JACOB WHEELER: Turning Competition into Education With High School Bass Shootout - Major League Fishing
JACOB WHEELER: Turning Competition into Education With High School Bass Shootout
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JACOB WHEELER: Turning Competition into Education With High School Bass Shootout

2022 event provided high schoolers a chance to learn both on and off the water
Image for JACOB WHEELER: Turning Competition into Education With High School Bass Shootout
That 2022 Wheeler Foundation High School Bass Shootout focused on both fishing and education. Photo by Brody McWilliams. Angler: Jacob Wheeler.
July 8, 2022 • Jacob Wheeler • Angler Columns

One of the things I enjoy just as much as reeling in bass is mentoring young anglers in high school and college who will be reeling in bass far into our future. At the end of June, the Wheeler Fishing Foundation put on the Magellan Outdoors High School Bass Shootout on Lake Chickamauga, providing a unique tournament experience for young anglers from all over the country. We had high school teams come from distant states such as California, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Indiana to participate.

Competing in a bass tournament on one of the best lakes in the country was obviously the primary draw, but it was also an educational opportunity to teach young people about the sportfishing industry as a whole. Last year we did a similar event with college-level anglers. This year I wanted to move down to a younger set of anglers who have a passion for fishing and want to make fishing a part of their career path. There are a lot of opportunities in this industry, aside from just becoming a professional bass angler. With the growth of our sport in the last 20 years, so many more jobs in sportfishing have become available.

Broadening Horizons

The pre-Shootout banquet offered us an opportunity to educate the competitors about the sportfishing industry. Photo by Brody McWilliams

The event began with a dinner and banquet the first night. Anglers were given 13 Fishing tackle packs and Igloo mugs. I also laid out hundreds of my personal rods, reels and lures for anglers to pick from for their taking. The equipment ranged from brand new tackle I never used to some pretty special items that I’ve reeled in some big wins with. My good friend Justin Martin of Duck Dynasty hosted and emceed the whole event.

I also invited Larry Rencken, the Vice President and General Manager of Duckett Fishing, to give an informative talk about the business side of fishing. He delivered some universal advice to the anglers by explaining what goes on in the production, sales and management side of a fishing company. He provided examples of the various skill sets and talents (besides just fishing) that professionals should consider if they want to work in the fishing industry.

He advised the young anglers that the fishing industry is actually pretty small in comparison to other industries and that burning bridges is not a good plan of action for advancing in the sport.

I gave a candid speech about the realities of professional fishing. It’s not an easy road; there are only maybe 200 full-time professional bass anglers in the world, and the chances of becoming one of those is miniscule. Similarly, life itself is not an easy road. No matter what you choose to do, there will be days and days of challenges, struggles and frustration that no one else will ever see or recognize.

I also wanted to make them aware of the hundreds of other jobs available in this sport: sales, product development, graphic design, engineering, software writing, content creation – following your passion for fishing does not always have mean having to be professional angler.

Blended Formats of Competition

It was important to me that the two-angler teams experience the challenge of SCORETRACKER®. Photo by Brody McWilliams

For the next two days, the anglers took to the water. On the first day, all 100 teams fished with their boat captains, usually an older family member of the anglers who volunteered their time to drive the anglers around. Day 1 scoring rules were a three-fish limit with a traditional weigh-in. I decided to go with a three-fish limit in the name of fish care and conservation, especially with the hot weather.

After Day 1, we cut to six teams to fish on the final day. I custom-designed the final day of the event to be a memorable experience for the 12 finalists comprising the six teams. I enlisted the help of five other professional anglers to serve as boat captains and we accompanied the six final teams out on the water the last day. I have to give a special shout out to Wesley Strader, Brandon Coulter, Jacob Foutz, Dustin Connell and John Murray for their valuable service as captains.

In addition, on the last day we went to the MLF format of every-fish-counts and catch, weigh, release. I wanted the finalists to experience the thrill of that format and SCORETRACKER®-style scoring at their age. To have these fulltime pros in the boat mentoring them and weighing their fish was a memory of a lifetime for some of these young folks.

On the final day, the pro angler captains could not provide fishing locations for the anglers, only drive them to the places the anglers wanted to fish. Captains could not run the trolling motor either. The only assistance captains could provide was advice on lure selection or presentations if the anglers asked for guidance.

It was important to me that the young anglers themselves made all the decisions on where they fished. The hardest part of this sport is trusting your own decision-making; that’s what breeds confidence on the water – or in anything you do for that matter. You must develop confidence in your decisions to succeed in reaching life goals. By the end of the day, the anglers learned a lot, and so did the pros – I know I did! That’s the amazing thing about fishing, you always learn something new every day you go out on the water.

And the Winners Are…

Jackson Bennett and Sparks Eltz were the big winners on the final day. Photo by Brody McWilliams

In the end, Jackson Bennett and Sparks Eltz won the event with 19 pounds, 5 ounces. Their winning weight included the big bass weighing in at 7 pounds, 9 ounces. The big bass was worth $1,000 from Rapala and they also claimed new rods and reels from Duckett Fishing, gift cards from Academy, coolers from Igloo and a fishing day with me. I look forward to taking the winners out and learning from each other.

With that, the 2022 High School Bass Shootout was a huge success! Thanks to all that helped with this unique project in helping propel young anglers to the next step of their careers and life.