VERMILION DAM LODGE— The splash of musky lures on the water could be heard all across the west end of Lake Vermilion last Friday as 40 young people from around the state of Minnesota took part in …
VERMILION DAM LODGE— The splash of musky lures on the water could be heard all across the west end of Lake Vermilion last Friday as 40 young people from around the state of Minnesota took part in the annual state high school musky tournament.
I know… you’re probably wondering why musky fishing wasn’t a spring sport when you were in school. It’s a question Mike Riha gets all the time. For the past four years he’s been the organizer of this annual event, which just wrapped up its ninth year.
The event is organized by Muskies, Inc., a non-profit dedicated, in part, to educating young people about musky fishing and maintaining the resource. The Twin Cities-based Hugh C. Becker Foundation provides most of the funding for the event, which has been held at Vermilion Dam Lodge for the past four years. Becker was an avid musky fisherman and a founding member of the Twin Cities Muskies, Inc. chapter, one of 11 chapters in the state.
Each of those chapters can send up to two teams of local students to take part in the state tournament.
For the students taking part, the road to state tournament competition varies. Some chapters have just enough interest to send their allotted two teams, while other chapters attract lots of students. In those cases, local tournaments are typically held to determine who gets to compete at state. This year, a total of 104 students competed to go to state, with 40 qualifying for the event.
At the competition, the young anglers head out at the crack of dawn for eight hours of fishing. The young anglers are typically accompanied by a parent or an adult, who serves as a boat driver, not a guide. Generally, the team with the most inches of musky (over 30 inches) is the winner, and if not enough muskies are caught, northern pike can also put you on the scoreboard.
Many of the kids know their stuff when it comes to landing one of the state’s most challenging game fish. First place in this year’s tournament went to a two-student team from Lakeville, who landed a 46-1/2-inch and a 42-inch musky to win the trophy plaque and a new muskie rod.
For Riha, organizing the tournament is a labor of love. He’s an avid musky angler himself and as a retired high school math teacher from Coon Rapids, he’s long been focused on helping kids learn. He’s an active member of his local Muskies, Inc. chapter, but the time he devotes to the tournament is a purely volunteer gig. “One of our guiding principles is to help kids get into musky fishing,” said Riha. “Many of the kids over the years have been novices. They come to the competition and get all pumped up over musky fishing.”
As a former teacher, Riha also recognizes that the competition provides a wholesome activity for students who may not otherwise participate in extracurriculars. It fills a niche for some kids who are not athletes or in the fine arts, and have never participated in extracurriculars.
And thanks to such efforts, the splash of musky lures will likely continue to ripple across Minnesota lakes for generations to come.