Royal Karels is a fishing legend who might be almost unknown outside the Brainerd area. He is seldom seen on TV or heard on the radio. He has been featured a number of times in local and state newspapers but, if one is not familiar with his name, the stories often don’t stick. But, make no mistake- Royal Karels is a fishing legend! The Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame agrees and has selected him as one of three unique inductees for the class of 2016 Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame. The other two individuals to be honored this year are photographer Bill Lindner and longtime tournament fisherman and educator Bruce “Doc” Sampson.
Karels, of Brainerd, Minnesota, started his 50 some years of guiding at his grandparents tiny resort on Shirt Lake just east of Brainerd at the ripe old age of 10, taking resort customers to his little secret spots on the lake with a row boat. He did it for free but often got a buck from customers for his efforts. He worked at the resort until he was 16 or 17 years old. He went off to college at 18 and always dreamed of guiding when he got out of college.
He took a teaching job in the Brainerd School District and along with another friend started guiding out of Birkland’s Resort on Bay Lake. In 1969 bait shop owner Marv Koep noticed that Karels was consistently winning area bass tournaments. He invited Karels to have an informal interview with Rod Romine of the Nisswa Guides’ League and soon he was voted in as the first new member of the league by the original Nisswa guides. He was a member of the Nisswa Guides League until 1978 when he formed his own guiding business. He has guided every year since. In addition to his own guide business he also operates the guide business for Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake in Brainerd.
Now in his late 70’s Karels loves to fish for pan fish, muskies, pike, walleye, and bass. But it is bass that really has him at the front of the class in fishing. He is truly a bass catching machine and his usual rule in the boat is that fish caught are fish released. He fishes all the big waters; Mille Lacs, Leech, Winnie and Lake of the Woods but his favorites are the little ponds and tiny lakes in Central Minnesota that surprisingly often hold majestic size bass. He is not limited to any one technique for bass fishing but a plastic worm is right up there near the top of his favorites.
On busy years he still takes over 100 guide trips. That might mean leaving home at 5AM and getting back at 7:30PM. Pretty long day for a guy almost 80 years old.
When asked how long he is going to keep guiding, a smile comes across his face……”As long as I can swing the leg over the side of the boat!” Nice to see a fishing legend honored for a life long passion!