All women invited to join for fishing, friendship and helping others
By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
More than one-third of Minnesota is represented by members in Women Anglers of Minnesota (WAM), which is celebrating 35 years of friendship, fun and teaching the joy of fishing.
Members of WAM live in 30 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, but Kristen Merwin, vice president and tournament chair, would like to reenergize WAM by pulling in members from the rest of the state.
“We hope to get new members interested, and in more than just our annual tournament,” Merwin said. “This is a way to connect with other women anglers.”
“Even though we do not see some of the members for a year between tournaments, we pick up where we leave off. It’s really fun,” she said.
Women Anglers was started in 1977 by seven women who wanted a way for women to fish together. It is the oldest active fishing organization for women in the United States.
“They were a group of housewives who got together, wanting to leave the men out of fishing,” said Merwin. “They started planning fishing trips together.”
“I signed up for the tournament and was ‘hooked,’” she said. “I joined WAM in 2008.”
“As much as I love fishing, it’s the social aspects of the organization that I like the most,” said Merwin.
“The ladies in this group are so welcoming. They are so giving to their communities. When I was new they flocked to me to see if I was aware of tournament events and if I was comfortable,” she said. “It was amazing. They are great ladies.”
Julie Lane, WAM’s president, found the group at the Minneapolis Sports Show several years ago and immediately became very heavily involved.
“I loved what they stood for, teaching women and children across the state about fishing and protecting the environment,” said Lane.
A member since 1986, Jean Beisner had been looking for other women to fish with. She found a club meeting notice in her local newspaper.
“I went to the meeting and found it was exactly what I was looking for,” said Beisner.
“What made it so important for me was that my mother and I had fished together forever and we joined Women Anglers together,” she said. “Then my daughter turned 18 about the time my mother couldn’t fish anymore, so WAM events have been very special family bonding times for me.”
WAM holds an annual fundraising tournament, with the location changing every two years. This year, and again in 2013, it will be in Paynesville at the Bug-Bee Hive Resort on Lake Koronis.
Locations are chosen based on the following criteria: a lake of at least 1,000 acres accommodating up to 75 boats; a community with accommodations for participants and shore crew; headquarters (usually a resort) that can accommodate the other needs of the tournament such as a weighing-in area, adequate dock space, portable potties, etc., and nearby banquet facilities.
The most common locations for the tournament have been Lake Osakis, Park Rapids – Fish Hook Lake, Woman Lake near Hackensack and Paynesville – Lake Koronis.
“The tournament is always held on the first weekend in June, which is early in the season,” said Lane. “That way, we’re not filling up a resort during its busier times.”
WAM also holds quarterly social gatherings for members to get together and talk fishing.
There is an annual fall fishing trip to Schuster’s Resort on Lake of the Woods. The number of members participating varies every year between about six to 30 women.
Upcoming fishing trips that are already scheduled include a launch trip from Twin Pines Resort on Mille Lacs Lake July 28 and this year’s Lake of the Woods trip Sept. 21-23.
No one has to be a professional angler to join; they just need to be interested in the sport of angling. Members do not even need to live in Minnesota. There are members from California, Missouri and Tennessee, as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Members come in all ages. “We have at least two three-generation family groups with grandma, mom and granddaughters as members,” Merwin said.
Many members have their own boats, or use their husbands’, but it is not a requirement. At the tournament there is a pontoon which carries nine to 10 women for the day.
“There are women at the tournament who have never fished before in their life, and women who came a week ahead to pre-fish the lake,” said Lane.
WAM reaches out into members’ communities by hosting kids clinics and other community events. It has been in Osakis, Howard Lake/Waverly and in Mora. It supplies bait and some rods and reels for prizes at Buffalo Days in Buffalo.
“Kids clinics give kids a healthy activity and a constructive focus for summer,” Merwin said. “It’s a life skill they can always use.”
Lane conducts two clinics a year near her home in Mora. “We often do catch and release activities, but at the last clinic we did, the kids actually caught fish and fried them,” she said.
Teaching and serving opportunities also include events with the North Home Boys Program in Grand Rapids. WAM supplies the bait, gas, fishing poles and hats for each participant.
The Kanabec County Fair partners with Women Anglers to sponsor an annual indoor fishing contest in March as a fundraiser for both organizations. There are minnow races, and visitors can choose a paper fish from a bucket to either be an instant winner or part of a fishing competition.
The Chambers of Commerce in tournament communities are very good to the group. “The ladies turn in all receipts from the tournament weekend, and the chambers give us a rebate of 2-3 percent. As we typically spend $30,000 or more in the communities, it’s a generous contribution.”
WAM’s biggest sponsors are Cabela’s, Northern Lights Casino, Bug-Bee Hive Resort and Bernick’s Pepsi. They support Women Anglers year-round.
Tournament grand prize is $2,000 for the highest point fish. For each of five species — northern, walleye, sunfish, crappie and bass — plus a multi-species category, there are first prizes of $500, second prizes of $300 and third prizes of $100.
There is also a “WAM-Slam” prize category. To be eligible, a person must catch fish with the highest point value in all five species. This is a $1,000 prize. But since no one won the prize last year, it carries over to this year and will be $2,000.
There is a shore crew at the tournament comprised mostly of men who are there to support the women by holding boats, weighing in fish, moving the scoreboard, cleaning fish and doing lake safety patrol.
“We are there so the women can catch fish and have fun,” said Scott Merwin, Kristen’s husband. “We help watch out for safety.”
“It’s easy to get involved with annual membership dues at just $15,” said Lane. “We have members who don’t fish, but believe in what we stand for and want to teach kids to fish. They come on the trips and shop instead of fishing.”
The annual fee to join Women Anglers is included in the tournament fee. By joining, a woman will also receive the newsletter and be eligible for trips.
This year’s tournament in Paynesville takes place June 2, from 5:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Many members arrive the night before, and stay until Sunday to make a whole weekend. Registration for the tournament must be received by May 15.
Tournament participants must be 16 years old, and 16- and 17-year-olds must have an adult in the boat with them.
“What matters most to me is the camaraderie of the group,” said Lane, “and the lifelong friendships I’ve made.”
For more information about the tournament or to join WAM, call Kristen Merwin at (763) 226-7660, or visit the WAM Web site at www.womenanglersmn.com. Click on the “tournament” button for more details.