Opens profile: Fiedler retires to fish Opens

Retirement for most folks means shucking the daily grind, kicking back and taking time to enjoy life at a leisurely pace. Minnesotan Denny Fiedler has no intention of slowing down. He retired four years ago to strive for his lifelong dream of fishing bass tournaments “at the highest level.”

Since 2018 the 59-year-old has been competing in every division of the Bassmaster Opens with the goal of qualifying for the Elite Series. Fiedler struggled during his first three years on tour. But after the first seven Opens of 2021 he is ninth in the Central Opens Angler of the Year standings.

“I hadn’t fished much out of the Midwest when I started with the Opens,” Fiedler said. “I knew it would take a couple of years to get up to speed. I didn’t worry about how I placed in a tournament. I concentrated on learning everything I could.”

Now that he has competed in Bassmaster Open tournaments across the country and adopted a host of new tactics and techniques, Fiedler’s consistency is improving.

Fiedler lives in Wabasha, Minn., where he grew up. He and his wife, Joyce, raised three children. The youngest is a senior in college. Wabasha lies in the southeastern part of the state near pools 4 and 5 of the bass-rich Upper Mississippi River.

When Fiedler was a tad, his grandfather, Herschel Fiedler, would take him and his older brother fishing from the bank of the Upper Mississippi. They would catch panfish, bullheads and whatever else would bite their worms and crickets.

However, Fiedler didn’t seriously get into fishing until after a year of graduate study in biology and taking a job with a biotech firm in Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

“I ran track and played football in college,” Fiedler said. “When I got my job, I was looking for an outlet for my competitive juices.”

Fiedler befriended co-worker Ralph Chappa and discovered that he fished Lake Minnetonka for bass and pike before coming to work in the morning. Fiedler soon joined him on these early-morning escapades. It was the first time he fished from a boat and used lures instead of live bait.

Early in the next year, Fiedler and Chappa ventured to a large sport show in the upper Midwest where they came across a booth for the B.A.S.S. Nation. They chatted with two members of the Tackle Buster Bass Club from Coon Rapids, Minn.

“Those guys opened up a whole new world to me,” Fiedler said. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as competitive fishing. It struck me as just great. Ralph and I joined right then and there.”

That spring Fiedler participated his first bass tournament — a club event at White Bear Lake with about 25 members. By casting a Texas-rigged worm from the back of a club member’s boat, he caught enough largemouth bass to finish fifth. His competitive juices had found their outlet.

Fiedler and Chappa soon bought a bass boat together and went on a quest to learn everything they could about catching bass. They subscribed to Bassmaster and other fishing publications and “gobbled up as much information as we could.”

“We would read all about things like flipping, crankbaiting and weed line fishing and go out practice doing it.”

Fiedler went on to qualify for every state B.A.S.S. Nation team every year he was in the club, which no longer exists. He also began fishing local money tournaments and later expanded his horizons to compete in pro angler/co-angler bass events in other Midwest states. He eventually bought Chappa’s share of the boat.

“I thrive under the stress of tournament competition,” Fiedler said. “Ralph didn’t like that as much.”

In 2000 Fiedler began working for Boston Scientific, which is in the medical device industry. He ran marketing and product development positions that demanded long hours.

“My job was super intense,” Fiedler said. “I couldn’t put as much time into fishing as I wanted to. After getting the kids through college and saving money like crazy, I decided to work with the company and wind things down so I could retire.”

Since retiring in 2017, Fiedler has fished at every opportunity to advance and hone his skills. In 2021 he ventured to Florida in January prior to the Southern Open at the Harris Chain of Lakes and didn’t return to Minnesota until late May.

“I fish between the Open tournaments and right up to the day they start,” Fiedler said. “I’ve learned so much from that time on the water. It’s been incredible.”

Fiedler’s sponsors include Wells Concrete, Rocket AZ inc., McFee Financial, All Terrain Tackle, Blackfish Apparel, Thorne Brothers Custom Rod and Tackle in Blaine Minn.

Note: Denny Fiedler posts his Bassmaster Open tournament recaps on Facebook.