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Record year for AYA tourney

Scott and Mackenzie Perala, of New York Mills, are the grand prize winners of the 2013 Perham Angler-Young Angler Fishing Tournament. It was the proud seven-year-old’s first time fishing. The father-daughter duo will now compete at internationals. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

With highs in the mere 50s, cloudy skies and bone-chilling winds, it was probably the coldest Angler-Young Angler Fishing Tournament that Perham has ever seen.

But in terms of fish caught, it was the most successful.

A record-setting 91 walleyes were measured and weighed for the contest this year, and nine of the total 37 competing teams caught and entered five fish, the maximum allowed – another record.

In the end, a total of 105.52 pounds of fish had been weighed and recorded.

“We really, really did well this year, despite the weather,” Mike Parta told participants during an awards ceremony after the tournament. Parta, owner of Hoot’s Sports in Perham, is a leading organizer of the local event.

The tournament took place on Little Pine Lake, at Zorbaz, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, with a pizza party and awards ceremony following.

AYA tournaments are held every year in about 25 locations around the United States and Canada, and the winners of each local event go on to compete at an international tournament. Perham’s event, now in its sixth year, is known as one of the best; last year’s winners went on to win the international competition.

This year, that challenge will go to Scott Perala and his daughter, seven-year-old Mackenzie, of New York Mills. The little first-time angler and her father took first place in the tournament. Mackenzie said they had a lot of luck out on the lake – even having to throw two fish back so as not to exceed their tournament limit.

AYA is a catch-and-release tournament designed to get kids interested in fishing. Teams of kids and adults compete to see who can catch the most weight in walleye, within certain length and weight limits. Some fish caught are too small or too big to be considered, and are immediately thrown back. Teams are allowed to keep up to five fish, which are then measured, weighed, totaled and released back into the water by AYA volunteers.

This year, there were only seven teams that didn’t catch any “keepers” – another record for the Perham tournament, and a testament to the day’s good fishing. Most of these teams still saw some sort of action, though, such as Scott Schmidtt of Elk River and his 12- and 14-year-old sons, Grant and Carter, who caught a 15-inch crappie. Or their friend, 14-year-old Zach Cramond, who said he caught a lot of fish, just not a lot of walleye.

“It was tough out there today,” said Schmidtt, referring to the weather. “It was cold and windy and it just went right through you.”

Still, it was a good time, he added: “It’s a great tournament.”

Last year, the Schmidtts had the same misfortune of catching no keepers for the contest – but they still walked away with a nice “No Fish, No Problem” prize. They were crossing their fingers to win that prize again this year, but weren’t so lucky.

Still, like all AYA participants, the Schmidtts walked away with their arms full of new fishing gear and other prizes. Teams in the top 10 won even more, often big and valuable, items. And the Peralas – this year’s winners – took home a Lund Boat and motor.

Jan Parta, Mike’s wife and another key organizer of the tournament, said this year’s event featured more young female anglers than she had seen in the past, a sign that the sport is catching on more with girls.

Not that all the girls in this year’s tournament were new to fishing. Fourteen-year-old Tristan Groff of Ottertail and her 10-year-old little sister Milia, for example, have taken part in the contest every year since it started.

This year’s tournament was “wild and windy” compared to years’ past, said Tristan. “The fishing was fast and furious at first, but then slowed down. It took us awhile to get our five fish.”

She, like so many of the other participants, was obviously a true fan of the sport – smiling wide while bundled up in her winter coat, hat, and what appeared to be snow pants, braving the bitter cold to enjoy a day of fishing in Minnesota.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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