High school fishing continues growth

May. 19, 2014 @ 10:31 PM

High school fishing hasn’t yet taken off in the state the way it has in places like Texas or Arkansas, but the sport is showing signs of progress.

The field at the third N.C. High School Fishing Championship Sunday at Kerr Lake was 28, nearly three times the size of the inaugural event at High Rock Lake in 2012.

Nutbush Park and the Vance County Tourism Development Authority hosted The Bass Federation and FLW event for the second consecutive year, welcoming 10 more boats than the 2013 competition.

“I think North Carolina high school fishing is really on the verge of exploding,” said Mark Gintert, TBF’s national youth director.

The majority of anglers represented schools or clubs near Lake Norman, including the championship team of Catawba Bandys’ K.J. Queen and Tyler Black.

Queen and Black’s five-fish limit weighed 13.5 pounds and the Big Bass Award went to the East Gaston Bass Warriors’ McKinley Puckett and William Hearn, who hauled in a largemouth weighing 5 pounds, 13 ounces.

Bandys had just the one team at the event while schools like East Gaston and Cherryville sent multiple tandems.

“Really, what it takes is we build high school fishing one boat at a time, one school at a time, one event at a time,” said Gintert. “It’s just a matter of getting one school in and getting them excited.”

Gintert and wife, Lana, live in Kentucky and travel to 20-25 TBF events per year. Mark emcees the weigh-ins, interviewing each competitor as their tournament fates are decided on the scale.

Mark Gintert compared the growth of high school fishing in the state to Georgia, which watched its last state championship grow from 25 to 50 boats. 

Gintert said about 40 percent of high school teams around the country are part of clubs that aren’t sanctioned by high schools.

The largest example is Arkansas’ River Valley Bass Club, comprised of more than 130 students from seven high schools.

“It just takes a little effort to get it up and going,” said Gintert. “If your school won’t allow it, that’s fine. Just form your own club. It takes six members to get it started.”

Patience pays off

By finishing in the top two, Bandys qualifies for a regional competition in Tennessee.

Wilson Beddingfield’s Tyler Dunn and Mathew Shrewsberry also moved on to the regionals, finishing second with a five-fish catch of 13 pounds.

The Bandys program only has one team, but pound-for-pound, it has been a successful one.

K.J. and sister, Chelsey, won the state title in 2012. The Queens couldn’t defend their title last season due to competing in the High School Fishing National Championship in Arkansas, where they finished fifth.

The sibling duo also took third in consecutive world championships.

Chelsey is a freshman at Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn. and earned a scholarship on the school’s bass fishing team. K.J., a senior, will follow suit in the fall.

K.J. Queen is no stranger to Kerr Lake, but it was his partner’s first trip on Sunday.

“At Lake Norman, we pitch and stuff around stumps and rock piles,” said Black, a sophomore. “Here, we were flipping in green bushes and just down in the thick stuff, trying to get them to come out and bite.”

Black and Queen opted for jigs and floating worms and their best bass was 3 pounds.

K.J. Queen said they didn’t get any bites until about three hours after their early-morning launch, but ultimately landed 15 or 20 fish on the day.

“It’s completely opposite,” Queen said of the difference between Lake Norman and Kerr. “You get to feel the bite. You can tell the difference in the bites. You have to succeed in catching the fish up here on Kerr because you’re not going to get many bites a day.”

The Bandys boat captain is K.J.’s father, Jeff, who has been visiting Kerr Lake for the last 20 years.

“Having a little bit of knowledge of where to go and where to adjust helps,” said Jeff Queen, who lauded the convenience and accessibility Nutbush provides.

“I’ve been fishing across the country and I’ve traveled all over the Southeast and it’s not common,” said Queen. “There’s just a few lakes that have this kind of premier location.”

Find more information, including the tournament’s complete results, at HighSchoolFishing.org.

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.