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Flannel Shirts: 'There's no better thing' — Perham kids experience outdoors in competitive fishing league

The Jacket Fishing Team was originally created about four years ago, and since then, it's made an impact on many Perham students' lives.

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(From left) Jack Hendrickson, Jesse Thalmann and Sullivan Hendrickson smile by Thalmann's boat with fishing gear on hand.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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Editor's Note: The following originally appeared as free magazine insert in the Oct. 20-22, 2022 issue of your Lakes Area newspaper.
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Despite being a popular summertime activity in the central Minnesotan lakes area, fishing isn't always an accessible hobby for those interested. To Jacket Fishing Team Head Coach Jesse Thalmann, that's a real shame. Four years ago, he and the area school districts decided to do something about that.\

"(The Jacket Fishing Team) started with a bunch of schools just coming together and saying, 'Hey, we want to create a fishing team,'" Thalmann explained. "And Perham was one of those schools. They sent a memo out to all the different schools in the area, and there was a lot of interest. So they created a league."

Perham School District Superintendent Mitch Anderson reached out to Thalmann, who runs his own fishing guide business, and asked him to coach the tam. Since then, Thalmann has been heavily involved in bringing fishing to Perham-area youth.

That first year this league was introduced, the Jacket Fishing Team had 20 kids on the roster. During its most recent 2022 season, there were 65.

"It's been growing and growing and growing," Thalmann shared.

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22 total schools in the area are involved with the fishing league with their own teams that span all the way from Breckenridge to Bertha-Hewitt to Alexandria. The schools are split into about four different pods that are close enough to compete against one another, and those pods get together and fish competitively about five times throughout the summer.

Each tournament is catch and release. Members compete both individually and in teams, and each competition is judged on a point system based on fish length.

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Jesse Thalmann is the head coach of the Jacket Fishing Team, which is now on its fourth year of existence in Perham.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

At the end of the season in September, all 22 of these schools send their top nine anglers to the team championship, where they can all compete against one another. Despite the league only being four years old, the Jacket Fishing Team in Perham has already started to shine.

In 2021, they took first place at the team championship, and in 2022, they took second place. Two of these top anglers who competed in the 2022 championships are Prairie Wind Middle School students and brothers, Sullivan (Sully) and Jack Hendrickson.

"So you fish for like two hours or two-and-a-half hours, but it just feels like 15 minutes," Sully said. "Everything just goes by so fast. It's just fun to compete with friends and people you know."

Thalmann added on, "It kind of gives them that tournament feel — the competitive side of fishing."

Though both Sully and Jack have been fishing in the summer for most of their lives — even trying their hands at winter ice fishing — there's something different and nice about being able to go out and have a little friendly competition in a team environment.

"It's just kind of cool to rub it in a little bit about winning (to friends), you know?" Sully joked. For him, it's also cool to just look around and see so many other people fishing around him.

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Sullivan Hendrickson, a Prairie Wind Middle School student, loves the competition that comes along with being a part of the Jacket Fishing Team.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Though Jack is a lot less competitive than his brother, he still deeply enjoys each competition. For him, it's more about the fun of fishing. While the competitive nature of the fishing league is a lot of fun for kids like Sully, that's not the only fun part of it. According to Thalmann, it's more about just getting kids outside and fishing.

That's how this whole league started — they just wanted to get kids outside in the great outdoors.

"We have 65 kids on my roster," Thalmann said. "I would bet there's a dozen of them that would never have the chance to fish or go fishing outside of this program that we have here. So it's a good opportunity to get kids that maybe don't have a boat at home and take them out and compete."

Those who may not otherwise have the chance to get out fishing can now just sign up for the team and experience what Jack and Sully love about it so much: getting outside, relaxing and just hooking a big fish.

That thrill is what they love most about fishing as a hobby. For them, there's just something about how they never know what's going to happen when they get out on the water for the day. Will they catch a big walleye, or will they catch nothing? That uncertainty is part of the joy.

"There's always just like that one fish that got off, and you're just going back and trying to catch it," Jack joked. "And that's what keeps you going out sometimes — just that one fish that you lost."

Though both boys love fishing, they're also just drawn to outdoor activities in general. They even have a YouTube channel, Rusche Boys, where they chronicle all their outdoor recreation from fishing to hunting .

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Jack Hendrickson, also a Prairie Wind Middle School student, enjoys the outdoor recreational aspect of being on the Jacket Fishing Team.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

As the coach of both Sully and Jack, watching them succeed and excel at fishing has been amazing for Thalmann to see. He's never had doubts about their abilities as anglers because they've always loved to fish, but it's still so fun for him to see them get their awards at the end of competition evenings. He knows that some kids spend all day looking forward to holding up their plaques at the end of the night, and he loves seeing them do it every single time.

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He, along with Jack and Sully, would all recommend joining the Jacket Fishing Team.

"I just think it's a fun time to just get kids out and just enjoy the outdoors and get them off technology," Sully said. "I think they would like it. Even if you don't do your best, you could still have fun. Maybe you only catch a few fish, but it's still fun to just get out."

Thalmann added on, "I agree with the technology thing; get away from the technology and get outside, right? Kids are stuck on technology these days, so this is something to break free from that, leave that at home and just enjoy nature. There's no better thing than just being out in the great outdoors."

The Jacket Fishing Team allows kids from grades 6-12 to join. While the 2022 competitive fishing season is over, there's always room for more to join the league in the 2023 season. Sully and Jack advice students to look out for the papers the district will hand out toward the end of the school year with a list of activities to sign up for.

The paper will have information on an upcoming Jacket Fishing Team meeting for parents and interested kids to attend and sign up. Until then, you can find more information on the team at their Facebook page, Perham Jacket Fishing Team .

"It's a good program to get kids outside, and (fishing) is a lifelong sport," Thalmann concluded. "It's something they can carry with them throughout life, you know?"

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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