Following Her Passion With a Willingness to Serve
by Ron Presley
River rat and proud of it.
Born in Duluth, Minnesota, this lady angler grew up fishing the Kettle River, Moose Lake, Barnum Lake, and surrounding areas. After tragically losing her mother at age 10, she was adopted by her grandparents and went to live “the good life” on their farm near Kettle River. She now lives in Wyoming, Minnesota.
“I had cats, dogs, chickens, and my horses,” recalled Christina Lemke. “We had a big garden too. My grandparents taught me about hunting and fishing. Especially my grandmother who spent the most time fishing with me.”
“Grandma and I would fish all day,” added Lemke. “Back then people fished to eat, so we kept our bullheads, pike, bass, and other fishes. My grandmother sparked my passion for fishing. If it wasn’t for her taking me out all the time it would just be a hobby at best.”
As Lemke followed her fishing interests she became involved with various outdoor-related companies. Midwest Extreme Outdoors, Clam Outdoors, HSM Outdoors, to name a few. She also developed a personal relationship with a local bait shop. Many of her solo adventures start at Mike’s Bait on 8, in Wyoming, MN where she became a loyal customer and pro staff angler. As her dedication to catfish grew she became affiliated with various catfish entities as well.
“My introduction to BIG catfish, not bullheads, happened in 2018,” joked Lemke. “I met a new friend, Kevin, now deceased, on the shore of the upper St. Croix River. We instantly hit it off by talking all things fishing. He showed me some pictures and told me about some local YouTube guys, Northwoods Angling. So of course I was interested in learning how to pursue these giant fish.”
Lemke joined her friend a few times to fish from his boat and the shore for catfish. One night they helped a young angler land a monster flathead.
“That was it,” offered Lemke. “That big flathead was all it took. I was shaking nervously for the kid that caught that fish and now I was hooked on big cats and hadn’t even caught one yet. But I was determined to catch my own.”
Her first flathead came after meeting and fishing with guide Brian Klawitter. That first flathead (and her first sturgeon too) came on the Mississippi River with Brian. There have been many more since, usually during solo adventures on a riverbank somewhere. She is a self-declared river rat.
“I can spend endless hours studying my Google Maps and Navionics to find new-to-me fishing spots,” rejoiced Lemke. “I read books, watch videos, and put my time in on the water. Some of my shore locations require hard work to access physically and to arrive early enough to claim them.”
Lemke has been keeping flathead notes since 2018 by recording basic info like date, location, the number caught, size, and weather. Her records allow her to look up the weather and other details from past trips to plan new ones. She says these records have been key to her success.
“I have done a lot of studying on catfishing the last few years,” admitted Lemke. “Especially flatheads. Now I’m utterly obsessed and can’t get enough information on them or find enough time to pursue them.”
Lemke’s passion continued to drive her fishing activities. She worked hard to improve her skills as she focused on catfish and sturgeon. Ice fishing was also among her fishing interests but the lack of catching flatheads dampened it.
“I used to be so obsessed with ice fishing,” Lemke said. “Now I get depressed because the flatheads move to winter holes and our season closes. I’ve only harvested one 25-inch flathead and the amount of meat off a fish that size is very impressive. But I prefer to CPR everything except for certain baits. I love to catch bait and fish it. LOL!”
Conservation in general and catfish conservation, in particular, is very important to Lemke. She feels strongly about protecting the fishery for future generations.
“I think keeping the genetics in our fisheries is very important,” declared Lemke. “I support selective harvest and catch-photo-release (CPR). I don’t have a problem with harvesting fish if it’s done according to the regulations.”
“We must continue to educate and make changes as fishing pressure fluctuates from waves of new anglers,” added Lemke. “We need to ensure a healthy fishery, not only for the fish but for future generations of anglers. If the resources are depleted no one will enjoy the sport we so dearly love.”
Whether it’s conservation, catching bait, or chasing flatheads Lemke gives it her all. She says her friends would probably describe her as a good mother, big-hearted, and a crazy cat lady. Other terms that describe her are courageous, tenacious, ambitious, and passionate. She is known to have a good work ethic and performs her tasks with integrity.
“I would like to be remembered for my passion for fishing,” asserted Lemke. “I hope I am remembered as a person that never gave up. When you feel like quitting you gotta dig in your heels and fight.”
I’m part Native American,” concluded Lemke. “So fishing is in my blood. It’s truly who I am. I find myself most at peace on the river banks where I do a tremendous amount of solo shore or ice fishing. I love people but it’s great to just lose myself in what I’m doing out there. Fishing is my therapy, my life, my passion. My Grandmother now tells me that maybe I should show her how to fish!”
Recognized for her willingness to work with others and her passion for catfishing, Lemke was nominated for a term on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Catfish Work Group. The workgroup is made up of Minnesota citizens who meet several times each year to discuss research, population, harvest trends, and fisheries management with DNR fisheries staff. Lemke is serving a 3-year term that began in August of 2021.