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Alabama Outdoors

High schoolers win scholarship money for fishing

By John N. Felsher

For possibly the first time in history, some middle and high school students earned scholarship money toward their college educations just by catching bass during the inaugural Tim Horton High School Bass Fishing Challenge.

“It’s the only scholarship bass tournament for high school anglers,” says Susann Hamlin, executive director for the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau in Tuscumbia, Ala., which hosted the event. “It was a wonderful opportunity for kids and it made us feel good too.”

During the event, 175 youths representing 30 schools from across Alabama competed for a share of $20,000 in scholarships. The young anglers competed in two divisions. The Senior Division consisted of students in 10th through 12th grade while seventh to ninth graders competed in the Junior Division.

The young anglers fished two to a boat with an adult boat captain operating the craft. The boat captain could not fish. The anglers competed against each other in their respective divisions, but their school teams also competed for a share of $3,000 in scholarship money, based upon total weights caught by all team members. Hartselle High won $1,000 in scholarship money as the team winner, followed by the Muscle Shoals, Florence, Belgreen and Russellville schools.

“For the most part, the kids in the same boats were from the same schools, so they competed against each other, but they also helped each other at the same time,” says Tim Horton, a professional bass angler from Muscle Shoals, Ala.

The Tim Horton High School Bass Fishing Challenge ran out of Rose Trail Park near Cherokee on May 18 to fish the 47,500-acre Pickwick Lake. Named the 20th best bass lake in the United States by Bassmaster magazine, Pickwick Lake runs 53 miles along the Tennessee River. The system can produce largemouth bass topping 10 pounds and smallmouth approaching seven pounds.

Pickwick Lake a big attraction

“We had a phenomenal tournament,” Horton says. “Students from all over Alabama came here to fish. Some traveled more than 200 miles. That says a lot about their passion for fishing in this state. Pickwick has really become one of the best bass lakes, not only in Alabama, but in the entire South.”

After a day spent fishing, Adam Neill, an 18-year-old senior at Florence High School took top honors in the Senior Division with a five-bass tournament limit weighing 16.86 pounds. He collected $3,000 in scholarship money for the victory and plans to attend the University of Alabama on a fishing scholarship in the fall. He hopes to become a professional angler someday.

“I fish this lake all the time,” Neill explained. “I fished from the Natchez Trace Bridge to Waterloo. I caught most of my fish on a crankbait in about five feet of water. We also fished bridge pilings and current breaks with a swimbait. The bass were stacked up right behind the pilings getting out of the current.”

Taking second for the seniors, Zeke Gossett, a 15-year-old sophomore at Pell City High School, brought in five bass for 15.72 pounds. He won a $2,500 scholarship.

“I caught my biggest fish on a topwater lure in less than three feet of water,” Gossett says. “The big one hit at about 8 a.m. I caught about 25 fish.”

Ethan Rickard, an 18-year-old senior at Florence High, finished third with five bass going 15.35 pounds. He landed a 6.66-pound largemouth that took tournament big bass honors. He earned a $1,500 scholarship for third place and a $500 scholarship for catching the biggest bass.

In the Junior Division, Austin Brown won with five bass and 14.57 pounds. The 14-year-old seventh grader from Plainview High School in Rainsville, Ala., earned $3,000 in scholarship money.

“I caught most of my fish on an unweighted white fluke in shallow water near grass,” Brown says. “I also caught some of my bigger fish on swimbaits. We probably caught about 40 fish.”

Garrett Jones, a 16-year-old freshman at Hartselle High, finished second in the Junior Division with five bass going 13.67 pounds. He received a $2,500 scholarship.

In third for the junior anglers, Jacob Jefferys, a 15-year-old freshman from Muscle Shoals High, brought in five keepers for 10.48 pounds. He won a $1,500 scholarship.

In the spring of 2011, the Alabama Legislature passed House and Senate Joint Resolution HJR27 – Act – 2011-156. This act proclaimed the Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing Association as the official state organization governing student fishing events within the state. It also recognized competitive bass fishing tournaments as official school activities on par with such other school sports such as football, baseball, basketball and golf.

For more information, see FishPickwickLake.com or call the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 256-383-0783.