High school anglers hit water

WILSON LAKE — Sam Starr and Brady Sherman earned McPherson High another state championship Saturday.

This one didn't involve any kind of ball, running, band or debating.

The 18-year-olds won the first Kansas High School Fishing State Championship at Wilson Lake.

They had to defeat four other teams to win. Next year the competition should be harder.

"This is the first year and it'll grow," said Robert Cartlidge, of the TBF Federation, the group that sponsored the tournament. "Last year we had a pilot in five states. In Kentucky we had seven boats and this year we had 74. It's our goal to have a high school fishing championship in every state this year."

The Federation knows a few things about holding tournaments. They've held adult tournaments for many years and currently have more than 30,000 adult members amid 46 U.S. chapters.

The high school tournaments are open to students who have completed eighth-grade but haven't started college.

An adult boat captain takes the teams afloat.

Cartlidge said there's no shortage of manufacturers and groups to help get kids into tournament fishing. Sponsorships are good enough there's no entry fee for their tournaments, and prizes abound.

Starr and Shermanwill advance to a regional championship in Illinois in September.

Many of their expenses will be paid. Ranger is furnishing a new boat for each team and their captain to use at the tournament.

If they win, they'll compete in a high school championship in April.

"We're expecting teams from about every state, Mexico, Italy and Japan," Cartlidge said. "I'd like to have 100 to 150 boats fishing in it."

He's hoping for more at a July national tournament in Arkansas. It's open to any young anglers who want to attend.

"Eventually our goal is to get 1,000 boats at that event," Cartlidge said.

He said that tournament could be about a week long, with only the top few teams fishing in new waters the last few days.

Some impressive prizes are planned for the top national tournaments. College scholarships of $5,000 annually to Bethel University in Tennessee will be awarded winners at the July tournament this year. Prizes at that event and other tournaments include cash scholarships, computers and other electronics.

There's a reason many prizes seem college-oriented.

"We want this to be an educational event that educates and promotes education," he said. "All (tournament entrants) are given a workbook that has math, science, language arts and how they relate to fishing."

At some events, entrants are asked to take tests from the materials they received, and the score on the test is added to the weights of their fish to determine tournament winners.

The Federation has a college bass fishing circuit. Cartlidge said about 400 colleges, including several in Kansas, put bass fishing teams afloat.

Starr will attend K-State this fall and be on their bass fishing team.

Some educators say there's a ready supply of high school anglers to compete in events.

Eric Craft, a teacher at Erie High, said he had enough kids talking about angling at school to start a fishing club. This year they met monthly and hosted an informal tournament for several schools at Bone Creek Lake in May.

Next year he's hoping for a four-tournament circuit for area schools.

Curt Graves, principal at Parsons High, started a fishing club to meet youth interest and to offer kids and educators a chance to enjoy time together outside of class.

Graves and Craft said they'll have teams at next year's state championship.

It's doubtful the fishing will be as good as on Saturday.

Though few were big, all five boats caught at least two dozen fish.

"We caught over 70 that were over 15 inches," Starr said.

He and Sherman, longtime youth bass tournament veterans, nudged out the second-place team of Fritz Berger, 14 and Riggs Walter, 15, representing Sylvan/Lucas High.

They didn't seem too disappointed they were five ounces short of winning the state championship.

Walter's best bass of 3.6-pounds was the biggest of the day. Berger had one nice bass near the boat when another struck the lure in the fish's mouth.

"I had two fish on the same lure at the same time," he said. "We caught a lot of fish today."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle