ANGLING FOR ATTENTION
Fishing Could Soon Become Official High School Sport in Louisiana
story by Sherry Morton, LDWF Public Information
Football. Baseball. Basketball. These are the things you probably think of when you hear high school sports. But there is a new sport that is making a splash in high schools - fishing.
In Louisiana, the sport has been steadily growing in popularity for a number of years.
Connor Rushing, a senior at Central High School in Baton Rouge, is just one of many students who has opted to focus on fishing over traditional sports.
“I used to play baseball, but I ended up quitting so I could fish full-time,” Rushing said. “I knew I couldn’t do both. I enjoy the atmosphere of fishing as a sport. Everybody is friends at the weigh-ins, and if you don’t do well, it’s nobody’s fault but your own - well, and your partner’s.”
High school fishing in Louisiana really started catching on as a sport when the Louisiana B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) Nation appointed retired Lutcher High School principal Eugene “Gene” Hoover as the state youth director in 2012.
“When I first started in this position, I think we had eight schools participating with about 30-something teams,” Hoover said. “But there has been a steady growth since we started. Today, we have more than 900 student anglers statewide.”
Hoover said he believes fishing as a high school sport has immense benefits for students. Similar to other sports, many schools require minimum grade levels for students to be eligible to participate.
“If fishing had been around as a sport when I was in high school, it would have helped me make better grades,” he said. “In the years I have done this, so many parents have come up to tell me, ‘Mr. Gene, thank you for doing this. It has helped my son; it has kept him off the streets; it has helped his grades improve.’”
However, not every school has been easy to get on board. Some principals have been reluctant to agree to a high school fishing team.
“I would say out of the 64 parishes, we have about 58 of them who are ‘all in’ on fishing,” Hoover said. “A few of them are still waiting on the Louisiana High School Athletics Association (LHSAA) certification before they allow the kids to fish for their school.”
LHSAA Assistant Executive Director Adam MacDowell said that a 2018 survey of the organization’s 404 member principals showed that 174 would adopt the sport if LHSAA adopts it - and 82 of those schools already have a fishing club or team.
In 2019, LHSAA approved bass fishing as a trial sport.
“We have a bylaw stating that we have to have at least 80 schools participate [in the tournaments] in order for a sport to become officially adopted,” MacDowell said. “It also has to get passed by our membership at our January annual convention.”
Unfortunately, LHSAA had to cancel three of the four high school regional tournaments – which were scheduled for March - as well as the first official LHSAA state competition - which was scheduled for April – because of the coronavirus pandemic.
MacDowell said he is looking forward to when the organization adopts fishing as an official sport.
“We are always looking at ways to offer student athletes another way to get involved in their high school,” he said.
Alex Perret, Inland Fisheries operations manager at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), is an avid angler and tournament competitor.
“We didn’t have high school fishing when I was in high school,” he said. “It wasn’t even a thing.”
As a graduate student in fisheries science at Mississippi State University, he worked with the school to charter a fishing team. Though the team didn’t officially fish its first tournament until the year after he graduated, he said he is happy it is now established. He strongly supports fishing as a team sport.
“Having a team gives you some structure,” he said. “You get paired up, so you have to learn how to work as a team. And a lot of times when one angler graduates or moves on, then a younger one learns to step up and assume that leadership role.”
Perret said fishing also provides opportunities for students that they wouldn’t necessarily get by participating in other types of team sports.
“Many of the fishing teams fish tournaments from boats,” he said. “An adult coach must be in the boat to drive, observe and teach - but all other decisions are made by the kids. That is a unique aspect of the sport.”
This not only gives the students one-on-one bonding time with an adult, but it also provides them experience in making independent decisions, Perret said.
Many others wholeheartedly support fishing as a team sport.
Billy Bosio said that his son, Chris, approached him one day with the idea of starting a fishing club at his school – Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies in Metairie.
“My son loves fishing,” Billy said. “We have been fishing the New Orleans City Park tournament every year since he was 5 or 6 years old. One day, he approached me and said he wanted to start a fishing team at school, and I said, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’”
Chris said he came up with the idea because he wanted to make more friends inside the school.
“Most people I knew who fished were outside my school,” he said. “When I started asking around to see how many others at my school would be interested in a fishing club, I found that a lot of people were.”
The first time Chris approached the school with the idea, he was told no.
“But I told him: ‘Don’t ever take no for an answer when it is your passion,’” Billy said.
Chris and Billy continued to discuss the idea with the school administration, who eventually agreed to a fishing club - with the stipulation that the fishing would not be done from boats.
That was three years ago. Since then, the club has grown into a huge success.
“I started the club because I thought I would have more people to do tournaments with,” Chris said. “But it turns out it is actually me teaching a lot of younger kids to fish. And I love it. A lot of kids aren’t athletic, but this gives them a reason to be outdoors.”
In 2019, the Haynes High School fishing team won the Battle for the Bass - an LDWF-sponsored youth tournament that is held during the Annual Big Bass Fishing Rodeo and Fishtival at New Orleans City Park.
Chris plans to continue fishing in clubs wherever he attends college, and even plans to focus his college career on the conservation field.
“I love fishing, and I want to make sure we can keep it around as long as possible,” he said.
Alex Heintze, a resident of Denham Springs, believes that being able to participate in a high school team can be a tremendous help as young anglers learn to navigate the world of fishing tournaments. Though Heintze started fishing at the age of 10, he didn’t have anyone in his family who fished.
“Practically everything I know was self-taught from watching videos and watching other people fish,” he said. “I never had somebody to take me fishing and truly just teach me everything.”
When he was a sophomore, Heintze and his partner Justin Watts won the Bassmasters High School Championship in 2015. He says that jumpstarted a lot of things for him, including being able to start a fishing club at his high school.
He has aspirations to become a professional angler, and he is well on his way with approximately 15 sponsors. He encourages students interested in fishing to join or start a high school fishing team.
“Not everybody is fit for football, baseball, etc.” he said. “That’s how I was. Just get out there and go fishing.”
For more information, visit highschoolfishing.org or search for the “Louisiana High School Bass Fishing” page on Facebook
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