When Paul Nelson, owner of Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service, needed help with some overbooked clients 21 years ago, he called his good friend Chris Haley for help.
Haley, who supervises Bemidji State University’s print shop, turned an opportunity to help his friend into steady work as a guide, which now sees him take 10 to 15 trips a year out onto local lakes.
He primarily guides on Lake Bemidji and Cass Lake, but also ventures to Leech Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish or smaller area lakes depending on where he’s finding bites.
“The most important thing when you’re guiding is that you put people on fish,” he said. “A lot of people come to Minnesota to fish, and Minnesota is known for walleyes. But if it’s the third week in July, the possibility of getting your limit on walleye isn’t as good as if you’d come the first week in June. So you let them know that walleye fishing might be tough, but you can try something else like northerns, perch, bluegills or crappies.”
Even with the advances in technology, such as GPS and lake-mapping systems, Haley says there’s still a need for experienced guides.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘secret spot’ anymore. So you still have to make the fish bite,” he says. “You have to understand the fish you’re going after, understand why you fish a certain spot at a certain time, and understand what conditions make fish stay and what conditions make them move away.”
Haley says the work as a guide helps fuel his ability to enter competitive fishing tournaments, which he calls “my addiction.” Haley says the tournaments are how he keeps the excitement in fishing after reaching a level of ability and confidence to know that if he wants to catch a fish, he need only go out to catch a fish.
“You sit there at 7 a.m. with 99 other boats, and they’re all good fishermen and there’s $12,500 on the line,” he said. “You’re going out there and beat those other boats, and for the next year you’re going to be ‘the guy.’”
He says he’s won around two dozen plaques and trophies over the years, and once took second place in Bemidji’s Kraus/Anderson Walleye Classic.
Even with his experience fishing lakes throughout the area and the excitement that comes from participating in tournaments, Haley says his favorite place to fish is still right in the university’s back yard on Lake Bemidji.
“Bemidji is probably my favorite lake just because of the health of the fishery out here,” he says. “That’s remarkable when you think about the amount of fishing pressure the lake gets.”
Given the quality of Lake Bemidji and the sheer number of other fishing lakes in the area, Haley says there’s no better place to be than Bemidji State if you’re a fishing enthusiast.
“You can basically hook up a boat to your vehicle and in 15 minutes be at one of 10 different lakes depending on what you want to fish for,” he said.
BSU Fishing Club
Haley also has spent the last several years as faculty advisor to the student-run BSU Fishing Club. He said students have made several attempts to start a fishing club on campus, but efforts didn’t get off the ground in a significant way until Aaron Wilson, who at the time was a junior majoring in aquatic biology, got involved in the fall of 2011.
“He wanted to go do the college fishing tournaments,” Haley said. “He only got to do this for one year before he graduated, but the kids who are in the club now came on board when he got it started. It’s ballooned into what it is today and they’re starting to get a lot of press.”
The BSU Fishing Club had five teams of two anglers competing at the BassMaster collegiate regional tournament in Wisconsin in June, and will send one team to the national championship in July. Other members of the club have won prize money at collegiate invitationals throughout the state this summer.