This was no place for marching bands, pep rallies or cheerleaders. Fifty four teams, each composed of two students, met on the dark waters of Lake Winnipesaukee under threatening skies.
“I’ve got a spinning rod set up, I’m going to be fishing mostly spinners,” says Campbell High School Junior Connor Perry. “My other teammate is going to be fishing mostly some worms. See what works out today, got to see what they want.”
The vessels, ranging from sleek 18-footers on down to clunky lobster boats, are operated by adults. Some are teachers, others volunteers like Steve Cloutier of Litchfield.
“I know I’ll have fun even if they don’t catch anything. But I’m hoping to put some fish on the boat for them.”
This is the first high school bass fishing championship in New Hampshire. Right now, only three others states recognize the sport: Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri.
Pat Corbin expects that to change soon.
“It was overwhelmingly the most enthusiastic response to anything we’ve offered, that I can recall,” says Corbin, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association.
He admits that fishing may not require the same physical commitment as say, football or field hockey. But he sees the sport as an investment in the students.
“We’re focused on trying to find lifelong sports to promote for our youngsters. Hopefully we’ll have a generation of future anglers that will be able to take advantage of many of the natural resources we have in NH.”
This may be the first tournament, but this isn’t the first generation of students to take to the waters.
John Barry teaches social studies at Pinkerton Academy in Derry. In the early 1980s, he coached the fishing club.
“It started out with about 4 or 5 kids, so I could find out the best fishing spots around here. And we would share fishing spots. And it ended up, we had like 60 kids.”
Today, Pinkerton fielded four athletes, including Elizabeth Prebel.
In a ‘Pinkerton-red’ polo shirt, she was one of just two girls in the co-ed tournament.
“I’m pretty sure we beat some of the guys, so, doesn’t matter if you are a girl or a guy. It’s who is catching the fish.”
Prebel says she reeled in a few nice small mouths. No lunkers, but still, better than chemistry class.
“Oh, I loved it. My friends are texting me, saying that they had a test, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m out on the water. Bye!”’
Competitors spent 6 hours out on the water. Then, local fishing clubs and state Fish and Game officials worked a weigh-in station. The four biggest fish per team hit the scales before being released back into the lake.
Bragging rights this year go to Exeter High School, who edged Moultonborough Academy for the heaviest bag .
They’ll hoist a trophy…everyone else will just have to tell tales about the big one that got away.