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LeRoy Chiovitte of Hermantown is reflected in the glass case that encloses his Minnesota state-record walleye. This is the 30th anniversary of the record catch. Chiovitte caught the fish in the Seagull River near Saganaga Lake in 1979. (File/News Tribune)

State walleye record still untouchable after 30 years

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After almost 30 years, LeRoy Chiovitte's state walleye record remains untouchable.

Chiovitte, of Hermantown, caught his 17-pound, 8-ounce state record on the Seagull River where it enters Saganaga Lake on May 13, 1979. The weather was cold that year, and many walleyes spawned late.

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Chiovitte had caught a 12½-pounder on Saturday, the season opener, that was spawned out. He hooked his 17½-pounder at about 8 a.m. on Sunday.

Although catch-and-release fishing was coming on, Chiovitte and his friends weren't releasing many walleyes. Chiovitte went home with fish that weighed a total of 65 pounds.

"Heck, if we caught a bunch of fish, we thought, 'Let's take 'em back,' " he said.

He and his two friends, Lorin and Todd Palmer of Cloquet, took home 10 walleyes that weighed a collective 86 pounds.

Now that area of the Seagull River is off-limits to anglers in the spring, specifically to protect concentrations of spawning walleyes. Chiovitte thinks his walleye record is safe.

"There's probably bigger fish, even in Sag," said Chiovitte, now 72, "but you have to get a fisherman there same time the fish is. I don't think it will be [broken]."

The closest anyone has come to catching a walleye that big was on July 4, 1989, when University of Minnesota president Bob Bruininks caught one that weighed 17 pounds, 6 ounces on Loon Lake along the Gunflint Trail.

"We didn't have a certified scale," said Loon Lake Lodge owner Tom Caldwell, "So I called Bruce Kerfoot over at Gunflint Lodge. They weighed the fish over there about two hours after it was caught."

Could that fish, weighed immediately, have been a state record? That's up for discussion. But it came up 2 ounces shy.

Loon Lake is not known as a walleye lake, Caldwell said.

"You have to work hard at it, but if you get one, it's decent size," Caldwell said.

And Bruininks didn't claim to be a master walleye angler, Caldwell said. He was showing some kids how to fish when the monster hit. Bruininks had no net in the boat. He took the boat to shore and beached the fish to land it, Caldwell said.

Chiovitte still fishes Saganaga. He's headed up there in July this year. But he'd rather catch lake trout than walleyes, he said.

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