‘The Leinie’s Guys’ Enrich Our Fishing Culture
PRESQUE ISLE, Wisconsin — The Leinie’s Guys are seven fishing buddies who appreciate life’s finer pleasures: campfire cocktails, empty boat landings, outhouses with toilet paper, hot breakfasts in town on cold mornings, and bait-shop owners who don’t count minnows.
The Leinie’s Guys also scorn life’s little nays and annoyances: sticks in the eye, running out of toilet paper, guys who park in the middle of boat landings, sheriffs knocking on the camper door at 1:30 a.m., and bait-shop owners who sell small minnows … and count them.
They also value health and commitments. Between them, they’ve lived 375 years. Each married once and remains so today; the briefest since 1989 and the longest since 1977. That’s 250 years of marriage, which equates to 66.67% of their combined time on Earth.
So, who are these guys? They’re Jackson “Jack” Alters, age 66; Dean “Deano” Radke, 64; Mark “Lard” Krueger, 63; Dan “Keet” Moericke, 62; Joe “JJ” Henry, 61; Mike “Mikey” Bishop, 61; and Dale “Puck” Johnson, 59. Most of them met in college or soon after, and live/worked in or near Wausau, except Johnson, who “commutes” from Minnesota.
Moericke organized the group’s “First Annual Great Walleye Assault” fish camp in northern Vilas County in May 1985, mainly to set a precedent their wives had to honor. That original GWA event – pronounced “Gee-Way” – featured three men in a tent for a three-day weekend.
“Once we were established, we quietly started adding another day each year so our wives wouldn’t notice,” Moericke said. They capped their camp at 10 days for many years until booking their preferred campsites for two full weeks this year. They explain that they’re all retired now, and it’s spring. With winter finally over, their wives needed a break from them.
And besides, this year marks the GWA’s 35thyear of “fishing, smart talk and beers.” They take pride in those traditions. They also hold tight to grudges. When they organized that first GWA in May 1985, they invited supermodel Cheryl Tiegs to join them.
She never showed.
They never forgot.
Nor have they forgiven Sharon Stone, Elle McPherson or Elin Nordegren (Tiger Woods’ former wife), for similar slights. In fact, guests note a pattern while paging through two three-ring binders holding 35 years’ worth of GWA newsletters. These quarterly reports, written by “Buck Tailspinner” (Moericke), forlornly name 31 other famous models, singers and actresses who never showed for the annual event.
Maybe those celebrities just dislike mosquitoes, cramped campers, and long walks to cold outhouses on moonless nights.
Has anyone with star power ever joined the Leinie’s Guys for a GWA? You bet. Dick Leinenkugel, president of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls, has been a camp regular the past 19 years since agreeing to “sponsor” the GWA event.
Moericke contacted Dick Leinenkugel in 2000 after one of Dick’s siblings ignored a letter in which Moericke asked the company to become the GWA’s first corporate sponsor. When Moericke wrote to Dick Leinenkugel, he said he preferred not to solicit Peter Coors, chairman of the Coors Brewing Co. in Colorado. Moericke is a loyal Wisconsinite, and wanted to give a state brewery the first chance to commercially sponsor their fish camp.
No one can say Dick Leinenkugel lacks a sense of humor. He called Moericke to ask if he was just trying to get a reaction. Nope. Moericke was earnest. Sort of. He said this was Leinenkugel’s chance to become the GWA’s first corporate sponsor, claim naming rights to “The Leinie’s Guys” brand, and supply the camp’s beer and T-shirts in perpetuity. And if Leinenkugel made them a camp banner each year, they’d stretch it between two oaks in front of their campsite.
In return, everyone attending the GWA would drink Leinenkugel’s beer, scorn all other brews foreign and domestic, and hand out free beer to military veterans while riding “The Leinie’s Guys” float in July 4thparades at Eagle River and Three Lakes.
Their “corporate sponsorship” deal with Leinenkugel’s is now in its 19thyear.
The Leinie’s Guys aren’t fishing snobs, of course. Even though their membership rolls have long hovered at seven after expanding from the original three, they regularly invite family, friends and extended family to join them. Their group cycles a dozen or more wannabe Leinie’s Guys through camp each spring, and some return in July for the parades.
They also constantly update the camp’s facilities, services and infrastructure. A flatbed trailer provides several water tanks, 12-volt batteries with inverters power the camp’s lights and minnow aerators, and a screened tent with a waist-high table accommodates four fishermen with fillet knives.
Over the years they’ve also fine-tuned their daily schedule. They rise around dawn, eat breakfast, decide who’s fishing in who’s boat, and then drive off to fish for walleyes, crappies or northern pike in nearby lakes. It’s not unusual for each two- or three-man group to hit two or three lakes before their “mandatory” check-in at 4:30 back in camp to clean fish and prepare dinner. If time permits after eating, they fish another hour or two before returning to camp.
But if daylight is fading too fast after dinner, they content themselves with the camp’s “million dollar views,” their “campfire chat series,” and pondering heavy questions like, “Whatever happened to B batteries?”
So far, the Leinie’s Guys’ only concession to age is staying off the lakes on cold, windy days. When they were younger and their camp more brief, they fished no matter what. They’re wiser now, of course.
And besides, they have new beers to sample.
Corporate sponsorships entail responsibilities, y’know, and they won’t forsake theirs.
“The Leinie’s Guys” and their friends and families have enjoyed a Northwoods fish camp in Wisconsin's Vilas County since May 1985. (Patrick Durkin photos)