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AYA tourney reels in new generation of anglers

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Grand prize winners Ryan and Jacob Roble, with their uncle Craig Jindra, in front of their new Lund boat, motor and trailer.1 / 3
Marie Nitke/FOCUS Kids bring back their catch to be weighed and measured. The fish were then released back into the lake.2 / 3
Marie Nitke/FOCUS Angler-Young Angler volunteers weigh and measure a team's catch at the tournament Saturday.3 / 3

Under a sunny sky and on calm waters Saturday, the Angler-Young Angler Fishing Tournament in Perham was held on what organizers said was "probably one of the best days we've ever had," weather-wise.

A total of 34 boats entered into this year's competition, carrying at least one child for every adult. The event is designed to get youth interested in fishing, and no one goes home without a prize.

The challenge for each team was fairly simple - to catch up to five walleye. The fish could not be within the slot limit, and teams with bigger fish had the advantage; the winning team would be the one with the most weight in walleye. 

The fish had to be brought back to shore alive, where they were measured and weighed, and then released back into the water.

Winning the competition this year were Ryan and Jacob Roble, of Frazee, who went out on the boat with their uncle, Craig Jindra. The team caught three walleyes, including one big one, 27.5 inches long.

Their reward was a brand new Lund fishing boat, motor and trailer. The Robles were all smiles as they accepted the prize at an awards ceremony at the end of the tournament, but they said the real reason they entered wasn't just to win.

"We wanted to be in it because it's fun," said Ryan. "We like to fish."

The boys narrowly edged out the second-place finishers, sisters Mairyn and Madalyn Erp of New York Mills, who were on a team with their dad, Tim Erp. Only .19 pounds separated them from the first-place spot.

But they weren't disappointed about coming in second: The girls said they had a lot of fun in the tournament, and hope to do it again next year. They've been fishing with their dad before, they said, and they've learned how to do everything themselves, including reeling in their catch.

Mairyn, age 7, even picked out her own jig for the tournament - "because it was pretty purple."

Last year's winners returned to the event again this year hoping to make a return trip to Canada, where the international AYA competition is held. The team placed fourth there last year. Team members Jacob Boyd and Adam Lind, both 13 and from Rogers, Minn., were led by Jacob's stepdad, Chad Johnson. While they weren't victorious again this year, they still took home prizes.

Even teams that caught no fish at all took home things like life jackets, fishing poles, tackle and t-shirts, all donated by area businesses.

Participants said the fishing was pretty good this year.

"It was slow at first, but once we got into it we were catching some pike and walleye," said Drake Schossow of Perham. Together with Dalton Frieberg, who traveled all the way from Nebraska for the tournament, the boys took part because, "Our grandpa (Greg Freiberg) talked us into it. And it sounded like fun."

In total, more than 87 pounds of fish were brought in to be weighed, according to Mike Parta, a leading organizer - "and probably three times that were thrown back (because they fell within the slot limit)."

Speaking to the crowd at the end of the event, he summed up, "We had a lot of people catching fish today. And that's really what it's all about."