Women Anglers celebrate 35 years of friendships, fishing and helping others

Kristen Merwin holds a prize fish in a previous Women Anglers of Minnesota fishing tournament. The group’s annual tournament will be in Paynesville June 2.

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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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.

With members in 30 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, Kristen Merwin, vice president and tournament chair, would like to re-energize WAM by pulling in members from the rest of the state.

“We hope to get new members interested,” Merwin said.

Women Anglers was started in 1977 by seven ladies who wanted a way for women to fish together. It is the oldest active fishing organization for women in the United States.

Merwin grew up fishing with her dad at their lake place in Osakis. One year she found a sign announcing WAM’s annual tournament.

“As much as I love fishing, it’s the social aspects of the organization that I like the most,” said Merwin.

Julie Lane, WAM’s president, found the group at the Minneapolis Sports Show several years ago and immediately became heavily involved.

“I loved what they stood for, teaching women and children across the state about fishing and protecting the environment,” said Lane.

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.

The most common locations for the tournament have been Lake Osakis, Park Rapids – Fish Hook Lake, Woman Lake near Hackensack and Paynesville – Lake Koronis.

Upcoming fishing trips 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.

“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.

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,” said Merwin.

WAM’s biggest year-round sponsors are Cabela’s, Northern Lights Casino, Bug-Bee Hive Resort and Bernick’s Pepsi.

The 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, first prizes of $500, second prizes of $300 and third prizes of $100 are awarded.

A “WAM-Slam” prize is also awarded. 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 is now $2,000.

“It’s easy to get involved at just $15 annual membership dues,” said Lane.

This year’s tournament in Paynesville takes place June 2 from 5:30 a.m. to 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.