Times have changed for Noah Palmer and his favorite fishing hole.
In the past, the young teen from Glenwood, Minn., would hitch a short ride from his mom or dad to Lake Minnewaska. They’d drop him off and he’d walk to a grassy stretch of shoreline to cast for bass. His spot always was unoccupied.
Noah said he’ll follow the same routine this year for Opening Day, but with a twist. He’ll run a little surveillance before making his move.
“If no one is there I’ll go get my fishing rod,’’ said the 14-year-old freshman at Minnewaska High School.
In a microcosm of what’s happening statewide, Noah’s quiet, trusty fishing spot is catching on. There’s a boom in the number of kids who are showing up to fish. Overall fishing license sales in Minnesota are exploding this spring and youth sales have doubled. After years of angst in the outdoors community over lagging participation rates by young people, teens suddenly make up the fastest-growing sector of angling in the state.
The phenomenon will provide a new wrinkle to the 2020 fishing season that officially opens at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
“It’s crazy how many people are getting out,’’ said Ray Ruiz, the Department of Natural Resources’ hunting and fishing skills liaison.
He attributes the jump in youth fishing largely to the pandemic, aided by good spring weather. He said parents deserve a lot of the credit for pushing kids to get involved.
“A lot of people have serious cabin fever,’’ Ruiz said. “Parents are saying, ‘We need to get these kids the heck outside.’ ’’
Nancy Koep, manager of Koep’s Bobbers & Bait in Glenwood, said she’s seeing more families fishing together and more kids riding to the store on their bikes to buy minnows. Some of them fish close to the bait shop on a small lake.
Koep is a local fishing coach and her son, Evan, 19, fishes competitively in bass tournaments for North Dakota State University. Together, they have witnessed sharp growth in high school fishing over the past five years and they see the excitement spreading.
Evan Koep said he’s watched local kids who haven’t previously fished take it up recently.
“They are looking for something to do, and fishing is one of those things that you can get into,’’ he said.
The appeal is obvious, he said. There’s something about fishing that’s strong enough to draw 300 children at a time to a high school tournament.
“I hope they all take it up,’’ Nancy Koep said of all the budding anglers. “I hope they all carry it on as a tradition in their families.’’
Noah Palmer, himself a member of the Minnewaska High School fishing team, said his own enthusiasm for fishing extends beyond tournaments. He and three friends started their own YouTube channel and Instagram account called Lucky Lure Fishing. Their headquarters is Noah’s original shore-fishing spot on Minnewaska.
“We’re going to swim and find lures and rate them, but the water is too cold right now,’’ he said.
Five dollars to fish
Kids in Minnesota don’t need a fishing license until they are 16 years old. Then, and again at age 17, the cost is $5.
Through Tuesday of this week, the DNR had sold 13,369 fishing licenses in the category of Resident Youth 16 & 17. That tally was 99 percent higher than a year ago for the same period.
Overall, state fishing license sales as of Wednesday were up 44 % to 362,000. That’s 110,000 more fishing licenses sold this spring than over the same period in 2019.
Jaimen Abrahamson, 16, of Ramsey, will spend this year’s fishing opener at his grandparents’ lake cabin northwest of Mille Lacs. It’s his family’s go-to fishing destination — a lake blessed with good numbers of bass, bluegills, crappies, northern pike and walleyes.
Jaimen grew up fishing, but his involvement has skyrocketed since joining the Anoka-Ramsey fishing team two seasons ago.
“We go everywhere in Minnesota,’’ he said. “It’s just a blast.’’
Jaimen said he’s seen a major incline in the number of kids who have joined Anoka-Ramsey’s fishing teams. In his case, the excitement has spilled over to ice fishing and a 14-foot aluminum boat with a 7.5 hp Evinrude motor — a family heirloom now in its fourth generation.
“We fixed up the motor and it gets me from Point A to Point B,’’ Jaimen said.
It helps that his mother, Ashlee, also has embraced fishing. As a relatively new member of Women Anglers of Minnesota, she’s been chasing trophy walleyes, muskies and other fish with a new passion.
“Fishing was brought into our family as early as I can remember,’’ Ashlee said. “But lately it’s kind of taken off from there.’’
She said the quarantine — with its allowance for fishing — is strengthening her family’s bond with the activity. Jaimen has two younger sisters.
“Now when I have the day off, it’s ‘Who wants to go fishing?’ ’’ she said. “It’s just kind of a lifestyle.’’