As many as 42 Minnesota high school students could be competing this week in a national championship tournament in Florence, Ala., that promises more than $2 million worth of college scholarships as prizes.
The young bass masters qualified for the High School Fishing World Finals and National Championship dual event by finishing with high tournament scores in competitions held around the state.
Qualifying teams that choose to travel to Pickwick Lake will compete in a field of more than 400 boats in a double-elimination format that allows them to fish for three full days starting Thursday. The two-person teams can practice starting Tuesday.
“It’s just a massive event … a whole different deal,’’ said Tom Parker, whose son Tommy is returning to the national competition for his second year as a member of the Minnetonka High School fishing team. Tommy and his teammate, Jak Kamrowski, have been one of the top duos in the state.
Tom Parker said Tommy and Jak have set a goal of finishing in the middle of the national pack this year after being humbled a year ago. Pickwick Lake is a miles-long stretch of water that sits between two dams created by the Tennessee Valley Authority, a giant power utility in the South.
Parker said the national championship event provides an opportunity for kids from different parts of the country to learn from one another. Consistently catching big bass in the reservoir requires tactics not universally understood, he said.
“There’s great camaraderie,’’ Parker said.
Stephen Picht, coach of the Grand Rapids ThunderHawks high school fishing team, said growth in high school fishing in Minnesota and elsewhere continues to explode. Families of qualifying anglers are spending thousands of dollars each to send their kids to Pickwick.
“It takes fund-raising, too,’’ Picht said. “Each team [going to nationals] usually gets some money.’’
Picht said 21 two-person teams from Minnesota, plus a coach in each boat, have qualified to compete in the national event. Such schools as Grand Rapids and Minnetonka will send multiple teams. Other qualifiers are from Brainerd, Prior Lake, Plainview/Elgin, St. Francis, Elk River, Rogers, Becker, Pequot Lakes, Wayzata and Cambridge-Isanti.
The scholarship prizes include $10,000 in cash from Fishing League Worldwide, which keeps its marketing office in the Twin Cities. Other scholarships are being donated by Bethel University of Tennessee, Kentucky Christian University and Simpson University in Redding, Calif.
“All three of these colleges have or are building out top-level college fishing teams and are working to recruit for their fishing teams,’’ organizers of the national tournament said in a news release.