Gary Engberg wears many hats, but his two favorite are fishing and hockey. Our Swedish import grew up in the Northeast suburbs of Chicago and now lives on the shores of the Lower Wisconsin River. His first fish was probably a panfish or walleye caught on one of his frequent trips to Northern Wisconsin. Those long car rides up Highway 51 reinforced his love of fishing. “Anything north of Portage, back in the day, was considered wilderness.” Other than those family fishing trips to the Boulder Junction Area he recalls spending endless hours on the Muskeegan Pier trying to catch anything that swam. When not on the pier, he was exploring the Chain-O-Lakes or Skokie Lagoons. The family season tickets to the Chicago Blackhawks solidified his other love, hockey.
An athletic dad played football at Northwestern which may have influenced Gary’s decision to play Big Ten football, but it was his grandfather that taught him how to fish. Grandpa was a former commercial fisherman in Sweden, where they harvested perch in the 2-4 pound category. He hosted those family fishing trips where he focused on Muskie, but Gary got smitten by the hunt for wily walleye. “I spent an incredible amount of time on the water with my cousins in a 16’ boat with a 10h.p. Johnson.” He even recalls having Louis St. Germaine as a guide on one of the trips.
After hitting the gridiron for the Badgers in Madison, he switched to hockey at the University of Wisconsin, as a goalie, and never looked back. He has fond memories of fishing Lakes Monona and Mendota with his hockey roommates Dan Gilchrist and fellow goalie, Wayne Thomas. Wayne played 8 years in the NHL and added another 33 years in coaching and executive positions in the HNL before retiring in 2015. The threesome used to keep fish in their bathtub sort of like a live well and pluck one out for dinner on occasion.
Rather than the NHL, Gary spent three years playing hockey in Finland after college, before returning to Madison and opening up a hockey store. He gravitated back to fishing and eventually became a tournament angler and fishing guide. Gary is an accomplished writer, photographer, videographer, radio and t.v. show host, seminar speaker, and an advocate for getting children involved in the outdoors. His writings and columns can be found in many local, regional and national publications.
Gary and good friend, Tony Puccio, have co-hosted Outdoor Horizons radio show for over 14 years. Tony owns Bait Rigs Tackle and guides as well as being a former hockey player. Engberg belongs to numerous groups and organizations including Walleyes for Tomorrow, FLW, World Walleye Association, Fishing has no Boundaries, National Professional Anglers Association, Hooked on Fishing Not Drugs, Yahara Fishing Club, and Outdoor Writers Association of America. Gary won the “Readers Choice Award” from Midwest Outdoors and garnered an award from the Wisconsin DNR for his service working with youngsters in the outdoors.
We competed against one another in the early 90’s on the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) and the North American Walleye Association (NAWA) circuit. Our initial meetings occurred in the late 60’s, when as a student athletic trainer at UW, I taped his ankles in prep for battle in Camp Randall Stadium. Our congenial host is a member of the Wilderness Fish and Game Hall of Fame and is always willing to talk fishing and give tips to anyone who asks.