Much has been said over the years about playing for the sake of the game, and nowhere can this be truer than bass fishing in high school.
Dressed in school-themed jerseys, high school kids across Texas take to the lakes to face many of the same rivals they have in football, basketball and baseball.
The difference is that there are no coaches paid for by the district, no buses to transport them to matches or even material provided by the school to compete. Fishermen do it for the love of game.
Harmony’s Pake South is the perfect example. He had great success for the Eagles at a Texas High School Bass Association tournament on Lake Bob Sandlin in late February when he caught a 12.8-pound bass, for a personal best, a new junior record. of the lake, the big bass of the tournament and a tournament victory.
Two hours into a hard morning’s fishing, South had two in the boat, which turned out to be better than most of the land would have for the day.
“I had just under 2 and one over 4,” the high school student said.
Then he hooked the big one.
“I caught him on a red Rat-L-Trap on a 15-pound line in about 8 or 9 feet of water,” South recalls. “The bait was on a stump and when I went to blow it up, she pulled it out. She never came and didn’t jump, so I never got nervous.
The fish broke a longtime association record of 11.45 pounds. More importantly for South, he finished the day in first place at 22.27 pounds, qualifying him for the THSBA Regional Tournament on Lake O’the Pines in April. The victory was important because in October, his whole family contracted COVID-19, which caused him to miss tournament time. Because of this, as a rule, he had to win a tournament to advance.
The Texas High School Bass Association was formed in 2013 with teams from eight schools forming a single division. This year, there are approximately 3,000 students representing 260 schools in nine divisions of the state.
“I had no idea. When we started this I didn’t think we knew what we were doing, ”said Tim Haugh of Bullard, president of THSBA since its inception.
Haugh got involved because his son was watching bass tournaments in college and asked why the same couldn’t be done for high schools. Her son fished throughout high school. After he left, Haugh stayed around.
“It has been very, very, very satisfying. Not everyone plays baseball, football or softball. Thanks to this, they have the possibility to represent their school, but can also help themselves to continue their studies thanks to the scholarship money, ”he said.
For students, participation requires an interest in fishing, passing grades, and an adult volunteer as a boat captain for each one or two man team. In the majority of cases, a parent is the captain, but Haugh said a third of them are volunteers who want to put the students on the water.
Individual tutoring also varies.
“It’s different in each school. Some schools are very involved and others are not. Some have an implication where they have an educational advisor. Some are parent counselors with no involvement in school, ”Haugh said.
He added that in most cases, students find their own sponsors for team funding.
Size or athletic ability does not play a role in bass fishing. This is why the teams of the smaller schools compete against those of the larger ones. In South’s case, he’s the only Harmony participant. Others may field 10 or more teams.
South started fishing in first year with his father, Brian, as a captain. He qualified for last year’s regional tournament in the Northeast Division.
It’s also something where girls can compete on a level playing field with boys.
“I would say 15% are girls. The cool thing is that two years ago the championship was at Cedar Creek. Bullard won, but there was a Winnsboro girls team winning. These girls can compete. They can give the boys a run for their money, ”Haugh said.
Many of those who participate are also involved in other sports. Haugh said it is not uncommon in the spring to have fishermen come from games in their uniforms to fish in the afternoon.
Previously, South played soccer, but now focuses solely on fishing with a view to furthering his college education. He said he enjoys representing his school, but his success often doesn’t get his school’s attention in other sports. His 12.8 did. Still, he enjoys the personal feeling of winning.
The Texas format has sparked interest from a number of states trying to figure out how to duplicate its popularity.
Anglers fish five one-day tournaments within their division to earn Angler of the Year points, as well as team championships. With points earned, 50% of teams move on to regional events. Forty percent of the teams participating in the regional championships will qualify for the state championship in May. This year, this two-day tournament will take place on Lake Texoma.
Haugh said organizers quickly saw how the scholarships obtainable through the competition helped students. He said there had been participants who went on to compete in college at fishing powerhouses like Stephen F. Austin, East Texas Baptist University, Dallas Baptist University, Texas A&M, Tarleton and others.
And now some of the colleges that offer scholarships to bass team members are also interested in partnering with the program.