Fishing guide, outdoors communicator, product promoter and developer, and stage and TV host for the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour are just a few of the titles on Chip Leer’s resume.
He soon will add member of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame to the list.
Leer, 56, of Walker, Minn., learned in mid-September that he is among the 2019 inductees into the Hayward, Wis.-based Hall of Fame. A fixture in fishing circles across Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, the Minneapolis native recently talked about his career and upcoming Hall of Fame induction with Herald outdoors writer Brad Dokken.
Here is an edited transcript of their conversation.
GFH: How do you feel about being selected for the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame? That puts you in some lofty company.
A: That’s the thing that’s so hard to comprehend for me. The group of guys that is honored at the Hall of Fame is some pretty savvy fishermen and creative, innovative people who have influenced all aspects of fishing -- recreational, competitive, manufacturing, all over. And to think that that group felt I did something for the positive is pretty humbling.
GFH: What are your earliest memories of fishing?
A: I started fishing with my dad and my uncles (in the early ’70s). I had an uncle with a cabin on the Wolf Lake/Cass Lake chain, and then I had another uncle that actually lived on Lake Bemidji, and he had a cabin up on Lake of the Woods.
I was the youngest of five boys in my family in Minneapolis, so my mom took full advantage of our in-laws and put me on a Greyhound that dropped me in Cass Lake, Minnesota, and I’d spend a little bit of time with an uncle on the Cass Lake chain, and then I would go over to Bemidji and spend some time there, and then I would go to Canada and spend some time there, and that’s how I ate up my summer vacation.
GFH: As I recall, you got your start as a fishing guide up on Lake of the Woods. Tell me about that.
A: I lived on Oak Island of Lake of the Woods from 1988 to about 1992. And then I kind of moved back and forth, and eventually, (my wife) Ineke had found a job over by Rainy Lake and Kabetogama, over in that area, so I moved over there in like ‘92, and then we moved down to Leech Lake in ‘96. I was guiding the whole time. I guided basically from ‘88 to about 2001.
GFH: Was there ever a point along the journey where you thought, “I don’t know if I can do this,” or did you always know this was the course you needed to take?
A: I’ve always known it was the course I wanted to take. The thing for me, making a living in this business was certainly not the easiest thing to do. And if you look back at my resume, you’d figure out that about every three years or so, you’re kind of reinventing a little bit what you do, if you’re going to get out of the guiding world.
I got (to Walker) in 1996, and I formed the Leech Lake Guide Coalition like in ‘97. That’s when I started getting involved in tournaments and acquired the local walleye tournament, started running that. And that’s when things really started to spin.
We launched On-Ice Tour, which is a promotional wing, and then I launched Fishing the WildSide (an outdoor marketing and communications company). That’s when I got more into working closer with the companies, whether it was in marketing and promotion, product development or whatever it happened to be in, that all kind of evolved into a job.
The (economic) crash in the late 2000s, when we were trying to launch television (“Fishing the WildSide TV” and later “Fishing the WildSide on Ice”), was a challenging time in our business. It was tough, but you just kind of plugged forward and didn’t think about anything else. You just did what you figured you could do.
GFH: To what do you attribute your success?
A: I have a lot of smart-aleck answers (laughs), but I would just say belief and perseverance. When we launched the ice fishing TV, everybody said it could not be done. And it turned out to be one of the best things we ever did. Just because it was so innovative and so different.
I don’t know if there’s any one thing you attribute your success to. Being able to adapt to a changing environment and keeping your eyes focused forward and not giving up. It’s too easy to say no. It’s too easy to say it can’t be done. If it was easy, there would be a lot more people in the fishing business.
GFH: Are there any people you’ve really looked up to as role models or who influenced you over the years?
A: My wife, obviously. She has been a constant area of support whether things are good or bad, she’s been there. And somebody close to you like that, I’m pretty fortunate to have that.
But I go back to when I first got in the business, 1988. I take off, buy the best boat I can, I’m going to be a guide on Lake of the Woods. I wrote a letter to Northland Fishing Tackle telling them what I was going to do. John Peterson (company founder) sent me back jigs and a hat. And I’m still wearing the Northland Fishing cap 30 years later, and he’s become one of my best friends. I think between John and Duane (Peterson, John’s brother and co-founder of Northland Tackle), those guys have probably been the two most unequivocally supportive individuals that I’ve been around. They’re just great human beings.
(There are) a whole bunch of people I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for inside the industry, and most of them are in the Hall of Fame. That’s what makes this so weird.
GFH: What are you currently involved with, and what’s ahead?
A: I still work with the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour doing the stage and TV, so I see a role for myself in tournament angling, particularly walleye tournament angling, at some level, watching that grow forward. We’re at a pretty interesting crossroads in terms of format, and how that all moves forward is pretty cool.
I’m still working with a few manufacturers in terms of product promotion and product development -- the Northland Fishing Tackles and Otter fish houses of the world -- those guys I’m still close with and working with. I’m doing things there, especially the product development stuff, and being part of those teams is really rewarding for me.
GFH: When do you find the time to go fishing?
A: Oh gosh, there’s lots of time to go fishing. My job responsibilities are -- I don’t want to say light -- but they are looser than they’ve ever been. So what’s awesome, especially in the last couple of years, I’ve found myself fishing more -- and fishing more for fun -- than in the last 10 or 15 years. Because there was a period of time there that I hardly ever got to fish for fun. If I wasn’t fishing for work, I wasn’t fishing. And now, it’s exactly opposite.
GFH: Pick one fishing trip you could go on between now and next spring. What would it be?
A: I don’t know if there’s one trip because it really comes by week by week what’s hot. Where do I want to be right now? I want to be at Pine Falls (Manitoba) on the (Winnipeg) river chasing walleyes. And then I want to be on the Rainy River. …
What’s the next best bite to be on? The next one you have an opportunity to go on. That’s probably the more accurate answer.
GFH: We could talk fishing all night, but anything else you’d like to add about the Hall of Fame honor and what it means to you?
A: The one thing I was completely not prepared for is this outpouring from people in and out of the industry. The email messages, text messages, phone calls and messaging through social media. I had no idea, absolutely no idea, that it would be like this.
GFH: It’s been quite a ride.
A: Great ride. And it’s not over.