Niekamp’s big catch

The three-sport varsity athlete’s fourth season
Fishing, Niekamp says, is about 25% luck, 75% skill. That skill Niekamp has worked to hone fishing a lake near his grandpas home in Wisconsin each summer. 
Photo Courtesy: Dexter Niekamp
Fishing, Niekamp says, is about “25% luck, 75% skill.” That skill Niekamp has worked to hone fishing a lake near his grandpa’s home in Wisconsin each summer. Photo Courtesy: Dexter Niekamp

Dexter Niekamp squints against the glare of the lights, a towering figure with a focused gaze.

The senior’s eyes are filled with determination and anticipation as he waits to strike. 

There is the snap, the jerk of the line

His movements—fluid and precise. 

This is another chance for the future Division I athlete to reel in a big catch. 

Here, tackle means something different. It means sinkers and bobbers, needle nose pliers, Googan lures and fishing line.

As the sunlight glitters and glistens off the water, Niekamp, a powerhouse known for his prowess on the gridiron, the hardwood, the diamond, stands with a fishing rod in hand in the quiet solitude of the morning, his silhouette mirrored in the calm waters below.

When Niekamp isn’t catching touchdowns or line drives, he’s after largemouth bass and bluegill.

“Nothing,” Niekamp said, “beats the thrill of hooking into a lunker.”

The lunkers Niekamp is searching for are largemouth bass, opponents able to unleash the All-State athlete’s competitive spirit, waging battle in lakes and ponds. 

“There’s nothing,” Niekamp said, that “beats a bass hitting, especially on top water.” 

The “way they fight,” “how big they can get, Niekamp said, pose a commendable challenge. 

Having a bass on the line “is just special, the senior said. 

And while he’s had his share of special moments, trophies and highlights, Niekamp dreams of lunkers, and catching a trophy fish that will tip the scales.

His biggest catch?

“Five pounds, six ounces, Niekamp said. 

Not bad for the waters where he fishes. 

But really any catch is a victory.

“Most of the time, Niekamp said, “you’re probably not going to catch anything.”

But just the thought, Niekamp said, of being one cast away from “the fish of your life is enough to get his adrenaline flowing.

That thought, that dream, has sustained Niekamp’s love of fishing, a passion his grandpa helped ignite. 

It’s a love that goes back just as long as football, baseball, and basketball, as Niekamp’s been fishing since he “was old enough to walk.

And while the rod and reel can get Niekamp’s heart racing, it’s also an escape.

It’s an escape from the pressures of Friday nights.

An escape from the stress of stepping up to the plate with the game on the line.

An escape from the intensity inside a packed gym, a standing-room-only crowd. 

Fishing is a chance to step away from the lights, the crowds, the public eye. It’s an opportunity for the three-sport athlete to catch his breath. 

“Fishing is just relaxing, Niekamp said; it’s a way to “blow off steam.”

It’s a sport where there is a lack of pressure to succeed; it’s about the act, not the result.

The pressure to succeed has been there since Niekamp first stepped through Community’s doors. He’s the son of Illinois State’s Redbirds defensive coordinator Travis Niekampthe younger brother to Tye Niekamp, 2023’s Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year. People hear the Niekamp name, and they expect success. 

But that pressure, Niekamp said, “is a privilege.  

It is something earned, not given—the result of hard work and determination. 

Dexter Niekamp isn’t living in the shadows of his brother or his dad; he is casting his own. 

“I’m my own person and I write my own story, Niekamp said.

So far, the chapters have been filled with more accolades than adversity. 

In life, failure is inevitable. 

In athletics, it’s a reality–a dropped pass, a missed free throw, a strikeout.

In fishing, it’s the expectation. 

Somedays, even a single nibble is considered a good day. 

The low conversion rate of cast to catch might make failure easier to accept, but that doesn’t mean a lack of success still can’t sting. 

Sure, the sport’s relaxing, but Niekamp’s competitive streak is never fully at rest, something that makes that sting of defeat hard to ignore at times. 

It’s a sting Niekamp’s felt his fair share of times standing on the banks. 

What brings him back is the same feeling fishermen chase every time they pick up a rod: the tug of a big one on the line.

Once a fisherman experiences that feeling, they will do almost anything to reel that fish in.

But Niekamp knows all too well, that feeling can go away in a heartbeat.

“It was a five-pounder, Niekamp said. “I hooked into it.  

The bass fought, it pulled, it struggled on the line. 

Niekamp reeled, slowly winning the game of inches, bringing the fish closer to shore with each crank of the reel

 “I could see it, Niekamp said.

Mere feet from the bank, the trophy fish, the biggest catch of Niekamp’s life, came off the line. 

The fish would take home the trophy that day–Niekamp’s hook and bait.

A true competitor holds grudges. They remember their defeats more than their victories. 

Two weeks later, Niekamp was back on the bank with a rod and reel. 

He felt the same familiar tug, the jerk on the line–a lunker.

This time, the fisherman won the battle.

Pulling the bass from the water, “I saw the hook in his mouth, Niekamp said–the hook he lost 14 days before. 

“That kind of made up for it, Niekamp said. 

The failure two weeks before was kind of forgotten–but not completely. 

Revenge. Redemption. A five-pound trophy catch, all victories. 

But they are not enough for Niekamp; the “fish of his life is still out there.

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