Professional anglers are not the only fishermen who can compete on a national level. Local high schools are starting to sponsor fishing clubs, and in Arkansas, those clubs have an opportunity to compete in the state championships and also The Bass Federation High School Fishing World Finals.
North Pulaski sent several teams to the World Finals, and the team of seniors Joe Sigler and John Ball finished 12th out of 133 teams from the United States and Canada. Twenty different states were represented in the four-day event held July 17-20 at Lake Dardanelle. This was the fourth year the tournament was at Lake Dardanelle.
"Joe and John have been fishing in this for three years and the circuit for two to three years," Robbie Walker, the North Pulaski fishing club sponsor, said. "They’ve learned through that and through the club at school about different baits and casting."
The duo had to make the cut of 20 to make the finals on July 20. Walker said they averaged 12-pound fish every day. The fishing club also participated in the Arkansas state championships May 10-11 at Bull Shoals Lake.
The club started as an outlet of HOFNOD (Hooked on Fishing Not On Drugs). The national program sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is a school-based program supporting fishing programs and designed to help kids learn life skills, gain self-esteem, set goals and learn how to make decisions. The Department of Education standards are associated with the curriculum.
"A teacher went to an in-service and told me when needed to start one (HOFNOD club) at our school," Walker said. "I have now helped Dawn Cook (the program coordinator) teach groups of how to get one started. Our fishing team has come a long ways."
The club started competing about five to six years ago after Walker heard about the Illinois high school fishing tournament. Illinois’ equivalent of our AAA (Arkansas Activities Association) adopted the tournament. Walker said since The Bass Federation has jumped on board high school and college fishing has really taken off.
The North Pulaski club is growing as this year tryouts will be held for the fishing competition with 20-plus students wanting to compete. Walker remembers fishing at Dupree Lake (his grandfather is a Dupree) when he was three-to-four years old, and he has been fishing competitively for the last 15-17 years. Sponsoring the club is a good fit for him and allows him to spread his passion for fishing.
The club meets once a month and also enjoys field trips. The members learn about marketing as they have to raise funds and get sponsorships. They also learn how to market themselves and interview as at weigh-ins they are usually asked questions. Walker also teaches the kids to make their own bait and about reel maintenance.