MATT CRAWFORD Free Press Correspondent
Published 10:07 AM EDT Oct 5, 2018
In the span of less than 12 hours this weekend, Essex High School senior Tim Yandow will go from trying to figure out the Lakers, to attempting to figure out what’s swimming in the lake.
Yandow is a lineman for the Hornet football team who will play against the Colchester Lakers in a Division I Friday night contest. He is also a member of the Essex bass fishing team, one of 15 teams heading out on the waters of Lake Champlain on Saturday for the inaugural Vermont high school bass fishing championship.
Earlier this year the Vermont Principals’ Association — the organization that oversees interscholastic sports in this state — approved bass fishing as an exhibition high school sport. Fifteen schools competed in the first event held last month on Lake Champlain out of South Hero, and those schools will return to the same boat launch Saturday to see who will be crowned the state’s first champ.
“I think we’ll have a really good tournament,” said Yandow. “There are a number of good teams and the fishing is really good right now. I think it’s going to be close.”
Besides Essex, other schools fielding teams include Colchester, Burr and Burton, South Burlington, Hartford and Mount Abraham. Bass fishing is a co-ed sport, and for now, Vermont’s tournaments are all held on Lake Champlain, which has acquired a well-earned reputation as one of the best bass fishing lakes in the United States.
While still in its infancy here, Vermont joins a growing list of states that offer bass fishing as a high school sport. Illinois was the first state to sanction it in 2009, and Kentucky followed suit in 2012. More than three dozen New Hampshire high schools now offer it, too, which is where Essex High School athletic director Jeff Goodrich got the inspiration to try it in the Green Mountain State.
“I had some conversations with other athletic directors a couple of years ago and we knew there was a growing interest in bass fishing,” Goodrich said. “We put it in front of the VPA and they gave us approval this year. By the time our first tournament rolled around in September, we had 15 schools fielding teams and more schools trying to figure out the best way for them to field teams for next year.”
A new fully equipped bass boat, with a trolling motor and various electronics can cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-$70,000. It can skim across the water of speeds in excess of 60 mph, carrying thousands of dollars’ worth of rods, reels and baits.
“This may seem like an odd statement,” said Goodrich, “but we’ve made the barrier to participation in high school bass fishing extremely low. If you want to fish, you can.”
A large reason for that is the involvement of adult anglers, many who compete on the Champlain Bass Series, a local tournament series held each year on the big lake. The adults volunteer to host student anglers on their boats.
“After that first tournament we held in September, I’ve got no problem finding adults willing to volunteer to take kids on their boats,” said Chris Weber, tournament director for the Champlain Bass Series and organizer of the high school boats. “The energy level and the excitement from that first tournament was so high. Everybody was cheering on everybody. The guys who were running those boats with the kids on them just had the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen while on the water.”
While the adults run the large outboard motors that carry anglers to and from fishing spots, it’s the high schoolers who must control the foot-controlled trolling motors while fishing. For the state championship, teams can have up to four anglers on a team, although only two can fish at the same time. Teams weigh in their heaviest six fish, and there is a significant penalty for teams who don’t keep their fish alive. Teams have coaches, too, but it’s generally the student anglers who make the call on where to fish and what to use for baits (only artificial baits and lures are allowed).
Kentucky native Bradley Roy, 27, is a bass fishing professional and fishes on the biggest, most lucrative pro tours in the world. He’s also a huge proponent of high school bass fishing and firmly believes Vermont is making the right choice in adding fishing as a varsity sport.
“It gives students some options,” Roy said. “There’s a group of people who are not good at football or basketball and are always looking for a way to support their school and community. From where I sit, I see high school fishing as just continuing to grow as a sport.”
At Essex, Yandow said bass fishing and the team’s chances in the championship tournament is a hot topic of conversation.
“I get asked just as many questions about bass fishing as I do about football,” Yandow said.
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