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Big fish for a big cause

Big Lake’s Judd Fuhrmann (left) and his buddy Mike Sagen hold up some hardware and a walleye from this past weekend’s Big Fish Invitational on Lake Minnewaska. (Contributed)

It won’t be the biggest walleye tournament that comes to the area this summer, but the cause they were fishing for is a big deal to the anglers who participated.

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Judd Fuhrmann of Big Lake hosted the 25th annual Big Fish Invitational (BFI) on Lake Minnewaska this past Saturday as a chance to raise money for a good cause and remember a brother he lost three years ago. Jeffery Charles Fuhrmann of Minneapolis loved to chase walleyes and hosted this tournament for 22 years at different lakes across the state.

The last of those tournaments he ever fished in was on a windy day on Lake Minnewaska. Jeffery Fuhrmann had juvenile diabetes (Type 1) and suffered from heart problems as a result of that. He died in 2011 after a heart attack at the age of 49.

The following year, his brother Judd took over as the host of the BFI tournament and saw how tough it was on their friends to be there without his brother. That’s when he decided to continue the event and devote it to trying to help others who also suffer from Type 1 diabetes.

“There are some fundraisers for that cause but there really are not a lot,” Fuhrmann said. “I’ve done a few of them, some walks and whatnot, and I like to fish. I know a bunch of others who like to fish, and when I saw them shedding tears at the tournament for my brother, I knew that probably wasn’t going to stop and something needed to change.”

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin. As many as 3 million Americans suffer from the disease.

This past Saturday was the fourth straight year in which the BFI was held on Lake Minnewaska. The tournament came to the lake when Jeffery was still hosting it, and it produced so many fish that it was hard to stay away.

“We landed on it one year, and that year every boat caught so many fish of different types that every boat that came in was nothing but smiles,” Judd said. “It hasn’t changed. If you put a shiner on, you’re going to catch fish. That makes it really fun for people.”

Fuhrmann said there were fish caught again this past weekend, but finding the walleyes that they were looking for proved to be a challenge.

“It went really good in the sense that we were here and did what we planned to do and raised some money and awareness,” Judd said. “However, when the flies started coming out of the lake on Saturday morning, that had such a huge damper on the catch-success rate.”

The walleyes that were caught by the 16 two- and three-person teams in the tournament were mostly males, and it took a while to find them. Once anglers moved a little deeper, they started catching fish, but anglers were targeting shallow water for much of the day before they found them.

“If you could get deeper than 20 feet of water, those fish seemed to be far less affected by the bug hatch,” Fuhrmann said. “But I would guess 80 percent of the field was fishing for walleyes in less than 20 feet. Most of them got skunked until they came out deep.”

Fuhrmann caught the biggest walleye of the day with a fish that weighed around three pounds. He donated the money he won for that back to diabetes research. One of the anglers in the winning team also donated his share of the winnings.

Each angler pays a $25 entry fee for the tournament that goes toward paying those who place, along with trophies and other give-away items. The anglers are also expected to donate at least $25 on top of that. Jeff and Judd’s father, Chuck Fuhrmann, then matches whatever money is raised. All the money is donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Judd did not have the final totals as of Monday morning, but said he didn’t think it would quite reach $1,000 this year with only 16 boats in the field. He hopes to keep it growing in years to come with Lake Minnewaska being the permanent location for the event on the first Saturday after Mother’s Day every year.

“Our focus became what took Jeff and the juvenile diabetes research,” Chuck Fuhrmann said. “I’m proud of Judd as you can imagine, and it’s fun…our motto is to catch a cure.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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