Camp Ripley staff teams with veteran’s organizations and anglers to create a unique experience for veterans and military members
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. — The ninth annual Trolling for the Troops event was held at Camp Ripley, south of Brainerd, on June 7. More than 50 volunteer fishing hosts towed their boats from as far away as central Missouri to share a day on the water with Minnesota veterans and active military personnel.
A fleet of big, deep-V boats headed to Mille Lacs Lake, while smaller, shallow-draft jet boats explored the stretch of the upper Mississippi River near the base. Each boat accommodated two veterans or military members.
For the guests, Trolling for the Troops is an opportunity to enjoy world-class fishing with experienced anglers — the kind of opportunity many attendees sacrificed during their military service.
“Many of our participants have lived and worked for years in the heart of fishing country,” said Dennis Erie, who manages sponsor relations for the event. “But many haven’t had the opportunity to get out and enjoy that resource.”
For the hosts, the event affords a chance to show gratitude for the sacrifice made by military members past and present.
“I love to take people fishing,” said Eric Altena, who works as the DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor in Little Falls. “But this event is really special. It’s the one event of the year that every member of our fishing club (Upper Mississippi River Smallie Club) wants to participate in.”
Many anglers pre-fished on Thursday to dial in spots for their guests. Altena launched his RiverPro jet boat at Crow Wing State Park and motored up the Potlatch Dam in Brainerd.
Slackwater eddies still held bedding smallmouths. Fishing methodically through these areas with soft plastics produced the most fish, but Chatterbaits, swim jigs and other active baits were also productive on the river.
A group of Missouri anglers — six of them attended the event — also found spawning smallmouths on the Crow Wing River between Sylvan Dam and the confluence of the Mississippi River. Swimbaits and small, realistic crayfish imitations were most effective.
On Friday, guide Luke Swanson, of Brainerd, fished the stretch of river adjacent to Camp Ripley. He targeted post-spawn bass in slow, but not slack, current areas. Swanson and his guest, Command Sgt. Maj. Matt Erickson, of Lake Park, Minn., also fished a bit faster with suspending jerkbaits, flukes and topwater poppers.
“The river has been high, cold and fast for weeks,” Swanson said. “But now it’s warming up fast and lots of fish are on the move.”
Erickson landed several nice bass including two that measured 18½ inches.
On Mille Lacs Lake, professional angler James Lindner, of Brainerd, said he targeted smallmouth bass in the morning, but the bite was slow — at least compared to the prior week.
“But the walleye bite was on fire,” Lindner said. “We were catching big fish on jerkbaits, jig-and-plastic combos and just about everything else we tried. Shallow rock humps seemed to hold most of the active fish.”
Smallmouth bass: 20.5 inches — Derek Lindberg, Dona Lindberg and Andrew Rasmusson
Walleye: 22½ inches — Nathan Krick, Doug Rocksteao and Tony Boero
Pike/muskie (pike): 25.5 inches — Nathan Krick, Doug Rocksteao and Tony Boero
Mille Lacs Lake
Smallmouth bass: 20¼ inches — Gina McManus, Donna Christopherson and Mandy Uhrich
Walleye (3-way tie): 27½ inches — Jim Fink, Kiris Ambuehl and Dustin Eggum
Pike/muskie (muskie): 48 inches — Cory Madden, John Bonifas and Scott Walsh