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ST. PAUL - Like many professional athletes, Bruce Samson is spending his offseason watching game film, poring over depth charts and pumping iron in his weight room.
The extra time in the gym gives him an advantage over opponents, Samson said, and the hundreds of hours of studying charts, many of which he creates using computer programs, help propel him into championships.
And he isn't even a pro baseball or football player. He's a professional walleye fisherman.
A retired physician from Minnetrista, Samson, 54, spends his winters preparing for the summer tour season by compiling intricate maps of lakes where tournaments are held. He also works out.
"It's very fatiguing standing in a boat in 3-foot waves for an entire day," said Samson, the top money-winner in professional walleye fishing with $570,000 in career earnings. "I do general conditioning and leg-strength exercises to keep my balance on wavy days. I also do curls, bench press, pulldowns and rowing."
Samson also works out on a NordicTrack exerciser, a treadmill and other aerobic machines.
"I know it's a significant advantage to me," he said, "because I don't get as tired in the boat, and my muscle soreness isn't as severe."
Few if any professional walleye anglers equate bench pressing in January with catching more walleyes in July. In a competition where losing a 2-pound walleye at the edge of the boat can mean the difference of an extra $50,000, Samson believes that having extra physical stamina helps avoid a mistake that could keep him off the money list at the end of a day.
He also once broke ribs while trying to net a fish on a windy day. He was reaching out with a net when a wave hit the boat, and he crashed into the gunwale.
"It was a long day," he said. "I don't even remember how I finished."
Samson acknowledges having a passion for maps and electronic gadgetry, and blending them into charts that help him find fish.
"I'm obsessed with accuracy" in maps, he said. Samson will comb various sources to find maps that show accurate bottom contours or, even better, maps that list GPS coordinates.
"I want GPS-accurate maps or a software mapping program or a map on a (computer) chip that I can put into my laptop computer," he said.
Such technology is out there and evolving, and anglers are getting savvy to computerized maps. If Samson can't find what he wants, he might build his maps on his home computer.
"I take my laptop to every tournament," he said.
Samson, known of course as Doc, retired last year as the director of the Cambridge Spine Program in Cambridge, Minn. He also had worked as an emergency room doctor and family practitioner.
Samson considers himself a full-time professional walleye angler now, giving seminars and fishing.
He began entering fishing tournaments 18 years ago and hit the peak of his fishing career in 2002, when he won $300,000 in a walleye tournament. He has won three Professional Walleye Trail events.
Samson considers himself a bit of a loner in professional walleye fishing circles because he doesn't practice or trade secrets with other anglers.
"I don't have a group of guys that I work with," he said. "I usually collect information by myself or work with one other friend."
Like other professional athletes, Samson likes to watch tapes of his competitions. While he is working out, he'll watch videos of professional walleye tournaments and dream up strategies.
"I have a passion for fishing," he said. "How many jobs can you have that at the end of the day you don't want to go home?"