Minnesota’s booming high school and junior high fishing scene will make noise again this week with tournament splashes at Gull Lake and Mille Lacs.
Jeff Gilmer, president of Minnesota Junior BASS Nation, said the state’s top junior-level bass anglers (second grade through seventh grade) will compete Wednesday on Gull Lake for the right to enter the league’s national championship next year, probably in Kentucky.
On Mille Lacs on Thursday and Friday, two dozen top high school bass anglers will compete alongside adults as co-anglers in a pro-am tourney based at Mac’s Twin Bay Resort on the lake’s east side. And that’s a precursor to Minnesota BASS Nation’s state high school championship set for Sept. 10 on Lake Washington near Dassel.
Separately, Minnesota’s affiliate of The Bass Federation will hold a high school bass championship Aug. 20 on Mille Lacs, also at Mac’s Twin Bay. When the federation held its Minnesota junior championship last month on Trout Lake, 57 anglers competed.
The Minnesota State High School League does not oversee youth fishing. Rather, teams from schools around the state sign up for their own opportunities at tournaments hosted by at least four different groups. Gilmer said it’s all part of a craze that’s less than five years in the making. The sport’s rate of growth is reminiscent of the explosion in high school trap-shooting competition.
Muskies Inc. and Fishing League Worldwide also host youth tournaments in Minnesota.
In 2013, only 18 Minnesota high schoolers competed in the first year of organized bass tournaments in the state, Gilmer said. Last year, that number soared to 360 participants. And on 2017, 600 kids are signed up at about 80 schools from Fairmont to Grand Rapids, Gilmer said. Lakeville and Elk River are among the hot spots. Participation varies from school to school.
“Sometimes it’s a little scary how fast it’s growing,’’ Gilmer said.
Of the 600 active schoolchildren, about 160 are “juniors’’ who mostly fish in teaching events, or “scrimmages,’’ on weekends, Gilmer said The sport’s biggest limiting factor is finding enough adults with boats to become team partners. In the biggest tournaments, prizes are awarded in the form of scholarship money for postsecondary education.