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Soon-to-be-released book sheds light on the 'Walleye: A Beautiful Fish of the Dark'

The final section of the book explores three renowned walleye fisheries: Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin and Mille Lacs and Red Lake in Minnesota.

Paul Radomski cropped.jpg
A fisheries biologist and lake ecology scientist, Paul Radomski of Brainerd, Minnesota, is author of "Walleye: A Beautiful Fish of the Dark." Published by the University of Minnesota Press, the book is scheduled for release in September.
Contributed/Paul Radomski
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GRAND FORKS — Paul Radomski is the author of the soon-to-be-published “Walleye: A Beautiful Fish of the Dark.”

A fisheries biologist and lake ecology scientist by trade, Radomski, of Brainerd, Minnesota, has extensive background both as an angler and as a biologist who deals with fisheries management issues.

Radomski, who previously co-authored “Lakeshore Living: Designing Lake Places and Communities in the Footprints of Environmental Writers,” says writing a book for average readers is considerably more difficult than writing as a fisheries scientist.

“Most biologists are not writers,” he said. “A scientific paper is 20 or 30 pages. I do a lot of those — my job is to write scientific reports.

“Writing a book is like 10 times or 100 times that.”

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Scheduled for release in September by the University of Minnesota Press, “Walleye: A Beautiful Fish of the Dark” takes a deep dive into the life history of the walleye and the allure of fishing them, along with management issues such as stocking and harvest. The final section of the book explores three renowned walleye fisheries: Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin and Mille Lacs and Red Lake in Minnesota.

Radomski talked about the book with Herald outdoors writer Brad Dokken. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.

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BD: What inspired you to write the book?

PR: It’s an interesting question. I had written one book and I really enjoyed it. So, I was working on a novel, and the University of Minnesota Press editor gave me a call and said, “Paul, What are you doing? Let’s sit down and talk.”

We were just throwing out some ideas and he said, “We don't have a book for walleye, it’s the (Minnesota) state fish, we should have one.”

I said, “You know, that’s a great idea. I think I’m the guy that could pull that off, or at least attempt to do it.” So, that’s how it started.

BD: How long was the process from the time you dived into it until you had a final draft?

PR: I started it just before the pandemic. I met with (associate editor) Kristian Tvedten in October 2019, and I put a proposal together in January 2020. I think I had the first draft sent to him by October (2020), with all of the chapters that were in the final draft.

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But then, with Covid, everything took a little longer. The process within (University of Minnesota Press) took longer, peer review took longer.

BD: The pandemic probably was a good time to dive into a project like this.

Walleye book cover.png
"Walleye: A Beautiful Fish of the Dark," includes sections on walleye life history, walleye management and three renowned walleye fisheries: Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin and Mille Lacs and Red Lake in Minnesota.
Contributed/University of Minnesota Press

PR: Yeah, I think it was. I took hundreds of vacation hours. This was all on personal time, so weekends and vacation time. Given that things were locked down and I couldn’t go traveling or visiting a lot of relatives, I stayed home on weekends and just cranked away on it. So, it was an outlet. And maybe that’s a good thing, to have an outlet during a pandemic. I’m sure people were pulling their hair out, and I was busy at the computer.

BD: Did you have a lot of the material at hand already or was there quite a bit of research involved?

PR: Well, I had been a fisheries research scientist for many years, so a lot of it was just sitting in the back of my head. I’ve maintained a lot of contact with fisheries managers and fisheries biologists across the Midwest, so it was not a big leap for me to jump into the science just to document it.

What I found really fun though, was the interviewing part. In this case, I think it was helpful for me to interview biologists because sometimes, I had my own understanding of the information, and sometimes, I would push them, and they’d give me some really fascinating things that were really, I thought, spot on. And I would say, “explain this some more.” Whether it was walleye stocking or one of the lakes that I covered in the book, I found it a fun experience.

BD: Personally, I especially enjoyed the Red Lake chapter because I covered the recovery extensively and have worked with many of the players, including Al Pemberton and Pat Brown of the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources and Gary Barnard and Henry Drewes (retired Bemidji-area DNR fisheries manager and retired regional fisheries supervisor, respectively). 

PR: With Red Lake, it was really neat, because here you had a fishery that had collapsed. I kind of knew what was happening and the management through that period of restoring it (in the late ’90s and early 2000s). And then, maybe even the more challenging part is, OK, then it’s restored, and you end up with a high population of mature walleye and all the problems associated with that — the perch collapse, the slow walleye growth, the high walleye natural mortality. And how do you manage that to be effective?

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Hearing Pat Brown and Gary Barnard talk about that, and Al Pemberton and Henry Drewes, it was interesting to see that whole spectrum of the walleye population from low to high — and the challenges of both. That I found very fascinating, and it was a nice contrast to the Mille Lacs situation, which was the previous chapter. So, as the reader is reading the book, they’re looking at the predicament on Mille Lacs. And Red Lake is a great contrast because it shows you how they dealt with the high population of mature fish, and that’s the predicament that Mille Lacs is in. They’re stuck in a conservation mindset, not in a sustainable mindset, and I found that fascinating.

BD: I don't think there had been many previous situations where a recovery effort that large or that extensive had been undertaken.

PR: As Gary (Barnard) and Pat (Brown) were saying to me, this was a huge undertaking, and everything aligned. You had good political leaders at the time, and they brought in other scientists, other biologists to help think through it.

They had a really good plan, they implemented the plan and it was hugely successful. Sure, there was some luck, but they had good science. The politics stayed out of the way and let the science run.

Along the way, I give credit to the fact that there was a lot of public discussion, a lot of meetings that were happening so people knew what was going to happen, both from a Red Lake Nation perspective as well as the state.

This is probably told from a little bit of a science-heavy perspective (in the book), but it’s a great story. It’s a wonderful success story. And they continue to do great work.

It is a beautiful fish isn’t it. And then to go fishing for it. It’s a challenge, but at times you can catch them. And then – I kind of sprinkle this throughout the book – it’s a good fish to eat. I love eating walleye. And I think for all those reasons, people are drawn to it.
Paul Radomski

BD: As a research scientist, was it difficult to write in a style average readers could understand and avoid being overly scientific?

PR: I don’t know if I did that well. I kind of was keeping in mind that, “Hey, there’s a broader audience here,” but I wrote as I tend to do. I wrote it for myself first and then, “Well, wait a minute, I probably need to back up here and explain this a little bit better because I’m getting into the biology speak.”

That was one reason I spent some time in some of the middle chapters talking about basic fisheries principles. A lot of people can’t relate to a fish, so I use some examples. Like on Mille Lacs, if every walleye egg hatched and survived and they all grew to maturity, there would be no room in the lake for even the water.

Most people don’t have that understanding of basic demographics of fish, because they’re looking at it from a mammal’s perspective.

BD: Any advice for walleye anglers?

PR: I always tell people, if you’re going to try walleye fishing, maybe you should hook up with somebody that’s a really, really good angler. That will increase your odds tremendously.

BD: What’s more challenging, being a fisheries biologist or writing a book?

PR: Writing a book. Most biologists are not writers. A scientific paper is 20 or 30 pages.

Writing a book is like 10 times or 100 times that. It’s the writing and then, at least with a book, it’s the publication process. It’s working on grammar in greater detail. It’s polishing, which mostly means cutting out stuff that you thought was very important.

If people are interested in walleye, they may enjoy the book. I think for people who are curious, this gives them, I’m hoping, a good understanding of its biology, its management and maybe why people like to fish walleye.
Paul Radomski

BD: You talk about this at length in the book, but if you were to boil it down to just a few sentences, what is it about the walleye that anglers find so captivating?

PR: Well, it is a beautiful fish isn’t it. And then to go fishing for it. It’s a challenge, but at times you can catch them. And then — I kind of sprinkle this throughout the book — it’s a good fish to eat. I love eating walleye. And I think for all those reasons, people are drawn to it.

BD: Anything else about the book you'd like to add?

PR: If people are interested in walleye, they may enjoy the book. I think for people who are curious, this gives them, I’m hoping, a good understanding of its biology, its management and maybe why people like to fish walleye.

About the book

  • Title: “Walleye: A Beautiful Fish of the Dark.”
  • Author: Paul J. Radomski.
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press; 344 pages.
  • Price: $24.95.
  • Info: www.upress.umn.edu ; paulradomski.com.
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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