BRAINERD - After retiring from 3M and moving up north to the Brainerd area five years ago, former New Ulm resident Dale Ruehling has found a new career to keep himself busy during the summer weekends and even during the winter months.
Ruehling currently spends his free time and weekends as a professional fisherman, and judging by the looks of his trophy room, he's quite good at it.
Ruehling fishes on the Excel Circuit in the team and singles tournaments. He also fishes in the Ron Schara Tournament and a couple of Denny's Super 30 Tournaments throughout the year.
Ruehling with his fishing boat
On the weekend of September 19, Ruehling and his son won $10,000 in an Excel Bass Tournament on Leech Lake. Most fishermen get to learn a lake after fishing it many times, but Ruehling just seems to have beginner's luck on every lake he competes at.
"I went up and fished it two days before the tournament, I usually don't do any pre-fishing the day before the tournament because the fish that you stick you're not going to get again," Ruehling said.
The luck continued for Ruehling the next day as he took third in a singles tournament on Cass Lake.
Since becoming a professional fisherman in 1994, Ruehling has won more than $100,000 in prize money, including about $14,000 this year. Not bad for a side job during his retirement.
Overall, he's competed in 80 money tournaments. In those tournaments, he's taken 17 first-place trophies, 12 second-place trophies, seven third-place trophies and six fourth-place finishes.
He decided to turn professional after he wasn't eligible to compete in some Pro-Am tournaments after he achieved a high level of success.
Despite the fact that he became a professional in 1994, he wasn't fazed at all by the level of competition he was competing against.
"I knew I could do it and my wife really had her doubts at first," Ruehling said. "Money was tight paying the entry fees and stuff and in the first year that I did it, I think I ended up in two or three tournaments. All it takes is to win one and your entry fees are paid for the rest of the year because of the prize money you win.
"So I guess I kind of hit it lucky, otherwise she probably would've made me quit," Ruehling said.
In the tournaments, a winner is declared by the total weight of eight fish for a team and the total weight of five fish for a singles tournament. And no matter where the tournament is, Ruehling seems to do well, and he has the resume to prove it.
From 1995-2003, Ruehling was a member of the New Ulm Bass Club. In that period, Ruehling said they had 168 tournaments and Ruehling took trophies in 82 of those tourneys.
He also took second in the state of Minnesota for the Bass Federation in 1989 and in 1981 he was the Distinguished Angler of Sports Afield magazine. That same year he received a champions award from the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch. In 2001 and 2003, he was the Minnesota Division champion from the Team Supreme circuit.
Being a professional fisherman also means traveling quite a bit. When he first started, he had weekend trips to Iowa and throughout the upper midwest. He's fished on lakes and rivers in Oklahoma and Ohio, but now most of the tournaments are held in Minnesota.
He also said that they change the lakes pretty much every year to keep the competition pretty even.
"Guys will do good at a lake one certain week and then they'll say 'these guys are winning all the time on this lake, it's time we gotta switch something up,'" Ruehling said.
Although he does get some perks, he usually ends up paying for most of his equipment himself.
"One year I had a sponsor when I bought a new boat," he said. "They paid for a couple of tournaments, but I pretty much sponsored myself. One year I got batteries sponsored to me through Interstate. But otherwise basically it's out of my pocket."
He fishes quite often with his sons Ross and Rick. But once in a while he has to find someone else for team tournaments.
"There was one year that the boys couldn't fish, so my wife fished with me," he said. "Out of five tournaments, we finished with two first-place, a second place and a third place."
Besides fishing that takes up a lot of time in the summer months, Ruehling also spends quite a bit of time making fishing equipment such as jigs during the winter months.
"I make about 5,000 jigs a year that tournament fishermen buy from me," he said. "I make bass-fishing jigs and spinner baits. I started doing that about 35 years ago because the cost of tackle when I started tournaments was getting to be too much."
Being an avid fisherman, of course he has some favorite lakes.
"I've done really well on Gull Lake and the White Fish Chain," he said. "I've done pretty good on these northern lakes.
Ruehling guessed that he enters about 14 tournaments a year.
"But you know, in Minnesota, that pretty much takes up your summer," he said.
As of right now, Ruehling hopes to continue fishing as long as his body lets him. After all, it definitely beats going to work in the morning.
"The bones aren't working as good as they used to, but if I had to get up and go to work at 4 in the morning, I'd be complaining," he said. "If it's four o'clock in the morning then its good."