I fished with Mandy Uhrich the other day, emphasis on with.
We used her F-150 pickup truck … her 19-foot Lund boat … her 225-horsepower Evinrude G2 outboard motor … her 16 rods and reels. We even used her day off from work to relax on a lake at the tail end of summer.
“This will be nice,” the professional angler from Brainerd said as we pushed off from the dock. “I rarely have time to fish just for the fun of it.”
At 34, Uhrich is perhaps Minnesota’s most visible female angler. She will compete in nearly 30 tournaments and charity events this year. She is increasingly seen in national television commercials, national and regional outdoor television shows, outdoor magazines and seminar stages. She also is a visible volunteer for the causes she believes in, with attention to educating women and girls. Uhrich puts time into Keeping Kids In outDoor Sports(or KKIDS), Becoming an Outdoors Woman, Women in Need of Kindness and others.
And when she’s not fishing or volunteering, she’s often hunting. She has hunted wolves in Canada, alligators in South Carolina, pheasants in South Dakota, and wild turkeys, ducks, deer and geese in many places.
“I don’t fish and hunt as a marketing gig,” she said. “It’s who I am.”
And who she is, is an aspiring, top-notch angler. “In my best year I entered 26 fishing tournaments and won nine, had 14 top-10 finishes and three top-15 finishes,” she said. “It was crazy.”
This success aside, Uhrich enters tournaments for the fun and challenge rather than the money. She pays her own entry fees. Travels costs add up. “If I break even at the end of the year, I’ve had a fantastic season,” she said.
A native of Grand Forks, N.D., Uhrich said her father sparked her passion for fishing. A laborer who loved to fish rain or shine, he often brought Mandy on trips to Devils Lake, N.D., and nearby Red River.
“Dad said I was a great fishing partner from the get-go,” Uhrich recalled. “I’d bring crayons in the boat but usually didn’t touch them because I was so serious about fishing.” When she wasn’t fishing with her father she often peddled her bike to the Red River, where she would roam the banks and apply what she learned.
In time, Uhrich’s interest in the outdoors led to degrees in natural resource management and agronomy from the University of Minnesota, Crookston. Those degrees led to environmental and nature-based jobs with the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Minnesota departments of transportation and natural resources. The jobs led to interactions with people who changed her life.
Through soil conservation, she met the late Don Nelson of Minnesota’s Kruger Farms sporting equipment and guide service. Nelson took her under his wing, and introduced her to the business side of the outdoors. That led to meeting and fishing with Minnesota’s Lindner family, legendary angling innovators and media entrepreneurs. Recognizing she was a solid stick, they encouraged Uhrich to join fishing leagues and tournaments. She did. That led to meeting Steve Quinn, a biologist and longtime writer and editor at In-Fisherman. He and other highly skilled Brainerd area anglers wittingly and unwittingly helped her hone techniques during fishing league events.
“I’d spent my life reading articles by these people and watching them on TV,” she said. “Now I was fishing and filming with them. It was hard to believe.”
Challenges out there
Today, Uhrich fishes in three different bass tournament series and one multispecies tournament series. She is part of a micro-minority because even though many women fish, few toil the tournament trail. As such, she has been embraced by most, ostracized by a few and often considered a curiosity.
“When Michaela Anderson and I represented Minnesota at a national bass fishing tournament in Virginia, a competitor told our director that he must be scraping the bottom of the barrel to bring us,” Uhrich recalled. “The director was livid. He bet we’d finish 40 places higher than he did … and we did.”
Uhrich added that being the owner of a top-end fishing boat often nets the unexpected, absurd and humorous. She said while steering through a busy channel in the Whitefish Chain of Lakes a man hollered, “Your husband must really love you because otherwise he wouldn’t let you use his boat.” That riled Uhrich, whose tongue, she admitted, can be as sharp as a hook. “This is my boat, and I’m single,” she snapped back. That, in turn, prompted men in yet another boat to yell, “Marry me. Marry me.”
For now, wedding proposals from passing boaters and other suitors will likely fall on deaf ears. Uhrich said her full-time job as an on-the-road wildlife depredation specialist and hectic nonwork schedule make a yellow Labrador and pair of purse dogs the perfect partners. “It’s probably a good thing I’m not married,” she laughed. “All of my dogs’ names — Revo, Cumara, Zander, Lindy Rig — have been related to fishing. If I had kids, they’d probably have funny names.”
Though Uhrich thrives on the excitement of fishing competitions, she said her most rewarding experiences often come from mentoring others, especially women and girls. “I donate time to a number of causes because the outdoors is so important to me. If people understand it, they’ll protect it. If they don’t, they won’t.”
Uhrich shared that philosophy and her fishing knowledge at a recent Becoming an Outdoors Woman bass and muskellunge seminar at Cabela’s in Rogers. More than 50 women attended. The post seminar surveys suggest she hit target with the words she cast. “I’m excited to teach my adult daughter so we can do real fishing,” wrote one seminar participant. Another offered a similar sentiment: “I feel much more confident now.” As a follow-up to the seminar, Uhrich even arranged fishing trips for those who wanted to wet a line.
On a morning when the sky was blue and an east wind rippled the water, Uhrich did what I figured she would: She out-fished me. She had three bass in hand before I caught one. She landed the biggest, too. But more important, Uhrich did what I hoped — she reflected on a driven life. “Do I feel like I’ve made it?” she asked aloud. “The answer is I don’t know. I’ve accomplished a lot. I’m proud of what I’ve done. But I figure I have another 30 years ahead of me. The answer will come with time.”
Our fishing done, we stowed the rods and retreated to a log-cabin style restaurant down the pike from Brainerd International Raceway. Uhrich wore a sporty shirt peppered with the logos of her many sponsors. A woman approached her, and asked, “Are you a race car driver?”
“No ma’am,” she replied proudly. “I’m a professional angler.”
And a woman who has come a long way from peddling her bike to the Red River.
C.B. Bylander is a freelance writer from Baxter, Minn.