Fishing leagues gain popularity among student anglers
Established in 2019, the Lake Agassiz High School Fishing League is on track to have nearly 200 students from nine different schools participating during the 2022 season.
FARGO — High school fishing leagues have become a popular activity for Minnesota students in recent years, and a North Dakota-based fishing league now in its fourth season is following a similar trend.
Established in 2019, the Lake Agassiz High School Fishing League is on track to have nearly 200 students from nine different schools participating during the 2022 season, Kyle Agre, league president, said.
That’s about double from the inaugural season, Agre says. Teams participating in the upcoming league season are from Fargo North, Fargo South, Davies, West Fargo, Sheyenne, Horace, Central Cass, Oak Grove and Shanley high schools.
The league is the first of its kind in North Dakota.
“We have teams that are all the way from 10 or 12 students to 50, so there’s a lot of size range,” Agre said.
A longtime member of the F-M Walleyes Unlimited fishing club, Agre said the Lake Agassiz High School Fishing League is patterned after similar programs in Minnesota, including the Heart O’ Lakes Fishing League, which includes about 20 schools in western Minnesota lakes country, along with high school fishing programs in Brainerd and Bemidji.
According to a recent article on the Mississippi Headwaters Board website, more than 5,000 young anglers participate in youth fishing league programs across Minnesota.
The goal of the Agassiz league, Agre says, is to expand youth fishing opportunities beyond take-a-kid-fishing events. Young anglers today could be F-M Walleyes club leaders tomorrow.
“(F-M Walleyes) has done a lot to promote youth fishing, and a lot of their efforts concentrated on maybe some of the younger kids,” Agre said. Giving junior high and high school-age anglers the opportunity to participate in a fishing league increases the odds they’ll stay with the sport, he says, and F-M Walleyes embraced the challenge.
“Any time you’re going to start something, if you want to be successful, you have to have the right people, and so we kind of rallied a group of people, and we all put our heads together and figured out how to make this happen,” Agre said.
Happen it did – even with the challenge of a global pandemic.
“We’re very fortunate,” Agre said. “The people are what make it happen – our leaders, our boat captains, our parents, our school administrators and our sponsors. Everybody has a part in making it work and it’s just been great.”
About the league
The league consists of two divisions: A Varsity Division for young anglers who want a higher level of competition in a more realistic tournament environment, and an Open Division, in which the focus is on the learning and the experience of fishing and boating.
Varsity Division teams fish the same lake on the same night with a rotation of lakes throughout the season. Anglers in the Open Division, by comparison, rotate between three lakes over the course of the season with events on all three lakes each night.
Scoring is the same in both divisions, with points awarded based on length for bluegills, crappies, bass, walleyes and pike or muskies; fish are worth anywhere from 1 to 6 points, depending on their length. The league uses the popular FishDonkey virtual tournament fishing app for documenting fish using a catch-record-release format.
A championship event wraps up the season, and teams in the Open Division compete on the same lake for the championship. Participants also compete for Angler of the Year honors based on the number of points they accumulate throughout the season.
This year’s league season begins Tuesday, June 7, with a kickoff event on North Dakota’s Lake Ashtabula. League nights then move to Minnesota, with events from 6 to 9 p.m. June 21, July 12 and July 26 on various lakes in Becker and Otter Tail counties.
The Varsity Division championship is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2, on Lake Lida in Otter Tail County, and the Open Division finale is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 2 on Big Cormorant Lake in Becker County.
The goal, Agre says, is to keep the lakes within about an hour’s drive of the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“We don’t want to put pressure on our boat captains to take more time off work,” he said. “If we’re traveling two hours, that kind of puts a different picture on things.”
‘Trial by fire’
Andrew Shae, a league organizer and treasurer of F-M Walleyes, said there were plenty of unknowns going into the inaugural season in 2019, which he described as “trial by fire.”
“We didn’t know how many kids we were going to have, we didn’t know what kind of support there would be outside the people in that room,” Shae said. “We knew right away we were going to need a lot of volunteer support.”
The leadership group consists of about a dozen people, a number that includes coaches, assistants and others. In addition, league events require “between 70 and 80” boat captains who volunteer their services.
“We’re always looking for boat captains,” Shae said. “If anybody ever wanted to know more about that, we’d be happy to sit down and talk to them about how it works. Even if it’s one event or they have a cabin on a lake and they’re like, ‘Hey, I’ll do it, but you’ve got to do it on the lake I’m on,’” that can probably be arranged.
With its fourth season on the horizon, the Lake Agassiz High School Fishing League has drawn anglers from a variety of demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, Agre says.
“We’re very pleased,” Agre said. “We’ve been well represented with female student anglers. When we look at where most of our kids fall, they’re probably in the 7th through 10th grade. Some of the real dedicated ones stick with it as juniors and seniors, but it probably thins out as they get into those upper high school grades because they just start getting pulled in so many different directions.
“But those are the kids that have the opportunity to be leaders in the league, as well.”
The participation fee for the Agassiz league is $50 per student, which includes transportation to and from the lake and helps cover insurance costs, gear and prizes.
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Tournaments offer additional youth fishing opportunities
FARGO – The growing popularity of youth fishing leagues also has spawned additional tournament opportunities.
Among them is the Student Angler Tournament Trail, a bass tournament circuit for Minnesota students that provides an even higher level of tournament experience. SATT events this year are set for June 5 on Lake Mille Lacs, June 12 on Lake Minnetonka, June 26 on Leech Lake, July 10 on the Gull Lake chain, July 24 on Mille Lacs, Aug. 7 on Pools 4 and 5 of the Mississippi River, Aug. 21 on Lake Vermillion and the state team finale set for Sept. 10-11 on Big Stone Lake.
The maker of Lund boats also offers a Lund Virtual Fishing League, with virtual fishing events set for May 22, June 5, June 19, July 17 and Aug. 14 on any lake or river that’s accessible to the public. Teams can consist of two young anglers with a boat captain or one young angler and one adult. Teams in the app-based league can fish any body of water of their choosing and compete against the other teams.
In North Dakota, Lake Region State College in Devils Lake this summer is hosting a student angler tournament, dubbed “REEL’M IN,” set for July 29-30 on Devils Lake. Walleye pro, fishing guide and fishing educator Johnnie Candle is directing and hosting the event. Student teams may enter at https://bit.ly/royalreelmin . For more information, contact Candle at (701) 371-9431 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Brad Dokken