Clarks Grove’s big fish

Published 10:25 am Thursday, November 22, 2012

The fish that is located at the Gopher Stop in Clarks Grove has been out of water for more than 30 years. --Buck Monson/Albert Lea Tribune

CLARKS GROVE — When someone says there is a landmark in Clarks Grove, people might have to think twice. The large walleye that sits in front of the Gopher Stop in Clarks Grove is just that.

The Gopher Stop was once called the Fisherman’s Stop back in the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s before being turned into a convenient store. The store was once filled with fishing gear from floor to ceiling and wall to wall.

Visitors slap stickers on the famous fish that lives in front of the Gopher Stop in Clarks Grove. -- Buck Monson/Albert Lea Tribune

The Fisherman’s Stop was opened around 1978 by Leo Hovland and about a year later he added a fish on the roof to help grab the attention of Interstate 35 motorists.

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Larry Pence remembers buying Hovland’s Valu Mart store that had been in Clarks Grove and helped him move stuff to the new location in 1978.

“I think it was about a year later when he added the fish on the roof,” Pence said.

The walleye was brought down just a couple of years later, according to local sources, and now it sits in the corner of the parking lot facing toward Minnesota Highway 251.

“I remember painting the fish around 1983,” artist Chris Christensen said. “And when I painted it, it was on the ground.”

Christensen is a retired art teacher who taught in Albert Lea. The new owners chuckled when asked about the fish.

“It’s a monument,” owner Bruce Nielsen said. “People just say, meet at the fish, and they know exactly where it’s at.”

The fish is used as a gathering place for travelers on I-35, and, of course, they have to get their picture taken with it. Some people position their cars so that in photographs it looks as if the fish is atop the car roof.

“Every day, you look out and see people out there getting pictures taken with it,” Nielsen said.

With all of the attention the fish gets, Nielsen said that at least twice a year he gets offers to buy the walleye from him.

“They say money can buy anything, but we just won’t jar loose on something like that,” he said.

Nielsen said the fish is not for sale, joking that people would get lost if they sold it and wouldn’t find the meeting place.

“They come in trying to negotiate with us, but we’re not going to tease them,” Nielsen said. “It’s a monument, I think it’s a destination point for people.”

According to clerks, the regulars who come in for coffee in the morning and afternoons have all kinds of stories about the fish that they can tell. The Nielsens would like to have the walleye redone someday, but the cost will be great.

“It’s weathered, very weathered. It could use a little paint,” owner Jennie Nielsen said.

The Nielsens bought the Gopher Stop on Sept. 28, 2001, and own two other gas stations in the area, Hartland and Ellendale.