Going against the walleye current: Bass fishing catching on in North Dakota
MINOT, N.D. — Oh, my goodness, they are a fun fish to catch.
More and more North Dakotans are joining in the fun, too. Interest in bass fishing all across the state has been on the rise for the past several years. All indicators are that the upward trend will continue, the Minot Daily News reported.
In this walleye-crazy state, bass fishermen are viewed as a bit of an oddity by some, but the number of dedicated bass fishermen continues to grow. It’s not hard to understand why. Any angler who has hooked into a feisty smallmouth or leaping largemouth bass quickly realizes the abundance of fun on the end of their line.
North Dakota’s Badlands Bass Bandits formed in 2006, a small group of anglers who mostly learned their bass fishing skills elsewhere. They were the first organized bass fishermen in the state.
“I remember thinking I was crazy,” said Paul Reinbold, of Dickinson, who formed the Bandits. “I was originally from South Dakota and went to Dickinson State. “We had bass fishing tournaments in South Dakota where I grew up. When I came to North Dakota for college I discovered some good bass fishing here and missed tournament fishing.”
Reinbold spearheaded an effort to place fliers about forming a bass fishing club in locations in Bismarck, Minot and Dickinson. The fliers generated a few phone inquiries which led to the club’s first competitive event.
“It was on Raleigh Reservoir south of Bismarck. The weather was cold, rainy and windy,” said Reinbold. “That’s what started it all. Now people are hearing about what we are doing and it has really sparked a lot of interest. We’re getting more members all the time.”
While the Badlands Bass Bandits still carry the banner of the initial bass fishing club in the state, they have spawned interest in bass fishing all across North Dakota. Bass fishing clubs have formed in several cities.
“It’s certainly grown. It was always my goal to get a good club established,” said Reinbold.
From that first tournament in 2006 with just a handful of participants, bass fishing has indeed increased in popularity in the state. In 2016 the state hosted its first TBF, or The Bass Federation, event with the requirement that at least 50 boats must participate to achieve national recognition.
“We’ve made that mark every year,” explained Reinbold. “Our state team goes on to the semi-finals which includes Nebraska and South Dakota. From there the top guy from each state goes on to the national championship.”
Reinbold advanced to the TBF national event at Table Rock Lake in Missouri in 2017, finishing 24th in a field of 200 fishermen. The following year Cody Artz of Bismarck represented North Dakota at the TBF championship at Bull Shoals, Alabama. Artz finished 11th.
“He did a really good job,” said Reinbold.
While the skills of competitive bass fishing enthusiasts in the state has grown immensely since the formation of the Bass Bandits, evidence of the growth in the amount of North Dakota fishermen spending time on the water in pursuit of bass has become increasingly evident.
Drop-shotting, Carolina and Texas rigging are favorite and proven techniques for bass fishermen, but tackle for those presentations was hard to find in the state as recently as a few years ago. While “deep V” boats remain a mainstay for boat dealers, most manufacturers have various models of bass boats in their line-up and now, thanks to the increased interest in bass fishing, those models have begun showing up in dealer showrooms.
“Bass fishing is definitely growing,” said Reinbold. “When you go into bait and tackle shops in this state you are seeing more and more bass fishing tackle. Boat dealers even have a few bass boats now.”
Nationally, high school and university bass fishing continues to grow. Last year, for the first time, a high school fishing program was brought into the state under the banner of TBF. Two young Bismarck fishermen qualified for the high school national tournament held on Pickwick Lake in Alabama where one of the top prizes was a college scholarship.
“We’re doing that again this year. Our first qualifier was canceled by a snow storm so we moved it to June 1 at Lake Ashtabula,” said Reinbold. “The top six teams will go to state and the top team at state to the national again. It’s a program we are going to continue to keep pushing.”
There is a growing number of universities that recognize bass fishing as a competitive sport. While many of those institutions are located in areas where there is often open water year round, fishermen from northern states have shown they can cast right with them. Last year a Montana high school fisherman received 75% of his tuition paid for on a bass scholarship to a school in Michigan.
“I wish they had that stuff when I grew up,” remarked Reinbold.
While many of the state’s bass fishermen are “do-it-yourselfers,” those who join clubs often do so to learn from and exchange knowledge with other bass anglers. The Bass Bandits pride themselves in sharing information and ideas with fellow club members, many of whom establish lasting friendships. Newcomers, some who have belonged to other bass clubs elsewhere in the U.S., often remark about the great camaraderie among bass fishermen in North Dakota.
“We’re competitive but not too competitive,” explained Reinbold. “If someone shows up alone we’ll help them with their boat at the launch site and things like that. We like to visit and share stories too.”
There’s ample opportunities for bass fishing in North Dakota, something those who chose to give it a try soon learn. Initially many bass tournament were held on smaller bodies of water in the state where largemouth bass was the main quarry. However, as interest in tournament bass fishing grew and so did the corresponding number of boats, larger bodies of water, such as Lake Audubon, Lake Sakakawea and Lake Darling, have been better suited as tournament sites.
Those lakes are known for producing good numbers smallmouth bass. It has led to North Dakota anglers becoming very proficient at catching smallmouth, a change from the first few years of the Bass Bandits when smaller lakes and largemouth bass were the main challenge.
For Reinbold, and other bass fishermen, pursuing the most media attention getting fish in the country and learning a variety of ways to catch them is one of the most appealing aspects of bass fishing. However, as is the case with all fishing, there’s never one sure answer for every situation.
“That’s one of the fun things about fishing bass, putting that puzzle together,” remarked Reinbold. “The moment you think you know a lot you get your butt kicked. It’s very humbling.”