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Patrick County High School fishing club soaks up experience

Monday, September 17, 2012

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

The five college teams battling for the National Guard FLW College Fishing Northern Conference championship were not the only ones on the water Saturday.

FLW also sanctions conference championships at the high school level, and Patrick County High School’s bass fishing club spent the weekend soaking up the experience.

The Cougars, led by coach Perry Hughes, had teams finish fourth, sixth and eighth in the Virginia state fishing championships at the two-person level. They won the state’s six-person championship in April.

Hughes’ anglers spent this weekend helping the college anglers transport fish from place to place before being released back into Philpott Lake, and Hughes himself skippered the boat that carried FLW’s film crew.

The FLW college and high school tournaments have only been around since 2008 but have experienced large growth. The same thing has happened to Hughes’ team at PCHS.

“This is actually our third year,” he said. “Last year I had eight teams. Last time I looked, I had about 60 kids signed up this coming year. It’s going to be a big challenge.”

Some of the draw may be the Cougars’ successful from the beginning, Hughes said. Another aspect, though, is regional.

“Kids always want to be involved with winners,” he said. “And we are in an area where kids love the outdoors. It gives them an opportunity to get outside and do something and have some school pride.”

Kevin Hunt, FLW’s tournament director, has credited the passion for the sport for helping grow the regional and national tournaments both at the high school and college levels.

“These guys are all gung ho,” he said. “Their moms and dads are all involved. They’re excited about it. It’s just like any other team sport. It keeps them in our sport, and for us, it continues to grow the sport.”

Hughes, who also is Patrick County’s assistant principal and director of career and technical education, said school’s club prepares year-round for competition.

“We meet during the year and go over many different techniques and things they’ll see when they’re on the water,” he said. “We compete amongst ourselves early on to get ready for that state championship.”

Like the college tournament, FLW promotes conference championships and the national championship in single-day tournaments held at the same sites as the college events. The team that wins the high school national title wins a $5,000 college scholarship.

With the growth of Patrick’s program, Hughes now sees anglers looking for college fishing careers.

“I’ve got one kid who’s interested in (Virginia) Tech’s club and is going to visit next week,” he said. “A lot of them have that as a dream, to do it at the next level.”

The Patrick County bass club secured its own sponsorships to help pay its expenses, Hughes said.

“Angler’s Choice has been on board since day one,” he said. “A lot of the kids go out and secure the sponsorships, and we try to get them on our jersey and get them some recognition.”

Hughes said many parents now tell him they wish competitive fishing had been available in high school years ago. Though there is the possibility of earning cash winnings, Hughes believes the benefits of competitive fishing go beyond the competition itself.

“Bass fishing at this level is growing tremendously,” he said. “It’s something kids can do the rest of their lives. Even if they don’t do it as a career, they can always go fishing.”


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