Published DateLACONIA — Is competitive fishing an athletic event? After watching the first-ever NHIAA-sponsored high school bass fishing tournament, Laconia High School principal Jim McCollum said you can call it anything you want, as long as it means his students will be able to participate in more such events.
The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association held its pilot bass fishing tournament on Friday on Lake Winnipesaukee, an event held as an experiment to see if New Hampshire should join the growing number of states that include competitive fishing among its high school sports teams. For McCollum, as well as Laconia High School's first-ever fishing team of freshman Griffin Nyhan and sophomore Rose Therrien, the only regrettable part of the experience is that there isn't another event on the schedule, yet.
"This is a lifelong, healthy leisure activity. This is something people can learn as kids and do until they're done living," said McCollum, making the case for including fishing in high school athletics. "And we live in the Lakes Region. This is an activity that benefits children."
Laconia was one of 54 teams, from 41 different high schools, that participated in the pilot fishing tournament, which was held in Moultonborough Bay on Friday morning. Each team consisted of two students and one guide. Therrien and Nyhan's guide was Terry Tilly, who donated her expertise, time and use of her boat so that Laconia could field a team.
Both Nyan and Therrien learned to fish as soon as they were old enough to grasp a rod. For Nyhan, his favorite thing about fishing is "the thrill of catching the fish, doing what it takes to fool a fish."
Therrien likes the experience of fishing. "I like being away from all the weirdos out here. It's really calm, you can relax and just breathe. It's so serene."
Therrien and Nyhan each play on multiple sports teams for their high school. They found that competitive fishing was different from conventional athletic events, and that adding the element of competition changed the feeling of being on the lake with a fishing pole in hand.
"At first, it was kind of nerve-wracking, you're in your first bass tournament. Then you get into it and start having fun," said Nyhan.
Therrien said it was a strange experience for her. She knew she was in direct competition with other teams, as in a soccer match or softball game. Unlike other sports, though, she couldn't even see her competitors until everyone converged for weigh-in. The air of competition made her more anxious about landing her first fish. And when she did pull in her first bass, "It was rewarding," she said, "until I realized that it was smaller than all of Griffin's fish."
Teams competed on the basis of the largest bass caught, as well as the overall weight of the four-fish limit. Laconia's catch featured a 2 pound smallmouth and weighed 7.4 pounds overall, good enough for a finish in the middle of the pack. A team from Exeter High School took first place.
One unique feature of fishing is that it comes with a healthy marine biology lesson. Therrien and Nyhan learned that, at certain water temperatures at certain times of the year, smallmouth bass will sit on their beds, aggressively defending their territory. As Nyhan said, "When the smallmouth is in its bed, if anything lands on their bed, they're going to whack it."
Her first bass fishing tournament behind her, Therrien imagined ways to expand the sport throughout the year. "I think we should get ice fishing – that would be awesome," she said, adding, "I hope we do it next year. I want it to be back."