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John Myers column: Minnesota state record walleye needs a permanent home

LeRoy Chiovitte's giant walleye deserves a prominent place for posterity.

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In this photo taken April 8, 1999, LeRoy Chiovitte is reflected in the glass case surrounding his Minnesota state-record walleye catch from 1979. Chiovitte died in 2019, but the record still stands 42 years later. (Josh Meltzer / News Tribune)
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LeRoy Chiovitte apparently didn’t put anything in his will about his most famous possession.

Nearly two years after the Hermantown angler’s death at age 82, the walleye he caught in 1979 sits — stuffed, enclosed in a glass case — on a desk in his wife’s apartment in Hermantown.

It remains the largest walleye ever caught on hook and line and registered in Minnesota, where the walleye is the official state fish: 17 pounds, 8 ounces, 35 ¾ inches long and 21 ¼ inches around the belly.

“It’s in a nice spot near the entryway,’’ said Joanne Chiovitte, LeRoy’s wife.

But Joanne is thinking ahead and, as of now, she has no clue where this important piece of Minnesota history will end up.

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PREVIOUSLY: Field reports: Walleye record still holding four decades later
“I don’t want it sitting in anybody’s basement,’’ she said in a telephone interview recently. She and her family “really haven’t made any firm plans yet. But it should go somewhere where it can be seen by people.”

Joanne said she and LeRoy had passing conversations about donating the walleye to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame museum in Hayward. She said hall of fame officials back in 1979, when confirming the record fish, mentioned they would like to have the big walleye on display some day.

“Maybe someone will have a better idea,’’ Joanne said. “But the hall of fame is probably what we’ll do … if they want it.”

Unfortunately, they do not. Emmett Brown, executive director of the hall of fame, said the museum simply doesn’t have the space.

“A lot has changed with regard to our museum operations since 1979. Mostly, we are full. We already have a lot of large walleyes on display,’’ Brown told the News Tribune. “Therefore I have to respectfully decline Mrs. Chiovitte’s generous offer.”

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LeRoy Chiovitte with two of the monster walleyes he caught in the Seagull River on opening weekend in May 1979. The larger one remains the state record walleye. (Photo courtesy of LeRoy Chiovitte)

So where should it go? Joanne said she’s open to ideas but that she needs to discuss it with her children and grandchildren.

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Maybe the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources might want it for its Minnesota State Fair display?

Or how about the Minnesota Historical Society? Heck there’s nothing more historic in the Land of 10,000 Lakes than the state’s biggest walleye.

The Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame, located in Little Falls, might be interested, too.

Anyone with an idea is welcome to forward it to jmyers@duluthnews.com and we’ll pass it on.

Until then, Joanne will keep dusting the glass case on a desk near her apartment's entryway.

True fish story

LeRoy Chiovitte was a lifelong Duluth-area resident, graduating from Denfeld High School in 1954. He went on to serve in the Marines and had a career in industrial piping sales while pursuing outdoor activities into his 80s. He died Nov. 3, 2019, after multiple battles with cancer.

Chiovitte’s big female walleye was caught on the Seagull River where it enters Saganaga Lake on May 13, 1979. Saganaga, shared with Ontario, holds some of the largest walleyes in Minnesota. The weather was cold that year, and many walleyes spawned late. Chiovitte had caught a 12 ½-pounder on Saturday, the season opener, that was spawned out. He hooked his 17 ½-pounder at about 8 a.m. on Sunday when it was still full of eggs, thus making it much heavier.

Catch-and-release fishing was just catching on in those days, but Chiovitte and his friends weren't releasing many walleyes at that point. That weekend he and his two friends, Lorin and Todd Palmer of Cloquet, took home 10 walleyes that weighed a collective 86 pounds — a feat likely unequaled in Minnesota since then.

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These days most anglers would now measure, photograph and release such a huge walleye, and released fish don't qualify for the official state record. Moreover, the area of the Seagull River where the record came from is now off-limits to anglers in the spring, specifically to protect concentrations of spawning walleyes. That's why Chiovitte said he thought his walleye record would be safe for a long time.

"Almost every record fish is full of spawn, and now you can't fish up there this time of year, so it's going to be pretty hard to top it," Chiovitte told the News Tribune in a May 2019 interview, the 40th anniversary of the big catch.

The closest anyone has come to catching (and keeping) a walleye as big was on July 4, 1989, when then-University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks caught one that weighed 17 pounds, 6 ounces on Loon Lake along the Gunflint Trail. It was weighed more than two hours after it was dead and it's possible it might have bested Chiovitte's record had it been weighed sooner.

But we'll never know.

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John Myers

John Myers mug.jpg
John Myers

John Myers mug.jpg
John Myers

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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