Illinois fishing finals featured plot twists, big bass

Carlyle, Ill. — Golf may be the “Gentleman’s Sport,” but Elverado High School’s fishing team showed that anglers too can have class on the course.

In this case, the “course” was Carlyle Lake.

The team of Jake Lipe, Brian McClanahan and Troy Stewart, took second place in the Illinois High School Association’s bass fishing finals on May 4-5.

But the real story is how the Falcons handled misfortune – the squad was penalized one pound on the first day for bringing a pair of dead fish to the weigh-in. That one pound would have been enough for Elverado to edge eventual champion Highland by a full two ounces.

Elverado’s anglers didn’t complain about the tough luck. They talked about the dead fish and made no excuses. After all, the second-place trophy was the first state trophy of any kind earned by an Elverado team.

“We caught a lot of crap at school, people making fun of us, fishing on the bass fishing team, calling us rednecks, but you see who brought home the second place in state trophy … not any other team,” Lipe said.

Meanwhile, the Highland Bulldogs No. 1 team caught a two-day total of 27 pounds, 13 ounces to top Elverado’s 26 pounds, 15 ounces and win the fourth annual  bass fishing championship.

A total of 56 boats competed for the title on Carlyle Lake.

Highland team members  were Shane Campbell, Austin Niggli, Joe Bardill and Jared Mettler.

“I didn’t get to fish the whole tournament,” said Mettler, a senior who did not compete the first day because of job responsibilities. “I’m glad I got to fish one day and be a part of it. I feel like I was an asset to the team.

We were all an asset to the team, I feel. Everybody that did fish, did well. A lot of it was hope and faith – and a little bit of good, hard work. We made it. It’s about time.”

Another southern Illinois school, Waterloo, finished tied for third.

The finals, which has a history of bad weather, got off to an interesting start once again. The first boat took off at just before 7 a.m. but by 7:30 a.m. tournament officials pulled all boats off the water as a storm line blew through. The tourney was started again at 9:10 a.m. There was another hour-long delay around lunchtime.

Weather on the second day was hot and humid, with temperatures in the low 90s.

Several anglers reported having a hard time dealing with the heat. To make things worse, an overnight rain after the first day deteriorated water quality, many anglers conceded.

While southern and central Illinois teams claimed the top spots overall, Chicago teams dominated on the first day. Fenwick and Marist sat atop the leaderboard, with Fenwick, of Oak Park, catching five bass totaling

16 pounds, 1 ounce. But the Friars caught just two fish the second day and dropped from first to 35th.

Fenwick sophomore Alex Davis was the star, catching all of the fish by himself. The mark topped Marist seniors Nick Engel and Nick Kushnerik by one pound.

According to IHSA officials, Davis set a Day 1 record and came close to matching the one-day record of 16 pounds, 3 ounces set by Illini West weighed on Day 2 of the 2010 finals.

Day 2 was a different ballgame, especially for southern schools.

Highland No. 1 coach Jon Rinderer said that he “was on pins and needles” during the final five weigh-ins, hoping his team’s lead would stick. The Bulldogs had been in sixth place after the first day.

“This is one of the biggest thrills of my life, honestly,” Rinderer said. “The feeling from this is just incredible. There’s so much emotion involved. It’s hard to believe, really.

“We had good fishermen and we found some fish a week before the tournament, so I felt like we had a chance. I think every team here had a chance. There’s so many fish in this lake right now. It doesn’t matter what part of the lake you fish in, there are really nice fish. This lake is incredible right now.”

Rinderer said his team lost two big bass, one over 4 pounds, another over 3 pounds.

“I was afraid those would cost us the tournament,” he said.

Thirty-two teams caught their limit on Day 2, compared to 47 on Day 1. The biggest catch on Day 2 was a 6-pound, 8-ounce bucketmouth landed by Farmington’s Nick Fulton. The Day 1 “Big Fish” honor went to 

DeKalb’s Anthony Kriese, who landed a bass weighing 6 pounds, 14 ounces.

Even teams that finished far down the leader board felt the finals were a good experience. The 56 participating teams earned their way to finals by finishing in the top three of there respective sectional tournaments, which were held April 20 at 19 sites.

A total of 231 teams entered the IHSA series this year.

“Overall it was a great experience and we all had a great time fishing,” Andy Jackson, coach of Seneca, which finished 34th,  said. “I am proud of our students and the way they fished at the state finals.”

One interesting aside to this year’s finals was the performance by Hinsdale Central senior Nicole Mara. Mara hooked a 5-pound, 9-ounce bass on Day 1 to become the female “Big Fish” record holder at the finals.

And that was not all. Mara also caught all five keepers for Hinsdale Central on Day 1, putting her team in 10th place.

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