Materials ordered; Pelican taxidermist Curt Markgraff set to create replica of one of state’s legendary fish

The famous “monster sturgeon of Lake Lida” was unveiled recently by Karen (Rice) and John Borg. Karen’s father Harold Rice and Dick Swenson speared the legendary fish in 1948. The original mount was a rather primitive, straw-stuffed specimen that was on display for decades at the legendary “Perry’s Place” Supper Club between Pelican Rapids and Vergas on County Road 4.

The campaign to bring “new life” to one of Minnesota’s great fish stories has accelerated in the Pelican Rapids-Lake Lida area.

An informal fundraising effort to create a six-foot replica of the famous Lake Lida sturgeon has reached the goal, and the materials for the mount have been ordered.

Speared in 1948 by two local boys, Dick Swenson and Harold Rice, the 102 pound lake sturgeon is believed to be the last native sturgeon taken from the the Pelican River watershed.

A big boost for the fundraising campaign came from descendants of the late Harold Rice. Karen (Rice) and John Borg, both Pelican Rapids natives and graduates, contributed $250 to the project.

Cousins Jenn (Swenson)and Jerry Bergmann; Gwen (Swenson) and Allen Hale; and Kaarin (Swenson) Enright have also combined to contribute $250.

Plans call for the mounted specimen to be donated to the Pelican Rapids Chamber of Commerce. The replica will hang permanently on the walls of historic city hall, which is now home to the Chamber.

That is the objective of several volunteers who have been quietly raising funds to create a replica of the six-foot-long lunker.

Local taxidermist Curt Markgraff, Northwoods Taxidermy, has volunteered his services in creating the replica. He has ordered the materials and the replica is expected to be completed by fishing opener 2018.

The brainstorm came from Orland Ohe, whose uncle, Almer Ohe, assisted in bringing in the 1948 trophy sturgeon. In discussing the legendary fish, Orland offered to donate some money toward a replica–to preserve this bit of Pelican-Lida lake country history.

From there, Bob Bowers and some of the Pelican Rapids Pool Hall gang, picked up on the idea. Bowers has single-handedly raised most of the money to date.

In addition to the Rice and Swenson family descendants, donations have come from the Pelican River Chapter of Pheasants Forever, Larry’s Super Market, Pelican Rapids Press, the Pelican Rapids Pool Hall.

The Lake Lida sturgeon is displayed here by Karen (Rice) and John Borg, center. Karen’s father Harold Rice and Dick Swenson speared the legendary fish in 1948. Joining the visit to view the original mount on Lake Lida recently were Pelican Rapids taxidermist Curt Markgraff, kneeling, Bob Bowers, left, and Orland Ohe, far right. Both Bowers and Ohe have personal connections to the famous fish, and helped launch the campaign to creat a reproduction of the original fish to permanently hang in downtown Pelican Rapids.

Individual donors include:
Terry L. Heller
Michael E. Strand
Chester and Paulette Nettestad
Mark and Brittany Dokken
Phil and Cindy Stotesbery
Judy and Paul Tabbut
Orland Ohe
Randy Erickson
Bob and Mary Bowers
Steve and Barb Backstrom
Bruce and Deb Pierce
Scott and Carla Richardson
David and Elaine Nord Greiner

Names of the $100 donors will be printed on a special plaque that will be displayed with the mount.

Requests for donations have also been presented to the Lake Lida Township Board and the Lake Lida Property Owners Association.

Funds raised beyond the costs associated with the replica and display features will be help defray the Pelican Rapids Chamber of Commerce costs associated with insuring the replica–as the policy required a special replacement clause.

The original mount, hanging in the background above, has deteriorated beyond reclamation for display, but Pelican Rapids taxidermist Curt Markgraff has volunteered his services to create the replica. The fundraising effort will cover materials, display features and encasement for the reproduction.

The extended Rice family has acquired the original sturgeon mount–though it’s condition is unsalvageable for display. However, Karen (Rice) Borg said she would offer to temporarily display the original mount at the time of the unveiling of the replica.

Tentative plans call for the replica to be unveiled initially at the Pelican Rapids Pool Hall on fishing opener. Then, the replica would be relocated to the Chamber of Commerce offices for display over Memorial Day weekend, 2018.

A prehistoric, long-lived species; the famous Lida sturgeon of 1948 may well have been born during the Civil War. It was likely an isolated sturgeon that swam Pelican area waters for a century. Natural reproduction had virtually ceased in waterways south of the Canadian border. Dams and obstructions prohibited the native fish from free movement to spawning grounds.

For the past two decades, the DNR has been undergoing sturgeon re-introduction through stocking of some Otter Tail County waterways. But, as far as the historic record shows, the famous Lake Lida “monster” was the last native sturgeon in Otter Tail area waters.