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Michael Minnick Has His Sights Set on Master Angler V Status

By Alex McCrickard/DWR

Photos by Courtesy of Michael Minnick

Can Michael Minnick become only the second angler to achieve Master Angler V status in the Online Virginia Angler Recognition Program? We’re watching, because he’s so close.

Virginia anglers measure up to 8,000 trophy-size freshwater fish every year through the Online Virginia Angler Recognition Program (OVARP), which has challenged anglers since it launched in 1963. For the hardcore anglers, nothing is more noteworthy than chasing the Master Angler Awards within the program.

Master Angler I is achieved when an angler catches a trophy-sized fish for five different species within the program. To achieve Master Angler II, an angler must catch a trophy-sized fish for five more different species offered within the program. The successive levels of the Master Angler program require an angler to diversify their angling experiences by targeting different species throughout the state. There are five levels of Master Angler Awards—to achieve Master Angler V, an angler must catch a trophy-sized fish for 25 different species within the program.

This incredibly challenging feat has only been accomplished by one angler in the program’s more than 50 years: Stephen Miklandric. So far.

However, multiple other anglers are striving to be the second person to achieve Master Angler V in Virginia, and one of them is Minnick. He’s just one species away—either a bowfin or a saugeye. Residing in Lynchburg, Virginia, Minnick is a fishing fanatic.

I was lucky enough to recently spend a day on the water with him. Minnick has an affinity for targeting trophy fish no matter what species he’s after. So while on the water, I took the opportunity to pick his brain…

How long have you been participating in the online Virginia angler recognition program?

My first submission goes all the way back to 1987 when I was 21 years old.

What is it about the angler recognition program that appeals to you?

Now that I am focusing on the master levels, the biggest appeal is having that challenge. There is something out there that I need to figure out. How do I do it? How do I catch this fish? Where do I need to go? Who can help me? What information is available? All of that comes out, and now it’s a challenge for me to finish with the final species.

What drives you to chase trophy fish in the program?

Once you figure out that you can catch a big fish, now they all need to be big. I don’t even want to catch a little fish anymore. Now, granted, it’s all in perspective. I still love catching redear sunfish, especially on the fly rod, but I want a big one.

A photo of a smiling man holding an enormous fish while standing on a boat.

Michael Minnick also targets trophy fish on the Chesapeake Bay fish like this 49-pound striped bass.

What might an average week look like now for your trophy fish pursuits?

Things changed quite a bit after I retired. But even before then, when my daughter moved away and my wife and I had empty nest syndrome, I wondered, “Now what am I going to do?” So I switched to fishing quite extensively. We were used to doing things every weekend and it just stopped. We bought a boat and started fishing hard. Now we even have an RV that will tow the boat, so we have plans to continue traveling and fishing even more.

What are your ultimate fishing goals in Virginia.  Is it the pursuit of our Master Angler V award?

It definitely is the pursuit of Master Angler V. Some people have been asking me, “Once you get that, then what are you going to do?” I thought, “Could I do expert on all 25?” but that would be just beyond belief. There are certain fish that are easy, but I just can’t imagine 10 bowfin or 10 saugeye or something like that. I do have six different fish citations on the fly rod—I might go that path too.

What advice do you have for beginner to intermediate anglers that are interested in getting into the program and chasing their first trophy fish?

There’s a lot of information out there. If you do your homework right, you will save yourself a lot of time on the water. Being in the right place at the right time is worth a lot. If I’m going to chase walleye, I am going to be on the New River in February, but I am going to pick the worst possible day. I want it overcast—if it’s snowing it’s even better. All of those things factor into it, so you can pick your day, but you’ve got to do your homework first.

What species of fish should new participants in the program try to target just to get that first trophy under their belt. Is there a species that you think might be easier? That obviously depends on what part of the state you live in. 

It does. Personally, a redear sunfish is the easiest because you can find them in so many places. If you get out there in May, they are going to be up in the shallows. A lot of times you’ll catch a bunch of bluegill and then all of a sudden you find this monster redear. But once you figure a redear out, they are a lot easier to find.

What has been your most rewarding fish that you have caught in your tenure participating in the angler recognition program? Is there one fish that sticks out? 

There are two that jump out at me. One is the musky I caught on the fly rod. I had switched gears and I was smallmouth fishing. I hooked a fish that felt big, and it ran hard at me and under my raft to the other side of the boat where the fish jumped out of the water twice. I was able to get my rod back around and tire the fish out to land it. That whole experience there will stick in my brain forever. The other one is probably my first big striper, because I have spent more hours on stripers than any other fish to catch that trophy. I had caught 18 ½ pounders or 36 ½” fish, but when I finally got that 20-pounder in the boat, it was so incredibly rewarding.

What would achieving Master Angler V mean to you?

It would be awesome to know that I am the second person to ever do it in the program’s 50-year existence, knowing how difficult it is. There may not be as many people that are as stubborn as me to stick with it and do it.

Rest assured, Minnick will be actively chasing that 25th trophy fish this winter and spring to achieve Master Angler V. He will be spending a lot of time on the water, hunting for this final specimen! Something tells me that exciting news from Minnick will be coming sooner rather than later.

Alex McCrickard is DWR’s angling education coordinator.

  • February 12, 2024