Today you are hearing from Gabe Gries, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration, in Hadley, MA. Gabe has a Master Degree in Fisheries Biology from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and has also worked as a fisheries biologist for U.S.G.S. and the NH Fish and Game Department. In his spare time he enjoys fishing, cooking and writing articles for fishing magazines.
If you have spent any time on New Hampshire waters during the past few years, you may have noticed small groups of high school students bass fishing on lakes and ponds throughout the State. Seeing this once or twice won’t raise your eyebrows. Lots of kids love to fish. But get a little closer and oddly enough, you’ll see these students are wearing shirts with their school colors and names on them and are often accompanied by an adult coach. Confused yet? Get close enough to ask what they are doing and the reply will likely be, “I’m on my school’s bass fishing team and we are practicing for the state qualifying tournament on Lake Winnipesaukee.”
What sounds like a dream for most kids (and adults) became reality in the spring of 2013 when New Hampshire became the third state to sanction fishing as a high school sport. Aligning with the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (NHIAA) goal of providing sports with lifelong appeal that are coed and inclusive to all students, the enthusiasm and interest from students and parents for this new sport was overwhelming.
There are currently 42 New Hampshire schools participating in bass fishing. Individual teams practice together and sometimes compete against other schools to hone their fishing skills before participating in the state qualifying tournament. The top 10 or 12 teams with the largest weight of bass caught during the qualifying event then move on to compete in the state finals tournament.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department also offers annual educational seminars, giving students, parents, athletic directors and coaches a chance to learn about bass fishing techniques, tournament regulations, knot tying and bass life history and management. These seminars are well received and have been attended by hundreds of individuals so far.
A bass fishing committee, made up of NHIAA staff, Athletic Directors and New Hampshire Fish and Game Department biologists, helps oversee the coordination, organization, and communication involved in making this sport possible. A state chapter of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), NH B.A.S.S. Nation, helps procure permits and runs the weigh-in at state tournaments. Numerous other anglers volunteer their time and resources as coaches and boat captains for the tournaments. Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Grant funds, which are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and generated in part from a tax on sport fishing equipment and gas attributed to motorboats and small engines, help pay for the time of New Hampshire Fish and Game Department biologists involved in bass fishing as a high school sport.
I am very excited about New Hampshire’s success and hope that other states follow their example and sanction fishing as a high school sport. Fishing allows students who might otherwise not participate in a high school sport to represent their school. It will also help students learn an enjoyment of the outdoors and an understanding of the aquatic environment, as well as patience, success, failure, and friendship.