Willie Walleye Spawns Willie Jr.

Willie Walleye Jr. is now in his home in Baudette, Minnesota. Photo by author

I get a kick out of spotting giant statues individuals, businesses or communities have erected along America’s travel ways. There’s the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, Minnesota, a tribute to Green Giant vegetables produced locally and canned or frozen in the Green Giant facility located in Blue Earth.

There’s a giant pink elephant at a fuel stop along I-94 in southern Wisconsin. I have no idea what it’s about – and no, I wasn’t and hadn’t been drinking when I spotted it.

The giant ringneck pheasant in Watertown, South Dakota is a sure sign the traveler is coursing through pheasant country, just as much as the signs festooned on nearly every bar, gas station and restaurant saying “Welcome Hunters.”

When I pulled into Baudette, Minnesota, last fall I wasn’t overly surprised to see a giant walleye statue in a roadside park. Baudette is on the Rainy River, just a short distance from where it flows into Lake of the Woods. The Rainy River is a famous walleye fishing stream with plenty of fish in the river all year, but mostly noted in the walleye fishing world as a hotspot during the spring spawing season. Lake of the Woods, itself, is a noted walleye fishing lake, good enough for the tourism people there to make the claim as being the “Walleye Capital.”

There’s some doubt as whether it’s the world’s walleye capital. I’m sure Devils Lake in North Dakota could put up an arguement. So could Lake Erie; Saganaw Bay of Lake Huron in Michigan is renowned for walleye fishing. But none of these areas have a giant, 40-foot walleye statue named Willie Walleye in a city park just off the main highway.

Neither does Baudette, anymore.

I admit (and so did the town officials in Baudette) Willie Walleye was built (spawned?) in 1959 and the sixty year old megalith looked its age. Constructed of steel, concrete and plaster, six decades of northern Minnesota weather with little more than a bit of touch-up paint from time to time made Willie look its age and a close examination showed he was going downhill rapidly.

Willie was deconstructed earlier this summer, but just as walleye in northern Minnesota have long proven to be a renewable resource, so is Willie. While plans were being made for Willie’s demise, Willie Jr. was being spawned and recently the original roadside attraction was replaced with the new, improved, similarly-sized fiberglass version.

There’s no doubt walleye is the “king” of the fishes that live in the area. One of the names suggested for the original Willie was King Walleye, but the name Willie won out in a special election held in Baudette.

They are the king in popularity, but not in size. Sure, there are plenty of trophy walleyes in the 30-inch class weighing 10 pounds give or take a few ounces – the average size is much less. When I fished there last September we caught as far more “under-slot-eater” fish than “over-slot-trophy” sized specimens. (Fish between 19.5-inches and 28-inches are protected and must be released.)

As in many lakes in the northland, where there are walleyes, there are pike. Walleye anglers catch a few incidentally, but pike fishermen catch plenty on purpose and until it lays flat on a yard stick, it’s just another pike – nothing special.

Again, as in many lakes in the northland, where there are pike there are muskies. For them, you have to extend measuring stick to four-feet to raise many eyebrows.

Throw in smallmouth bass for angler guys and gals who like their special kind of fight, crappies for those who want to fish way outside the box and it seems the area has it all. There’s more.

Walleye may be the king, but lake sturgeon are the true giants of the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods. I’m of the opinion Baudette could go unchallenged as the sturgeon fishing capital. I was there with a large group and most of us spent at least a little time targeting sturgeon in the area where the river dumped into the lake near The Sportsman’s Lodge. Nearly every one who tried was successful in landing one on purpose including a couple of giants – over 40 pounds. The Minnesota record was pulled from the same area last spring – 73 inches!

Regardless of why you are in the area or what you want to catch, stop by for a photo of Willie Jr. It’s the only one of its kind.

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