JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Two to three times a week you can find Ken Cumber of Jamestown on the water somewhere, fishing for walleye. Unless it’s winter when he’s fishing for perch.
Three months after quadruple bypass heart surgery in January at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, the longtime angler who is also a cancer survivor was given the go-ahead by his doctor to start fishing again. That was April 20.
He had the date marked on the calendar, said his wife, Jan. He hit the Missouri River with a relative.
‘I haven’t gone by myself yet,” Cumber said. “There’s always somebody that wants to go.”
Cumber was chosen as this year’s inductee for the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame. He will be formally inducted next year since this year’s event that takes place during the North Dakota Governor's Cup Walleye Derby in Garrison was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Inductees are chosen for their ethics, leadership and commitment to improving sport fishing in North Dakota, unselfish contributions to the sport, impact on sport fishing and overall contribution to the sport or to fisheries management in North Dakota, according to Keith Witt, president of the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame.
Cumber’s been fishing since he was very young and has fished primarily walleye tournaments since 1983, although he gave up tournaments in 2014. He credits his grandfather and father for teaching him the sport.
“Back when I was fishing with my dad there weren’t depth finders and so my dad taught me how to fish by the lay of the land,” he said. “Watch what the land was like on shore and if there was a hill there and then a valley, well you knew that valley was out into the lake, too. Just by sight.”
That meant there were fish there, too. He still uses that method his father taught him at times even with what he calls “all the fancy equipment” at his disposal.
Cumber competed professionally in tournaments through the Midwest, first landing sponsors through a friend in Minnesota that initially included Mercury and have included Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Tracker, Lowrance, Budweiser and Coca-Cola.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “No matter what I do, I’m a competitor.”
Tom Boerger nominated Cumber for the award on behalf of the members of the North Dakota Sportfishing Congress, an organization that, according to its website, “is the umbrella organization for all the fishing clubs of North Dakota. It is designed to be a watchdog and work with the Game and Fish Department, North Dakota Legislature and the Congress of the United States.”
Boerger said in the nomination that "Ken Cumber is simply one of the best ambassadors of fishing in North Dakota," noting he has a "passion for teaching others how to fish, in particular, youngsters," worked on many projects through Dakota Anglers and shares fishing techniques he has learned with others.
Cumber has been a longtime supporter of sportfishing and preservation of fishing resources in North Dakota and worked with North Dakota Game and Fish Department on projects ranging from artificial fish habitat to water quality. He has been a member of the Dakota Anglers club in Jamestown and the North Dakota Sportfishing Congress for over 30 years, also serving in offices in those organizations.
“If you want things to change you have to get involved,” Cumber said.
Years ago, when Devils Lake was “the big fish perchery,” Cumber said, he was staying at a hotel there. A party from Wisconsin was also there.
“They had potato sacks, 100-pound potato sacks full of perch,” he said. “And so, from that day forward, with people from Devils Lake, too … we just kept hounding them and hounding them (Game and Fish) until they put a limit on the perch.”
Cumber thinks the limit of 20 is still too much.
“Them big perch -- 25 of them will fill a 5-gallon pail," he said. "No one needs to take that many fish home, I’m sorry.”
Cumber also has a rule and it’s clear with his fellow anglers before they go out on the water.
“People know that when they go in my boat that if they catch a fish (walleye) over 20 inches they’re putting it back,” he said. “You do not keep ‘em. Them are the spawners. They’re the future of fishing.”
Protecting the state’s resources is important to Cumber.
“Trying to make it better for now and especially for future generations,” he said. “I want people, after I’m gone, I want them to be able to enjoy the things that I got to enjoy. To be able to go out and catch walleyes and perch, catch quality fish. It’s not about keeping them but it’s about catching them and having the fun of doing it.”