Outdoor News is commemorating the fantastic Lake Mille Lacs
walleye bite of 2002 with its first-ever, special edition Print of
the Year. In a painting entitled “Bite of the Century,” wildlife
artist Ron Nelson captures the big story on Lake Mille Lacs this
The image (shown on Page 1) marks the first submission in an
annual series of wildlife art that depicts a definitive moment or
image from the pages of Outdoor News in a given year.
“I don’t think anyone can remember a walleye bite on Lake Mille
Lacs like the one we saw this past summer,” said Glenn Meyer,
Outdoor News publisher. “When Ron and the staff discussed what
scene best summed up the Minnesota outdoors scene in 2002, we
quickly agreed on an angler releasing a big Mille Lacs
The 2002 limited-edition print represents the first installment
in an annual series of commemorative artwork that the newspaper
will publish. With the debut piece, Outdoor News is publishing only
500 artist-signed-and-numbered copies.
“This is the first in what we expect will be an annual
tradition,” Meyer said. “Next year, Ron may depict a new state
record whitetail or muskie. Who knows?
“That’s part of what’s fun about this concept. Our readers
sportsmen will help us determine the subject matter for Ron to
paint in future years.”
About the artist
The artist behind the artwork, Ron Nelson, 34, of Eden Prairie,
also coordinates the layout and design of Minnesota Outdoor News
every week. Readers will recognize his distinctive style since he
regularly illustrates stories in the paper.
An amateur artist since grade school, Nelson openly admits his
affinity for painting waterfowl and his goal of eventually winning
the Minnesota state duck stamp competition. He’s entered the
contest four times, most recently in 2002. He was a finalist out of
45 entries in 2000.
The son of a career U.S. Air Force accountant, Nelson moved to
Minnesota with his family at age 8. He remembers doodling pictures
of dinosaurs and more contemporary wildlife, particularly
waterfowl, as a youngster.
In fifth grade, a teacher at Nelson’s Forest Hills Elementary
School in Eden Prairie recognized his budding talent. That teacher,
Jo Shipka, of Edina, is retired now, but Nelson still attributes
his success in art to her encouraging words.
“She pushed me to do artwork probably after noticing that I
didn’t pay attention enough in class because I was drawing all the
time,” Nelson said, laughing. “We still stay in touch with
Christmas cards every year.”
But more than painting captured the imagination of the stout
youth from Eden Prairie. Some of his fondest memories are of an
annual waterfowl hunting trip to the Roseau River Wildlife
Management Area with his father, Elton.
“We’d go on a week-long trip every year with my dad and his work
buddies. We hunted ducks, geese, and grouse,” he recalls. “It was a
Elton Nelson passed away in 1995, but Ron continues making
weekly trips to northwest Minnesota and North Dakota, sometimes
multiple times per fall, with boyhood chum, Ken Nyquist, also of
The combined interest in hunting and art was a natural
combination in a state that has produced many excellent wildlife
artists. Indeed, Nelson counts wildlife art legends Les Kouba and
David Maass as his great inspirations. He made it a personal
priority to meet both gentlemen, and he succeeded. By happenstance
in the mid-1980s, he saw and introduced himself to Kouba at the
Greenbush VFW during a waterfowl hunting trip in northwest
Minnesota. Last summer, he sat down one-on-one with Maass in his
“Those were the guys I looked up to as a kid. Their images are
what you remember when you’re in the marsh,” he said.
Serious art instruction for Nelson may not have occurred without
the help of another person, his mom, Anne. She enrolled Nelson in
weekly classes at the Edina Art Center from 8th grade through high
“That’s where I honed my skills and developed a firm
understanding of background and lighting,” he said. “In art,
lighting is what it’s all about.”
During college at St. Cloud State, he picked up classes in
graphic art design, eventually graduating with a degree in graphics
and a minor in advertising in 1991. Since earning his degrees,
Nelson has worked in advertising design, and in 1998, he became the
chief layout and design guru for New Hope-based Outdoor News. His
drawings and paintings have been a great addition to the paper.
“Being an outdoorsman, it’s been a great place to work,” Nelson
said. “Glenn (Meyer) pushed me on this project, and I hope readers
find it intriguing.”
Now married, Nelson has a 11/2-year-old son, Cole, whom he
anticipates will join him in the duck blind someday. His wife of
nine years, Leanna, is a teacher in the Wayzata School
In “Bite of the Century,” Nelson says he tried to depict what
some people considered a sometimes negative, ongoing story Mille
Lacs under the microscope (again) during the summer of 2002 in a
“I wanted to put a positive spin on what really was an
incredible bite,” Nelson said. “It’s a big, healthy fish and it’s
being released for another angler to catch another day.”
Besides his work at the newspaper, Nelson has created community
programs and school event covers in Eden Prairie but “Bite of the
Century” represents his first published work of art.
That is except for Nelson’s Christmas cards, which are famous
around the office. The covers usually depict some species of
waterfowl, or Nelson’s canine pride and joy, Barley, a 105-pound,
41/2-year-old yellow Lab.
Don’t get Nelson started on his poorly-oiled waterfowl
retrieving machine. Ever since an infamous training incident with a
pigeon (Barley ended up swallowing the dummy), the dog has mostly
stayed home during Ron’s fall waterfowl excursions.
“Let’s see, Barley has eaten a pigeon, a duck, and once in front
of five guys with their championship black Labs, a goose,” Nelson
said. “He’s a couch potato, but he looks good doing it.”