Next time you’re out on the water, take a look around, and you might notice the average age of the anglers around you starting to skew a little younger. A new generation of anglers is hitting the water, aided by a recent explosion in competitive high school and collegiate angling programs.
Non-traditional high school sports, things like mountain biking and trap shooting, have been riding a wave of popularity over the past few years and competitive angling programs have surged in popularity as students have more sports to choose from than ever.
“The growth has been exponential,” said Todd Shatusky, who coaches the Elk River Bassers in Elk River, Minn. “The first year we had two anglers, now we have 12.”
Shatusky, who is a lifelong angler, volunteered to be a coach with The Elk River High School Bassers (the team is not officially affiliated with Elk River High School) team a few years ago. He’s seen the team’s numbers surge in the past few years as word of mouth spread and more kids flocked to the team.
High School Angling Teams Gain Steam
Elk River High School Sophomores and teammates Gavin Melcher and Logan Huewe both grew up fishing with their families but never had much more angling experience beyond that. When they discovered the Bassers, both of them quickly became obsessed.
Last year, the duo secured a fourth-place finish at the Minnesota State Tournament, which awarded them the chance to compete at the prestigious Bassmaster High School National Championships held at Kentucky Lake in Paris, Tenn. coming up in August 2018. The tournament draws over 300 of the best high school teams from across the country.
For Melcher and Huewe, the chance to compete in a national competition is exhilarating. “It’s pretty intense,” said Melcher. “We’ll spend the entire season preparing for that one tournament.”
These tournaments have turned into big-ticket events with huge sponsors like Carhartt, DICK’S Sporting Goods, and Mossy Oak. In a way, because of the infancy of the sport (and the fact that it’s still not sanctioned in many states as an official high school sport), the tournament trails have allowed students to compete on a much larger stage than more traditional high school sports.
Growing Teams, Little Support
Despite the big name sponsors that appear at the national level, much of that funding doesn’t trickle down to the individual teams who often struggle to supply themselves with things like jerseys, tackle, rods, and most importantly, boats. That’s why Crestliner has stepped up to meet the needs of these growing teams by introducing the Angling Aces Student Program.
The Angling Aces program allows teams (and individuals) to sign up and access perks like a boat buying program, consideration for the jersey discounts, and scholarships for teams and students who are looking to continue their education in the fishing and conservation industry.
One of the most significant hurdles for the growing teams is a lack of boats and boat captains. Because only two anglers can fish from a single boat during a tournament, it takes a large fleet of boats for all the student anglers to be able to fish a tournament.
“We didn’t grow the team at all this year,” said Shatusky. “Part of the reason was, we didn’t have the boat captains. We had to say, ‘Hey, we’re willing to bring on as many kids as we can to our team, they just have to come with their own boat captain and boat.’”
Crestliner hopes that by enrolling teams in the program, parents and coaches will take advantage of the boat buying program which provides a significant discount from the retail price. The more boats available to teams means more student anglers on the water.
Collegiate Angling On The Rise
The rise in competitive student fishing extends beyond the realm of high schools, colleges have also seen explosive growth in the sport. Bass fishing, along with lacrosse and volleyball, is one of the fastest growing collegiate club sports in the country — and, for many anglers, the most viable doorstep to the Big Leagues.
Trevor McKinney is one of those collegiate anglers hoping to make it on the professional circuit. McKinney currently fishes on a team with 26 other anglers for McKendree University, a private liberal arts university located in Lebanon, Illinois.
“I was really interested in going [to McKendree] because they have one of the best fishing programs in the country,” said McKinney. “Fishing has been a really great opportunity to promote ourselves, promote what we use as fishermen, and to try to get out there and become professional fishermen like we all dream about.”
McKinney started his professional fishing career in high school on a team that he helped organize. He saw a lot of success at the high school level and was soon recognized by colleges who were looking to recruit him. McKendree was one of the first to take an interest in him and even offered a partial scholarship to fish for them.
Since he started fishing for McKendree three years ago, McKinney has seen an explosion in the number of teams showing up to tournaments. “When we first started, you were lucky to have 30 teams at an event. I just fished a Bassmaster tournament last week on Lake Cherokee that had 267 boats. Those 267 boats were from 30 different states and about 90 different universities.”
That kind of growth is exemplified best when looking at the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Outdoors College Series growth over the last few years. The FLW has over 700 registered clubs — up from just 90 a few years ago —with 8,000 student anglers competing in 17 annual events, which include a national championship with a $29,000 grand prize and a spot in the $100,00 professional Forrest Wood Cup.
When asked about it, McKinney explains just how important programs like Angling Aces are to the growing sport. “I think it’s going to make a huge impact on high school and college anglers. We realize it’s to the point now where we can’t do it without our sponsors. I think it’s awesome what Crestliner’s doing through Angling Aces. I think it’s going to introduce a lot of collegiate and high school anglers to Crestliner boats, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it gets high school and college anglers introduced to competitive fishing.”
With no slowdown in sight for the rise of competitive youth angling, Crestliner is making a commitment to support the growing sport. This fall, they will award over $14,000 in scholarships to help teams and individual students pursue their angling dreams (follow the Angling Aces Facebook Page for more information on upcoming scholarship opportunities). As the sport continues to grow over the next few years, so too will the Angling Aces program.
Want to learn more about how to get involved in youth angling or sign up for the Angling Aces program? Check out more information here.