Article from The Lakeland Times – September 23, 2011
Accomplishments can’t be measured in inches or pounds
By Doug Etten of The Lakeland Times
Every sport has its milestones. Its points of recognition that set those average, everyday people away from the elite.
In fishing it is, and isn’t, any different. Your first fish, last fish and just about every fish in between seems to be a special one. Boating the 100th, 250th or 500th fish brings honor. Luring in the fish over 50-inches seems to be another benchmark. And being recognized by your peers as one of the best, the most distinguished.
The same goes for legendary fishing guide Russ Smith of Minocqua. Honored this past week with a well-deserved induction into the World Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, “Smity” as they call him, was humbled. “It really was a surprise,” Smith said. “I sort of knew that all the information had been sent in and I know the vote is usually in August so I thought if I was in I would have gotten a letter from Hayward saying that I was accepted.
“I was as surprised as anyone when I came into the house [Sunday] and saw the Muskie Hunter article sitting on the table. It’s definitely a highlight of my fishing career. Being accepted is quite an honor and I am definitely excited. It’s something that very few people, especially in this area, are in.” Smith was in the knowing, saying it’s been a focus of his friends, family and clients to get the honor for their friend. Smith though said it never really bothered him.
“It wasn’t something that was on my radar, but my family and friends thought that I was deserving,” he said. “My son had the magazine on the table when I came home which is how I found out about it.”Smith entered his 35th year in the boat guiding this season. With it has come a number of stories, but one that really stands out.
Many have heard the story and taken it as just another story. Smith says it’s a day he won’t forget and is glad it turned out the way it did.
“It could have been a loss worse than it was,” Smith said. “We all sit around and laugh about it now, but realize it was luck it turned out without anyone getting hurt.”
It was Nov. 7. Even Smith can’t remember though how many years ago.
He was out fishing on Lake Minocqua on a cold, 28-degree day.
“We had already had two or three fish in the boat when all of a sudden Gary yelled, ‘big fish!’ I just turned in time to see the boil next to the boat.”
Smith was row trolling in about 20 feet of water when the big fish hit. A combination of the cold weather, timing of the hit and loss of balance brought Gary to one knee. “Then the fish jerked one more time and pulled Gary right into the water,” Smith said. “I remember the water temperature that day was right around 38 degrees, so it was cold.”
Smith took a couple of strong rows and got back next to Gary who was thankfully still floating in his snowmobile suit – rod in hand.
“I was trying to tell him to just stick his rod up in the air and I’d pull him into the boat with it,” Smith said. “My adrenaline was going pretty good, so when I got next to him I reached down and pulled him right into the boat.”
The rod, reel and fish, however, were gone.
“I went back to the same spot the next day and thought maybe I could snag the rod, but to this day I’ve never seen the fishing pole or fish,” Smith said. “I will always remember him saying, ‘let’s stay out and keep fishing.’ I think that was his adrenaline talking a little bit, too.
“By the time we got back to the boat landing on Kennedy Bay he was shivering pretty good and ice was already starting to build up on his hair.”
Stories aside, Smith has been innovative in his approach to muskie fishing. Whether it was teaching the most novice of anglers how to set a hook or working with seasoned veterans on new techniques, he says it’s always what has made the sport fun for him.
“I feel I was always a good educator,” Smith said. “Our company was one of the very first people that came out with the quick strike rig that promoted catch and release fishing with live bait.
“I liked catching fish on suckers, but didn’t like that so many of them would always be gut hooked. “It’s been I think 25 years ago when we came out with the quick strike rigs. We have always tried to be innovative with different baits, row trolling, fishing suspended fish … from little kids up to grandpa and everyone in between. I have always had the patience to teach and I think that’s what makes it fun for me. Being able to see people take what I’ve taught them and use it to catch fish.”
Guiding in the Minocqua and greater Lakeland area has offered Smith a number of opportunities to both catch big fish and keep things challenging year in and year out.
“I have a good knowledge of the lakes and couldn’t even name all the ones we’ve caught fish on,” he said. “I’ve fished the Pike Lake chain, Minocqua, Boulder, Eagle River. I haven’t given guiding anywhere else a thought really because there are so many lakes in our area. Every year I am trying to find a new spot or a new lake. There is no other place like this in the world.”
Smith’s induction specifics haven’t been released by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward. The Minocqua-based guide will be honored as a distinguished guide – joining the ranks of legends Jim Peck, Chip Ross, Leon “Buckshot” Anderson, Tony Rizzo and others who’ve already been enshrined.
“It’s an honor to join the ranks of some of those that are in,” Smith added