Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Thursday, January 26th, 2023

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High school fishing: Foundation for the future? – Part 1

Examining this growing sport: Part 1


During my lifetime in the fishing industry, I’ve seen several efforts to increase youth participation in sport angling. Some have shown promise, but fallen by the wayside; others have failed for financial reasons or organizational problems.


But during the past three years, I’ve been impressed with the growth of fishing teams for students of high school age and younger. I see this trend as a very exciting opportunity, with the potential to inspire the future leaders of this sport who will replace us veterans who have been deeply involved for so many years.


I recently had a great chat about these programs with Jason Bahr, coach of the Brainerd Warrior Fishing Team, the squad representing the high school and middle school in Brainerd. I asked him probing questions, and his responses provide background and a path forward. I’ll present the discussion in a two-part, question-and-answer format.


Lindner: Let’s start with the growth of youth fishing.


Bahr: I started coaching the Brainerd Fishing Team five years ago and we’ve grown from about 60 kids to about 130 right now. Statewide, well over 3,000 youth participate in these programs. I couldn’t have imagined this growth in such a short time.


Lindner: Whenever we see meteoric growth like this, various problems and challenges can arise. What issues have you had to face?


Bahr: Right, with our events growing fast, there’s potential for heavy fishing pressure on bodies of water, as well as filling up boat access areas. In Minnesota, our statewide events have more than 100 teams participating, and in some Southern states, they may surpass 300. We’re working on a number of solutions, such as dividing the state into regions and conducting more small qualifying regional events. They’re more manageable and ease travel demands on families.


Questions about insurance coverage were addressed by the umbrella insurance coverage provided by The Bass Federation and its youth affiliate, Student Angler Federation that comes with membership.


Lindner: How do you handle teams that may include novices who’ve hardly fished, along with 17- or 18-year olds, who may have grown up fishing with their family?


Bahr: We plan to address this problem, since we want to avoid intimidating inexperienced anglers, which could lead them to quit. To grow the sport, we need to recruit kids and turn them into lifetime anglers. We want to establish narrower age groups, such as is done in high school athletics with freshman, JV, and varsity teams.


Lindner: How about potential biological problems like overharvest?


Bahr: One positive step has been the widespread use of the Catch-Record-Release format in our team events, whereby fish are recorded and released where they were caught. A boat captain records length or weight, or the fish can be photographed on a measuring board. 


Lindner: I’ve often felt there’s too much emphasis on bass fishing. What about multispecies options?


Bahr: While the state tournaments target bass, we conduct events for all species. We established a point system so, for example, a 10-inch bluegill is equal in points to a 20-inch bass. Fish are measured, recorded, and released. Multispecies fishing teaches the students about seasonal patterns of different species and how to understand habitat. It gets the kids problem-solving, an important skill in fishing and in many aspects of life. We also stage ice-fishing events for all species.


In the second part of my interview with Jason Bahr, we’ll examine how youth fishing teams are recruiting new anglers, both young old, and also look at what’s needed to bring these programs to the next educational level for dedicated anglers and future leaders of our sport.

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