“Catch a Memory:” Historic Fishing Contest Photos

Earl & Eugenie Fuller

Fuller’s Fishing Contest in Park Rapids, Minnesota was probably the first major fishing contest in the state. It was certainly the longest running fishing contest, beginning in 1916 and lasting until 1985. The contest was sponsored by Fuller’s Tackle Shops with local resort support within a 25 mile area around Park Rapids and Grand Rapids, Minnesota.The video below, Catch a Memory, gives us a visual sample of the thousands of individuals who registered fish for this contest.

Most of the photos in Catch a Memory were taken by the contest’s founder Earl Fuller, or his son Jerome (Jerry). Their store was often the first place tourists would stop on their arrival to the Park Rapids area. Many of the largest contest fish were displayed daily on ice behind a large window on Main Avenue.

In midwinter, contest entrants were mailed the highly anticipated Fuller’s Golden Book which listed each entrant’s name, prize, etc. (In Grand Rapids it was the Fuller’s Blue Book.) Of course, the books offered an opportunity to study resort advertising and plan for the next vacation. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources still uses the Golden Book and Blue Book data for studying fish populations.

Fishing contests have changed considerably since the days of Fuller’s Tackle Shops. Instead of a summer long contest, most of the contests today are one-day events. There are now over 400 fishing contests in Minnesota each year, with roughly three-fourths scheduled in summer and one-fourth in winter.  Prize money can reach over $100,000, with the highest amounts in winter contests. Brainerd, Minnesota is recognized as having the world’s largest ice fishing contest, raising $1-million in revenue for area businesses and donating over $150,000 to area charities each year.

Shady Rest Resort, Ball Club Lake, MN, ca 1949 (Fuller Collection)

Today, attitudes and rules have changed toward catching large fish. Contests too, have changed. We no longer see huge fish displayed in sidewalk windows. Contests last only a day. Catch and release photos and tape measures are emphasized, with slot limits regulating the size we keep. We return the big ones to the water. Duplicates are made of fiberglass, as found in the state record fish on the walls of the Minnesota Fishing Museum at Little Falls, Minnesota.

Fishing contests and fishing rules have changed. Our attitudes have changed. But we all can still have a dream of catching that monster fish, or at least having something for the frying pan.

To read my earlier blogpost about Fuller’s Tackle Shop, click here.

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1 Response to “Catch a Memory:” Historic Fishing Contest Photos

  1. Carol Smith says:

    Thanks, Ren…this is amazing. Love the photo of Jerry Fuller’s Dad. He sure favors him. I know that this meant the world to Betty and family.. So happy to share it.. My family would have been right in there, as my brother Lynn and I learned to fish when we were old enough to stand, and the fun of it!
    Love,
    Carol

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