SPRING VALLEY — Gone fishing will take on a whole new meaning for Bill Guerrini. He’s been fishing for a long time already.
Guerrini, aka “Walleye1,” has retired as executive director of the Spring Valley Walleye Club, effective Oct. 1, walking away from a club he founded 34 years ago.
“It’s been a hoot. Who would have thought it’d last that long? It’s gone by so fast, you don’t even have time to blink some times,” Guerrini said.
“They’re all good memories. It’s been a 34-year honeymoon.”
Guerrini and his wife, Janice, have sold their business, Guerrini Financial Services, and building in Spring Valley, and will be moving to The Villages in Florida soon.
“One horizon closes and another opens up,” Guerrini said. “We’ve vacationed there three or four years. We really like the area and the people down there. We’re looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be sad leaving the Illinois Valley. Jan and I are both 73. We’ve lived here all our lives. It becomes time you got to do what you got to do. Get down there and stick your toes in the warm sand.”
Guerrini launched the Spring Valley Walleye Club in 1986. He was president of the Spring Valley Business Owners Association and they were made aware the Masters Walleye Circuit was looking for an Illinois site, and thought they would test the waters.
“We were like, ‘Yeah, we think we can do that.’ We’ve never run a tournament before. I put a bunch of guys together and we invited the MWC down to take a look at Barto Landing and one thing led to another and they liked it,” Guerrini said.
“We thought we better put a club together dedicated to any profit we make to put back in to the Illinois River, back in to the sauger program, so it keeps recycling itself back into good recreational use. And that’s how it started 34 years ago.”
The Spring Valley Walleye Club had a long successful run hosting the MWC Tournament before giving it up in recent years to be able to better contribute to the local hatcheries on the Illinois River in other ways.
“I don’t think anybody would have known back then. We’ve enjoyed doing it, but quite honestly, we didn’t know the hell we were doing. We said, ‘We’ll do a tournament, put them in the water and see what happens,’” Guerrini said.
The secret to the Walleye Club’s MWC Tournament success over the years was its many volunteers.
“From the beginning, the whole thing has depended on volunteers. One or two or three or five guys couldn’t do the whole thing,” Guerrini said. “At one time, when we were putting in 250 teams, this thing ran on 200 to 220 volunteers for the whole week. That’s an amazing total of people and they came from the whole area and all walks of life. Doctors and lawyers to laborers, you name it.
“Everybody wanted to put their time in and that’s how it became successful, honestly.”
Guerrini said it just wasn’t the city of Spring Valley that made the tournament successful, but rather the whole Illinois Valley.
“The whole Illinois Valley responded to this with open arms,” Guerrini said. “Motels and hotels in the surrounding area, the surrounding towns, the surrounding park districts. The little village of DePue saved our butt once when the river flooded. It’s amazing. You think it’s something you see all the time, but sometimes you don’t always see and that was really nice.”
What Guerrini finds most astonishing is how the boats evolved over the years.
“If you had a 60 outboard motor and a 9.9 kicker, man you were the top dog,” Guerrini said. “Gary Roach (aka Mr. Walleye) came in with a 60 tiller and it was the talk of the town. Everybody said, ‘Holy Moly, did you see the 60 tiller.’ Those are side motors on some of the boats now.
“They’re running 22-foot boats with 350 or 400 motors now. The size of the equipment, the power of the equipment, the cost of the equipment. That’s the amazing thing to see. You’ve got to go out and dig up a few glass jars in the back yard these days (to pay for these).”
Leaving a legacy
Mike Hurliss, who served as tournament director for 15 year as Guerrini’s right-hand man, said Guerrini is really going to be missed.
“He is so organized and driven to help the community in any way he can. He used to be in almost every board that there was to help Spring Valley. Something he’s loved his whole life,” Hurliss said.
“He’s been the driving force for everybody in the club, and whole area is going to miss Bill. He taught me everything I know about the tournament. I was tournament director for 15 years, just following his lead he did for the first 15 years. Because he’s so organized and so good at things like this, it made it easy to do.”
Guerrini joked that Hurliss has been such a good No. 2 man all those years, it felt like “he was No. 1 and I was No. 2.”
The Walleye Club has scheduled what Guerrini calls a very, very important meeting on Oct. 20 at the Spring Valley Boat Club to determine how it will move forward. Guerrini said it’s important that every member attends.
As Guerrini understands, the membership will elect a three-man board and divide the duties he’s been doing for 34 years.
Guerrini said the Walleye Club has been really fortunate to have “three young, energetic guys” like president Eric Maggio and past presidents Dave Hall and Corey Blair the past year to “take the bull by the horns and run with it.”
He said those three, along with president-elect Dean Soldati and Illinois Walleye Trail President and CEO Adam Sandor have made his decision to step away now very easy.
While he may be a thousand miles away, “Walleye1” won’t be too far away to help anyone back home.
“I’m as close as a phone call. You won’t know if I’m in Florida or Spring Valley. I’m willing to help,” Guerrini said. “The computer’s there and I’ve still got it in my noodle as long as I can remember what’s going on.”
Guerrini will be sure to pack his tackle box and rod and reel for the move to Florida.
“I think I’ll find a hole or two, yes. Might not be a walleye in it, but whatever’s biting, I’m going to try to catch,” he said.