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The Marathon Man

Editor's note: Anglers across the U.S. are buying fishing licenses in record numbers. Following is a story in our new series, Fishing America, representing a slice of American angling pursuits.

Bigger is not always better as far as Jeff Kolodzinski and fishing is concerned. Kolo, as he is known, doesn't target the biggest fish, usually just the most.

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Kolodzinski, also known as The Marathon Man, has competed for the U.S. in international competitions, and he used that "European shore fishing" style recently in an attempt to break his Guinness Book of World Records mark for the most fish caught in a 24-hour period.

After catching 1,680 fish last year to set the record, he missed the mark by about a hundred because a storm hit over the Maynard's dock on Lake Minnetonka and knocked out more than 2 hours of fishing.

The would-be glory was only secondary though as the feat was also attempted to benefit Fishing for Life and the "Armed Forces Family Fishing Celebration," a day where kids of those deployed or recently back from action get a day on the lake. The Frabill vice president of marketing also sought publicity for another reason.

" I really wanted to show people you can have a ton of fun fishing," he said. "You don't have to invest a bunch of money and you can catch a ton of fish."

In his European events, Kolo might use expensive tackle, but for his record try he wanted generally inexpensive gear anyone could purchase over the counter.

" I kinda took a Chevy Nova," he said. "I didn't want to set the record in a Ferrari."

So with a simple 10-foot cane pole, 4-pound Suffix fluorocarbon line and size 12 VMC barbless hooks, he went out with his $25 of tackle to underline that point. He did note that the hooks had to be really sharp. Last year he landed some 970 fish on one hook, not losing time retying.

Many of those were little 2- and 3-inch bluegills, but this year, with lake levels down and a lot more weeds in Minnetonka, he caught more good-sized bluegill.

"I was machining through those last year, but I caught an amazing number of adult bluegill, a third to half of them the size you put in a livewell," said Kolo, who because of the amount of sharp-finned fish wears fingerless gloves. "It's a lot of holes in your hand. I wear gloves but they still come through."

He's also decked out with a special competitive fishing chair with bins to speed baiting hooks. So he sat on the dock at Maynard's fishing and entertaining visitors whose biggest question, amid the fanfare of media coverage, signage and a Frabill donation bucket, was "What are you doing?"

"Most of them were like, 'Where do I donate?' " he said, noting the Frabill bucket filled with several hundred dollars of pocket change. "I really believe in what you're doing. Here's a $20, a 10 spot."

Like most fishing tournaments, the greatest weight was the goal when he competed on the American National Team in the Freshwater Fishing World Championships, but how anglers tried to accomplish that was decidedly different.

Kolo learned of the competitions by seeing a story on some teens in the junior world championships, making him think, "How cool would that be if you got to fish for your country?"

At a 1990 fishing expo in Chicago, Kolo met Mick Thill, the coach of the American team. They talked and soon became friends. Kolo began to learn the style and technique and finally received a tryout for the team. In 1991, he served as a fill-in and competed in Hungary.

"I finished in the middle of pack, a really decent finish for a 21-year-old fishing against guys 35," he said.

Kolo then had to go through the trials each year to be on the five-man team. He competed seven more times in the international events, run by The Federation Internationale de la Peche Sportive, or the International Federation of Sport Fishing.

Anglers were allowed one hook, one line and have to use a bobber and live bait. They have three hours to catch the most weight. Each angler was given a random 10- to 15-yard section of bank on the body of water.

"You can get an absolute dead beat spot or a good one — The competitive nature is to fish," he said. "I've played team sports all my life, and I never thought a coach would be so important in fishing."

Most European locales don't have as many predatory fish, so bottom and schooling fish are targeted, he said. An angler could spend a lot of time trying to hook one of the big boys or go for the schoolers and let the weight add up.

Angler are allowed only a single hook — "you can't put a chicken liver on a treble hook" — and mostly use worms, maggots and larvae, and the coach relates from teammate to teammate what is working best.

The competitions are popular in places like Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Slovakia, where Kolo competed. He said he was impressed at the enthusiasm of the spectators, which lined up behind the anglers spread out over a mile and half of bank.

"For a snot-nosed kid from Gary, Indiana, and eight people deep are watching you fish, it was a super cool and I was blessed to be there," he said. "Not many of us have seen this style of fishing, but it's written about more and more."