BEMIDJI, Minn. — It’s probably a safe bet that for Dick Beardsley, much of his life has been spent on a Minnesota lake, with a fishing rod in hand.
And whether it be for business or for pleasure makes no difference to the owner and operator of Dick Beardsley Fishing Guide Service in Bemidji, Minn. Because, for Beardsley, fishing is a way of life, and he would know, because he’s been doing it for over 60 years.
“My dad was an avid fisherman, and he started taking me fishing with him when I was not even 2-years-old,” Beardsley said. “He said I never, ever complained. If I got a little tired, he’d throw a cushion up in the front of the old boat, and I’d sleep for a little bit and wake up and grab my cane pole and start fishing.”
Although nearly all aspects of the outdoors played an integral part in the Wayzata, Minn., native’s childhood, Beardsley said it was fishing that led him on the early path to entrepreneurship.
In 1968, at the age of 12, he began his own fishing guide service on Lake Minnetonka — even running an ad for his business in an outdoors newspaper.
He dubbed the venture Dick’s Guide Service and fished out of a 14-foot wooden boat with a 7.5-horsepower Mercury outboard, charging $25 a day for two people.
“I still remember people calling our phone and I’d answer — and at that age your voice is going up and down like Mickey Mouse,” Beardsley said. “They’d say they were calling about Dick’s Guide Service and needed to talk to my dad. I’d say that my dad’s name is Bill, and he doesn’t guide.
I think there was a little hesitation on their part, but people were so nice and I did my best to try to get them on fish, and most of the time we did.”
After upgrading to a better boat, Beardsley continued to guide throughout high school, and later, moved the service down to Waseca, Minn., to attend college.
However, it was another activity that took front and center for the sportsman when he began channeling his athleticism into competitive running.
Through the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Beardsley’s guide service was placed “on the back burner” while he participated in marathons and trained for the Olympics, famously finishing a close second behind Alberto Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon; however, consecutive injuries prevented him from qualifying for the Olympics.
Once his running career ended, Beardsley worked on a dairy farm milking cows, but guiding found its way back to the angler, so he took up the gig full time in the early 1990s.
“I’m 64 years old now, and I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, but I absolutely love it,” Beardsley said. “I look forward to every trip I take, and I look forward to all the relationships I make.”
Now, in between guiding and operating Lake Bemidji Bed and Breakfast with his wife Jill, Beardsley works as a motivational speaker, traveling around to various schools and conventions to tell the stories and lessons learned throughout his eventful, albeit trying, life.
Beardsley said his stories — even told while out fishing — are essential in creating lasting bonds with his clients.
“I’m more of a storyteller to get a point across. When I get out in the boat with folks, the fish aren’t always jumping in the boat because some days are better than others,” Beardsley said. “So I start telling stories and whatnot. They’re all real stories, and people just get a kick out of it, and I get a kick out of telling them.
“They’re not just a guide client. They’ve become good friends over the years, and that is what’s really neat: the relationships I’ve been very fortunate to build over the years, just from the people I’ve taken out fishing.”
Beardsley offers four, six, and eight-hour trip options, and now primarily guides on Park Rapids and Bemidji area lakes.
His popularity as a guide stems not only from his positive and bigger-than-life personality, but also his willingness to personalize fishing experiences according to each client.
“A lot of people think you’ve got to be up at the crack of dawn, and I tell them that if you want to go real early, we sure can,” Beardsley said. “But we sure don’t have to get up and be out on the lake at five o’clock in the morning to catch fish. And most people are really appreciative of that because we’ll work around your schedule.”
Beardsley said he delights in taking families with children out on trips, because “to see a kid catch a fish really puts a smile on (his) face.” However, he understands a client’s need to cut a trip short because of a fatigued or boredom-stricken child.
And in that case, he said he’ll often pro-rate the trip or suggest another day to reschedule.
But for one local 7-year-old boy named Sam, he hasn’t had any issue keeping his attention sharp while out on the boat — with Beardsley as his angling mentor, Sam now hopes to be a fishing guide one day, too.
“We made a little pact,” Beardsley said. “I said, ‘Sam, here’s the deal: I’m going to take you out as much as I can, but I’m getting up there in age. When I get to the point where I’m not able to get in my boat, you’ll be at the age that you can start taking me out.’
“I asked, ‘Does that sound like a good deal?’ And he said, ‘Yes, that sounds like a really good deal. I’ll take you out whenever you want.’ And we shook on it.”
Sustaining the sport
Even when not out guiding others, Beardsley can typically be found scouting a lake in preparation for his next trip.
He said he’s kept a detailed log book for many years — which outlines the features of various lakes and their species of fish — to ensure a guide trip will be both rewarding and educational for his clients.
“You can get a pattern developing on some of the lakes. You know, what time of year they start turning on for whatever species you’re going after,” Beardsley said. “The log book has been very beneficial when you’re a one-person guide.”
Although Beardsley often enjoys fishing for walleye on nearby Lake Bemidji, he admits he’s not a picky angler, preferring to be a “multi-species guy” who likes to catch anything.
However, he’s noticed over the years that his clients’ fishing preferences have changed. Beardsley said that walleye was the top choice 10 years ago, but now, “a lot of people say they just want to catch fish.”
“It used to be all about going out and people catching fish and then cleaning them and cooking them,” Beardsley said. “Now, I get a lot of people and they just want to go out, catch fish, take pictures and put them back in. But at the end of the day, if people have something making their rod tip jump and their pole bend, they’re happy as a lark, no matter what.”
This catch and release mentality of clients works well for Beardsley, who practices a stricter approach to aquatic sustainability, both in his guide trips and in his personal recreation.
“There are fish that are right in the middle of their peak reproductive years, and you want to keep those in the system so they can keep popping out eggs every spring,” Beardsley said. “I have my own parameters that I use, and when I explain to (clients) why we’re doing that it makes them feel good knowing that the fish are going to still lay some eggs.”
After a bad ice fishing season last winter, and now, continued apprehension over the coronavirus pandemic, Beardsley admits it’s been a slow time with his guide service these past few months.
“I lost about two and a half months of winter ice fishing business this year,” Beardsley said. “But I finally was able to get the houses out the first week in February, and then I kept busy for about a month before we had to get them back up off the ice.”
For the past few years, the Minnesota DNR Bass Advisory Board member has collaborated with the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce and Visit Bemidji — the town’s convention and visitor bureau — to create weekly fishing reports.
However, disruptions to the sport haven’t stopped Beardsley from promoting the abundance of fishing opportunities in and around his home. He’s recently taken to the camera to showcase his angling experiences on video to encourage Bemidji tourism.
“It’s a way to really promote the Bemidji area for the great fishing that we have,” Beardsley said. “And I love doing it, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
Since Gov. Walz issued his stay-at-home order in March, fishing guide services have been unable to operate; however, after recent loosening of the order in mid-May, Beardsley and other guides were given the OK to get back to business.
Although he admits to keeping his boat cleaner than average even on a normal day, Beardsley said he’s taking precautions to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by sanitizing rods, reels, boat seats and life jackets after each trip. Additionally, he intends to supply clients with custom-made masks crafted by his wife.
As Beardsley begins guiding again amid a pandemic, he said he’s looking at circumstances in a positive light, allowing him to have high hopes for this fishing season and those to come.
“There should be a lot more fish in the system because they weren’t pounded on and taken out of the lake this past winter,” Beardsley said. “And the one good thing that’s perhaps come out of this whole coronavirus thing is that fishing license sales in Minnesota are way, way up — especially among young people.
“Since the opener, I’ve noticed a lot more young people — and dads with their kids — out fishing. Maybe that’ll be one of the really positive things that comes out of this: We’ll get some people that have maybe never fished before — but want to get out of the house — so they’re doing it now.”
Like young Sam, a new generation has been inspired by Beardsley to venture into the fishing guide business.
Along with offering his expertise and guidance to them, Beardsley said he often helps the beginner guides to develop a clientele by sending customers to them when his service is fully booked.
However, Beardsley admits he isn’t ready to pass the torch on just yet, hoping that he “has a few good years left” and he’s looking forward to continuing his guide service for as long as his body will oblige.
“I have had a number of guide clients over the years ask me when I’m going to retire from guiding,” Beardsley said. “I say ‘Well golly, the day I’m going to retire from guiding is the day I’m driving folks to a lake, and I don’t have butterflies in my stomach because I’m excited — and when somebody in my boat catches a fish, and I don’t act like I’m a little kid again.’ That’s when I’ll retire and I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”
For more information about fishing with Dick Beardsley or to book a trip, contact him at (218) 556-7172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.