Wally the Walleye & Walleye Capitol of the World
North End of Main Street
Garrison is known as the "Walleye Capitol of the World." Home of Wally the Walleye, the 26 foot Walleye located at the end of Main Street in the City Park. This designation can be attributed to the bountiful fishing opportunities that Lake Sakakawea provides.
It’s a wonderful life – for a walleye
By HEATHER OSADCHY, Summer Intern
McLean County Independent, 2009
Take a drive through Garrison and there’s no way you’ll miss it. The top of Main Street boasts a 26-foot long monument to what is often thought of as the best tasting freshwater fish, the walleye.
“Wally” has been at his post overlooking Main Street since 1980, but back then he went by a different name. In 1979 the Garrison Civic Club agreed to erect a statue of Willie Walleye in order to promote tourism in the area.
The idea to use a walleye as an advertisement is thought to have originated with the Governor’s Cup Walleye Derby. Once the decision on the statue was made, the Civic Club endorsed and spearheaded the project, which cost an estimated $10,000. Sponsors of the project were hopeful to have the statue completed by Garrison’s 75th anniversary in 1980, and their efforts were realized. “It was a multi-group workforce that put it together,” noted Les Korgel, who was the director of the Governor’s Cup Committee in 1981.
The fiberglass fish made its debut in 1980 as a joint venture of the Garrison Civic Club, Sportsmen’s Club and the North Dakota Governor’s Walleye Cup Committee. Soon after the big fish’s arrival, promotion of Willie Walleye was set in motion.
Representatives of the Walleye Derby suggested advertising the fish as a feature of the community. “It was an idea to draw people into town,” said Korgel. The Civic Club heard suggestions of signs and other promotional techniques such as a logo to be used on stationary.
A year after his debut, Willie Walleye received an honor. On July 17, 1981 the statue was dedicated as part of a mini-park in memory of Kenneth Fitzsimonds, a longtime Garrison outdoor booster and sportsman.
Two years later, BHG sponsored a contest to find a walleye logo to be used for promotion. In January 1983, Terri (Slocum) Brickner was selected as the winner and Willie Walleye had a likeness to be used for advertising. Before the year’s end, however, the logo was changed.
It was brought to the attention of the community that there was another Willie Walleye. Baudette, Minn. has had their tribute to the fish since 1958.
So in February of 1983 the Civic Club changed the name of the statue in order to develop a unique character. Garrison’s Willie Walleye became known as Wally, but he still has some friendly competition.
Baudette isn’t the only other city that celebrates the walleye. In fact, there are at least 10 cities across the U.S. that pay tribute to the fish. Cities besides Garrison and Baudette include, Isle, Minn., Ray, Minn., Rush City, Minn., Garrison, Minn., Port Clinton, Ohio, Umatilla, Ore., Mobridge, S.D., and Shell Lake Wis.
Although not every city claims to be the Walleye Capital of the World, seven of them are home to a statue and each celebrate the fish in some way.
So what makes a walleye capital? It’s hard to say, but a Google search for the Walleye Capital of the World results in over 100,000 matches. That’s pretty serious competition for our claim to the title, especially when Garrison, Minn. is one of the rivals.
Our Minnesota counterpart has a claim to the title as well as a 15-foot long statue of Wally the Walleye. And while we are located next to Lake Sakakawea, Garrison, Minn. is on the edge of the Mille Lacs Lake.
But even with these parallels in place, we are probably not Garrison, Minn.’s worst competition. Four other cities in Minnesota feature a monument to the fish.
In the midst of this debate, our Wally has remained strong. Of the fishes’ success, Korgel said, “I think it’s accomplished what the groups wanted it to do.”
The only thing that has ever truly harmed Wally is Mother Nature. An early February wind storm in 1996 found Wally “belly up” instead of atop his perch. The statue suffered damage to its support poles and one of its fins pierced the sign below the fish. Amazingly, the town mascot survived the fall without a scratch. In early May, a little over two months after his fall, Wally once again found himself right side up.
The fiberglass fish received new support poles, the pipes that fit into its underside were reinforced and new flanges were placed on both support poles to allow the fish to be taken down for repairs.
One of those repairs happened in March of 2007 when Wally was taken to Fischer Auto Body in Garrison to be refurbished. Wally received a fresh coat of paint and reclaimed his lofty position within a few weeks.
And that is where he remains. Although Wally has been through a lot during his 29-year stint as the city mascot, he doesn’t seem to be losing any steam. “Over the years many people have come to see Wally, to take a picture with him,” said Korgel.
And if the past is any indication of the future, Wally will continue “hooking” people on Garrison for years to come.