Duluth's Russ Francisco inducted into Minnesota's Fishing Hall of Fame
Itasca County guide Jeff Sundin is also among the 2023 inductees.
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — Russ Francisco, the founder and owner of Duluth's ever-popular Marine General sporting goods store on London Road, will be inducted into the Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota in the Class of 2023.
Francisco has been a staple on the Duluth fishing scene for nearly 50 years. He was introduced to fishing at age 5 by his father, Carl. At age 16, the Duluth native took his first job at Drills Marina on the harborfront, where he discovered he wanted to be involved in fishing not just as a hobby, but as his life’s work.
In 1976, after the marina closed, Francisco opened his own store, Marine General, when he was just 24 years old, selling sailboat hardware out of a basement.
Today, 47 years later, he is still owner of Marine General, now specializing in Lake Superior fishing gear, marine electronics and ice fishing. He’s also expanded into kayaks, clothing and cold weather gear and continues to run the store — and a busy online business — with his three children: Jesse, Corey and Sarah.
Francisco, 70, has talked about selling Marine General, but so far is still there nearly every day, helping customers find what they need in the little store packed wall-to-wall with gear, lures, rods and electronics — so full that the stuff spills outside into tents and storage containers.
"It's really an unbelievable honor. I heard rumors about it back in December and then they called me but said I couldn't tell anyone,'' Francisco said of the induction.
Francisco said he’s humbled that a guy not known for the fish he catches has been inducted into a fishing hall of fame.
“I guess it’s because we help so many other people catch fish and have been doing it for so long,’’ Francisco told the News Tribune. “And we help out with a lot of fishing groups, donations and such.”
On Thursday morning, before the store opened, Francisco was outside in below-zero temperatures, unloading merchandise from a cold warehouse into a cold trailer to move more gear into the store and to get ready for the upcoming Duluth boat show.
“I’m ready to hand it off,’’ Francisco said of the business. “But it has to be the right person who I know is going to keep taking care of my customers. ... I’ve had four generations of kids that I’ve put life jackets on here. I have 80-year-old guys come in here looking for something. I’m not going to just walk away from customers who have stuck with us.”
Sundin also inducted
Also inducted in the Class of 2023 is Itasca County fishing guide Jeff Sundin.
Sundin started guiding in the Twin Cities in 1983. In 1986, he moved north, where he has become a premier guide on Grand Rapids-area lakes. Sundin’s multimedia endeavors include reports posted on his web properties highlighting seasonal fishing trends, tackle selection and fishing techniques.
Since 1990, Sundin has been a radio personality for KAXE/KBXE, and makes occasional guest appearances on TV, podcasts and fishing magazines. In 2005, Sundin branched out to become a charter member of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Walleye Advisory Committee.
He guided former Gov. Jesse Ventura in the 1999 Governor’s Fishing Opener and later won WCCO-TV’s ”Best of Minnesota” people’s choice poll as Minnesota’s best fishing guide.
Other inductees for 2023 include the Fargo-Moorhead-based group F-M Walleyes Unlimited; Tom Carlson, a Sauk Rapids fishing gear businessman; Brainerd-area fishing guide Hank Ebert; and Reed's Family Sporting Goods, based in Walker.
The Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota and accompanying museum are located in Little Falls, near St. Cloud. To be selected, individuals must be residents who have lived in the state at least 25 years, be at least 50 years old and have made "meritorious contributions to the sport of fishing." Businesses and organizations may also be nominated provided they are registered in Minnesota and have made similar noteworthy contributions to fishing.
Nominations are accepted from the general public and the list is reduced to 10 by current hall members, after which finalists are voted on for induction. The official enshrinement will take place Sept. 22 in Little Falls.
Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota “promotes angling in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and honors those individuals and organizations who have contributed so much to our fishing legacy.” The nonprofit is “dedicated to teaching Minnesotans about our state’s fishing history and preserving its future.”