HINCKLEY — For Duane Landmeier, it’s an ironic twist of fate.
When the Hinckley man was growing up in Sandwich, his father and uncles took him to fish in Phillips, Wis. At other times, his sister, Denise Spooner, and brother-in-law, Tim Alfredson, also took him fishing, usually for muskie.
“Muskies used to scare me when i was a kid,” Landmeier laughs now, admitting that he’d often pull his lure out of the water to avoid them. “You can’t see them until right before they come up to the boat. They look mean, like an alligator.”
Over time, not only did he overcome his fear, he is now a professional muskie fisherman and a state-certified muskie guide.
Recently, Landmeier and his fishing partner, Bob Taylor of Lafayette, Ind., took third in the Top Gun (team of the year) competition for the Professional Musky Tournament Trail. The trail consists of three qualifying tournaments throughout the summer with the Ranger Boats World Championship in Green Bay, Wis. Sept. 22-23.
“It was a very rewarding experience that we are both proud of,” Landmeier said. “It was a lot of hard work. Muskies are not the easiest fish to catch. In a tournament, you have to catch fish in whatever condition that is given to you that given day.”
“Knowing that Duane and I discussed how we would fish each tournament based on the factors involved at each site, putting our plan into effect and boating fish in each of the three qualifiers proved to be more difficult than one might think,” Taylor said, adding that he was proud of their achievement. “At each qualifier the conditions on the first day were never the same as conditions the second day so having to adapt to ever-changing weather patterns and fishing patterns was the norm.”
For the year, the men caught muskies that were 43, 39, 36, 34 and 34 inches in size, which is quite a feat. In his career, the biggest muskie Landmeier ever caught was 52 inches long and weighed 44 pounds.
“They are the top of the food chain,” Landmeier said. “Not many things chase them. They are like a cat; they’ll follow your lure, but won’t hit.”
When they do bite, Landmeier said, they put up a “pretty good fight,” taking between 2 and 5 minutes to get one.
“It’s a heavy fish,” he said. “Sometimes you reel in your bait, with a figure 8, it makes the fish follow your lure. Sometimes, the muskie will bite right at the rod, the water just goes nuts and you’re shaking.”
To show how difficult it is to catch a muskie, for the first time in tourney history, not one was caught during last month’s championship.
“I couldn’t get one bite,” Landmeier said, noting that a drawing was held out of a hat to choose the winner out of 38 teams.
Although most fishermen compete in teams of two, Landmeier was forced to fish the championship alone last year. Right before last year’s championship, he was driving home when he got a number of text messages informing him that his partner had died.
“I’m 47 and I was crying,” Landmeier said. “I was just crushed. I knew he had a problem, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Ironically, he caught two fish to finish second, his highest ever. One more and he would have won the grand prize of a $45,000 boat for the first time.
“I can never get over the hump,” he said,
This year, Landmeier partnered up with an old friend and competitor who he met on the tournament trail.
“Sometimes I would beat him and sometimes he would beat me,” Landmeier said of Taylor. “He’s a pretty good fisherman, so I just called him up and asked him to be my partner.”
“Fishing with Duane is always a great experience and something I look forward to doing again both competitively as well as on any given weekend,” Taylor said.
The men said they plan to continue their partnership next year.
When he isn’t fishing on nights and weekends, Landmeier drives a concrete truck for Meyer Material in Naperville and has been a certified muskie guide on the side for the last 10 years, operating the Mainly Muskie Fishing Guide Service. He has also been a member of the Muskie Inc. in Plano for 27 years, the past seven as president.
Landmeier, who runs hopes to become a full-time guide when he retires, credits his long involvement in fishing to all his partners and his family, especially wife Dana for “being so supportive over the years.”
“She just caught her first muskie at Shabbona Lake this year,” he said proudly of his spouse, a local beautician.
“She still doesn’t care if she goes or not, but I’m glad she lets me go,” Landmeier laughed, adding that she knew about his passion long before their 1988 wedding.
“I’ve probably made $60,000 over the years. That’s pretty good for muskie fishing. But if you added up what I’ve made and spent on fishing, it doesn’t add up.”