Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsman’s Club celebrates 50th Anniversary

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 6/12/24

Great ideas can be born in the middle of the night. Just ask the members of Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsman’s Club, who are about to celebrate the 50 th anniversary of their organization.

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Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsman’s Club celebrates 50th Anniversary


Great ideas can be born in the middle of the night. Just ask the members of Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsman’s Club, who are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their organization.

According to past president Arby Linder, of Martell, the club was founded at the Lawton Bar 50 years ago at around 1 a.m. His phone rang in the middle of the night and his brother was on the other end telling him he was in a club. It was an idea he and Ed Place had concocted. They decided they needed a sportsman’s club that would help the river and told Arby he was in it.

“We met in homes until we figured out what we were going to do,” Linder said. “It wasn’t official yet.”

They rented out the school in Gilman and invited Roger Fairbanks and Roger Anderson from Kiap-Tu-Wish Trout Unlimited to speak. About 50 people attended.

“It was a big crowd,” Linder said. “And they all joined Trout Unlimited.”

The next month EGRR held another meeting and only about nine people came. But that was enough. A 50-year legacy sprouted and grew.

“We all saw that the river needed some care and just the resources around the area needed protecting,” Bruce Place said. “All of us grew up on the river, either the Rush or the Eau Galle.”

Scott Kiefer said the river didn’t have many trout at that time, and Linder agreed.

“There were only about 300 trout per mile compared to 5,000 today,” he said. “We did shocking for about 15 years. We took a week off and shocked all week.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, trout shocking is a technique that uses a brief electrical pulse to stun fish so they can be captured and counted. Fish are released back into the water after being measured, weighed and assessed.

Place said the club got rolling and they started holding monthly meetings. The membership continued to grow and now numbers 115 members today. The club included many local families, friends and neighbors.

“It was a family club and it was awesome,” Kiefer said.

The group stocked trout in the rivers, planted trees and dug out springs along the river. Linder said the area’s DNR fish manager, Bert Apelgren, was worried the Rush River would rise (from the springs being dug out) and all the fish would end up down in the Mississippi.

“He was worried it wouldn’t last,” Linder laughed. “We had to give him a suggestion and let him ponder it. He wanted to make sure he was the one who thought of it.”

As time went on, the group dug out springs by hand that they saw trickling in while fishing. In some cases, they used a backhoe. They developed a good working relationship with the DNR and completed some major river restoration projects in the 1980s. Where the river was wide and stagnant, they narrowed the banks in order to make the water move faster, which in turn cooled it. They added rip rap to stop erosion along the banks and built cribs (or fish hotels) for fish habitat.

“We still stock the Eau Galle,” Linder said. “We get about 10,000 trout from the DNR. We did buy them at first, from a place in Lewis, Wis. We would bring truckloads of trout in bags. We spent three to four years doing that. Back when we started, we had two trucks come with 10,000 trout in each of them. Cars of people parked along the river watching and offering to help.”

It was a lot of work though. They had to make sure the water stayed at the right temperature. They even tried to stock rainbow trout, but as the water in the rivers grew colder, the rainbows left. They stuck with browns and brooks, which thrive in the Rush and Eau Galle.

In 1976 the club began hosting its annual opening day of fishing trout contest, said Lin Linder. That became the group’s major fundraiser. It used to be held in a pole shed in El Paso but has since moved to the Ellsworth Rod & Gun Club. The day features trout contests, raffles, breakfast, a barbecue chicken dinner and an auction.

“People coming and going and kids are fishing along the river as are their parents,” Place said.

The club also holds its own deer, turkey, and fish contests for members, who can register their catches or harvests. In January each year, they host a member party and give out prizes and awards.

Arby Linder served as the club president for 40 years. Lanette Place said he was instrumental in developing the club’s relationship with the DNR. He also served on the Conservation Congress for Wisconsin.

Arby shrugged off praise and turned the conversation toward club accomplishments. They are especially proud of the club land at the end of 425th Street in El Paso, which totals 148 acres acquired from the Koch family.

“Ross Christopherson was the county supervisor at that time and the Koch family wanted to give the land away,” Arby Linder said. “Try to get two acres and have a picnic area. I thought nah, if we go for it, we’ll go for it all. There was a gal in the club at that time that helped me write the letter to the Koch family.”

“We had to sell ourselves,” Bruce Place added.

“About 50 clubs registered for it and they cut it back real quick,” Kiefer said. “They wanted local people to have it.”

Arby Linder said representatives for the Kochs came and talked to the club one night. They even went down to look at the land. The kids in the family who inherited it, hadn’t seen it since they were children. They awarded the land to EGRR Sportsman’s Club, who in turn has shared it with the community.

“Once we got that land, we started thinking what we could do with it,” Bruce Place said.

The land kickstarted the club into high gear again. Activity at that time had waned off, but this brought a renewed sense of mission.

“We got approval to put in three handicapped fishing piers and a picnic shelter,” Bruce Place said. “We’ve never been a club that wanted a clubhouse.”

Lanette Place said it’s been a good way to promote outdoor recreation. If the public wants to use the facility for a large group event, they can reserve it on the club’s website. There are also many trails, great for snowshoeing, hiking and trail riding. People can use the land, but the club asks that they leave it as they found it.

The club hosts an annual veterans and handicapped fishing day and pheasant hunt at the land. Women’s fly fishing seminars have been held there and the Pierce County and Pepin County sheriff’s offices have used the site for training. Phil Huggett is in charge of mowing and does a phenomenal job, club members said.

The group also hosts a trout pond at the Pierce County Fair each year, which is always packed with people. Sometimes kids want to stay there fishing all day. It might be the first time they’ve ever gone fishing. Once a mother thanked them for having the pond available: Her husband was in the service and couldn’t take their child fishing like he used to, so this gave the child a chance to do it.

The club used to take the pond up to the Shriner’s Hospital in the Twin Cities and set it up for kids there too. The pond was a hit at local nursing homes as well, where the residents would try to outdo each other, Arby Linder said. The Linders’ grandson, Mitchell, has taken over running the pond, which has been a staple at the fair for 37 years. For eight years before that, the club hosted a booth in the Round Barn.

“It’s fun to watch the little kids come in,” Lin Linder laughed. “But they cry if they don’t catch anything and they cry if they have to touch the fish.”

The club is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an open house from 2-5 p.m. June 22 at the club land in El Paso. Live music by Crabgrass (classic rock and more), door prizes, cake, food and beverages are on the itinerary. You could win a 65-inch TV, gift certificates from area businesses or a Milwaukee pruner, just to name a few.

The club is always looking for local people interested in conservation to join the club. Current projects include (but are not limited to) planting trees, maintaining club land, and cultivating a pollinator field. The club also supports other community organizations, such as area fire departments and trap shooting teams. To learn more about its mission and projects and to apply for membership, visit egrrsc.org

Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsman’s Club, 50th anniversary, conservation, Martell, Rush River, Eau Galle River, trout, Wisconsin