Content Type


Tom Bruno goes from confines of baseball diamond to wide-open spaces of wildlife [The Kansas City Star :: BC-OTD-BBO-TOMBRUNO-SPORTSPLUS:KC]

PIERRE, S.D. - Tom Bruno has no regrets about the way his life has worked out.

In the 1970s, he was considered a prime major-league prospect, a pitcher who showed flashes of brilliance in the minors. And he fulfilled some of that promise in the big show, pitching for three teams, including the Royals, before his career came to an end after four years.

Now, he makes his living in a fishing boat chasing walleyes and in rolling crop fields pursuing pheasants in a sportsman's paradise, South Dakota.

The two worlds are a long way apart. But Bruno, 59, is satisfied with the way his life's journey took him from Point A to Point B.

"How many people can say they were able to be a major-league baseball player and a fishing and hunting guide?" said Bruno, who lives outside Pierre. "I've been blessed.

"I've been able to do things that most people only dream about."

For a while, he was able to combine the two. Even when he was in baseball, he would fish and hunt whenever he had the chance.

That included his minor-league days with the Royals organization, when he would fish with fellow pitcher Dennis Leonard.

"We got invited to a lot of golf outings," he said. "We would put our fishing rods in our golf bags and fish the water hazards whenever we got a chance.

"We would hold up play and people would be yelling at us, but we caught some fish."

And Bruno is still catching fish. Sitting in his boat on Lake Sharpe on a recent weekend, he studied his fish finder for signs of walleyes. He had caught them on this flat the day before, and he knew they would still be here.

There was only one problem: There were considerably more lines in the water.

"Look at this," Bruno said as he looked out a stretch of water crowded with boats. "This looks like a parking lot. There must be 30 boats out here. There were only five or six yesterday.

"But word gets around out here. This place is walleye crazy."

Bruno lowered his bottom-bouncing rig baited with a piece of a night crawler to the bottom and began trolling at the edge of the crowd. When he felt a steady pull, he immediately knew what he had.

Seconds later, that golden fish was in the landing net and on its way to the livewell.

"That's a good eating-sized fish," said Bruno, whose guide service is appropriately named Major League Adventures. "Sharpe is a factory for fish this size. It's not known for its trophy fish. But it has great numbers."

Bruno proved it on a recent weekend. Trolling in the crowd, he and I caught our limits of four walleyes apiece in several hours.

Then Bruno raced up to the dam, where current was flowing out of the gates, and dropped his bait as whitecaps slapped against the side of his boat. The target this time? Big channel catfish.

Bruno and I hadn't drifted far before Bruno felt a strong tug. He set the hook and felt the powerful pull of a big fish.

In the current, the fish stayed down and gave Bruno a good fight. But the 8-pound catfish finally floated to the surface and was scooped into a waiting landing net.

"People come up here to fish for walleyes," he said." But these channel cats can be a lot of fun to catch, especially in this current. They're our bonus fish."

Bruno and I caught and released almost 15 of those big catfish before the action finally slacked.

He actually spends much of his time guiding on Lake Oahe, which is above the dam. That monstrous lake, like Sharpe, is a flooded part of the Missouri River. Both feature clear water, a contrast to the muddy water in the section of the river that flows through Missouri.

Both reservoirs feature some of the best walleye fishing in the nation. And Oahe, in contrast to Sharpe, holds some monstrous fish.

Bruno caught a 13-pound walleye on a jigging spoon in the fall. But fall is a time that is usually reserved for pheasant hunting. Bruno has customers come from all over the nation to hunt with him on ground that he has leased.

"This area has a lot to offer, between our fishing and our pheasant hunting," Bruno said. "I used to come up here to visit my former wife's father, and I discovered what this place had.

"After I got out of baseball, I came up here and I decided this is where I wanted to be. I've never regretted it.

"I was disappointed at first that I didn't make it as big as I had hoped in baseball. But look at where I am now.

"For a guy that likes to hunt and fish, this place is hard to beat."


TOM BRUNO: A timeline of baseball and the outdoors

Signed by the Royals in 1971 as an amateur free agent.

Spent five years in the minors and pitched two no-hitters. In fact, he and Dennis Leonard had the distinction of pitching back-to-back no-hitters while at Waterloo, Iowa.

Had his first major-league season in 1976 with the Royals.

The following year, he was picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays for their inaugural season.

Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978 and played there for two years. He had his best season in 1978, when had a 4-3 record with a 1.99 ERA.

After being released by the Cardinals, he trained bird dogs and helped run quail hunts for a Mexican lodge.

Ended up in South Dakota in 1992 and fished the professional walleye circuit for 12 years.

Started guiding for both walleyes and pheasants in 2001 and has been at it since.


(c)2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services


PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):