DEVILS LAKE — The temperature had risen into the single digits above zero for the first time in days on this Monday afternoon in early January, and Mark Bry was going fishing.
That doesn’t happen very often these days for Bry, 42, a Grand Forks entrepreneur, whose start as a Devils Lake fishing guide some two decades ago has grown into a booming guide service both summer and winter, with 10 full-time guides, a fishing lodge along U.S. Highway 2 east of Devils Lake and, most recently, the purchase of Ed’s Bar and Bait Shop.
Bry and fellow fishing guide Dan Bonham of Devils Lake purchased the shop, a Devils Lake institution since 1958, in October.
As if the two former teachers, who left the profession for full-time careers in the fishing industry, didn’t have enough on their plates.
“I fish some, but it’s crazy because I’m so busy,” said Bry, who taught seventh- and eighth-grade geography and American history at South Middle School in Grand Forks before leaving the profession after the 2018-19 school year.
What started as a summer gig had grown to the point where juggling two careers got to be too much, Bry says. As owner of a booming guide service, there are phones to answer, employees to manage and countless other tasks involved with keeping the business running smoothly.
“I really liked teaching, of course, and kids are still fun, but the business really kind of blew up a little bit,” he said. “You can’t do it all, so I just thought that was the better route for me, to go the fishing route.
“The business was busy, and it was just time to adjust and do all that.”
Bry juggles his time between Devils Lake and Grand Forks; he and his wife, Sarah, have two kids, aged 11 and 12, who also keep him busy with various activities.
“I’m hoping to guide 20 days this winter, but I could guide every day” if time allowed, Bry said. “It’s just crazy how many people want to go fishing.”
Hitting the ice
Bonham, who owns Bonham’s Guide Service and works with Bry’s Guide Service in the winter, had a rare day off and joined Bry for a few hours on the ice to fish in the comfort of a SnoBear – think motorized fish house on tracks and you get the idea – and talk about their plans for Ed’s Bar and Bait Shop.
Fishing had been pretty good for both perch and walleyes, Bry said, but no two days are the same.
“The word today has been a little bit slow, but we’ll see,” Bry said. “I think we’re going to get some fish where we’re going. I don’t know, it’s funny like that – one day, it’s really good and the next day, you’ve got to work at it.
“That’s just life.”
Falling into place
The opportunity to buy Ed’s Bar and Bait Shop came up this past summer, said Bonham, who grew up in central Illinois and taught chemistry and physics for 27 years, first in South Dakota for two years and then in several North Dakota schools, including Bismarck St. Mary’s and the Youth Correctional Center in Mandan. He taught the bulk of his career in Hillsboro and spent his final four years teaching in Wahpeton.
Similar to Bry, Bonham started guiding as a summer job “instead of mowing grass and roofing houses or painting like most teachers do.” He started guiding in 1996 on the Missouri River before shifting to Devils Lake in 2000 and making it a full-time career five years ago.
Buying Ed’s Bar and Bait Shop “just kind of fell into place,” Bonham says.
“It was kind of rumored that it was for sale,” he said. “So, we looked into it a little bit and got talking about it and said, ‘What the heck. If we can get it, let’s try it.’”
Bonham’s son, Garrett, a full-time guide for Bry’s Guide Service, also is involved with the bar and bait shop venture.
Buying the business was a big step, Bry admits, but so was purchasing the business he dubbed Fish Rehab Lodge in late 2014.
“A lot of people were like, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing? You can’t have a lodge,’ ” Bry recalls. “But now, we’re booked every single night at the lodge. It’s good, and people have loved it, and our repeat business is insane.”
Ed’s Bar and Bait Shop, he says, “is an icon of Devils Lake.”
“When I was a kid in college, I remember I would look at Ed’s Bait Shop, and the fishing report was always pretty solid,” Bry said. “A fishing report is a fishing report, but it’s still nice to have an idea in the wintertime if perch are deep or shallow or what’s working and just give people some confidence and kind of a starting point.”
Weekly fishing reports are posted on the website at edsbarandbait.com and brysguideservice.com. The goal, he said, is to provide accurate information not only about fishing patterns, but also about the tackle that works on Devils Lake.
“We want to be the place where we can give you some good information, and if you're coming from Wisconsin or from Grand Forks or wherever you’re coming from, at least you have a starting point,” Bry said.
While Bry and Bonham have lots of ideas for the new business – they recently added a drive-up window to the bar for offsale beer and liquor – no major changes are in the works. Annie Howard, who has managed the bar and bait shop since April 2018, continues to oversee the day-to-day operations.
“This place since I've been here has progressively gotten busier and busier and busier,” Howard said. “It’s a huge collaborative effort, I’d say, and there’s dedicated people here.”
Bry says he hopes the business also can be a springboard for getting more young people involved in the outdoors, whether it’s take-a-kid fishing events or guided youth hunts. Buying the bar and bait shop, Bry says, is a good fit with the guiding business.
In addition, the year-round fish cleaning house next door, which is air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter, makes Ed’s Bar and Bait Shop an attractive destination for anglers and a convenient place to meet up with guides for a day on the lake.
“I foresee a lot of our fishermen or tourists coming in there and sitting down and having a pizza or an appetizer and just talking about the day and enjoying life,” Bry said. “I think we'll hopefully do well, and it’s exciting.
“It’s like anything,” he added. “It’s going to take some work, but I guess that's just kind of how life is. You have to work hard to do well, I think.”
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