by Bret Amundson
We were here for a fishing tournament. What happened was much more. Welcome to the MN Fishing Challenge 2015.
I knew that proceeds from this tournament went to a good cause. The MN Teen and Adult Challenge (MNTC) benefits people who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and this tournament raises a good chunk of change to goes towards that battle. But it was seeing the people that it benefits up close and in person that really tugs at your fishing line.
Teens and adults from the Minneapolis and Brainerd locations of MNTC offered testimony and volunteered all weekend. Clad in blue shirts but with visible hearts on their sleeves, these men courageously stood up in front of a tent full of fisherman and spoke of depression, drug use and dark times in their lives. Adversity that most people have a hard enough time admitting to themselves, let alone to a group of strangers standing on a beach.
But that’s what they did. They wanted us to know that what we were doing was saving lives. Ultimately, that’s what MN Teen and Adult Challenge sets out to do.
“You’re fishing for fun (and) you’re fishing to save lives,” said Jim Kalkofen during the weigh-in on the beach at Cragun’s Resort. “The fisherman like Gull Lake because there’s a few fish in here and they bite, but more than that, they like raising funds by talking their friends and their church family and their business associates.”
Raising funds indeed. Last year, this tournament raised $221,000 through entry fees, donations, raffles and more. Would it be topped in 2015?
“We’re putting this money 100% to a good cause and that cause is people’s lives,” Kalkofen continued. “Getting them out of the addictions to drugs and alcohol. And it’s making a difference. The fisherman this year set a record, we raised over $250,000 in one day of fishing!”
It just goes to show you that people in the outdoors are constantly doing the right thing. Whether in conservation of wildlife or conservation of people.
“Money keeps coming in, people keep walking up to me and giving me checks. They can keep doing that all year!” Kalkofen added.
The fundraising turned out to be better than the fishing, (and that’s ok0. Jamie Dietman and I were on the water at 6:30 waiting for the 7:00 am start. We’d begin with shiners, trying to coax a walleye up from the depths. Lindy-rigging in 10 – 30 feet of water and while fish were marked, they weren’t hungry. It’s possible the cold front that blew through gave them all lockjaw.
Well, almost all anyway, Al Linder’s team had three bites and turned those into the three winning walleyes. A few others would surface among other boats, but most of the 125 teams would turn to bass, pike and panfish.
Jamie was quick to put a 16″ largemouth in the live well and we’d hope some big pike would keep it company. Minnows weren’t working so we tried spinner baits. They went over as well as “new” coke, so we went shallow: Jamie with a jig and leech while I went with a small, white plastic on a crappie jig.
Bluegills were finding his leech appealing, while my bobber kept sinking each time it hit the water, with 10″ crappies pulling it under. It seemed as though the mixed-bag category would be our best bet.
We had a bass, crappie and a bonus rock on board, so pike and walleyes were again our targets.
The walleye would never come, but I’d find a few pike on an old stand by lure: my trusty blue 7″ Rapala.
I’ve caught more fish of varied species on that crank bait and I felt I needed it’s familiar wobble beneath the surface. I also went with the bigger lure with hopes that a bigger fish would eat it.
Soon a 24″ pike inhaled it like chicken wing and we were one step closer to our goal.
Then something knocked that breadstick-sized lure sideways and I happily set the hook. The explosiveness of the strike excited me, yet the retrieve did not. The fish rolled it’s way in and soon I was releasing a largemouth bass that measured nearly the same length as the bait.
What was he thinking?
That would about conclude our tourney fish for the day. A few more small bass and pike would come topside, but nothing big enough to increase our bag weight.
At least we looked good. We were in Jamie’s brightly-colored boat, with a “Pink Boats For Hope” wrap. We’d fish along with another “Pink” team of Kevin Kerklivet and Stefanie Hurt from W.I.N.K. (Women in Need of Kindness).
From most accounts, the fishing was similar for other boats, but not a single fisherman complained. Because today, these men, women and children were fishers of men instead of fisherman.