water was polluted and they didn’t want to eat them. They’d catch stringers of big fish and show them off, then they’d just throw them away.
“It was (garbage). We knew we had to try and stop that.”
So Grzywinski, a legendary guide, and Dick Sternberg, another noted Minnesota fisherman, started a campaign to get that stretch of river designated as a catch and release area.
“We have more than 10,000 lakes in Minnesota where people can keep walleyes,” the Griz said. “It wasn’t going to hurt to have a trophy area where people would have to throw their fish back.”
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources apparently agreed. In 1993, the agency established Pool 2 on the Mississippi River, the stretch from St. Paul’s Ford Dam to Hastings, as a catch and release area for walleyes. And that laid the foundation for one of the Northwoods’ best trophy fisheries.
There are huge walleyes in the stretch where Grzywinski’s boat was sitting. Just a few miles from the big city, Minnesota’s golden fish lead a charmed life. They have the habitat, forage and big water they like. And even if they get hooked and make a brief trip into the boat, they’re going back.
CPR. Catch, Photo, Release. That’s the drill on this section of the famous river. And it has helped create one of the best trophy walleye fisheries in the country.
“In all of Minnesota, you won’t find a better place for trophy walleyes,” said Grzywinski, who lives in St. Paul. “I caught my biggest walleye ever —14 pounds, 6 ounces — here. And I’ve had customers catch walleyes 10, 11, 12 pounds.
“I’ve fished all across Minnesota, but I only have to go a few miles from my house to have chance at a trophy fish.”
The Griz proved it on a recent weekday. He motored to a backwater area off the river and immediately headed to a brushy area where he had found success before. He hooked a minnow to a bright-colored jig head, then dropped the offering straight to the bottom.
“You have to fish vertically,” he said. “We always say, ‘You drag, you snag.’
“There’s a lot of stuff down there to get hung up on. But when you’re fishing vertically, there’s less chance of running into trouble.”
Grzywinski began lifting and lowering his jig-and-minnow combination, making sure he kept contact with the bottom. When the line suddenly grew heavy, he set the hook and felt the dogged pull of a big walleye.
The fish struggled for a while, taking out line. But the Griz eventually won the fight and led his catch into a landing net.
“That’s one of those big ones,” he said. “That fish will go 9, 10 pounds.”
He unhooked the walleye and flopped it back into the water, then went back for more.
He and customer Darren Envall found more success, including one walleye that Grzywinski estimated at 7 pounds and another at 5 pounds. An extraordinary day? Not for the Griz. It was just another day at the office for him.
Grzywinski, 73, has been guiding for 43 years, and is one of the Northwoods’ most colorful characters.
With his long white beard and his flowing hair, he looks like an ex-member of a biker gang. Which is exactly what he is.
“When you’re young and goofy, you do some things that you probably shouldn’t have,” he said . “I lived a wild life at one time. But I got over that.”
Even in those wilder days, Grzywinski loved to fish. He was practically brought up in a fishing boat. He still has pictures of the days when his parents would place him a picnic basket and he would sit in the boat while they fished.
He went on to become well-known for his fishing prowess, and word spread. A turning point in his life came when he left his job in a warehouse and set out to be a fishing guide.
His business cards read, “Have Boat, Will Travel.” He guided on most of Minnesota’s well-known spots, leading customers to everything from walleyes to smallmouth bass to muskies
Among the trophy fish he has caught were a 53-inch muskie, a 47 1/2-inch northern pike, a 70-inch sturgeon and a 60-pound flathead catfish.
“I remember one stretch where I guided for 39 straight days, took a day off, then went for another 27 straight,” he said.
Such records helped Grzywinski become a Minnesota legend. He was inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 2008.
Today, he continues to go strong. Don’t look for a lot of high-dollar electronics on his boat. The Griz has an uncanny ability to know where the fish will be.
“I don’t need that fancy (stuff),” he said. “I don’t need a GPS to find a spot, and I don’t need all those side finders, sidewinders, whatever you call them.
“All I need is a cheap depthfinder. I know where the fish are going to be if I can see where the changes in depth are.”
The mighty Mississippi River
▪ ITS PATH: The Mississippi rises out of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and flows south through the middle of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico.
▪ LENGTH: The staff at Itasca State Park at the river’s source estimates the length at 2,552 miles long. That makes it the third largest river in North America.
▪ FROM STREAM TO MIGHTY RIVER: The Mississippi is narrowest at Lake Itasca, where it is 20 to 30 feet wide. It is widest at Lake Winnibigoshish in Minnesota, where it is more than 11 miles wide.
▪ FISHING: In Minnesota, the state of its origin, the Mississippi is known for its excellent populations of walleyes, muskies, smallmouth bass and crappies. There, clear water and a winding channel provide an outstanding environment for gamefish. Further south, the Mississippi picks up a higher silt load and the water turns muddy. But even there, it has plenty of life. It has good populations of blue, channel and flathead catfish. By the time the Mississippi reaches Louisiana, it has good populations of largemouth bass, catfish and crappies.
▪ STATE RECORDS: The Mississippi River is record-breaking water for fishermen. The sections that flow through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas and Mississippi and Louisiana all have produced state; record fish. Among the whoppers: a 215-pound alligator gar in Mississippi; a 116-pound, 12-ounce blue catfish in Arkansas, a 74-pound, 5-ounce flathead catfish in Wisconsin; a 5-pound, 12-ounce sauger and an 85-pound blue catfish in Illinois; a 62-pound, 8-ounce buffalo in Iowa; and a 4-pound, 2.4 ounce white bass in Minnesota.
▪ TROPHY WALLEYES: Pool 2 near the Twin Cities in Minnesota produces some of the biggest walleyes caught on the Mississippi. The catch-and-release zone regularly provides fish in the 8- to 10-pound range. For more information, call Dick “the Griz” Grzywinski at 651-771-6231 or go the website fishwiththegriz.webs.com.
| Brent Frazee, firstname.lastname@example.org