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Rose City Sign reels in 45-footer

Bruce Strandskov stands in front of the new Willie Walleye statue in Baudette shortly after its installation in early July. (Contributed)1 / 2
The new Willie Walleye statue replaces the original version that had been in Baudette since 1959. (Contributed)2 / 2

A Lake of the Woods icon has received an upgrade thanks to Rose City Sign.

Willie Walleye, a 40-foot fish synonymous with the city of Baudette since 1959, has been replaced after more than half a century.

"Willie the Walleye was made in the 1950s. He's really deteriorating. They've been trying to repair him," said Bruce Strandskov of Rose City Sign, a sign and canopy company in the middle of farm country. "They spent a lot of money and the repairs were getting costly. ... They felt like the original structure was pretty much beyond repair."

In stepped Strandskov, who, after several meetings with the Baudette City Council, agreed to spearhead the project of creating Willie's successor. In July 2017, he told the Baudette City Council that he was interested in the project, and three months later, the city awarded him the contract with a budget of roughly $80,000.

"From there, production started," said Strandskov. "We sent a team up of two guys (and) physically measured the existing Willie. They spent two days taking measurements to make sure that (the new statue) is as close as possible."

Rose City Sign teamed up with FAST Corporation of Sparta, Wisconsin, for the creation of Willie 2.0.

Strandskov said that Rose City Sign subcontracted FAST to physically make the fish. Rose City Sign was in charge of ensuring it was made right, as well as the statue's delivery and installation in Baudette.

The result was the creation of a famous fish more than 45 feet long and 20 feet high.

"They have the dimensions, and they create this styrofoam plug," Strandskov said in explaining how FAST produced a giant walleye. "They make a fiberglass mold. From there, they make a fiberglass fish, and from there, they paint it and sand it and do all that type of work."

Once it was complete, Rose City Sign transported the fish to Baudette — and became a hit on social media — for the installation process that took place July 9-11.

And now, the new statue is set to reel in visitors for years to come.

"What I like about it is it's something that I'll show my grandkids," Strandskov said. "The first one lasted 50 (years). This one should last well past 50 years."

Strandskov said he enjoys new challenges, and the Willie Walleye statue was certainly an uncommon puzzle for a sign company to embrace.

"I liked it just because it's something I've never done before, (and) had no idea how to do it," he said. "It was just a matter of designing it. How do we get it up there? How do we put it in place? ... So that was fun. I like challenges. We're a sign company, a canopy company. (This is) something that was unique to us."

Adding a new chapter to the city's history is a little icing on the cake, too.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Strandskov said. "Someone will say, 'Hey, there's the guy that put it up. There's the guy that did the behind-the-scenes (work).' So that's really cool."

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Echo Press in Alexandria. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Alexandria area sports updates and jokes he thinks are funny.

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