It didn’t take long for Jacob Serna to find his prized fish.
The 8-year-old registered with the Coastal Conservation Association’s State of Texas Angler’s Rodeo (STAR) on the off-chance of winning during an annual fishing trip with his relatives on the Gulf Coast.
“It was my lucky day if I could just catch a fish,” he said.
However, Serna caught the top-placing 7-pound, 12-ounce sheepshead on his first try. Using live shrimp as bait, the youngster was fishing on a deck boat with his uncle and grandfather in the Clear Lake channel.
CCA awarded Serna a $50,000 scholarship for his efforts. Sponsored by Houston Community Newspapers, the scholarship was presented to Serna on Friday, Oct. 3, at the 32nd annual CCA State of Texas Barbecue and Star Tournament Awards ceremony.
Serna visits League City every summer to spend time with family. Originally from Pharr, Texas, the fisherman enjoys angling for the bonding time he gets to spend with his kin.
“He came over to visit for the summer, and I told my sister, you better register him because you just never know,” said René Garcia, Serna’s uncle. “The next morning he caught that sheepshead right off the bat.”
Serna reeled in the fish on July 1, and his sheepshead stayed atop the leader boards until Sept. 2, when the CCA tournament concluded. With the new scholarship, Serna currently considers choosing an undergraduate degree in preparation for medical school.
“Now it is up to me to guide him through middle school and high school to do well,” said Angela Serna, the boy’s mother.
The STAR program offered by CCA is a recruiting tool to encourage young anglers and their families to become more conservation minded. Beginning in 1990, the program has grown from 3,800 participants to 48,000 in 2014.
STAR gives away more than $1 million in prizes to contestants, including $300,000 in scholarship awards. For $10, kids can enter the tournament and also become members of CCA’s ‘young tide program,’ which “nurtures a love for the outdoors and fishing.”
CCA’s sheepshead division scholarship, sponsored by HCN, has provided close to $500,000 to Texas youth.
“Kids are going to have their life paths changed tonight,” said tournament director Bill Kinney at the awards ceremony.
Texas fishermen formed CCA in 1977 after noticing dangerously low redfish and speckled trout populations in the Gulf due to commercial overfishing. The group has since spread to states across the country.
“The scholarships are having their desired effect, as we see more coming into the sport as novices,” Kinney said. “These are the future conservationists.”