by Jim Kalkofen and pro walleye anglers
Three years ago, I wrote a piece about Ron Seelhoff. At the time, he was undergoing serious surgery for thyroid cancer. Surgeons removed his voice box, vocal cords and lymph nodes. But he recovered, and in the past 3 years, Ron hunted coyotes with friends, visited northern Minnesota, continued to fly, fished some tournaments, and lived the final years of his life. He passed away last week, and will always be remembers as one of the toughest pro walleye anglers.
He was best known for a smile that was always lurking just beneath an outwardly gruff countenance. Ron was always respected as one the best, if not the best, trollers in the pro walleye ranks. On the walleye tour, he often had three or four tails and heads poking out the windows as he whistled down the highway or launch ramps.
He was a record-setter. He did it his way, usually trolling crankbaits anywhere and everywhere. He didn’t just troll, he invented the art. If something wasn’t working, he innovated.
There was a walleye waiting for his cranks wherever he fished, but he also won tournaments jigging and rigging.
Add two more exciting passions to his resume: Ron was a champion coyote caller/hunter/tournament-winner, and a long-time crop-duster in the prairies where the corners of Colorado and Nebraska meet.
A born winner
Key accomplishments on the Professional Walleye Trail include pocketing $670,000, qualifying for 16 championships and winning two of them, and three 2nd-place finishes at elite events.
He won on Mille Lacs in 2006 by trolling cranks. He won on Fort Peck in 2000 by rigging. The next event that year was the championship, and he won that trolling cranks on riprap. In 1999, he won the championship and became the only back-to-back PWT Championship winner. In 1993 and 1995 he won Lake Oahe tournaments and claimed the prestigious 1995 Angler of the Year title.
He has been in winner’s circles on many other tours and events. The wins came naturally. Ron was the last angler to launch on any given tournament morning, and to the casual observer it appeared he was never in a hurry, that he might not be taking life and walleyes too seriously. But he was calculating. He was assessing every situation. Every change in wind direction. Every twist in the current. Every tiny detail.
At the Madison PWT Championship, one of many Seelhoff tales was born. He spied a crankbait floating in the lake, picked it up, checked the color and size, and wondered why a lure like that would be in the middle of the lake. He tied one on and went trolling. In a lake where walleyes were at a premium, this was the key for limits of big fish and another major victory.
I’ve fished with Ron many times. Filmed him at numerous tournaments. Photographed him. Interviewed him on stage and in the boat. Talked late into many nights. Listened to his ideas and theories. Tried to gauge what made him tick.
Some of those articles described his actions with those long K-Mart rods. He was always fiddling, moving, dropping lures back and swinging them forward, changing course and speed, swinging shallow and then deep, bumping lures into rocks, and never comfortable unless the rods were straining under the weight of a big fish.
It was uncanny how he could feel when the lures were in the sweet spot. Or, more exactly, how he could march those cranks again and again across the precise, tiny insignificant little “something” that was holding walleyes when long stretches either side of those hungry fish were devoid of life. For that matter, he was able to catch fish in areas that most other pros thought were like fishing on the moon.
Some of his fellow competitors had this to say about Ron:
Scott Glorvigen: “Ron is the classic fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants guy. He fished that way with great success. Being an old crop-duster, he knew exactly what his plane could do and it was the same when he got in his Lund and started trolling. At that point, we all knew we were fishing for second place.”
Daryl Christensen: “I don’t think I‘ve ever met a competitive angler that was so confident about his craft. He reminds me a lot of Bob Propst Sr., in that he was so good at finding fish then quickly stitching together a pattern to catch them. He never over-analyzed the bite and always seemed mystified that other anglers (like me) struggled with trolling but could be good at other presentations.”
Scott Fairbairn: “Obviously Ron is one of the best trollers of all time and much of the use of leadcore line for contour trolling by the general walleye public is a direct reflection of his ability to consistently win using his well-honed skill.
“What was always of interest to me about Ron’s skill is that I think his crop-dusting background was actually a prologue to his leadcore trolling skill. Put another way, I have watched those crazy crop-dusters sweep into a field and start their spray only to get to a point where they need to accelerate and lift out of the field at the very last second, all the while being very efficient about how much time their trail [spray] spends in the zone [field].
“I think leadcore trolling is very similar in that the leadcore line allows you to use the speed of the boat to lift or drop a lure into little nooks and crannies of a breakline or piece of structure. I’m not sure if Ron would agree, but I think the two skills are highly correlated. In fact, maybe we should ban crop-dusters from tournament competition. That and former dentists, doctors and window salesmen.”
Gary Parsons: “Ron Seelhoff was a natural-born predator. During my years of rubbing elbows with some of the best outdoorsmen on the planet in the worlds of both fishing and hunting, very, very few compare to Ron. He has a natural feel for walleyes – always has – and his stellar tournament record proves it. He was also one of the most knowledgeable hunters I knew, especially when it came to predators.”
Steve Fellegy: “Before Ron’s trolling win on the PWT, it was all live bait. Many of us thought all he did was go trolling and that was it. He was perhaps as savvy – maybe more so – than most of us gave him credit for being. Once we learned the finer points of trolling, we realized it took skill and mental ability to visualize where his lures were at all times.
“I’ve got to tell about my first-ever meeting with Ron. I was talking to a friend about catching fish on Rainy Lake with a Lindy rig. Ron parked his boat at the Thunderbird Lodge dock, listened for a minute or two, and then walked up and asked, ‘What’s a Lindy rig?’ He didn’t introduce himself, just walked up and blurted out a question. He wanted to know.
“The Lindy rig was the most common term in the walleye kingdom, and he didn’t know it. This is one of many classic Seelhoff stories that portray a man who was unafraid to learn, ask questions or share his knowledge.”
At the Cabela’s NWT tournament on Leech Lake, a special prayer was said on the final morning. Many of the “old” pros on hand who spent years running with Ron from Lake Erie to Fort Peck and dozens of lakes in between had their heads bowed especially low, and it took them (and me) a little longer to look up at the morning sky.
June 17, 2015 at 8:25 pm
I had the pleasure of fishing with Ron at the only PWT held in Illinois on the Chain of Lakes. We were trolling in the river when one of his rods got snagged and came shooting out of the rod holder right into the lake. Ron looked at me and said, “well there goes $300.00” I felt terrible as we tried to drag the bottom and catch the line.. Sure enough, I snagged the line and was bringing in the line when it fell off my lure. Thanks God this line caught on a screw head at the very back of his boat. I grabbed the line and sure enough pulled in his rod and reel.You can only imagine Ron’s face during this entire FUBAR.. We set that rod out again and in less than 30 minutes, we caught three walleye all off that one dunked rod. I looked at Ron and told him he should throw all his other rods in the water to help catch fish. That night I went to Bass Pro and bought up all six crank baits in that special color and put them in his boat the next morning. We were friends from that day forward as he would call me “hey Chicago” and I’d ask if he dunked anymore rod. God Bless Ron..
June 18, 2015 at 5:11 am
J. K. Nice story about Ron. I too was a competitor against Ron. BUT!!!!! What I have not seen here is the fact that Ron Seehloff was and is a true American Hero. Ron is Vietnam vet that flew many missions and earned many awards and citations. Let us appreciate that also
June 18, 2015 at 10:02 pm
Good article Jim, Ron was always fun to be around
June 18, 2015 at 10:04 pm
Wonderful, wacky memories about times with Ron were brought back by your article.
I was saddened by his passing, but he indeed touched many people, and he was one of a kind.
As the new Stren rep assigned to follow the PWT and later NAWA, I signed up Ron and a few other guys in 93 or 94. He could fish, but didn’t like the stage, or consumer shows.I got Ron and Tom Bruno their first paying gig at the Denver Sports Show, and Ron wanted to back out for weeks. Finally, they came over to the house and we hammered out an opening script he could live with. Once the fishing questions started, Ron was on solid ground and came off like the pro he was. My sons met him at home, and at some tournaments, had fried fish wherever he was staying with the other anglers.They thought he could walk on water, and loved to talk to him. Anyone who got to fly, hunt coyotes and fish had to be someone to listen to!
Ron was a part of our lives , and will be missed, but not forgotten
June 19, 2015 at 1:46 am
Ron was one of the greats. Beneath that gruff exterior was a gentleman and from what I see far away and many years later a wonderful father.
Jim, I think you just wrote one of your finest pieces.
June 20, 2015 at 12:35 pm
Good job Jim
June 21, 2015 at 8:45 pm
I had to pass this on. I first met Ron at a NAWA tournament on Mille Lacs. It was in the middle of the lake, almost out of sight of any any land. We were trolling and came upon Ron. He was sitting in his Lund and a bird was perched on his rod. Ron said he had been sitting there for at least 10 minutes, and he didn’t have the heart to move his rod figuring the bird needed the rest being so far from land. Later at the weigh-in I met him formally and what a great guy. I have a picture of Ron with the bird on his rod, that I have to go and find.
July 10, 2015 at 2:54 am
Very nice article Jim. Ron and Shannon can again be fishing partners.
August 25, 2015 at 10:56 pm
October 15, 2015 at 6:50 pm
It was early June I paid the entry fee as an amuture partner for the PWT. I was the last contestant standing on the dock, an official of sorts was checking papers, and said oh your with Ron don’t worry he’ll be hear. I looked out over the Bay just outside of Oshkosh, Fox River, it looked like there was a hundred boats, all sitting in place, 2 people in every boat, I felt left out, then I and the official hear a boat at high speed, it worked it’s way through the waiting boats, came in at high speed, which made me stand back, the official said that’s Ron. the boat was coming in way to fast, at about 40-50 ft from the dock the boat cut all power, slid sideways to within a foot of the dock, it was like the scene from a movie, the man in the boat said are you with me, I said yes and away we went. the had a lot more fun interesting times I had fun learned a lot about an area I had fished since childhood. I often thought about that day, with smiles and laughter, I just saw that Ron passed, I said a prayer for him and his family.
December 10, 2015 at 4:56 pm
Great article Jim. I had the opportunity to meet Ron during the later years of the PWT and had a quiet respect for the way he carried himself. Interestingly enough, just a week ago while guiding clients from the Burlington, Colorado area for pheasants here in South Dakota, the subject of Ron and his recent passing came up and the sharing of stories ensued. I relayed this story to them that will always be a fond memory of mine. While pre-fishing a PWT event at Red Wing, Minnesota, I was picking up Julie Magnuson at the dock as she wanted a few photos and Ron was loading his boat. I noticed he had a wry and mischievous grin on his face as he sat in his boat with the motor running while fully on his trailer. He and Julie exchanged a few colorful comments as she walked down the dock and as soon as she entered my boat at the end of the dock he lifted his motor and threw the throttle forward completely drenching all of her and most of me in the process. I had no idea a gal as attractive as Julie could utter such words as were directed to him in short order. As we motored away and she was wiping her wet but smiling face, she muttered something along the lines of smart*** SOB and laughed. Grumpy looking and serious about his fishing but playful as a young boy is what I took away from it and will always stick with me.
January 2, 2016 at 7:04 pm
I fished with Ron in a PWT TTournament in Pierre SD. The day I fished with him he won the tournament and angler of the year for $50,000.it was a great experience to fish with such a gentk\leman.
Eugene J Norling
November 20, 2018 at 5:57 pm
I fished with Ron on leech lake in a PWT event. He was going thru a tough
time and He talked about it a lot. He loved N pike. I caught one
and was going to throw it back but he said no put it in the live well’
I love pike.