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Prep anglers compete in inaugural bass-fishing combine

When the term “combine” is used in conversations about student athletes, my guess is most of us think of large gatherings where football or basketball players demonstrate their skills for coaches or scouts representing teams at the college or professional levels.

For bass fishing students, however, that stereotype is about to change.

On October 15, 80 high school anglers from 29 states took their place in the annals of combine history when they gathered at Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Alabama, for the inaugural Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School Combine. The three-day event gave the youthful anglers the opportunity to display their fishing skills for coaches representing 20 colleges that grant bass fishing scholarships.

Yes, you did read that correctly. Bass fishing scholarships are a thing.

“We truly believe this is a watershed moment for our sport, and who knows, it might be a watershed moment for one of you,” said Mark Kemper of Abu Garcia while welcoming combine athletes. “While the sport is fishing, we believe that it takes the same commitment, passion, drive for excellence to excel in fishing as it does in any other sport.”

While the drills at traditional combines highlight an athlete’s strength, power, speed, agility and position skills, the Bassmaster Combine focuses on skills needed by competitive anglers. In addition to time on the water, the anglers competed in three individual skills tests — casting distance, casting accuracy and knot tying. The athletes had a maximum of three minutes to complete each skill test using an Abu Garcia Veritas baitcasting rod and reel combo.

To evaluate their distance casting ability, the athletes performed three casts on a narrow grass field marked out to 100 yards. As the description implies, they received a score based on the length of their longest cast. To qualify for a score, the casting plug had to land within the course boundaries with the added challenge of 15 mile per hour winds.

Following the first round of competition, Lane King of Harrison, Arkansas, and Levi Thibodaux of Thibodaux, Louisiana. faced each other in a tie-breaking cast off. King won the event with a 58-yard toss.

In the casting accuracy test, anglers were given the challenge of hitting 10 targets at varying distances from the bow of a bass boat. Then if they hit all the targets, they were scored on how quickly they did it within the three-minute maximum. Justin Frey of Landisburg, Pennsylvania., completed the challenge with a perfect score of 50 points in just 1 minute, 22 seconds.

Some people may raise an eyebrow at the thought of a knot-tying skills test, but only those who have never fished before. Anyone who has spent time on the water has lost at least one fish to a failed knot and possibly more.

Each competitor tied two knots of their choice. One to tie 12-pound fluorocarbon line to a hook and one to connect 10-pound braided line to a 12-pound fluorocarbon leader. Those knots were then tested for their break point using a tension testing machine. If a knot held, it received a perfect score of 25 points. If it failed, the knot was scored on the break point.

Kyle Smith of Richland, Michigan, tied both a Palomar and Alberto knot in 1 minute, 16 seconds, and each one held under tension, giving him a perfect score of 50 points and the victory.

In the end, Thibodaux was the overall winner with a total score of 153 points, edging out second-place finisher Jeremy Radford of Huntly, Virginia. by four points.

By the time the weekend was over, Thibodaux also signed with LSU-Shreveport where he will fish for coach Charles Thompson. Several other combine participants also signed to compete at the collegiate level during the event.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com

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