WHEN JASON BAHR DECIDED TO START A BRAINERD HIGH SCHOOL FISHING TEAM LAST SPRING, he knew there would be some interest out there.
After all, we live in Lake Country. Fishing, to some, is as natural as breathing.
Bahr himself likes to fish in tournaments. In his research, Bahr learned that 60 percent of kids who become members of high school fishing teams aren’t involved in other sports, like football and soccer. He saw a need for something like this for kids in Brainerd, a way to foster a love of the outdoors in a sport that lasts a lifetime. Bahr spoke with coaches of other high school fishing teams in the southern part of the state, where most teams had about twenty participants, so he knew he’d be able to have enough kids for a team, including his sons, Kyle, 13, and Tyler, 12.
“He thought, why doesn’t Brainerd, of all places, have a high school fishing team,” Kyle said, of his dad.
Bahr, with help from friend and volunteer “Walleye” Dan Eigen, a local fishing guide and personality, went to work on making this club team a reality. Eigen’s son, Mac, 13, is on the team.
In its inaugural season last year, the Brainerd Warrior team had a whooping 77 students in seventh- through 12th-grade join the team. They are the largest high school team in the nation.
“That is pretty amazing,” Eigen said. “I’m not surprised because we live in this awesome area that is loaded with lakes and people who love to fish. It’s not that surprising, but it is amazing how fast it all came together.”
Not only that, the team did well last year—Brainerd kids took four of the top five spots at the state high school fishing tournament on Lake Mille Lacs. They had sixteen two-person teams qualify for state. Two team members, Kyle Bahr, and Logan Beto, a BHS sophomore, competed at regionals in Illinois. With Eigen’s help, the team also secured team sponsorships with national and local companies that would make most professional anglers envious. The sponsorships helped them buy team jerseys, as well as fishing gear for team members who can’t afford it.
Jason Bahr said his team members are enthusiastic about the sport. One team member, who is not old enough to drive, built his own trailer to pull a canoe behind his bike in order to bike down to a nearby lake to fish, said Bahr.
The team competed in four fishing tourneys last summer. When the team ventures out fishing, each two-member boat needs a “boat captain,” a volunteer fishing guide or local angler who volunteers his or her boat and time to help them fish.
“All these kids are just so into it,” Eigen said. “I knew
it was going to be one of those things that sticks. When I was a kid, I played every sport and I hunted and fished, too. But if there was a fishing team, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“It’s been really fun,” said Lexi Ruggles, 14, Brainerd, who, along with her twin brother, Zach, is on the team. “You never know what you’re going to catch.”