Theft of fishing equipment won’t stop nonprofit group in fulfilling its mission

Nonprofit organization won't let theft of fishing equipment get them down — they will continue their mission.

People fish during a Big Fish and Fry event from January 2017 in front of Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

A nonprofit organization geared to introduce people of all ages to outdoor activities in Minnesota, such as taking first-time anglers out fishing, was targeted by thieves.

An estimated $6,000 in fishing equipment was stolen two months ago from the nonprofit Ardent Outdoor Group. The organization uses the fishing equipment for its Big Fish and Fry program. Through this free program, the organization took about 100 children and adults fishing in January 2017 on Gull Lake in Brainerd. Participants had the opportunity to use the new equipment and receive one-on-one guidance from the seasoned anglers.

Ardent Outdoor Group was founded by Pat Walrath and Matt Wilkie and their main office is in Eagen, where the equipment was stolen. Wilkie has a Brainerd connection as he owns the Dive Guys, which is a diving company operated out of the Twin Cities and Brainerd that pulls lake weeds for property owners.

Walrath and Wilkie started the Big Fish and Fry program to introduce the next generations of anglers to the sport and share the respect they have for the outdoors. The program offers day outings across the state, as well as night trips to Red Lake and Mille Lacs Lake.

The organizers pay for all the expenses out of their pocket and it is free to those who participate in their programs. So having most of the organization’s fishing equipment stolen, which included about 30 fishing poles, pop-up fish houses, propane heaters, chairs, augers, underwater cameras and a trailer, was tough to swallow.


Wilkie realized the equipment was stolen mid-October when they were planning for their Ardent Archers program, an introductory program to archery and deer hunting for disabled veterans. They had an event planned in Brainerd and it was going to be cold outside, so he went to the storage trailer in Eagan to grab some space heaters and realized the equipment was gone.

“It was a blow, very disheartening,” Wilkie said in a telephone interview about the stolen equipment. “It’s a whole different kind of anger as it’s taking away from the kids. It’s frustrating, but we will move forward either way.”

Wilkie said even though it is unfortunate someone stole all the fishing equipment, he is not going to let it get in his group’s way of continuing its mission to bring the outdoor activities to children and veterans. Wilkie grew up in St. Paul and never fished until he was 20 years old. Walrath fished as a youngster, but knows that many don't have the ability to make it happen. Wilkie said their goal is to reach as many anglers as possible. They also provide this opportunity for veterans to show them gratitude for their service.

Wilkie said the nonprofit raised about $2,000 of the $6,000 lost, but needs to keep raising funds to replace all the fishing equipment stolen from them. They typically take first-timers out fishing in January and February, so hope to have all the new equipment by then.

Anyone who wants to donate to the organization may go online at or may call 651-497-8479 for more information.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

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