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Cloutman gets surprise gift at retirement celebration at Bemidji State University

Donald Cloutman, a professor of biology at Bemidji State University who was part of a team that worked with Northland Tackle to develop a new fishing lure attractant, is retiring this spring after 14 years of teaching aquatic biology. Anne Williams | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - Biology faculty at Bemidji State University may notice changes afoot after their colleague, aquatic biology professor Donald Cloutman, retires this May.

Conversations held in the faculty lounge may no longer be about parasites that live on fish gills. Students and staff who open freezer doors in the biology department may no longer see frozen fish stare back at them. Whatever changes may come, however, it was clear during his retirement celebration Friday at BSU, he will certainly be missed.

As a surprise parting gift during his retirement party, Cloutman, whose research spawned new lures for Bemidji-based Northland Tackle, received a plaque of appreciation by Northland Tackle representatives Chris and Gary Morgal.

Several years ago, Cloutman worked with Northland Tackle to test attractants that could be imbedded into fishing lures, such as artificial minnows, worms and leeches. Northland's goal was to develop a scented lure that could entice largemouth bass and other fish species to hold onto the lures longer so anglers could have a better shot at catching them.

Northland provided Cloutman with six recipes, but none produced desirable results. After much persistence, Cloutman tweaked one of the recipes and watched as fish gobbled the lure samples up one after another.

The attractant developed from Cloutman's research is now called Impulse, and it competes among other products like Gulp!, PowerBait, Smelly Jelly, Attraxx and Hot Sauce.

"Don helped us develop one of the best products we've ever introduced to the market," Gary Morgal said during Cloutman's retirement party. "It's a tremendous success."

Originally from southwest Kansas, Cloutman spent 15 years in North Carolina and four years in Mississippi before moving to Bemidji in 1998 to take a faculty position at BSU.

"Where better to do aquatic biology than Minnesota?" Cloutman said.

During his tenure at BSU, Cloutman said he has enjoyed participating in several research ventures, such as tracking walleye populations for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, assisting the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency with lake studies and working with Northland Tackle.

While excited to spend more time on research and leisure time activities, Cloutman said he will miss teaching and engaging students in research activities.

Mitch Rigelman, a senior fisheries biology student, was among the group of BSU students Cloutman worked with while conducting research for Northland Tackle.

"He is a walking, talking fish dictionary," Rigelman said. "He is the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to fish."

Cloutman hopes to continue his research after retirement, especially with discovering new species of tiny, parasitic worms called Dactylogyrus that live on the gills of fish. Throughout his career in biology, he has discovered many new types of these worms, some of which he has named.

"He really has done a lot in terms of fish parasites and is one of the leaders in that area," said Patrick Guilfoile, BSU's interim associate vice president of academic affairs and biology instructor. "He has come up with some very interesting names."

Cloutman is even considering naming a few worms he has discovered after his wife and daughter, he said, chuckling.

Although spending hours picking worms off fish gills does not sound like an appealing task to most people, Cloutman's enthusiasm for the science behind it is evident.

"Research is tedious, which many people don't realize," he said. "But the fun is in the discovery."

After retiring, Cloutman expects to move back to southwest Kansas with his wife to be closer to family. He still plans to return to Bemidji on occasion, however, to visit his daughter and son-in-law who live in the area.

His advice to new biology faculty and researchers is to be curious and truthful.

"That's important," he added.

Mark Fulton, professor of Biology at BSU, who was hired the same year as Cloutman, said his colleague will be remembered for his zeal biology.

"He more or less singlehandedly built the aquatic biology program," he said. "He was the guy who really established it as a unique program at BSU."

Fulton added Cloutman will be remembered by students as an instructor who has "nonstop energy" and is "very sharp."

"The thing has always impressed me about him is he is so cheerful, hard working and dedicated to his job," Fulton said. "He will be one heck of a hard act to follow."