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Brainerd Warriors win state high school SAF fishing championship

Keegan Decker and Cody Czech from the Brainerd Warrior Fishing team brought in a four-fish limit of Mille Lacs Lake bass that weighed 16.83 pounds to win the Minnesota State Championship July 31 at Mac's Twin Bay Resort in Isle. The win earned th...

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Keegan Decker and Cody Czech from the Brainerd Warrior Fishing team brought in a four-fish limit of Mille Lacs Lake bass that weighed 16.83 pounds to win the Minnesota State Championship July 31 at Mac's Twin Bay Resort in Isle. The win earned them championship titles, trophies and a slot in the Central Conference Regional Championship to be held in Lawrenceburg, Ind., in September.

Hearing pearls of wisdom from top anglers in the country like Al Lindner, Tony Roach and Steve Quinn seems to have paid off for young anglers in the Brainerd lakes area. The Brainerd Warriors Fishing Team claimed five of the top seven placings at the annual SAF State Championship and all five will move on to the regional tournament in Indiana.

According to Brainerd's fishing coach Jason Bahr, the team had opportunities to hear talks from area fishing pros about the waters they would fish, and most were able to prefish the lake. The team's commitment to not just listen but follow through has shown through into competition.

"I think a lot of our success is our commitment to the team," Bahr said.

Less than 1 pound separated the top six teams in the event hosted by the Minnesota Bass Federation. With 70 teams setting a new record for the annual SAF State Championship the anglers were trying to get one of seven qualifying berths to the fall Conference Regional Championship.

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The Brainerd pair edged out the duo of Matt Stearns and Reid Saarella from the Lakeville North Panthers Fishing team with a limit of bass weighing in at 16.75 pounds for the runner-up spot.

The battle for regional qualifying berths stayed close as the team of Mathew Olsen and Jared Deelstra followed closely behind with 16.68 pounds to finish third and just ahead of another Brainerd team of Tyler Czech and Noah Day who had a limit that weighed 16.67 pounds to finish in the fourth position.

Coming in fifth place was Noah Peterson and Gaven Roberts, also of Brainerd, who brought in 16.52 pounds for the day. The Brainerd dominance continued as the final two qualifying spots went to Warrior teams of Austin Neyens and Tyler Bahr, and Kyle Bahr and Troy Peterson.

Those two teams had 16.35 pounds and 15.73 pounds respectively to round out the regional qualifying berths.

"This is by far our best tournament yet," Bahr said.

Brainerd showed up in force, representing 32 of the 65 boats on the water. Bahr said all the teams that made it to regionals were teams that made the 15-mile trip across the big lake to the north side, where the action was better.

"The bite was in 12 to 15 feet of water fishing on the rocks," Bahr said.

Bahr noted that good fishing seems to run in the family as two sets of brothers on different teams took top spots. Those include Cody and Tyler Czech, and Kyle and Tyler Bahr.

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In true fishing story fashion, coach Bahr recalled that the anglers in his boat would have likely taken the championship had it not been for the one that got away.

As coach Bahr tells it, Tyler Bahr, who was fishing with Austin Neyens, hooked into a nice bass at least a pound ahead of the biggest fish in the boat. Tyler dropped the fish in the livewell, but the fish had other plans and flopped out of the livewell and back into the lake. It would have put the team in the lead, but it didn't keep them from advancing.

The 2016 Minnesota State Championship was a two-person (team) event for students in grades 7-12. The top 10 percent from each TBF/FLW state championship field and the top three teams from each of the seven TBF/FLW Opens will advance to a Conference Championship event. The top 10 percent of each conference championship field will then advance to the High School Fishing National Championship, in the spring of 2017. The High School Fishing national champions will each receive a $5,000 scholarship to the school of their choice.

The TBF/FLW Northern Open is Aug. 14 back at Mac's Twin Bay Resort in Isle. The event will conclude the regional qualifying opportunities for 2016 and it's open to all SAF anglers across the country.

Junior state championship

Before the high school tournament was the 2016 Junior TBF Tournament on Knife Lake, south of Isle. The Pequot Lakes Northern Lakes Junior Bandits team member Hunter Wendt, 13, scored the top place in the state and is the sole Minnesota angler to move on to the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup, the national junior fishing tournament. The date and location of that tournament has not yet been named.

Like Brainerd, this is just the second year of competition for Pequot Lakes anglers. Wendt has been involved in the team both years and fishing since he was 4.

There was a five-fish limit for the tourney, but it only took Hunter two fish as he also caught the biggest bass on the day, a 5.09 lunker. He had a total of 7.35 pounds.

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He was in disbelief that his two fish got him the win.

"It was really tough fishing," Wendt said. "I thought I had no chance with just two fish."

He said with muddy water and a recent rise in the lake levels, fish were very shallow.

"I fished crankbaits almost the whole time," he added.

Wendt has started researching fishing in the south and looks forward to the opportunities to learn from more pros at the national tournament.

Another Pequot Lakes angler, Dawson Rickard took third place in the tournament with a total of 6.86 pounds.

Brainerd had one junior angler in the top five. Will Carlson earned fourth place. Coach Bahr said that the junior championship was a tough fish as over half the anglers did not even bring in a fish to weigh.

There were 30 junior anglers from the state competing for the honor to move on to the national tournament.

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