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Hall of Fame fisherman

Walleye pro and fishing electronics authority Bruce "Doc" Samson will be inducted into the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame on Friday along with renowned photographer Bill Lindner and longtime fishing guide and educator Royal Karels.

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Bruce "Doc" Samson earned the nickname "Doctor Sonar" for his efforts to interface fishing sonar with GPS and mapping technology to find fishing spots and help other anglers learn to use and understand the technology. A Cavalier, N.D., native, Samson, of Osakis, Minn., is being inducted Friday into the Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota. (Submitted photo)

Walleye pro and fishing electronics authority Bruce "Doc" Samson will be inducted into the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame on Friday along with renowned photographer Bill Lindner and longtime fishing guide and educator Royal Karels.

A Cavalier, N.D., native and UND alumnus, Samson, 67, retired from a career as a family practice physician in 2003 to concentrate full-time on tournament fishing and education. In 2002, he landed a check for $300,000 by winning the RCL-which stands for "Ranger, Crestliner, Lund"-Walleye Championship on the Mississippi River in Red Wing, Minn., and also won two Professional Walleye Trail tournaments on Devils Lake.

Samson-known as "Doctor Sonar" for his efforts to teach anglers how to use sonar and other high-tech fishing electronics-now lives in Osakis, Minn., and says his passion for fishing burns strong as ever.

With his induction into Minnesota's Fishing Hall of Fame on the horizon, Samson talked fishing and electronics with Herald outdoors editor Brad Dokken. Here's an edited transcript of that conversation:

Q. What are your thoughts on being named to the Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota?

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A. It's an honor, it really is. I don't know what to make of it yet, but it's just a nice honor that people think you deserve it.

Q. Talk about your earliest fishing experiences.

A. My first fishing experiences were fishing on the Tongue River catching suckers, creek chubs and river shiners, and I used to do that all summer because that was all there was to fish.

They get pretty big, you know, for a kid; we didn't know the difference.

I remember once a friend of my dad's took me to Park River to fish for bullheads on Homme Dam, and that was really exciting for me.

When I went to school at Grand Forks, I was there for six years. I fished the Red River, and catfish was my favorite, but I'd also fish for sauger and walleye. You'd learn a lot about fishing the river because if you go below the dam, the guys that are really good can't hide what they're doing. Before, you'd never have anybody to teach you; you're learning it all on your own, and all of a sudden now you see people doing different things, and you see what works.

After that, I went out and finished my medical education out in Oregon, and I fished the creeks there, and we'd go to the side channels of the Columbia River and catch crappies, catch sturgeon in the river and then you'd go catch steelhead and salmon.

I didn't have a boat, and then I came to Minnesota and started working in St. Cloud and bought a boat. I golfed before that; when I bought the boat, the golf ended.

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Q. It's good you came to your senses.

A. Yeah (laughs). I really liked golf, but I just like fishing so much better.

Q. After fishing rivers from shore most of your life, was it difficult to make the transition to fishing lakes in a boat?

A. The transition to lake fishing from river fishing is really hard. Because you have no idea where the fish are, and when you fish the river for years, you know where they're at. You read the current, and the lakes were different; you had to read depthfinders, and there were no maps back then.

And then I found out about fishing tournaments, and that really excited me because I'm very competitive and if I can compete at something I love to do, it's like "this doesn't get any better."

Q. When did you fish your first tournament?

A. The first tournament I fished was in 1986. I fished with a seasoned tournament angler named Jerry Anderson who taught me how to think for winning tournaments, and he taught me how to think about fish as their lifestyle and lifespan and how they're affected by seasons, sunlight, temperature and I could make a long list.

And that changed everything because then you know what you need to learn, so that was my shortcut to expertise.

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Q. Was that a local tournament or a circuit?

A. That was the MWC (Masters Walleye Circuit). The first year Jerry and I fished it, we won the World Walleye Championship at Bismarck in 1986. I was spoiled right from the beginning.

Q. What was the first boat you owned?

A. The first boats I ran were Lunds, and then I ran a Champion. They went bankrupt, and that's when I went to Crestliner because at that time, there was a circuit called the RCL, which became the FLW Walleye Series, and the RCL stands for "Ranger, Crestliner, Lund," and you could not fish it if you did not have one of those in the championship. And the championship was worth $300,000, so I decided I was going to own either a Crestliner or Lund or Ranger.

I worked with their marketing departments and looked at their boats and just figured that Crestliner was the best fit for me, and I've been with Crestliner ever since.

And the next year, I won that championship and put $300,000 in my pocket.

Q. What electronics did you start with?

A. I started with Humminbird flashers, and then I went to Eagle and Lowrance flashers; I've used both.

I had paper graphs, and I stayed with paper graphs and flashers longer than about anybody because I wasn't sponsored by any electronics companies, so I could pick what I wanted. The early liquid crystals (depthfinders) weren't very good, and if you were sponsored by them, you had to use them. I wasn't sponsored, so I just kept using paper graphs. Paper graphs were really good; the definition was really good.

Q. Do you still have one?

A. Nope. I don't need them anymore. I sold the last one years ago. They made a nice picture, but they weren't tied to the GPS so what you see on the paper, the memory of it means nothing. You can't make waypoints on it; it's just not as useful.

I see a fish on the graph, I want to make a waypoint on it so I can come back to it later. You can't do that with paper graphs. Nowadays, you can record it on your Lowrance and look at it at home and say, "ooh, look at all the fish I missed." I'll put a waypoint on it at home and you can drive back to the spot later.

Q. When did you really start marrying the electronics with the GPS and the mapping?

A. The (Lowrance) LMS350 in the '90s; that was the first time. The map sucked, but at least you could put waypoints on it. It wasn't until (companies like Lakemaster and Navionics) came out with map chips-that was a really major thing. That really changed fishing. Now, the secret spots out in the middle of the lake weren't secret anymore-they were on the map, and people could just drive out to places in the middle of the lake.

Q. What electronics are you running?

A. I run both Hummingbird and Lowrance in the boat; I have different models of each. I make DVDs to teach people how to use them so I have to run them. It just makes me understand how to teach them so they can use them practically.

Q. Looking at where electronics were at when you bought your first boat, could you have envisioned what's out there now?

A. No. I had no clue. I didn't understand. There barely were computers back then, so I didn't understand the science, I didn't even understand how sonar worked and how software works and any of that stuff. I didn't know how you could create maps, so I had no idea what was coming.

Right now I can predict more what's coming in the future than I did back then.

Q. Where does it go from here?

A. It just gets better. ... I think what will happen is it will just get clearer. That's for sure, and then whatever else they come out with. Who knows?

Q. Do you still fish quite a few tournaments or have you moved more into education?

A. What keeps me busy now is making instructional DVDs, and I did fish tournaments last year. I fished that AIM (Anglers Insight Marketing) circuit in Minnesota with a friend; we won Leech Lake twice. It's just really fun.

Q. What are your favorite bodies of water to fish these days?

A. You know, I really like 'em all. I mean I have so many. I live on Lake Osakis now; just learning that will probably take me five years to really have it well mastered. I learned a lot last year I'm going to put into play this year.

I love Lake of the Woods-I love the reef fishing. The south end of the lake is always hard because it's really hard on your body in the wind. I like the north end of Lake of the Woods with all the islands, and there's so many places I like to fish. I like to do different things. I like trolling, and I like jigging. I like rigging. I like bobber fishing. I like fishing in the weeds. So for me, if I've been doing one thing all the time, it's nice to go on a lake where a different presentation is the better choice.

Q. Talk a little bit about your company and website.

A. My education right now is mostly through my website, doctorsonar.com, and through my Doctor Sonar Facebook page, and so the website kind of has libraries of articles to read on it, and the Facebook page has posts every day on education and interaction on different things.

I pay for minnows and gas by selling the DVDs. I always say some people work for curtains and couches-I work for gas and minnows.

Q. Is fishing still as much fun as ever?

A. All you have to do is get in the boat with me, and you'll know. When they are biting, I'm excited. You feel like a kid again. I'm 67, and you get into a good bite and you just feel the excitement like kids do.

Q. Any parting thoughts?

A. I'd have to say how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to make fishing into a career. I think the bottom line is that I get to fish enough and for people that have a passion for fishing, they never get to fish enough. And I do. That's priceless when you have that passion.

• On the Web: doctorsonar.com.

Related Topics: FISHING
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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