Newly formed high school and club teams have been angling for anglers over the past couple of years. Their catch is exceeding expectations.
“It has really taken off,” said Chris Wedes, an organizer for the Minnetonka bass club team — not high school-affiliated — for boys and girls in grades six through 12. “It’s been extraordinary.”
It all started with three kids who quickly increased the core group to eight. That contingent now represents a little more than 10 percent of the 77 kids in the program.
“It just blew up,” said Nik Burlak, a team member who just completed his freshman year. “It has become very big.”
The Lakeville fishing team, formed in 2015, combines students from grades six through 12, including those from Lakeville North and Lakeville South high schools. The roster of 56 students competes in both bass and muskie tournaments.
“Many schools only do the bass tournaments, but our club does all of them,” Lakeville coach Dave Schueck said.
White Bear Lake’s bass program has also been growing, just not as rapidly as Minnetonka or Lakeville. But it’s also high school-affiliated and only for grades nine through 12.
“Our numbers have gradually been increasing,” said Austin Thilmany, who just completed his freshman year. “We had 12 to 15 kids a year ago and have jumped up to about 25.”
The three programs are a reflection of what is happening statewide.
“In 2016, there were about 20 high schools consisting of 360 anglers competing in Minnesota,” Schueck said. “In 2017, those numbers are expected to double.”
Grace Spindler is one of six girls on the White Bear Lake squad.
“We get a lot of recognition at tournaments,” said Spindler, a junior-to-be who plays soccer and lacrosse for the Bears but gave up basketball for fishing. “Other teams are surprised when they see us.”
The future student council member recalled fishing at a young age with her grandfather and learning a key lesson.
“My pole ended up in the lake at Mille Lacs,” Spindler said.
Her grandpa didn’t panic.
“He cast his line out, and caught it for me,” Spindler said.
The experiences she now enjoys on a boat are as memorable but less eventful.
“I never really thought I would be in this type of sport,” Spindler said. “It’s a very nice community to be involved with.”
The Lakeville club organizes its activities around four objectives.
• Learning and growth, not only about fishing and boating but also problem-solving and public speaking.
“It’s a good way to share what you have learned with other people,” Lakeville angler Nehemiah Glenn said. “It’s a fun way to help out the community.”
• Volunteering through serving the community and youth with a focus on teaching new anglers.
“It’s phenomenal because it’s not strictly fishing,” Thilmany said. “It’s volunteering, helping kids as well as veterans. You get people out fishing that don’t even know what a fishing rod is.”
• Conservation, including raising environmental awareness and demonstrating fishing ethics.
• Competition through youth fishing tournaments.
“It’s nice to challenge the guys,” Spindler said. “I like competing. There is an adrenaline rush when a fish hits the hook.”
Glenn and teammate Joe Gorman, who both just completed their freshman year, took second place in the Bass Pro Shops Fishing League Worldwide Minnesota Open Tournament on the Mississippi River in early June. They caught five bass, totaling 15 pounds, 9 ounces, and were one of four teams to advance to the national championship that ended Saturday at Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala. They also competed in a national event the previous week at Kentucky Lake in Paris, Tenn.
“People notice you more when you finish higher. They want to learn from you,” Glenn said. “All the kids want to get to nationals.”
All tournaments have two student anglers and one adult captain per boat. The captains must have watercraft liability insurance on their boats.
“In the first national event we didn’t do very well, but we learned so much,” Glenn said. “We had to learn how to fish in much deeper water.”
Tournaments are organized by national and state tournament directors under the umbrellas of Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, The Bass Federation – Student Angler Federation, Fishing League Worldwide and Muskies, Inc. Most of the tournaments occur during the summer.
“There is no overarching governing body for all high school fishing tournaments, nor is fishing sanctioned yet by the Minnesota State High School League,” Schueck said.
Gorman got his start in fishing just like a lot of young anglers, going to a tournament in town that provided the equipment and bait.
“My mom took me when I was 9,” Gorman said. “It was a great experience. I started being the first one on the dock and the last one to leave.”
Since learning to fly fish in Montana at a young age, Burlak likes taking to the water in general.
“I love fishing with other people,” Burlak said. “It doesn’t have to be for a specific species.
“Everyone needs to get out and go fishing when they are younger. When you are older, you will regret not taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Schueck said: “Nationwide, some industry pros believe that high school fishing is actually driving a resurgence in adult angling and growth in license sales. The general buzz among coaches is that we believe this to be true.
“Personally, I have seen parents who haven’t fished in years now obtain a license because their son or daughter joined the team, or even purchased a family fishing boat to provide more fishing opportunities for their son or daughter.”