Brian Robison has been fishing since he was a toddler. He remembers when he was four years old, going out with his dad to toss lures into his family’s backyard pond — an activity that they did several times a week.
Being from Texas, Robison also had a bit of an interest in football. The fact that he was named for Brian Piccolo — of the Chicago Bears and “Brian’s Song” fame — likely had something to do with it, as well.
As he got older, he continued to fish.
“I just liked to get out on the water. It’s peaceful,” Robison says.
In the meantime, his focus had turned increasingly to football, along with track and field (shot put) at Splendora High School. Robison was named All-State in both.
He went on to play football for the Texas Longhorns, with whom he won the BCS National Championship in 2005. In 2007, Robison was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. A decade later, he’s still a starting defensive end for the Vikings.
In 2008, Robison married his long-time girlfriend, rodeo barrel racer Jayme Miller. As he settled into married life, parenthood, and his footbal career, Robison’s mind returned to fishing.
“I’d always fished, but it was pretty leisurely,” he said. “When I was finally financially stable enough to get a boat and start fishing competitively, though, that’s when I was really hooked. There’s no other way to say it: I was all-in on it.”
Robison and his family divide their time between Minnesota and Texas, and he fishes in both places. In spite of spending so much time in the walleye-crazed North Star State, Robison is a bass reeler through and through.
In Minnesota, he likes Prior Lake, south of the Twin Cities, as well as Mille Lacs Lake, a world-class smallmouth fishery in north-central Minnesota. His Texas go-tos are Lake Sam Rayburn and Lake Fork, out of which he once hauled a 10-pound hog.
Over the past couple years, Robison’s been fishing some tournaments. At first he was fishing mostly team competitions, but this year he fished his first Costa FLW Series tournament on Sam Rayburn, where he finished in the money.
“The tournaments are a place where I can take my competitive nature from football and channel it into fishing,” he says.
Combining things like his hunger for competition and love of fishing comes natural to Robison, who likes to keep the things that are important to him close at hand.
With his success, it became important to Robison and his family to give some back to the community. And naturally, he wanted to make his charity work as personal as possible.
“I wanted to raise money in a way that can bring together everything that’s important to me,” he says. “I call it the ‘Four Fs:’ Faith, family, football, and fishing.”
From this, the Brian Robison “Reel ‘Em In” Foundation was born. Rather than focusing on a specific cause, the foundation seeks to help local organizations who engage directly with communities in both Texas and Minnesota.
“That way we can get the funds to the folks who need them most, when they need them,” Robison says.
The foundation raises funds through fishing tournaments that bring pro athletes and pro anglers together with the public. Now in its third season of tournaments, the foundation has raised over $100,000 for the needy in Texas and Minnesota.
“They’ve gotten bigger each year,” Robison says. “I’m hoping we’ll raise a quarter million dollars for charity in 2018.”
This year’s tournaments will take place on Lake Sam Rayburn in Texas from March 29th to March 31st and on the Mississippi River, out of Wabasha, Minnesota, June 15th through 17th.
The tournaments are open to the public and include family-friendly events like inflatables, kid fishing ponds, and watching the weigh-ins. In addition to the entrance fees, a key fundraising component is the auction events.
Tickets for the auction events are available online and priced at different levels. A group can purchase an entire table. Individuals can also buy premium seating and share a table with VIP attendees, like pro anglers and athletes. General seating tickets get you a seat and a meal in the room, as well as access to the auctions.
The silent auction will include sports memorabilia and other goodies. The live auction is where the real fun is. Attendees will get to bid on the chance to fish on a VIP boat, paired with an athlete and an angler, like Robison and Brandon Palaniuk.
The tournaments have been a hit. Between the first and second years, the field at the Texas tournaments nearly tripled from 47 to 139 entries.
And though the work of organizing everything has been exhausting — especially with the Vikings playing deep into the playoffs — Robison gets excited when he talks about it.
“I love it. People get to see what makes me tick.”