116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. — By 6 a.m. on Sept. 11, the Washington Street boat ramp on the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien, Wis., will be buzzing with youthful exuberance.
The occasion is the Iowa Youth State Bassmaster Tournament, and when approximately 80 kids and their adult captains blast off at 7 a.m., it'll be all about the hardware and the pursuit of berths at the Bassmaster High School National Championship.
On a broader perspective, the growing sport of high school bass fishing has something to offer everyone.
"Anybody can fish," said Shanda Heath, who is Iowa Bass Nation Youth Director and president of the Eastern Iowa Bassmaster club that serves the Cedar Rapids area. "They have a blast. They love it. We'll have kids who come out just to try it once and they're hooked.
"We had one kid last year as a junior (generally 8th grade or younger) and the very first tournament he ever fished he got a big bass. I don't think he stopped smiling for two days. Just watching them is so neat."
Some high schools have teams consisting of only their students while other areas feature clubs that embrace broader membership. Some have a junior level, some don't. Each group develops its own tournament schedule and format for a season that begins in the spring and concludes in the fall.
Most teams and clubs hold monthly meetings that feature guest speakers talking about specific techniques or locations, while many also encourage their members to participate in local conservation efforts and habitat projects.
There are no qualifying requirements to participate in the state's top events where kids compete as two-person teams, but anglers do need access to a boat and a captain who can offer advice and handle the boat. Friends and relatives usually fill that need, although there also are experienced bass anglers who step up and volunteer. For those without boater connections or those who aren't ready to take that step, some groups offer options like shore fishing and kayak fishing events.
Nationwide, high school bass fishing has been around for more than 20 years. It has strong roots across southern states where the most promising young anglers can earn college scholarships. Here in Iowa, the sport is small, but in a growth spurt.
There are around a dozen Iowa high school teams or clubs. One of the newest is at Cedar Falls High.
"We had talked for a little bit about the possibility of starting some kind of fishing team or club," said Carter Moore. "A few of us dads who have sons who fish explored the possibility and ended up getting connected with Todd Reed, who helped start the Independence high school bass club. He was super helpful in us kind of figuring out what we needed to do to start up a team through B.A.S.S."
Reed also helps host the Iowa High School Bass Team Championship each May, and Cedar Falls sent two teams to Pleasant Creek Lake to compete against a field of more than 30 duos. Kael Moore and Gavin Burkhardt took the individual title with a five-bass limit of 10.32 pounds while Bryce Norton and Aiden Schmidt were 12th with two fish for 3.37 pounds.
Together, the foursome finished with 13.69 pounds and placed second behind ADM's 16.06 in the four-person team standings. Independence took third at 11.83 pounds.
"That was very unexpected," Carter Moore said of the strong Cedar Falls showing. "We didn't expect to kind of just sign up and go win. It was an awesome experience as a dad seeing your son have that success."
When Carter Moore and the other fathers (TJ Norton and Brian Burkhart) returned to Cedar Falls, they decided to push forward.
"We got connected with the athletic director at Cedar Falls High School, Troy Becker, and he's been super helpful in supporting what we're doing and letting us use the school logo and resources and calling it one of their school teams, so that's been awesome," Carter Moore said. "We had an informational meeting in May at the school auditorium and had a bunch of family and students show up. It's kind of been going from there."
Moore said the Tiger fishing team now has 29 members and will send eight boats to Prairie du Chien.
"Shanda Heath was also super helpful is us getting things started," Moore said. "We've had incredible support from the other coaches who helped start it and the families and the students, and the sponsors who have jumped on. That has really blown me away.
“I've had people reach out to me that I don't know from Adam. They say, 'I've been around forever,' or 'I did it professionally and I'd love to help you guys and captain when I can.' It's been really awesome to see the fishing community and how they support youth fishing and getting people exposed to it."
The Sept. 11 showdown on the Mississippi, which also includes a college division on Sept. 10, is a showcase event.
"It's a bigger level," Heath said. "We all meet the Saturday night before and they get gift bags that I make up. They have some baits in them, bait covers my mom is making, a t-shirt ... We have the boat draw at the meeting so they can go strategize with their partner and figure out where to go in the morning. We have an announcer at the weigh-in who does a really good job talking to the kids ... 'What'd you catch them on' and stuff. They all get pictures taken afterward with their fish.
"We try to make it more of a big deal."
There will be moments to remember and moments to forget throughout tournament day. But whether these young anglers win or not, it will add another layer to a valuable foundation.
Moore's objectives for his Cedar Falls High team are shared throughout the sport.
"We definitely want them to grow in their love for the sport and for the outdoors ... being outside, being exposed to some new places in our state and beyond, learning about conservation and how these places came to be and how we can leave them better for the next generation," Moore said.
"We want them to learn some skills and techniques not just about fishing, but how to work effectively on a team, how to be a good communicator, how to be a good leader, how to have a servant heart, how to maintain and care for your equipment — not just your fishing reels and rods, but everything from the vehicle that pulls it to the boat and motor ... just give them some real life practical skills as they move ahead in life.
"I doubt too many of our kids are gonna get a scholarship to fish somewhere, although that is becoming more and more of a realistic goal and something people can shoot for, but we want them to leave the sport of fishing in a better place than it was when I was their age.
"We're just looking to get young people involved with something that might be a little unique or different than traditional sports ... get them in a boat and let them fall in love with it like we did."