BEMIDJI -- The first line in the water for the Bemidji High School fishing team was more than a year in the making.
Members of the team started making waves during the 2017-18 school year when they began working to establish a program. Their efforts have been rewarded this summer with a first-year startup.
“It took pretty much the whole school year last year to go before the school board to get the approval to actually start this,” coach Chris Haley said. “We were able to work all summer. (The kids) would come up to my office and we’d sit down to go over what they wanted out of this, where they wanted to see it go, how we wanted to do this.”
The ground floor was an important place for students to get on board.
“I had seen other teams popping up around the area. I wanted to be a part of that,” soon-to-be senior Jacob Slough said. “I hopped on with (Haley) in the early stages of it coming together, and I’ve been with it ever since.”
The team has 10 members to make up five two-man teams: Nolan Rutledge, Tyler Simon, Logan Jensen, Connor Savard, Logan Sathre, Nathan Vleck, Kyle Martens, Tanner Rebischke, Andrew Lapp and Slough.
“I’ve fished my whole life. It’s something me and my dad go out and do every day,” said Lapp, a soon-to-be junior. “Once I heard what Chris was starting up, I wanted to join in. … (My dad) was like, ‘Hey, let’s jump on this.’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a whirl.’ And we’re here now.”
The season runs from June through September and consists of competition every other weekend along the Student Angler Tournament Trail.
The Lumberjacks fished Gull Lake on June 1 and Lake Minnetonka on June 16, and next up is Leech Lake on Sunday, June 30. It’s the latest opportunity to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, which is reserved for teams within the top 10 percent of all finishers in each event.
“It’s the one that you strive for,” Haley said. “It’s definitely a feather in every high school kid’s cap to be in the top 10 percent of those tournaments.”
Haley also advises the Bemidji State fishing team, and with 25 years of angling under his belt, he’s now helped jumpstart the fledgling prep program with the needed know-how.
“We’ve been working on this for more than a year, and we’re finally just getting it going now,” Slough said. “I’m still learning a lot of things from Chris and the other guys as far as fishing goes. There’s a lot more of that to come for the rest of the summer now.”
The Minnesota State High School League currently doesn’t recognize fishing as one of its sanctioned sports, but Haley said he hopes to see that change within the next year. But even still, the program’s progress has already resulted in an outpouring of support.
“It’s really turning into something neat,” Haley said. “… The (Bemidji) community has been so great about coming on board with all of this.”
The team is also providing an opportunity for its members to gain a shared experience that otherwise wouldn’t be as feasible.
“It’s awesome having a group of guys that love fishing as much as I do. I can go out there and just enjoy the day,” Slough said. “It’s a blast having guys around you the whole time who love to be out there on the water and have fun with it.”
And though the program still has plenty of room to grow, its beginning has also been a worthwhile journey.
“You get your name out there, for sure, and you get to fish,” Lapp said. “You can never go wrong when you get to fish, especially when it’s what you love to do.”