Photo courtesy of Kim Webster.

August 1, 2023

Student Anglers Take to the Water in Illinois Fishing Tournaments

Across the United States, certainly in the state of Illinois, one particular sport and pastime is gaining momentous participation from high school students: bass fishing.

IHSA Makes a Splash

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has been hosting sectional and state tournaments to student anglers for the past 15 years. In fact, Illinois was the first in the nation to establish a student angler tournament, on a state level, back in 2009.

With sectional tournaments taking place at 18 lakes across Illinois in 2023, IHSA Bass Fishing oversaw the competition of 200-plus Illinois high schools in their state series. Of those more than 200 schools and subsequent teams, 75 teams set out to compete for state titles on Carlyle Lake in late May 2023. As a result of the growing participation in Illinois High School Bass Fishing, IHSA has plans to begin adding an additional regional round to the State series, “creating another level of competition for student anglers,” said Kurt Gibson, IHSA Associate Executive Director.

ICASSTT Reels in Student Anglers

Two students of Naperville North High School are pictured with a few of their championship catches, announced as winner of the tournament.
Season 3 Scheel’s Clash Champions, Caden Pearson and Zach Schmitt of Naperville North High School, are pictured with their part of their championship two-day total of 31 pounds and 2 ounces. Photo courtesy of ICASSTT LLC.

In recent years, with the spawning engagement of Illinois bass fishing teams, newer tournaments series, like the Illinois Coaches and Student State Tournament Trail (ICASSTT), have emerged. ICASSTT Owner and Director, Humberto Gonzalez, is currently a high school teacher in Naperville. Having coached his school’s bass fishing team for many years, he noticed a need for more: more opportunity, more locations and more incentive.

“The ICASSTT series was created to increase involvement and opportunity in high school Bass Fishing across the state of Illinois,” Gonzalez said “We made it a point to make sure we visit all regions of Illinois equally,” which is reflected in the ICASSTT series schedule. With five designated regions within Illinois (North East, North West, East Central, West Central and Southern) and a minimum of 15 events in the High School series alone, students can count on at least three events in their area as ICASSTT routinely visits one of 14 associated lakes across the state (

Two students pose with their catch. Both are dressed for cold weather on an overcast day. The student on the left caught two fish and the student on the right caught one fish.
Two student anglers pose with their day’s catch. Photo courtesy of Kim Webster.

While more opportunity and more locations are a welcomed bonus with the ICASSTT program, so are elements of the series which provide more incentive for student anglers. For starters, as a reward for their hard work in the competitions, ICASSTT has worked with numerous sponsors to establish scholarship prizes for students.

“Although we realize not every student plans to attend college, we wanted to provide them with support for their future in college or trade school or even the military,” Gonzalez explained. Additionally, Gonzalez stated that it is a goal of the organization to help prepare students for possible collegiate options whether that’s providing them with time and events to begin building up a ‘resume’ of impressive stats or helping them to explore the possibilities of competitive collegiate fishing.

McKendree University Bass Fishing Team Catches Keepers and Championship Titles

When starting my research into this article, I was surprised to learn that not only is Illinois home to the first high school fishing competition in the nation, but also home to McKendree University’s championship collegiate bass fishing team as well!

McKendree University in Lebanon (St. Clair County) began their fishing team in 2013 when coach Jon Rinderer came from Highland High School. Now to impress you with their stats (because I know I was when I first read them)! Placing 20th within the Association of Collegiate Anglers (ACA) School of the Year standings, in their 2013-2014 season, it was a steady troll ahead to victory. In both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, McKendree ranked first in the nation, beating out nearly 300 other schools for the title. A testament to their hard work and impeccable skills, in the last eight years of the ACA’s School of the Year series, McKendree has placed in the top five every year. (

While not every student angler chooses to pursue college, coaches have noticed the rise in collegiate programs, perhaps in response to the rise in numbers of high school teams. Christopher Mural, a Bass Fishing coach for Adali E. Stevenson High School (Lincolnshire, Lake County) notes that his own students have gone on to compete in a variety of college competitions.

“Currently, I have one student competing at McKendree University and another at Univeristy of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,” said Mural. “My anglers have also competed at Ohio, University of Wisconsin Stout, and Alabama.”

Student Anglers Learn Reel Skills and Values

Like any sport, student anglers can expect to learn teamwork, community, and how to face adversity and challenges. Communication is also a large part of the sport.

“When two or three anglers and their coach and driver share a boat for seven hours or more, they talk and they communicate,” said Gonzalez.

A teenage angler shows off her catch, a largemouth bass.
A young angler shows off her catch, a beautiful largemouth bass. Photo courtesy of Dave Jenkins.

Coaches also highlight the physical and mental strength that bass fishing teaches, singing praises for their student anglers.

“In terms of the individual events, an 8-hour bass fishing tournament is a test of an angler’s endurance and stamina,” noted Mural. “The students are typically standing nearly the entire time, casting and running the trolling motor with limited opportunities to take breaks.” Mentally, students are preparing themselves for the grind that is fishing in Illinois.

“Illinois can be a difficult state to fish and all student anglers will experience a failure along the way,” said Gonzalez. “But student anglers are learning to fail the right way. They adjust and change and cast again.”

Along with the physical and mental demands of the contest, the preparation for fishing also requires a great deal of skill and knowledge of fish.

“Student anglers research the body of water they will fish,” said Mural. “They learn about the ecosystem and the bass’ forage on the lake at that specific time of the year, and then they work to determine what pattern will provide them the best catch rate in the event. Time of year, weather, wind, and many other factors influence and inform their decisions.”

Student anglers are also being taught necessary conservation skills, which aides in the ongoing success of the sport. Gonzalez, director of the ICASSTT series, reflected on the 2023 CLASH Championship held at Lake Springfield in early June and the struggles they faced in their efforts to prevent fish mortality. ICASSTT directors made many adjustments to procedures on those hot summer days, trying to impart strong conservation skills on their student anglers and safely release as many fish as possible.

IDNR Fisheries District Biologist, Tad Locher, attests that student anglers take conservation very seriously.

“In addition to conducting conservation projects at some of their home lakes, many student organizations have pushed for stricter fish handling and weigh-in procedures, prioritizing fish health over trophy pictures” stated Locher. “Some lakes are host to over 100 tournaments in a single year, and without proper care, some of these fisheries have the potential to be negatively impacted. Ultimately, participation in good conservation practices and education at this level ensures many years of quality competition and good public fishing for future generations”.

High School Bass Fishing Casting Off Soon!

Two young anglers show off the three bass they caught while fishing.
Student anglers celebrate their hard work with three nice bass to show for it. Photo courtesy of Kim Webster.

Concurrent with school calendars, high school bass fishing will begin hosting events this August and continue into 2024. For more information regarding future events, visit IHSA’s Bass Fishing page and ICASSTT’s Series page. ICASSTT also features the ICASSTT Mini series, which are smaller events hosted by local high schools, and the ICASSTT Junior series, which provides underclassmen or new anglers the opportunity to participate in a smaller competition, testing the waters before entering the main series.

Kaleigh Gabriel is a Wildlife Outreach Specialist with Lewis and Clark Community College, working out of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources building to assist the Division of Wildlife Resources. Growing up just between Sangamon and Christian counties, she spent a lot of her time hunting and fishing in Illinois. She received her bachelor’s degree in writing/journalism from Manchester University, Indiana.

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