As they pile into fishing boats and set out on this springtime ritual, some of them are likely to sing at first the same song, “The Guardian,” which begins, “Trollen, Trollen, Trollen”.
Listen here (courtesy of WTIP):
The song is a parody of “Raw Skin”, the western television theme song of the same name. But rather than being a cattle drive, the lyrics to “Walleye” are about trying to catch the elusive and feisty Minnesota fish.
“Taste them, kick them out
Throw them, feed them
Feed them, throw them out, your eyes
Take them out, fry them
Take them out, take them out
Take them out, fry them, light grey.
The song was released in 1986 in the Twin Cities by Hula-Poppers, a single-performance band named Lure Fishing.
Distributed to radio stations just before the catch opened that year, the song was a huge hit.
Tim Lesmeister wrote in outdoor news last year. “You can rarely eat a burger and fries without hearing it twice no matter what time of year it is. It is a song that you laugh every time it plays and you never tire of hearing it.”
Today, issues with the rights to the original song mean that you won’t find Walleye’s song on Spotify or Apple Music (even though someone uploaded it to YouTube). But memories about the song are rife throughout all of the online fishing forums — and it’s still occasionally played on radio, as well as a cappella treat in fishing boats, this time of year.
“We had a lot of laughs”
Wally is out of discussions about a campfire between Charlie Campbell and friends.
“We just plugged in the lyrics and kind of stayed with them for a long time,” Campbell said. In the end, Campbell thought it was too funny not to score.
Rich Lewis, a Twin Cities musician and owner of Lewis Pipe & Tobacco, in downtown Minneapolis, remembers getting a call from Campbell asking him to come over and sing the song.
“Why me? He said for some reason – I don’t know. He remembers the recording session: On one side of the studio, Metal was rehearsing.”[They] “A drummer was sitting in one of these loops and then he turned his head upside down,” Lewis said.
On the other side, separated by glass, it was different: Charlie, Larry Hayes, who were in Lamont Cranston’s band and helped write the words for “Walleye,” Rich and a few others, with their instruments—plus the fishing rods they used to make sounds in the recording.
“We had a lot of laughs. There was a good amount of beer consumed,” Campbell said.
We don’t know any other songs.
Campbell was made of vinyl 45s from “Walleye”. On the B side of the disc was a song by Louis Sweaterz. Campbell gave a few hundred copies of the 45 to the disc promoter he knew, who distributed them to radio stations, just in time to start hunting.
Before the Hula-Poppers knew it, radio stations, including WCCO, picked up the song and started playing it for their opening catch. “Then, of course, all the other radio stations started playing it. Then the jukebox people started doing really well, and people were ordering at a lakeside bar,” Campbell said. Soon, many music boxes had copies, too.
Demento, the new nationwide radio DJ who helped launch “Weird Al” Yankovic’s career, kicks off Playing “Walleye” in 1987. The show is now streamed online and continues to play the song.
The Hula-Poppers wasn’t exactly a band in the sense that they were just a group of guys who recorded a funny song together. But they played on the air twice.
Lewis remembers receiving a phone call from Campbell shortly after the song “Walleye” about playing on First Avenue—adorned with fishing gear—appeared during a radio programming conference.
“I’m like, ‘Shall we just play one song?'” Lewis said. “So we learned, ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry,’ I think. It was by Louis Jordan.”
The band also performed once at Cabooze, in which Campbell worked on buying and promoting talent.
Ultimately, this was as far as Hula-Poppers went with things. While he was about to press records, Campbell said he tried to get permission from the publishing company that owns “Rawhide.”
We got a lawyer and wrote a letter. We didn’t think of anything. Campbell said.
Rather than face potential legal issues, Campbell said they backed out of Walleye, and were hoping to let the whole thing simmer on its own.
“The fact that we didn’t really follow the rules in the beginning and get the permission and all of that other stuff really kept us from turning it into some kind of windfall, but somehow it never sold out,” Campbell said.
However, Campbell said people have approached him over the years to ask to use the song; Once on a hunting show, two decades ago, Big Mouth Billy Bass-esque likely made the eye he sang.
But the issue of song rights remains an obstacle to any potential distribution of Walleye’s song (Campbell said technical and manufacturing issues have hampered Fatih’s vocals, but rights may be an issue later). However, Campbell said he would still love to see something done with the publishers of “False Leather” so that Guardian could be distributed.
Six packages, bait and leeks
While ambitions to capitalize on the song have mostly subsided, the song hasn’t — not quite. Russell Nelson, of Twin Cities Walleyes Unlimited, said he still sings it in the boat to this day.
“Prepare and get ready for the opening hunt — you tend to get a little bit energized and then that song pops up,” Nelson said. “Everyone sings it, even in the boat, you walk along singing it. Catch a walleye, and now you’re really singing it.”
And although the song Walleye is no longer as popular as it once was, the earworm is still found in the catalogs of some radio stations in Minnesota. From time to timeit’s still being played – especially around the catch opener.
Lewis said he thinks the song’s popularity speaks to its distillation of the fishing experience, with lyrics talking about freezing fingers and the excitement of waiting for a bite, “six bits, lure and leeches by our side.”
“He really talks about the basics when guys go up to fish and drink and tell big stories,” Lewis said.
These days, Lewis, who plays Rich Lewis’ band, doesn’t quite promote the song, but it still shows up occasionally. he is We half joked that he could be on the song list for his Lake Harriet concert in August.
“I was just talking to the drummer today about it,” he said. “We must learn that and play it,” he said. “So maybe we’ll do it at Lake Harriet.”