By Mike Heins
The Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, whose efforts are aimed at improving Fresno Lake, is hosting its poppular annual banquet Saturday night at the Havre VFW Club. And as usual, it's sold out.
The group's year-round efforts include promoting fishery improvements and improved fish habitat, education and scholarships. It also promotes tournaments and a variety of other fishing related activities for the whole family.
The Fresno Chapter consists of local people in the Hill and Chouteau counties who really love fishing. They have no set place to meet, but the group really enjoys getting together and organizing to improve sportmen's opportunities for fishing in the area.
"Our focus is on the area and improving the community and opportunities for the sportsmen here," Vern Gagnon member of Walleyes Unlimited said. "Everything we do is meant to to help and enhance the community. We look to help."
FCWU works also with the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce to bring outside people into the community. The tournaments brings in fisherman and their families from other areas.
The Fresno Chapter is just one branch of the state organization.
"We are a proactive in the state organization, but we are more active in local projects such as the Fresno Reservoir, the Milk River system, kids fishing and education, and sportsman activities throughout our area and the state," Gagnon said.
"I started with Walleyes Unlimited in 1992 and became a board of director in 1993. I was elected vice president in '95 and later, in 1996, I became the president for the organization."
Gagnon is currently in the president-elect position for a second term in 2001.
"Walleyes Unlimited has gained strength in our community as a leading organization and a strong supporter for education and sportsmen in our area," Gagnon said
Gagnon desires to see the future of fishing in the community provide the same opportunities for children as he had as a fisherman.
"I would like to see the continued effort of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks in their stocking of walleye at Fresno and enhancement of the facilities at Fresno for the users," he said.
Walleyes Unlimited was involved in the Creel Project in 1995 by the Fish Wildlife and Parks. This involved stocking the pond with walleye.
FCWU also promotes warm water fishery improvements. The organization assisted Fish, Wildlife and Parks with Nelson Creek spawning and egg gathering.
The organization is continually involved with water quality research at Fresno Reservoir.
Some of the projects that Walleyes Unlimited has been involved in are the annual spring tournament at Fresno and the annual appreciation day picnic. The picnic has been held in conjunction with the Northern Pike Roundup in the past.
Another activity is the kids' education day in spring for sixth-graders. The Fresno Chapter hosts this annual sixth-grade education day at Fresno Reservoir.
Hundreds of sixth-graders from area schools are given a seminar on water safety, fish identification, tackle and techniques, and values of sportsmanship. They also enjoy a free lunch and boat rides.
FCWU also sponsors an annual youth challenge walleye tournament, a casting contest at the state convention, classroom presentations at North Central Montana schools and a tackle loaner program.
Over the last six years, it has put more than $120,000 back into the Havre fishery and fishing implementation.
"Almost all of the money goes back into the community" Gagnon said. "We are a non-profit organization and our only real funding comes through our annual banquet."
The annual banquet, scheduled this year for tomorrow night, is FCWU's primary way to support the organization.
The dinner is a good time of fellowship and a great time for member to exchange fishing stories and have a good time. There are numerous activities at the banquet such as silent and live auctions, raffle tickets for prizes as well as walleye for dinner.
"This is the one time that all the members of the chapter can get together," Gagnon said
With the funding generated by the banquet, the organization has installed a wave suppression system to protect against waves formed in high wind conditions.
"We also sponsor new Walleye chapters to help get them established by initiating fund-raising, such as the new Sydney chapter, Gagnon said.
They are also involved in raising money for scholarships at MSU-Northern. The Fresno Chapter provides a $500 scholarship each year to one qualified student
Through FCWU funding, the facilities at Fresno Lake have been improved with such additions as a nicer parking area, bathrooms, boat ramp and expanded docks.
"Walleye fishing has improved in the number of fish and size," Gagnon said.
The organization also provides opportunities for local fishermen to meet and share ideas.
"Walleyes Unlimited allows interaction between members to learn techniques from other fishermen. You are never too old to learn new techniques," Gagnon said.
The FCWU is not bragging, but it also provides the following services:
Fund and schedule pro seminars;
Sponsor fish cleaning demonstrations demonstrations on how to clean and on creating boneless northern fillet;
Provide funds for publication of new Fresno & Nelson identification book;
Installed of lights at the main Fresno boat ramp and Kremlin bay;
Provide funds for a Fresno Creel census;
Help develop a perch habitat;
Provide concessions for the various Havre festival days events;
Support the media with a media feed;
Have a mobile gas barbecue;
Purchased and maintained picnic tables at area campgrounds;
The FCWU is always looking for new members who would share the same goals.
"We need to take care of the resources, don't litter, take care of the facilities and the fish," Gagnon said in explanation of those goals. "We need to encourage people to selectively harvest and release the fish that are more important for reproduction and keep those that are not."
This reflects the FCWU goal to preserve fishing for future generation.
FCWU membership is $20 per member for a year and $30 for the family. They also take contributions of $5 for the adopt-a-walleye program.
For more information write: Walleyes Unlimited of Montana, P.O. Box 1501 Havre, MT 59501 or P.O. Box 490 Big Sandy, MT 59520-0490; or call Jim Rettig at (406) 378-2385 or Vern Gagnon at (406) 265-5743.