DUBUQUE — It is a sport folks typically don’t think of when it comes to high school extracurricular activities.
With a participant number that has nearly doubled from last year, the sport of bass fishing crowns its state champions today in the state of Iowa.
“A lot of people don’t understand how much this takes,” said Iowa Bass Nation Youth Director Shanda Heath. “You have got to be tournament-ready to be out there, meaning it is not a ‘sit down and cast your line and wait for something to bite it.’ You are constantly cast and reel, cast and reel. You don’t stop all day long. You don’t sit down all day long.”
Today at the Youth State Bassmasters Tournament, teams of two, plus a boat captain, will leave at 7 a.m. from Dubuque’s Schmitt Harbor on the Mississippi River. The high school competitors can go as far as one pool up or one pool down from the harbor, while junior division participants (kids that have not reached high school age) are limited to the harbor pool. All teams return for check-in by 2:30 with the five heaviest fish they can catch.
Each division will name a champion.
“Right now (the Mississippi River) is low, so some of their spots that they had a month ago are not going to be there anymore,” Heath said. “So that is going to be a little bit interesting. The current, I don’t think it is as strong right now as what it was when they were getting used to, so that is actually a good thing.”
Between the two divisions, 83 kids will be competing, which is up from 46 last year.
High school division defending state champions Gage Marty and Joshua Wenman are juniors at Solon High School. Since Solon does not have a high school fishing team, Marty and Wenman represent Eastern Iowa Bassmaster, a community fishing club comprised of students from various high schools.
High schools that do offer fishing and will have teams competing today include Independence, Washington (Iowa) and West Delaware, as well as Johnston, North Polk and North Scott. Still, there remains quite a hill to climb if Iowa is to ever become like Illinois, where nearly every high school has a bassmaster team.
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“Like in the Cedar Rapids area, we can’t get clubs started in the schools,” Heath said. “We haven’t been able to get agreements with a lot of the principals because they don’t want to take on yet more liability or have a coach in the area. A lot of our kids have friends with kids from other schools, so it is just easier to have one big community club.”
After high school, there are opportunities for kids to continue to fish competitively at college. Representatives from the University of Dubuque, Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and Wisconsin-Platteville will be in attendance to talk about their respective programs.
“There are absolutely scholarships, just not in Iowa,” Heath said. “What the Iowa schools do is, they don’t give them scholarships for it, you go and join and the colleges pay for all of your tournaments. Your gas, your hotels, everything to go to all the tournaments.”
The Iowa State tournament has been staged for nearly two decades, but this will be the seventh year that there is more at stake. The top two teams in each division will advance to nationals, which will be held next summer at Kentucky Lake in Paris, Tenn.
“Huge, gigantic,” Heath said. “The high schools, it will be competing close to 300 boats. It is gigantic to qualify.”