On a boat in the middle of one of the lakes in the Jefferson chain near Mankato, the Farmington High School Fishing Team will compete in the first tournament of its inaugural season on June 21. The team is less than a year old and was founded last September by Andy Boyum of Mankato, a Farmington resident who has loved fishing almost his entire life and has been a competitive fisherman on and off since he was 14. He said he first came up with the idea for the team after a fortunate misunderstanding.
"It was last year actually, last summer," Boyum said. "There's a website where local bass fishermen can look for tournaments to fish in and I kept seeing seeing Southwest Metro, Northwest Metro, and I was thinking they were adult tournaments. So I contacted the director and he's like 'no, these are high school events'. And I thought 'oh that's cool'. I kind of knew that high school (events) existed but I didn't know how big it was in Minnesota."
Boyum said it was something he definitely would have participated in during high school so he reached out to Farmington High School and athletic/activities director Bill Tschida.
"I reached out to the high school to see if we even had one and I was actually surprised that we didn't and sort of just went from there," he said.
From there, Boyum contacted Minnesota Junior Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S) Nation, who sent a representative to Farmington and gave a presentation to those interested in being part of the team. Registration started in November of 2018 and the team now consists of 36 kids who are incoming freshmen through just-graduated seniors. The team is not an official sport of Farmington High School and is not recognized by the Minnesota State High School League. Instead, they are affiliated with FHS but considered an activity/club with limited involvement from the school.
Boyum was soon joined by Jamie Chapman, who has a son on the team.
"Andy, dealing with 36 kids all on his own at the beginning was just not realistic," she said. "And finding sponsorships and stuff like that, I have a little bit of experience in fundraising so I reached out to him and said 'hey, when you do fundraising and stuff like that let me know and I'll help you out'. Then I just kind of got pulled in. And now here I am."
Chapman said her son has always enjoyed fishing but that there were limited opportunities in terms of organization.
"Just to have something for these kids who are not superstar athletes,' she said. "There are scholarships involved with these tournaments and it just gives them something to be a part of. To be a part of a team. It's good for them. They can just find a place for their passion."
They are working on becoming a non-profit organization and continue to search for sponsors. They have a mix of local, regional and national sponsors for the team, most of which are product-based rather than cash donations. The boat company Alumacraft supports the Minnesota Junior B.A.S.S. nation of which the team is a part and also helped pay for the team's jerseys, while Arsenal Fishing helped produce and design them.
Participants compete in teams of two on a boat that is driven by an adult volunteer, so with full attendance Farmington's 36 members will be split into 18 teams.
"We've been lucky and fortunate that the majority of our team members this year, at least one of the partners has a boat in their family," Boyum said.
The teams fish from 7 am-1 pm and are allowed to keep five bass. The competition is based on total weight, so the goal is to catch the five heaviest bass possible. They are allowed to cycle through whatever they catch and release previous ones in favor of heavier bass, so it is not just the first five that they catch. At each regional tournament, the two-person teams earn points and at the end of the season the team with the most points are regional champions. The top 11 teams then advance to the state tournament in August outside of Alexandria. Boyum said he hopes they will qualify at least three teams for the state competition.
Safety is the highest priority. Contestants must wear life jackets and all of Farmington's competitors have passed a boat safety course. The volunteer captains of the boats are all adults who have undergone background checks and meet a minimum threshold of insurance. The competitors are not allowed to drive the boats except to help put them in or take them out of the water. The volunteers are only allowed to drive the boat, offer general advice and can only physically help in the case of things like tangles or snags.
Fishing got underway in early May during the team's first official team scrimmage. Their first event practice happened last week and their first of three tournaments is Friday, June 21. The team is part of the Greater South region that includes teams like Rosemount, St. Peter, Worthington and others, though Boyum says he expects them to switch regions next season. Their tournaments are primarily in a large triangle between Hutchinson, Mankato and Faribault. The three Minnesota Junior B.A.S.S. National Greater South regional tournaments Farmington will compete in are June 21 at the Jefferson chain of lakes outside of Mankato, July 12 on Lake Cannon and Lake Wells by Faribault and then July 19 at Lake Washington and Lake Stella north of Hutchinson. The state tournament is August 24-25 at the Le Homme Dieu chain outside of Alexandria.
If you're out on the water around Farmington or at one of the above tournaments, Farmington will be wearing white long-sleeve t-shirts with the team logo and sponsors on it. They went in a wildly different direction than most fishing teams or other Farmington teams and the results were spectacular.
"Our jerseys are so colorful and there is so much on them, we still wanted our logo to stand out, to not get lost in there," Chapman said. "I think when you have just a bass jumping out of the water, it can get lost in there, because you have other fishing logos surrounding it."
Their logo is a bright orange octopus with mean eyes, an almost skull-like head and fish hooks on the ends of its tentacles. It's definitely hard to miss.
"The reason we went with it (the octopus), fishermen are hunters, same concept," Boyum said. "The octopus is one of the most adaptive, stealthy creature hunters in the ocean. They're super intelligent, they can blend in, there's a lot of stuff about the octopus which I guess I never even realized."
Registration for the 2020 season opens on September 1.