GRAND FORKS -- A rain shower rolled in right on schedule on a recent Tuesday night, but that didn’t stop sisters Erin and Megan Peck from venturing down the riprap-covered shoreline of the Red River below Riverside Dam to try their luck at catching whatever would bite.

Their cousin, Payton Kriewald, was a few minutes late, but she soon joined them for the evening fishing excursion.

They call themselves the “Fish Sticks,” this Grand Forks trio, and they’ve been hitting just about every shoreline they can find in eastern North Dakota since early spring.

They’re having a blast in the process. Since they took up fishing this spring, the Fish Sticks, who range in age from 18 to 20, say they’ve been out 25 to 30 times.

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That’s more than casual fishing; that’s borderline hardcore.

“I just got into fishing this summer with the whole coronavirus happening, and having to social distance and not being in any sports anymore,” said Megan Peck, 18, a recent graduate of Grand Forks Central High School who would have participated in soccer and track during a normal spring. “I'm usually doing a lot with sports in high school because I was a senior. And so I started fishing, and now we go a lot.

“I've learned a lot about fishing.”

Erin Peck, 20, was attending college in Montana when the pandemic hit and forced her to return to Grand Forks early.

“We were spending probably too much time inside, so I don’t even remember how it came up,” she said. “But one day, we just decided – my sister and I and our cousin – we were going to go fishing. And we’ve been doing it ever since.”

Taking up fishing as a serious pastime wasn’t a tough sell, said Kriewald, 19, the sisters’ cousin.

“We’re always kind of down for anything with us three, so it didn’t take much,” Kriewald said. “I don’t really know the names of anywhere we’ve gone, but we just kind of find a spot on the map that we think might be good and then we try it out.”

Fish Sticks is the name of the group chat they formed to talk fishing and make plans, Megan Peck said.

“I just came up with the name ‘Fish Sticks’ because we just do it for fun, basically,” she said. “It’s kind of funny.”

On their own

The path young people take to fishing traditionally involves a parent or other mentor, but that wasn’t the case with Erin and Megan, said Wes Peck, the girls’ father. The family fished occasionally when the girls were younger, he said, but that was years ago.

“I can’t remember as a family the last time we went fishing,” he said. “It was on my ‘to-do’ list this year to finally go fishing again. But now that they can get around on their own and get their own licenses, they just took it under their initiative to go out and do it. They’ll watch YouTube or something like that to learn how to tie knots on the lines and off they go.”

Sisters Erin Peck (left) and Megan Peck cast from shore on the Red River below Riverside Dam in Grand Forks on Tuesday night, June 23, while waiting for their cousin, Payton Kriewald, to join them. They call their fishing crew the "Fish Sticks." (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
Sisters Erin Peck (left) and Megan Peck cast from shore on the Red River below Riverside Dam in Grand Forks on Tuesday night, June 23, while waiting for their cousin, Payton Kriewald, to join them. They call their fishing crew the "Fish Sticks." (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Nationally, female anglers are a demographic with potential for growth. According to the 2019 “Special Report on Fishing,” published by the Outdoor Foundation in partnership with the Recreational Fishing and Boating Foundation, 17.7 million females went fishing in 2018. The participation rate was the second-highest on record at 11.5%, the report indicated.

In North Dakota, statistics from the Game and Fish Department show the percentage of female anglers age 30 and younger has remained relatively stable over the past five years. Based on the five-year average, 26% of 16-year-old anglers are female, 28% of 17- to 19-year-old anglers are female and 32% of anglers in the 20- to 29-year-old age bracket are female.

During the 2018-19 and 2019-20 license years, however, the percentage of male anglers in North Dakota dipped to 67%, with an average age of 52, which suggests more females bought licenses.

As recently as 2016-17, 80% of licensed anglers in the state were male.

No doubt, the pandemic has driven an increase in fishing license sales this year in North Dakota. As of Wednesday, June 24, North Dakota fishing license sales were at 160,000 – about 132,000 residents and 28,000 nonresidents – up a “healthy 27%” from last year, said Greg Power, fisheries chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck.

At one point this spring, fishing license sales were up 37% over last year, Power said, driven by pandemic-related unemployment and remote schooling that gave students more time to fish.

“I fully expected that the 37% would drop over time, and in fact I was correct,” Power said. “The big question is where it will end up at the end of fishing season.”

Any fish will do

The Fish Sticks say they’re not worried about bringing home fish for the frying pan and don’t particularly care what species is pulling at the end of the line. Their catches to date include goldeyes, northern pike and “a couple” of walleyes.

“They’ve definitely had fun with the fish they’ve caught,” Wes Peck said. “They're not out there for the quick action. They would prefer that, but if they get one or two, they’re good to go.”

To date, the trio has fished the Red River, the English Coulee diversion ponds southwest of Grand Forks and, more recently, the Lake Ardoch Dam spillway near Ardoch, N.D., in Walsh County.

“There’s not a lot special about it, but it was fun because it’s someplace I’d never been before,” Megan Peck said. “There is actual running water, and I pulled up a fish.”

Eventually, the Fish Sticks say they hope to try some “real fishing” and get in a boat, either on Devils Lake or someplace in Minnesota, but haven’t made any firm plans.

For now, they’re having fun fishing from shore and following the simple recipe that got them started:

“Look up YouTube videos and learn how to tie a knot – that’s all I did,” Megan Peck said. “And then go for it.”

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

The "Fish Sticks" – Erin Peck (from left), Payton Kriewald and Megan Peck – navigate the rocks along the Red River below Riverside Dam on Tuesday, June 23, during an evening shore fishing outing. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
The "Fish Sticks" – Erin Peck (from left), Payton Kriewald and Megan Peck – navigate the rocks along the Red River below Riverside Dam on Tuesday, June 23, during an evening shore fishing outing. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)