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Photos: A tradition continues as hundreds of Hmong anglers come out for bass tournament

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Anglers bide their time before the 6 a.m. start.
Anglers bide their time before the 6 a.m. start time of the Midwest Hmong Outdoors July 4 bass fishing tournament on Lake Minnetonka June 28, 2019. The tournament brought out nearly 100 teams of two or three people, each of which had to be at least half Hmong.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Before the sun came up, nearly 100 boats were in the water and ready to reel in some bass for the Midwest Hmong Outdoors’ July 4 bass fishing tournament. The event began in 2004 and has since grown into one of the biggest Hmong fishing tournaments in the country. Winners can walk away with a $10,000 prize.

Teams spent the whole day on the water, buzzing from one spot to another when the fish weren’t hitting. Many spent the weeks before the tournament fishing Lake Minnetonka and marking the best bays on their maps.

The lure of nearly $26,000 in total prize money helps fuel the high turnout, but the sense of community draws even more. Many teams have fished in the tournament since its inception, and they know their entry fee is staying in the community. Fees are even waived for teams who travel from out of state.

The tournament ends with a weigh-in. Each team’s six heaviest fish are weighed, and the highest total wins. 

But there’s a catch — the fish have to be alive to count. Four hundred and twenty bass were caught, and only two fish died before their release.

Midwest Hmong Outdoors’ mission is the kids. They host a kids’ fishing tournament a few weeks after the July 4 tournament and run workshops to teach Hmong youth about gun safety, deer hunting and other outdoor skills.

“Everyone that comes out and competes, we always tell them that the money you pay for the entry fee here actually goes somewhere else. It goes back to your kids, it goes to your cousin’s kids, your uncle’s kids, any child,” said tournament director Meng Thao.

Looking for more news from the outdoors? Check out our full coverage here and download our Outside in MN app where you'll find guides, outdoor events near you and weather updates. Get it on Apple or Android stores.

A team of fishermen set out onto Lake Minnetonka.
A team of fishermen set out onto Lake Minnetonka at the beginning of the Midwest Hmong Outdoors July 4 bass fishing tournament.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Trees are reflected by the morning light on Lake Minnetonka.
Trees are reflected by the morning light.
Evan Frost | MPR News
At left, Daniel Heu brings aboard a bass he caught on Lake Minnetonka.
At left, Daniel Heu brings aboard a bass he caught on Lake Minnetonka early in the morning. At right, a hook baited with a plastic worm. “I’m not worried about the numbers, we’ll catch plenty of bass today,” Heu said early in the day.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Daniel Heu sets the hook in a fish before reeling it in.
Daniel Heu sets the hook in a fish before reeling it in. He and his brother-in-law John Vue made their limit of six bass by day’s end.
Evan Frost | MPR News
At left, Daniel Heu removes a hook from the mouth of a bass.
At left, Daniel Heu removes a hook from the mouth of a bass. At right, trees are reflected in the water of Lake Minnetonka.
Evan Frost | MPR News
The early morning sun shines on Daniel Heu as he brings in another fish.
The early morning sun shines on Daniel Heu as he brings in another fish. Many teams fish the lake the week prior to the tournament and tag specific spots on their maps, but no fishing is allowed in the two days before the tournament.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Daniel Heu, left, waits ready with a net.
Daniel Heu, left, waits ready with a net as his brother-in-law John Vue reels in a fish.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Daniel Heu throws back a bass.
Daniel Heu throws back a bass after deciding that the fish wouldn't help their chances at the final weigh-in. Each team is allowed to weigh in six fish, all of which must be kept alive.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Plastic worms, red bull, and lures line the floor of Daniel Heu's boat.
Plastic worms, red bull and lures line the floor of Daniel Heu's boat. No live bait is allowed to in the tournament.
Evan Frost | MPR News
A team races across Lake Minnetonka to get back in time for their weigh-in.
One team races across Lake Minnetonka to get back in time for their weigh-in while another throws in a few last casts.
Evan Frost | MPR News
At left, a boat's wake ripples across the surface of Lake Minnetonka.
At left, a boat's wake ripples across the surface of Lake Minnetonka. At right, John Vue watches his line. Vue came from Georgia to fish in his first tournament with his brother-in-law, Daniel Heu.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Waves rock a team's boat.
Waves made from the wake of a yacht rock a team's boat. The tournament is planned for just before the Fourth of July to avoid fishing on a crowded lake.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Boats line up for the end of tournament weigh-in.
Boats line up for the end of tournament weigh-in at Surfside Park in Mound, Minn. Heu and Vue’s team placed 54th, with their fish weighing in at 13.09 pounds.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Meng Thao keeps track of team's final weights.
Meng Thao keeps track of the teams' final weights at the end of the fishing tournament at Surfside Park. Team Vue Xiong won the tournament with a total weight of 22.32 pounds.
Evan Frost | MPR News