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Fishing: Kicking bass – Decatur anglers qualify for state

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, May 19, 2018
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Fish On

FISH ON – Six members of Decatur’s bass fishing team qualified for the Texas High School Bass Association state tournament this weekend at Sam Rayburn Lake. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Fishing has become more than a Sunday afternoon hobby for several students at Decatur High School.

Decatur had six anglers qualify for the Texas High School Bass Association state tournament this weekend at Sam Rayburn Lake. More than $20,000 worth of scholarships will be on the line.

“They are a special bunch,” said Decatur lead sponsor Jared Laaser. “[Fishing] has taught them to be more responsible. They have to follow a lot of rules. It’s a very respectful sport. There are a lot of adults that don’t do what these kids do.”

Nate Haynes, Max Downe, Colby Bryan, Brandon Nelson, Kyler Holley and Kyle Drews earned state spots based on their scores at regionals. The top 40 percent from each division move on.

Downe and Bryan led Decatur and finished 14th at Lake Lewisville, bagging four fish for a combined weight of 11.63 pounds. Holley and Nelson caught two fish that weighed in at 4.25 pounds to finish 66th.

Drews and Haynes snared one fish for 2.65 pounds, placing 96th.

This is Drews’ second season on the team. He joined last year and got into fishing after pond hopping at his grandfather’s house.

“[Making state] means a lot because I’ve been working at it for a year,” Drews said. “We didn’t make it to state [last year]. We got skunked at regionals, which really sucked, but we definitely put a lot of hard work into it. That was our one goal this year – to make it to state and do good at state.”

This is Laaser’s second year as the lead sponsor for the team. He said unlike the UIL where organizations cannot accept gifts, money or prizes, the bass fishing team is dependent on sponsorships.

Many local businesses in Decatur and around Wise County sponsor the team. Laaser said they have averaged nearly $20,000 each of the past three years from sponsorships and fundraisers, which help cover the cost of entering tournaments. It costs $60 per boat to enter a tournament, but with the help of sponsors, anglers and their families only have to pay $20.

Teams are divided into two-man boats at tournaments with one adult captain. The objective for each boat is to catch the best five fish in terms of weight while they are on the water. Fish must be a certain length – usually 14 inches – for them to be accepted at the weigh-in.

There is no live bait used.

The team with the highest weight total over two days wins. The winning team at state will also undergo a mandatory polygraph or voice stress analysis test, as outlined in the THSBA guidelines.

Anglers are typically on the water for roughly nine hours per day standing in their boats.

“Those kids know how to fish,” Laaser said. “It’s a lot of practicing, standing on the front of that boat from 6 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It takes a lot of endurance.”

Although six students from Decatur qualified for the state tournament, one of the Eagles’ top duos did not. Jared’s son, senior Thaine Laaser, and his partner, Tyler Chapman, missed out on state after a tough day at regionals.

The tandem only caught one fish at regionals on Lake Lewisville, despite being ranked ninth out of nearly 300 teams in the north division based on their totals from the rest of the season.

“I caught one fish the first five minutes and didn’t catch another one all day,” Thaine said. “It was awful. It just fell apart. It’s something you have to expect in bass fishing.”

Thaine had qualified for the state tournament the past two years. He said while it was frustrating not to make it back for the third year in a row, it will not change how he views his time on the bass fishing team.

“It’s been everything for me,” Thaine said. “That’s what I do every weekend. If I’m not at baseball or doing something for school, I’m fishing. I think it’s changed my life and what I’ll do with my life. Fishing is what I’ll always do. It’s [helped] me meet a lot of people and grow up.”

Decatur’s six state qualifiers will compete at state Saturday and Sunday.

Drews and Haynes enter the state tournament as the highest ranked team from Decatur, checking in at 38th in the north division. Bryan and Downe come into the tournament ranked 53rd. Nelson and Holley are tied for 74th.

“Some people look at it and go ‘Fishing can’t be that hard.’ But it definitely is,” Drews said. “You get a fish on and you’re running around like crazy. Someone is trying to find a net if it’s a big one and you’re just trying to get it in the boat. That’s the best part.”

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