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Moonlighting As a Bass Pro

Aaron Teal, a University of Minnesota Duluth junior, holds a 3-pound largemouth bass he caught in early August on a Duluth, Minnesota-area lake. Teal, 20, hopes to pursue a career in tournament fishing and related media work. (Sam Cook/Duluth News-Tribune/MCT)

Aaron Teal, a University of Minnesota Duluth junior, holds a 3-pound largemouth bass he caught in early August on a Duluth, Minnesota-area lake. Teal, 20, hopes to pursue a career in tournament fishing and related media work. (Sam Cook/Duluth News-Tribune/MCT)

Duluth, Minn. — Early in his bass fishing career, when Aaron Teal was about 10, his mom and dad would let him go fishing in a paddle boat on the lake where the Teals lived.

“We’d send him out with a walkie-talkie and a life jacket,” Pam Teal, his mom, recalled. “And he had to be in sight so we could see him.”

Those formative days on his home lake near Richmond, Minn., laid the groundwork for Teal to pursue his dream of becoming a professional bass fisherman. Now a junior at the University of Minnesota Duluth, he has put together nine wins and nearly 50 top-10 finishes in regional bass tournaments, has a cluster of sponsors, and produces an Internet fishing show and blogs for Scheels All Sports, a retail chain based in Fargo, N.D.

Even at 10, Teal had been featured a few times on a cable show in nearby Cold Spring, Minn., for his panfishing exploits.

“My ultimate goal is to fish for a living,” said Teal, 20. “As far as a four-year goal or a 10-year goal, I have a lot. I have them all written down. I set them high, and I usually don’t reach them, but I get close.”

A few days ago, Teal joined UMD head football coach Curt Wiese for an afternoon of largemouth bass fishing on a lake near Duluth. In Wiese’s boat, they cruised the shoreline, throwing a skirted jig and a plastic worm at docks, pontoon boats, weed beds and reeds.

As passionate as he is about bass fishing, Teal also is an affable guy who floats easily from one topic of conversation to another. But he never missed a cast while chatting. With machine-like efficiency, he flipped his jig with pinpoint accuracy. He skipped it across the water to deliver it under docks or overhanging willows. He plopped it precisely in saucer-sized openings among the weeds.

Teal is lean and angular. Black hair curls out from under his cap and piles up on his neck. He’s sporting a beard, which he grew because he felt he looked too young without it.

Wiese, between conversations about youth soccer and this year’s UMD football prospects, threw a Senko plastic worm. He caught the first fish, a modest largemouth that went right back in the water.

Up front, Teal pitched a black-and-blue All-Terrain Tackle jig relentlessly.

Hooked on Bass Fishing

It was his grandfather who introduced Teal to fishing, he said, when he was just 4 or 5. They’d go camping and catch walleyes and panfish. He evolved into bass fishing on his own, in part after watching bass fishing programs on television, he said. His mom and dad gave him subscriptions to In-Fisherman and Bassmaster magazines, and Teal began reading every book he could on fishing.

He was fascinated with artificial fishing lures as a kid.

“I had these lures I thought were super-cool,” he said. “I’d toss ‘em in the shallows and have a bass launch out of the water.”

By 13, he was hooked on bass fishing and on the idea of becoming a professional bass tournament angler.

“I found out there were bass fishing tournaments around me and a place to do this,” he said. “I found out a person could get sponsors, and I didn’t have to mow two million lawns to pay for it.”

It wasn’t long before bass fishing pros in the area were calling him, asking if he wanted to go fishing with them, said Aaron’s dad, Shawn.

“He’d get a call before he could drive,” Shawn said, “and a guy would say, ‘You want to come fishing with me? Have your mom and dad drop you off at “X” gas station at 5:30 a.m.’ We’d say he was going off to fishing college. He had good models, a lot of good support.”

Along the way, Teal kept learning more about catching bass. The intellectual aspect of bass fishing has always appealed to him.

“I’m a pretty deep thinker,” he said. “I really like the strategy in bass fishing. The struggle of catching fish is the motivation.”

And once he hooks up with a big bass — a “sow,” a “donkey,” a “pig” — the fun begins.

“There’s no better feeling than using an artificial lure, going after these fish, setting the hook, having the fish not move and then launch 3 feet out of the water,” he said.

Lots of Support

Aaron had graduated from the paddleboat to a small boat and 4-horse outboard, then a 15-horse, then a 30-horse, his dad said. Now he has his own bass boat, an 18½-foot Stratos with a 150-horsepower Evinrude. His mom and dad made the down payment, and Aaron has paid them back. His sponsors provide him tackle and other gear and defray his travel costs.

“I couldn’t do what I do without my sponsors because fishing is so expensive,” he said.

This summer, he’s working at a local grocery store, showing up at 4 a.m. to unload trucks. His work schedule allows him to be off Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to fish tournaments.

At UMD, he’s majoring in communications. That’s part of his long-range plan, too.

“I’ll be using my communications major, trying to find a niche in the TV and magazine fishing industry,” he said.

Higher Expectations

Teal was casting to a weed bed when a good bass took his jig. When he set the hook, he looked like a calf roper cinching the noose on a stubborn Angus. He learned that kind of hook-set from a pro he once fished with.

The bass took Teal on a couple of trips around the prow of the boat.

“Hang on there, cowboy,” Teal said to the bass.

When the fish tired, Teal dropped to one knee, lipped the bass and hauled it up for inspection. An honest 3-pounder, belly bulging. He popped his jig out and slid the fish back into the lake.

A bass like that would please almost any angler, and it used to thrill Teal, too. Now, it takes a little bigger bass.

“I caught 10 of those last night,” he said. “A 3-pounder is a good fish, but it doesn’t usually do the job. If you want to win a tournament, you have to have some really big fish.”

In a recent tournament, Teal and his partner caught bass of 5½, 4¼, 4½ and 3¾ pounds.

“That gets the blood pumping better than anything I’ve ever experienced,” he said.

But Teal is the first to concede he has plenty to learn.

“I have a ways to go,” he said. “Fishing is such a humbling sport. Just when you think you’re good, you go out and get your butt kicked.”

Teal will have his boat up at UMD this fall. He’ll probably have a chance to fish some local largemouth lakes. But he has his priorities in order.

He knows, during the school year, that class comes before bass.