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Fishing a family affair

Dale Telle of Warroad, Minn., celebrates landing a walleye he caught with help from his grandson Isaac, 11, of East Grand Forks, Minn., while fishing earlier this month on Lake of the Woods. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service

Warroad, Minn. - Lake of the Woods stretched out like a giant mirror as Scott Telle steered his 27-foot Sportcraft out the mouth of the Warroad River for a day of fishing with his dad, Dale; son, Isaac; and family friend Warren Strandell of East Grand Forks.

Barely a ripple tickled the surface.

“You’re going to have it tough, Scott,” Dale Telle said, surveying the seemingly endless horizon from the stern of the big boat. “I don’t like it when there’s no ripple.”

Walleyes bite best when there’s a little wind, after all. Everybody knows that.

The conditions might not have been ideal for catching walleyes on this warm August day, but fish would be a bonus. As much as anything, this day on the lake would be about swapping stories and spending time with friends and family.

“There’s always hungry fish,” Telle said. “It’s just a matter of finding them. And I guess it does help to have a little bit of knowledge of what you are fishing on.”

Few people know the ways of Lake of the Woods walleyes better than Dale Telle. A Grand Forks native, Telle, 82, moved his family to Warroad in 1967 to take a sixth-grade teaching job and become an assistant coach of the Warroad High School hockey team.

“I wanted to get closer to the walleyes, and here we are,” he said.

By 1968, the teacher and hockey coach had landed a summer gig driving a fishing launch for Cal Marvin, widely known as the “godfather of Warroad hockey” and one of the founders of the UND hockey program in the 1940s.

Marvin owned Cal’s Motel, which was a fixture on the Warroad side of Lake of the Woods in those days.

Short trip

Telle remembers his first launch trip to Gould’s Point in Buffalo Bay, a 20- to 30-minute boat ride into Manitoba waters from Warroad under perfect conditions.

He was back with his six customers and their limit of 48 walleyes an hour and a half after leaving the dock.

Problem is, the resort in those days charged customers by the hour rather than half days or full days, Telle says.

That explained why two other guides out with him that day, George Marvin and Mike McKeever, left the walleye honey hole to explore new fishing spots.

“The fish were just as thick as hair on a dog,” Telle said. “And I said, ‘Geez, Cal, I don’t know what was wrong with George and Mike. They left.’ “

Cal Marvin never said a word, Telle recalls.

“And so, what did he make? About $6,” Telle said with a laugh. “It took awhile before the light went on for this old Norwegian.”

After that, Telle made sure his customers spent more time on the water.

In the years to come, the Telle name would become synonymous with walleye fishing on the Warroad side of Lake of the Woods. He was one of five investors to buy Cal’s in 1974 but sold his share a couple of years later and started Telle’s Launch Service in 1977.

He and his wife, Theresa, still make their home on the Warroad River.

Telle retired from teaching in 1974 when he bought Cal’s, but that lasted until 1978, when he got a call from the superintendent asking if he could come back.

What was supposed to be a temporary position continued until 1994. Telle sold the launch business in 2002 but still fishes every chance he gets.

A small fleet of boats, both his and those of other family members, is tied to the dock behind the house.

“I’ve got 22 grandkids, and they love fishing just as much as I do,” Telle said. “It’s a big joy taking them out and seeing them catch their first fish, too, and I hope they become just as branded as I am.”

Fish stories

With his son, Scott – the only boy in a family of six kids – at the helm, the elder Telle on this day has plenty of time to concentrate on catching fish and telling stories.

That’s fine by Scott, 46, who spent summers as a student driving launch for his dad. Today, the UND graduate and his wife, Linda, are partners in Ad Monkeys, a Grand Forks advertising agency. They live in East Grand Forks but still make the trek to Lake of the Woods at every opportunity.

Isaac, 11, will be a fifth-grader at Sacred Heart.

There are so many stories, Scott says. Whether it was fishing with hockey legends such as Gordie Howe, Stan Mikita and “Badger Bob” Johnson, TV celebrities such as Richard Dean Anderson (“MacGyver”) or regular Joe farmers, Scott says his dad had a knack for making his customers feel at ease and coming back.

“I would say 90 percent of his business was repeat business if not more than 90 percent,” Scott says. “And that comes from catching fish, but it also comes from having that charisma, that personality to just charm people.

“And even when I was a kid, he’d head out on the lake with six strangers, and by the time they got back, they were laughing and hugging and patting each other on the back and ‘See you next year, Dale.’ It was like they were lifelong friends. How do you do that over the course of only eight hours? Granted, you’re confined to the same space for that amount of time, but you can sit there like a lump or you can love to entertain. But whether it was his experiences as a schoolteacher or as an outdoorsman, the stories don’t end. They just don’t end.”

Old school

Like his dad, Scott Telle relies on his time on the water instead of GPS to find his fishing spots. Lining up a tower here with a rooftop there, he steers the boat to spots such as “Harvey’s Rubble,” “Rudy’s Reef” and “Jake’s Flats.”

By late afternoon, the three generations and their two fishing partners are just a fish shy of a five-person limit of walleyes and saugers.

“Who’s going to be mean enough to end this nice day?” Dale Telle asks.

The words are barely out of his mouth when the last fish is in the cooler, and it’s time to raise the American flag that signifies a limit of fish onboard.

But unlike the old days, Telle won’t end the day with a filleting knife in his hand; that will be Scott’s job.

“The best thing is, I taught him how to clean fish,” Telle says.

Besides, he has to visit a neighbor about going fishing.

There’ll be more fishing – and more stories – tomorrow.