All roads lead to: Little Falls 

Minnesota Fishing Museum preserves angling history

BY Maura Wenner

Minnesota freshwater fishing: A hobby grasping the attention and free time of anglers across the state. Although the sport may not have changed much in terms of popularity from years ago, the equipment, accessories and so-called necessities certainly have.

Realizing this notion after researching his classic 1912 Surf Oreno, the late Al Baert, of Sartell, decided something needed to be done to preserve the timeline, lessons and rich history which comes with the pastime of what fishing is today.

“He (Baert) said the money isn’t what it is all about, more the memories,” said Brenda Perlowski, Minnesota Fishing Museum executive director since 2014. “He told his wife there should be somewhere in Minnesota where people can come and see the rich heritage of fishing.”

After Baert phoned his friend Morry Sauve, of St. Cloud, flyers were printed and mailed to friends requesting classic items similar to Baert’s in the hope that generations to come would gather at one place and learn about the sport.

It was 1990. And so began the early stages of what has become the Minnesota Fishing Museum Hall of Fame & Education Center in Little Falls.

“Al and Morry started going around getting the collections,” Perlowski said. “They also went around to local organizations and asked for donations.”

By 1995, Baert’s basement was full of various pieces used for fishing. Three years later, the city of Little Falls donated the north end space of the Cass Gilbert Depot building. After a six-month stay, the museum moved to its permanent residence at 304 W. Broadway, Little Falls.

The Minnesota Fishing Museum celebrated 25 years of acquiring fishing items for others to see Aug. 25.

“You would think we would be supported by the state, but we are not,” Perlowski said. “We are just a non-profit. Everything is donated.”

The museum depends on the support of commission sales, memberships, donations, gift shop sales and fundraisers to stay afloat for the community to share in its history.

“Our Night with the Fishing Pros in the spring is one of our biggest events,” Perlowski said. “Then, we have Christmas Tree Lane, where we team up with three other groups in Little Falls and turn this place into a winter wonderland for 10 days, beginning the day after Thanksgiving.”

During the event, they add Christmas decorations throughout the museum, put up Christmas trees throughout, and welcome Santa in a small, old-time fishing cabin display for the kids to come and visit.

“At the end, we auction the decorations off as part of a silent auction,” Perlowski said. “That money gets us through the winter months.”

The biggest attraction bringing people into the museum varies, depending on who they are and where their interest lies.

“For some, it’s their love for fishing,” Perlowski said. “Others love to come in and see the replicas of the Minnesota state record fish. The kids have fun seeing the aquarium we have. Then we have the antique lures and motors as well.”

The motors are what interests Bruce Reischl most. Reischl is a member of the museum’s board of directors.

“I did outboard repair from my own shop, Bruce’s Outboard Shop, for 47 years in Sauk Rapids before I retired,” Reischl said. “I have a collection of about 75-80 motors. The oldest I have is from 1912. I also have 80 electric trolling motors.”

There is a little something for everybody, Perlowski said. Among the collection is the oldest item, an 1852 lure.

“Some people come in and think they do not want to be there because they are not into fishing,” Perlowski said. “Then they walk through and remember things like when their dad fished with what they are looking at or used another item from their childhood.”

Separating the MFM from other museums are the pictures of the people who donated items, strategically placed next to their donations.

“People come in and see pictures of somebody they knew,” Perlowski said. “I have had people walk down the aisles and start crying in remembrance.”

Visitors are the reason the museum continues to grow. People walk through the museum and think of an item at home which would fit well in the collection.

“People think, ‘Oh, you do not have one of these. I will bring it here,’” Perlowski said. “Others mail items in.”

Inside the museum, a frozen ponds section with items related to ice fishing includes a spear house. Additionally, 20,000 artifacts, including 3,000 fishing decoys, are displayed throughout the aisles, waiting for others to come and enjoy seeing them as much as the owners did using them years ago.

“I am up here quite often, and I walk around and still see stuff I haven’t seen before,” Reischl said.