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Coming Full Circle...The Wigwam Fishermans Tale

posted on 04/15/2009
Good morning to all!!!!

This edition will be a little different, just because there is very little change from what I had written yesterday. The only update that I have is for some individuals that were concerned about the ice in the bay and the ability of being able to utilize the docks at the Wigwam for the Sturgeon Excursion. Here is my update…Four Mile Bay will be completely open by the Sturgeon Excursion, I am very happy to announce. Also, more and more boats are continuing to fish the bay and they are having excellent success.

I was asked by one of the forum readers to share my story about how I came become the General Manager of the Wigwam Resort on Lake of the Woods. To effectively tell the story I have to start from the beginning…I hope it’s not to long and I hope you enjoy.

Growing up in International Falls, MN I was given the opportunity of participating in outdoor activities, such as, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, etc., and lots of sports, such as, hockey, baseball, football, etc., well my tale starts and ends with a little of both.

I was raised the son of an ex-United States Marine (tunnel rat) and local business owner of the NAPA auto parts store in International Falls, MN. My father only believed in raising us kids (me, my brother and sister) on a stiff dose of discipline. Starting at a very young age, I believe right around three, my father and grandfather started taking me on their fishing trips up to Red Gut Bay and Black Sturgeon, on the Canadian side of Rainy Lake, I vividly remember this as if were yesterday. My grandfather was never further than spitting distance away from his Folgers coffee spittoon, and my father was always diligently trying to read his now ancient, Hummingbird depth finder. That is my first memory of fishing and the first time I knew what I truly wanted to be able to do for the rest of my life. These were the days before Game Boys, Atari, and light years behind our Sony Play Stations that we know today. I knew of fishing and that’s what I wanted to do.

As the years past, during the summer we would frequented the Red Gut Bay and the Black Sturgeon area of Rainy Lake…we stayed for a month every summer at the Fisheries Resort on Rainy Lake (Canada). At the age of 10 I was taking (stealing) the family fishing boat (a 14’ with a 9.9 Honda) to go into the bay around the corner from the resort and come back with three to four walleye every time. This was at the amazement to my father…he wasn’t happy, but he told me, I was born to be a fisherman. My father started teaching me how to tie my own lures, and as he was teaching me, it was like I was his shadow, right in his hip pocket never missing a thing. This was an occurrence for years to come.

During the winter months from 10 on, I found another love…hockey. Well what else was I going to do being from International Falls? All of my friends played, so I told my father that I wanted to give it a shot. As any supportive father would do, he agreed. Throughout my teenage years I was a little small, but excelled at the sport, more and more of my attention was focused on hockey, but that was only the winter. My father made sure that are summers were always filled with plenty of fishing and fellowship with family. I didn’t mind…I had the best of both worlds. From that point on, all I wanted to do when I grew up was play professional hockey and be a fishing guide…it was destine to be.

After high school I was given an opportunity to go to college at Ferris State University (CCHA) in Big Rapids, MI on a hockey scholarship. I had to move far away from home and my family, but they understood it was an opportunity of a lifetime, even though it was eighteen driving hours away. They knew that they wouldn’t be able to be in the stands or watch many games on TV. That is where I had the best opportunity to play and excel…my family was so supportive. I always told myself that I would come back during the summers and continue fishing, but what we want to happen doesn’t always happen.

Michigan brought new friends, and division I college hockey brought new challenges. After my freshman year I came back for a month, but hockey was going to have to be my life if I wanted to play professionally. I was going to have to go somewhere where there was year around ice and great competition. I needed to not only keep up, but excel. So after a month back home with family and friends I headed back to Michigan to train with teammates and some of my college competition. Needless to say I wasn’t fishing with my Dad, and that was the only hard part about having to leave, but he always said, “Jean-Paul, you have to do what you have to do, we will be here for you if you need us”. I got that every year through college. As the years past I made it home less and less, fishing less and less.

After college my hard work had paid off, I signed my first professional contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL). I spent the entire year in the AHL with the Penguins top minor league team the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins. That year my father was only able to make it to three games, but the family was able to watch me quite often on TV…so I felt I still had a connection. The following year I signed with the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), because I felt that was my best opportunity to play in the NHL that year. After playing in two pre-season games I was very confident that this was my opportunity to shine, but once again I was sent down to the AHL in Norfolk, VA. I was told, “Don’t worry about it, you will be down there for a few games, you will get your shot and when you do, we see a bright future for you in our organization”. The ninth game of the season we were playing the Providence Bruins and I went out of my way to hit some one, and consequently tore up my knee. After four surgeries, I was told that I would never be the same and was declared 60% disabled in my left leg…all at the age of 25. I felt as if my dreams would never become reality.

After hockey I was given an opportunity to work for a college teammate’s father’s construction supply/fabricating/management company out of Detroit, MI. I was devastated by my hockey career being done and couldn’t face my family and friends back in MN, even though they were exactly what I needed. I had totally lost sight of my childhood dream. After a year of sulking, my father bought a plane ticket that he couldn’t afford, to come out and cheer me up. When he got to Michigan he wasn’t happy with what he had seen, but he was still my ex-marine loving father and spoke words to me, which I will take to my grave, he said, and I quote; “You have been able to do something that 99.9% of kids whom strap on the skates only dream to do. You should hold your head up high and be proud. Is this the first time in your life that you have faced adversity”, he asked. I replied “no, but everything I have ever worked for is gone and I don’t know who I am anymore”. He said, “Everyman doesn’t find out who they truly are, until they truly face massive adversity, how you move on with your life will show the man you are and the man you will to become…I can’t help you figure that out, but I know the blood that runs through your veins, and I know the boy that I raised. Just know that whatever you do, we are proud of you and are here for you.” I crumbled into his arms and sobbed like I was a little boy and said, “I know who I am and I know what I want to do”. Then my father as quickly as he arrived, he was gone again.

After the “talk”, I moved on and never looked back. I went on to become the CFO of the company, go to law school and even make a couple bucks along the way, but there still was something missing.

In 2003 we learned that my father was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, attributed to Agent Orange from Vietnam. While he served 18 months over there, he had no idea that the stuff they were using to clear the jungle would eventually take his life. They gave him 3 months to live. That wasn’t the end of him though, that hard nosed s.o.b. made it 3 years and finally fell on February 9th, 2006…our entire family was at his side as he took his last breath. I miss my Dad. But from tragedy comes opportunity. I didn’t want to miss out of anymore of my life chasing something that I really didn’t want. I was looking for the challenge that I had been waiting for my entire life.

After my fathers passing I had been looking for the right opportunity to move back to northern Minnesota, back to my family, back to my roots. On December 26th, 2008, I came back home to do a little bit of ice fishing with my little brother (whom isn’t that little anymore). During that trip, we reconnected and it was if I had never left. I said to myself, this is what I’m missing, this is where I want to be, and asked my brother to look for any jobs in the resort business on the lake that might come available. I told him that I didn’t care if I had to clean fish for eight hours a day…I wanted to be somewhere that I was truly happy…that place was on the lake.

I returned back to Michigan later that week, every minute I was thinking about how can I get back home? On January 21st, my brother called me with some news of a resort owner looking for some help. I asked him, “What is his number, I want to call him tomorrow morning”, my brother replied, “His name is Tom Briggs and he is the owner of the Wigwam Resort”. I said, “Where is the Wigwam and; before I said another word, I said, “I don’t care just give me his number, I will handle the rest”. My brother gave me Tom’s number and I called Tom the next morning. We played a little bit of phone tag, but we finally connected. He explained to me what he was looking for and I said, “When do you want me to start”. He said, “We haven’t even talked about the particulars”. I said, “You won’t be disappointed and I am very easy to please”. We both had a chuckle.

I have just received my Captains License and can’t wait to start guiding this summer…when I can. I just purchased my own fishing boat for the first time in my life…my only regret is that my Dad isn’t hear to share it with me, but I know that he is looking down from above. I have just completed my first full month of work at the Wigwam Resort, and truly believe, that my Dad is still looking out for me, he has found me the best job in the world! I have truly come “full circle”.

I know that this was a novel, but if you made it through it, you now know where I came from, and why I will put my heart and soul into this job.

Jean-Paul Tessier

Wigwam Fisherman


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Posted By nofishfisherman on 04/15/2009

Thats a heck of a post Wigwam. Sounds like you have been able to live two dreams in your life. Hockey and now fisherman. Not many people get that chance. You've been blessed.
Posted By WebDude on 04/15/2009

Congrats on the Captains License... most of us only dream of these types of things. Sounds like you had a heck of a life so far. I'm gonna have to get up there and pay you a visit someday, eh?