When it comes to fishing, John “Kolt” Ringer of Deephaven has something of a nontraditional background. Sure, as a youth he fished for whatever would bite from the dock at the family cabin. But what really fueled his passion for the sport was learning from expert anglers the ins and outs of a variety of fishing tactics and techniques at the now-closed Camp Fish in Walker.

Following that in-depth fishing education, he started taking his dad fishing. Then, in the late 1990s, when he was an elementary school teacher, he began Fishtonka guide service (fishtonka.com), which focuses on teaching fishing to families and youth. In 2011, he founded the American Angler Leagues (americananglerleagues.com), a weekly parent-youth competitive fishing league on lakes Minnetonka and Minnewaska that is open to young people 5 to 12. Through it all, Ringer’s goal has been to introduce children and their parents to fishing, and also educate them in a way that instills a love for the sport.

“Fishing will always be something they can do that will have a positive impact on their lives, for the rest of their lives,” said Ringer, 41, who now works for a company that designs and manufactures sharpening equipment for the golf and turf industry. “I think that with everything crazy going on in the world today, to get out on the water and enjoy it is important.”

In advance of the kickoff Tuesday of this year’s American Angler Leagues season, Ringer reflected on the variety of ways fishing has played in his life.

On his decision to target children and families with his guide business

I started guiding back in 1999 when I was teaching, so I had my summers off. That really started my passion for guiding. As a teacher, I also had a passion for teaching kids to fish, so I focused on families. Now having my own kids (they’re 12, 9 and 8), starting the youth fishing league was another way we could fish more.

On helping others enjoy fishing success

Parents will say, “My kid loves to fish, but I don’t know what to do or where to take them.” Here’s a classic example: A father who had a place on Lake Minnetonka hired me a couple of times to take him and his son out fishing for muskies. The most rewarding part was getting an e-mail a couple of years later that his son had caught a 47-inch muskie. It’s about teaching parents to teach their kids how to fish so they can pass it on. Kids just need someone to take them.

On his children’s interest in fishing

I always joke that they didn’t really have a choice. They started with a rod basically as soon as they could hold anything. They love it now. It’s been really interesting to watch with the league. My daughter was never that into fishing, but she’s really competitive, so the league really triggered her passion for fishing and kept her in it.

On the potential for fishing to be a mainstream sport

I do feel like the market is just starting to get tapped in terms of what we really could do. Every other sport starts when kids are 5 or younger. (Organized) fishing today is starting at the high school and college levels. But I think this could be a model that could fill the gap of 5- to 12-year-olds, just like Little League ­baseball does.


Joe Albert is a freelance writer from Bloomington. Reach him at writerjoealbert@gmail.com.