480 two-man teams.
That is how many fished a recent tournament on Sam Rayburn put on by the Southeast Texas High School Fishing Association (SETX).
That is nearly 1,000 kids on the water, actively competing to catch bass in a focused, organized setting.
That is unprecedented and shows the future of bass fishing in Texas is bright.
texas fish & game was the first publication to feature collegiate bass fishing nearly a decade ago and three years ago started writing about high school bass fishing. We predicted it would be huge and as you can see what is happening on the water is profound.
According to Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Alton Jones, this has the potential to shape the future of not only professional fishing but can serve to inspire a new generation of kids to get serious about all kinds of angling opportunities.
“When you start getting kids focused on this in high school, learning about competition, getting experience, honing their skills and even seeking sponsorships it is easy to see how this will make a positive difference on the future of tournament fishing,” Jones said.
On three occasions fish & game has had the privilege of sponsoring and accompanying Jones on fishing excursions for high school teams and each time has predicted the future of the sport.
“Many of the pros of the future will likely come out of high school clubs, go into college and then hit the pro level with much greater experience than those of us currently on the Bassmaster Elite Series did,” he said.
Most Texas teams are part of the Student Angler Federation (SAF), a collaborative effort of The Bass Federation and FLW Outdoors. Others are part of a high school bass fishing project created by B.A.S.S.
On a more local level, most teams are part of a regional or statewide association like SETX or the Texas high School Bass Association (THSBA).
“The THSBA is also proud of the fact that we give each student many opportunities to be successful as an angler as well as involving that student in exciting promotional and volunteer activities. We want to stress to students about working within the fishing industry while representing their faith, family, and school in charities and some of the largest tournaments in Texas. Advisors and Coaches, when putting together their charters, are encouraged to incorporate these activities into their bylaws,” said THSBA President Tim Haugh.
“The overall team competition at our open tournaments gives a unique opportunity for every member of that high school team to contribute to the team’s chances of winning the team trophy even if that team did not place in the money. Last year the THSBA gave over $40,000 in scholarships and prizes which will be cashed in once the student graduates from high school.”
In 2016 another group, the Faith Angler Network (FAN), is focusing on expanding its youth program. For the past 7 years FAN has been committed to the Central Texas community by creating competitive and professionally run bass fishing tournaments, and outstanding youth outreach programs that embrace the power fishing can have on changing and impacting lives. They reported to date there are over 60 programs actively participating in Central Texas fishing events. FAN focuses on mentoring, skills, agility and fishing techniques, character building, commitment and healthy competition.
The Deep East Texas High School Fishing Series has also stepped up to the plate citing the biggest issue for angler was there were not enough tournaments to fish.
“To solve these issues the Deep East Texas HS Fishing Series will include 12 qualifying tournaments. To qualify for the Deep East Texas HS Fishing Championship the teams will only need to count their best 6 performances. This will allow teams more flexibility to qualify for the May 7-8 championship at Jackson Hill Marina on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.”
2016 Bassmaster Classic Champion Edwin Evers said high school and collegiate bass fishing are the pathway to professional bass fishing.
“You will definitely see anglers in the near future coming into the Elite Series from high school and college. It is such a great program because it allows kids to learn about competition, sportsmanship and to challenge themselves on the water early on.”
Evers noted that it could help inspire some of the kids who have what it takes to be a fishing pro at an early age.
“There are definitely championship qualities and this will help some youth find that in themselves. And on a much larger scale it will give some kids who maybe don’t fit into other sports or activities something to do and greatly grow interest in bass fishing.”
One reason for the growth in schools is that it is governed for the most part by the Student Angler Federation and B.A.S.S. depending on which association school teams require and local teams and associations like SETX for example have their own requirements.
Another reason goes much deeper.
Take the home base for the Deep East Texas group. That is literally one of the birthplaces of competitive bass fishing. When Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn were impounded anglers like Larry Nixon and Tommy Martin pioneered many of the bass strategies we hold dear today and set a precedent for angling competition.
In other words it is a part of Texas and although our children are addicted to electric devices like smartphones and tablets like never before, many are taking that same love of electronics and becoming adept at using side imaging sonar. That is promising and shows there are ways to not only engage youth in an outdoors dialogue but inspire them to get on the water and fish.
We will likely see a peak of interest in the next two to three years but there is no question high school bass fishing is here to stay and in Texas-sized fashion.
I personally can’t wait to interview the first Bassmaster Classic champion who started out on a high school team-in Texas of course.
And there’s a good chance I won’t have to wait too many years for that to happen.
—story by Chester Moore