Minnesota’s highest-ranking bass fisherman was on the brink of quitting last year, just one season after cracking into the national Bassmaster Elite Series at age 30.
For Seth Feider, joining the tour was a dream come true. But even with good sponsors and an angler-friendly tournament payout system, his freshman year was a bust.
“Nine months of hard work and I made zero dollars,” said Feider, a product of Bloomington Kennedy High School who still lives in that city.
As the Bassmaster Toyota Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs is about to kick off, Feider has redemption and new life as its only Minnesota contestant. He squeaked into the competition with a stunning finish last weekend at the Bassmasters tournament in La Crosse, Wis.
Now he’s got home-field advantage in the $1 million bass tourney that blasts off from Eddy’s Resort at 6 a.m. Thursday and runs through Sunday. Moreover, Feider (sounds like “fighter”) suddenly has a shot at a berth in bass fishing’s Super Bowl: the 2017 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe in Texas.
“It’s almost an impossible comeback for me,” Feider said. “I just swung for the fences.”
At La Crosse, he was a long shot to qualify for Mille Lacs. But he bested 105 anglers out of 106 on the Mississippi River, vaulting himself into 50th place in league standings and the last qualifying spot for Mille Lacs.
“I needed certain guys to do badly and they did,” Feider said. “It worked out.”
On Facebook, one of his fans wasn’t as reserved.
“Dude!! You won. You had them all sweating bullets. No one wants to fish against you at Mille Lacs. So with good friends, great family, money in the pocket and the road to Lake Mille Lacs, the only thing left is to bring it home!!!”
Billy Hildebrand, a Minnesota outdoors radio show host, former pro angler and longtime friend of the Feider family, said Seth didn’t follow his advice a few years back on whether to try fishing on the national stage.
Hildebrand urged him to hedge his bets.
“I would recommend you get an education so you have something to fall back on,” he recalled telling Seth.
“He told me, ‘If I don’t try this, I’ll always wonder if I could do it,’ ” Hildebrand recalled. “Well, he did it. He’s extremely deserving.”
Described by friends and fishing competitors as introverted on shore and machine-like on the water, Feider has sacrificed material things to live simply around a regimen of constant travel and fishing five, six and seven days a week. He has a serious girlfriend, but no other personal commitments.
On Monday, for instance, while most Bassmaster Elite entrants were pre-fishing on Mille Lacs, Feider competed in a local bass tournament on Lake Minnetonka. He said he and a co-angler cashed a check for finishing in sixth place.
“It’s been a lot of 20-hour days and a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Feider said.
Justin Vucinovich, a former pro who fished against Feider in local tournaments, said Feider once won a super-charged bass boat while breaking in on the Minnesota bass scene. He said Feider, who was working odd jobs, sold it, trading down in equipment to buy more time on the water.
Then there was the time in Baxter, while still in his teens, when Feider was so broke and intent on fishing that he shoplifted a $4 bag of plastic worms. He got caught and still feels remorse.
“He’s just a straight-laced good kid and that’s all he wants to do is fish,” Vucinovich said. “He came from nothing and put himself where he wants to be.”
Corey Brant, a friend of Feider’s who still fishes against him in local tournaments, said fans are in for a show this weekend when Feider dashes onto Mille Lacs. Feider fished the 132,000-acre lake extremely hard last fall and prefers it to almost any other bass fishery, with the possible exception of Lake Minnetonka, said Brant, the reigning Minnesota state bass champion.
“We didn’t like him at first, but it was out of jealousy,” Brant said. “He’s known for catching fish anywhere he goes, and he knows Mille Lacs like the back of his hand.”
Feider said his $25,000 finish in La Crosse made a big difference in his quest to stay on the tour. His career winnings in the Bassmaster Elite Series have totaled $127,690, including six top-10 finishes. He said guys who can tough it out in their early years stand to make good money down the road. For now, his sponsors include Rapala, Outkast Tackle, Daiwa, Mercury, BassCat Boats and Sufix.
“I watched Bassmasters on TV and this was a childhood dream,” Feider said.
Asked if he’ll be fishing against any of his idols this week, he said: “They are all hammers … the 50 best bass fishermen in the world, no questions asked.”