Just once in nearly four decades did Gene Van Eeckhout apply for a different job.
“When you like what you do and you work with good people, that’s a pretty good deal,” Van Eeckhout said. “I’ve been fortunate and never felt the desire to go, I guess.”
Van Eeckhout will retire sometime this fall after a distinguished 38-year career. Before that, he’ll be inducted into the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame at the city auditorium in Garrison, N.D. on July 17. Dean Hildebrand, the North Dakota Game and Fish Director from 1996-2005, will also be inducted.
“It came out of the blue,” Van Eeckhout said of the honor. “I feel good about it. I’m pretty humbled. I didn’t think I was doing anything out of the ordinary. I was just doing my job.”
Van Eeckhout, originally from Plaza, N.D., southwest of Minot, graduated from UND with a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife management and a master’s degree in biology with a fisheries emphasis.
He’s seen both ends of the spectrum in terms of quality of fishing in the North Dakota and agrees with the current general assessment that the current state of fishing is the golden age.
“There’s an awful lot of water in production, places that never historically had fish, but do now,” he said. “It’s an exciting time. There are a lot more places capable of sustaining fish life.”
Having more bodies of water capable of producing good fishing also means more places to regulate, although that is not the toughest part of the job. Mother Nature in North Dakota has a mind of its own and creates many challenges.
“The weather for sure is the most difficult, but you learn to deal with it, you have to,” he said. “In my business if you deploy equipment, you feel obliged the next day to get it out. The equipment is always improving, but it’s bigger and heavier than when I started, but we all have challenges in what we do. That’s part of the deal.”
Van Eeckhout’s final day on the job is yet to be determined. He still hopes to get some things squared away in the department’s offices before he calls it quits. Retirement with his wife Mary will certainly include some outdoors activity, saying, “she’s my hunting and fishing partner.”
And, after nearly 40 years, they have no plans on leaving now.
“This is home. This is where we’re comfortable,” he said. “There’s so much to offer here. It’s just a good place to live.”
Sun sports and outdoors editor Dave Selvig can be reached at (701) 952-8460 or by e-mail at email@example.com