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Brainerd Warrior team completes 2017 fishing trail in top spot

Competitors in the2017 Brainerd Warriors High School Fishing Trail. Submitted photo1 / 2
Alex Stirewalt (left), Joe Stolski and Tom Whitehead celebrate Stirewalt and Stolski's first-place finish in the 2017 Brainerd Warriors High School Fishing Trail. Submitted photo2 / 2

On Sunday, Oct. 1, 50 of Minnesota's best high school bass anglers converged on Bay Lake to compete in the last stop on the 2017 Brainerd Warriors High School Fishing Trail. The top prize for the winning two-person team was a brand new Lund bass boat provided by the Power Lodge.

Throughout the summer, over 150 youth anglers from around the state competed for chances to earn an invitation to last Sunday's coveted final event. The top five finishers from each event held on Gull Lake, Lake Minnewaska, Lake Minnetonka, Lake Pokegema and the Whitefish Chain claimed invitations to this exciting finale.

On tournament Sunday teams battled each other as well as the Brainerd area's first glimpse of fall weather. Winds in excess of 25 mph, downpouring rain and bitter cold morning temperatures made for tough fishing conditions. The kids would not be deterred, however, and actually did quite well. Overall, the 25 team field registered 299 bass having a combined weight of nearly 430 pounds. The largest fish caught was 3 pounds, 4 ounces.

Joe Stolski and Alex Stirewalt, both of Brainerd, captured the top spot and the Lund boat with a total weight of 44 pounds, 1 ounces. Jacob and Jon Novak of Becker were a close second with a total weight of 42 pounds 7 ounces. Third place went to the Grand Rapids team of Easton Fothergill and Thomas Olsen with 36 pounds, 6 ounces. Solomon and Nehemiah Glenn of Lakeville and Nathan Bujarski and Neil Oden of Becker rounded out the top 5.

Each of this year's events incorporated a new fishing tournament format designed to enhance the spectator experience as well as preserve the health of the fish. The new Catch Record Release (CRR) format incorporates the use of technology to record tournament scoring data. CRR requires each fish to be photographed in the boat on a handheld scale and immediately released. The photo and fish weight data is then uploaded to the cloud for processing by a specialized phone application. Real-time statistics calculated from data uploaded directly from the boat allows fellow anglers and spectators to follow a virtual leader board throughout the day via their own mobile device or other internet connection.

"The pressure is like none I have ever felt before," Stolski said when asked about the tournament. "Competing for new boat is a big deal, but to know exactly how far ahead or behind we were all day added another dimension I was not expecting."

Stirewalt said Stolski was checking his phone app nearly every other cast in the closing hour of the event. It literally came down to the last few minutes before it was clear which team had won the boat.

Veteran tournament angler and event boat captain, Tom Whitehead, had a front row seat to the action.

"I had one of the most rewarding days on the water ever in my 37 year tournament career, and I never made a cast," Whitehead shared as he reflected on his experience coaching Stolski and Stirewalt to victory. Each team is required to have an adult present in the boat to ensure safety and provide mentoring to the youth anglers.

On behalf of all the participants, the Brainerd Warriors Fishing Team extends a special thank you to Ruttgers Bay Lake Lodge for hosting Sunday's championship event and to Classic Bass, which volunteered to run the tournament.

"It's simple, Classic Bass is committed to supporting youth fishing in Minnesota and providing a professional feel to these events," owner Scott Bonnama said. Bonnama and his team did just that as he invited the top finishers up on stage and interviewed them about their day just like the elite pros do at the nation's largest fishing tournaments.

Planning has already started for the 2018 High School Fishing Trail and the organizers are committed to making it bigger and better next year. If you or your school are interested in starting or joining a high school fishing team, you can visit for more information.