Summer is supposed to signify a nice change of pace for high school athletes.
With the combination of no school and no after-school activities, the two- to three-month stretch is typically reserved for relaxation above all else — aside from brief summer training camps. So, if a coach was going to convince a group of kids to take up an additional sport during their time off, well, it had better be one that's both laid-back and enjoyable.
Luckily for the Northfield fishing coach Craig Johnson, his sport checked both boxes. It's the first summer of Northfield's fishing team, which started its season a few weeks after school let out and recently wrapped up the regular season, although three boats, and possibly four, will compete at the state tournament Aug. 24-25 at the Alexandria chain of lakes.
As far as inaugural seasons go, Johnson feels like this was a success, with 19 kids competing throughout the summer to fill nine two-angler boats for competitions. Some of the participants are athletes throughout the rest of the school year. For others, fishing is the first activity they've participated in.
For those like Gavin Anderson, the team served an instructional purpose.
“That was the main reason I joined the fishing team," Anderson said. "Just to learn more.”
The first season was aided by Johnson selling real estate on the team's jerseys to local businesses, as well as parents and other community members lending boats for competitions and practices.
For the most part, that help hasn't been hard to find.
“That’s been the comment I’ve heard from so many people, so many adults, ‘Why didn’t they have this when I was a kid,’" Johnson said before turning to the group of Anderson, Chase Murphy, Connor Nagy and Carter Seely. "I think you guys are lucky to have a passion and to be able to compete.”
The top three boats this year for the Raiders was filled by Ryan Will and Owen Halls, Anderson and Darrin Kuyper, as well as Murphy and Seely, who will all be at state.
For that group, while the sport was definitely still more laid-back, it did require bits of extra effort.
“It’s just starting fresh and going to a new lake," Nagy said. "For these you have to pre-fish to really place, so you have to go in with a different mindset and find one pattern and then find your backup pattern. You have to figure out the fish; you have to account for the weather. It’s a different type of fishing.”
The goal is to catch the five heaviest fish you can in a day, meaning if one area's not biting, you quickly have to readjust to a plan B.
“If you find a spot with big fish and you catch one every hour, let’s say, you’re going to stay there and try to catch a big fish," Murphy said. "If you’re at a spot and you’re only catching a little one here and there, you’re going to try and find those bigger fish.”
That's been the best part of the summer for most of Northfield's anglers: learning new techniques on how to better enjoy a hobby. Those pieces of wisdom ranged from learning the best way to spot the patterns of where fish tend to cluster depending on the weather, to adjusting their lures and bait to best entice a fish to bite.
Sometimes, it was even simpler than that.
“Always bring your rain gear," Nagy said. "That’s a big one.”