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Pit surprise: Woman catches big walleye from kayak in mine pit

While fishing from her kayak on the LaRue Pit near Nashwauk, Kim Stirewalt of Hibbing caught and released this 32-inch walleye. (Sarah Stirewalt photo)

You could have picked out Kim Stirewalt right away. She was the one paddling a blue kayak on the LaRue Pit near Nashwauk the other day, fishing with her pink and black Ugly Stik fishing rod.

Stirewalt, who lives in Hibbing, likes to paddle mine pits.

“I go to the pits because of the scenery and because of the water,” said Stirewalt, 57. “And I always bring my fishing rod with, just because.”

On this summer day, Aug. 15, Stirewalt’s grown daughters, Sarah and Ashley, also were along, both paddling and both fishing. Sarah had caught a couple of rock bass, Ashley nothing.

Kim Stirewalt was tossing a white Mr. Twister, a small, plastic lure with no live bait on it. She had seen a loon fishing nearby.

“I told my daughters, if there’s a loon, there’s fish here,” Stirewalt said.

She cast again and soon hooked something.

“When I hooked onto this thing, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

She called to Sarah, who had the landing net, and asked her to come over.

“At first, we couldn’t tell if she had a fish or was caught on something,” Sarah said. “It wasn’t fighting, so I was just paddling around.”

Meanwhile, her mom had her hands full.

“This thing is taking drag out,” Kim said. “This thing is kind of pulling me, taking me with it.”

Sarah eventually came over with the net. Ashley pulled up alongside and took her mom’s paddle so it wouldn’t be in the way.

“There was a lot going on at once,” Sarah said.

Kim kept cranking the fish, and the Ugly Stik did its job. What emerged from the depths of that mine pit was a 32-inch walleye, among the largest walleyes caught anywhere in Minnesota this summer. Sarah got it in the net and hoisted it up.

“We were like, ‘Holy” — Kim paused here momentarily — “cow!’ ” she said.

Chris Kavanaugh, the Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids, said it’s entirely possible that Stirewalt found a big, old walleye in the pit. The DNR at one time stocked O’Brien Reservoir No. 4, which was then connected to the LaRue pit. And in 1998, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board stocked 1,500 walleye fingerlings in the pit, Kavanaugh said.

“Sixteen years? They can certainly live that long,” he said.

Stirewalt carries a tape with her for measuring fish. She and her daughters measured the walleye three times atop the kayak. The fish stretched 32 inches — about one-fourth the length of the kayak. It had a 16-inch girth, she said.

“I wanted to get it mounted, but I didn’t have anything to keep it cold or fresh,” she said. “We took the pictures and the measurements and then released it.”

Stirewalt said she plans to have a graphite replica mount made of the fish.