by Dennis Dalman
It’s probably no accident Jim Dezurik of Sartell is an expert maker of fishing jigs because he has always been very good at “catching” what he needs and wants, whether it’s fish or – yes – even a wife.
Growing up just north of Sartell next to the Mississippi River, Dezurik developed an almost uncanny sixth sense about that river and its inhabitants, and that led directly to a hobby (fly-tying) that led to a job, although he has never thought of it as a job.
Dezurik is the son of the late Lawrence and Redelle Dezurik, and Lawrence was the son of Matt Dezurik, who founded the Dezurik Valve Co. many decades ago, working from a three-stall garage in Sartell – a company that became an economic bedrock, along with the paper plant, in that river town, which decades later became a thriving city.
Jim’s parents were both superb anglers who loved living next to the great river.
“Fishing and the river – I think they’re in our DNA,” Dezurik said.
He began tying fishing flies when he was just a wee lad – 10 or 11. Later, his mother bought him a fly-tying kit from Jack’s Outlet in St. Cloud. He still remembers with a chuckle what she told him as she presented the gift.
“I want to give you something to occupy your mind – something besides chasing girls.”
Dezurik, who lives on Pine Point Road, is the owner of an at-home business dubbed Jimmy D’s River Bugs. For five decades he has been creating fishing flies, spinners and jigs of virtually every description. His specialty is hair jigs, which are made from hairs as exotic as bear hair, deer hair and fox hair. Hair jigs, Dezurik explained, are made for river-fishing. And that is where he has long tested almost all of his fish-catching lures – right in the river across from his home. He puts them in the river, watches them float or sink, notices how the hairs or feathers react; and he pulls them through the water, making sure they do not “swim” on their sides but look real – real enough to trick the fish. The trusty river has been his “test laboratory” for five decades.
Tying flies is a real science.
“It’s all about balance,” he said. “The jig should contain not too much hair. It should come through the water straight as an arrow and not on its side.”
Dezurik’s business motto is, “I tie to please,” and his loyal customers agree that is what he does. He has a strong online business and also sells some through area stores. But he likes best his online sales because that way he can read comments posted by customers that please him and/or keep him on his toes.
Most of his sales are made to anglers in Illinois, followed by Pennsylvania. Minnesota is third.
Dezurik honed his skills during a very long apprenticeship with himself as his own task-mastering mentor. As a youth, he worked a summer at the Dezurik plant founded by his grandfather, which his father later owned. At the time, at home he was making what were called poppers, corks with feathers in them that sunfish just loved to chomp on. The guys at the plant were aware of how effective the lures were and so Dezurik, like a budding entrepreneur, would walk through the plant taking orders, selling each for 50 cents apiece.
“But I needed no money, no motivation,” he recalled. “I love making them and I still do. I make about 3,000 of them each year right at home.”
In the mid-1960s, Dezurik attended junior college in Brainerd, and that is where he met his wife-to-be.
Dezurik loved to stop at a café near college for pop or coffee or a bite to eat – especially its homemade apple strudel. He enjoyed talking and playing wisecrack verbal tennis with the woman who owned it. Her name was Lyla.
Meantime, Dezurik became aware, from a distance, of a striking-looking young student whose name was Patt Lavoie, so pretty she’d been named festival queen. He’d heard she was dating another guy so his heart shrank from hope. Then, one day at a basketball game, he saw Patt walking with some other guys. Dezurik told his friend, “There she goes, walking with those guys, and one of them is her boyfriend.” His friend said, “Oh no. She dumped him weeks ago.”
Dezurik’s quaking heart swelled with sudden hope. A week later, he finally mustered enough courage to ask Patt for a date. To his everlasting joy, she said yes.
On the day of the date, Dezurik got all spruced up, spic and span, and knocked on the door of Patt’s house. When the door opened, he almost fell over dead in his tracks. There, standing almost nose to nose in front of him, stood Lyla the owner of the café. What was SHE doing at Patt’s house?, he wondered.
“What, what, what are YOU doing here?” he asked, stammering.
“I live here, I’ll have you know,” she answered, teasing him a bit. “And what are YOU doing here?”
“I’m here for a date with Patt,” he said.
“I’m Patt’s mother,” she replied, grinning.
Just then Patt appeared in the living room, and soon they were all laughing and joking about the extraordinary coincidence – a real ice-breaker to settle the nerves right before that first date.
“And it was instant, just instant,” Dezurik said. “We fell in love on that first date. And she’s still my honey. She’s the air I breathe.”
Later, much later, long after they’d been married, Patt decided she would like to help Jim with his at-home hobby/job of fly-tying.
She became a kind of apprentice.
“Well, I had to let her go,” said Dezurik, chuckling at the memory. “She wasn’t any good at it. Her heart just wasn’t in it.”
Recalling that time, Dezurik broke into a laugh.
“And was she sad about being fired?” he said. “Oh, no! Heck no! She was thrilled.”
Patt, who loves to knit, is manager of Gruber’s Yarn Shop in St. Cloud.
She and Jim have five children: Todd, who lives in the St. Cloud area; Tony of Blaine; Scott, also local; Steve of Champlin; and Trish Lohr of Sioux Falls. S.D.
Jim and Patt have 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The boys all love to fish. Steve has been a topnotch fishing guide in the Twin Cities area, and he and Tony have caught many prize-winning fish, though usually they practice catch-and-release.
Another of Dezurik’s uncanny connections to the great river is a “pet” small-mouth bass he christened “Sammy.”
One day in late August, Dezurik was fishing with minnows and threw the minnows into the river. He noticed a bold bass come right up and feed upon the minnows while seeming to roll its eyes upwards to look at the man leaning over the boat.
Later, on other days, the same thing would happen, and Dezurik noticed it was the same fish every time. It got to the point every time Dezurik would throw water from a bucket into the river, it was like a “dinner-bell” sound to the fish, and it would appear again for its minnow treats.
Eventually, Dezurik would hold a sucker minnow in his hand and dip his hand into the water. Sammy, as he’d come to dub the “river pet,” would swim up, roll his eyes upward and linger there, waiting for the man in the boat to release the fish from his hand.
Sammy became something of a local tourist attraction, and neighbors and friends would love to visit and see Sammy’s feeding behaviors, as if he were a fish in a big aquarium.
What’s really amazing, Dezurik said, is that his son Steve caught Sammy three times. Steve recognized the pet instantly because its dorsal fins had been damaged long ago, probably by a northern pike trying to feed on the fish. Each time Steve caught Sammy, he would release it as he would with most fish he caught. One time, he measured Sammy – 19.5 inches long.
“Steve tricked Sammy three times,” said Dezurik, chuckling. “Steve used the same jig on the same part of the river. And that fish just did not get it! Fooled every time.”
About six summers ago, Sammy was never seen again.
“I imagine someone caught him,” Dezurik said.
Now retired at age 75, except for his work on his fly-tying hobby, Dezurik has worked at DeZURIK Valve, for 20 years as a supervisor at Franklin Manufacturing (now Electrolux) and as a summer resort owner near Brainerd.
Dezurik used to love to play tennis, but in recent years a back problem can at times severely limit his mobility.
Several nationally known magazines have featured articles about Dezurik and his sought-after hair jigs and other fishing lures he makes. He is looking forward to an article about his hair jigs, written by Matt Straw, due to be published in the December-January issue of In-Fisherman magazine.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.