FORT MITCHELL, Ky. — Noah Caple fought hard alongside his fellow Colonels two years ago in an effort to take home Dixie Heights High School’s first state championship win in football, but the team ultimately fell short. The senior athlete will get another chance at a state title this weekend, but this time he won’t be competing on an athletic field.
Instead, he and teammate Andrew Bernard will fight for state supremacy in a boat — on Kentucky Lake. That’s where the commonwealth’s “best of the best” high school fishing teams will compete May 13-14 at the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) Bass Fishing State Championship.
If you’ve never heard of it, that’s because it’s relatively new. KHSAA, the state’s governing body for high school sports, started the competitive program in 2012. And for those wondering if bass fishing has a place in high school athletics, Noah and Andrew urge skeptics to take a closer look at the sport. For skilled high school anglers, it’s far from a hobby.
“It’s definitely a competitive sport,” Noah said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it than people realize.”
High school fishing teams are still a rarity in Northern Kentucky, but that’s likely changing. It’s one of the fastest growing youth-related movements across the country, according to the Student Angler Federation (one of the high school program’s sponsors). Dixie Heights High School joined the national movement and started its team last school year after students expressed an interest.
Dixie coach Dave Brossart leads a group of six students along with two other coaches. Rules require an adult to drive each fishing boat, which holds a two-member team during tournaments. Those teams compete by catching spotted, largemouth and smallmouth bass. They can weigh a maximum of five bass each day, and winners are determined by the heaviest two-day catch.
After fishing together since elementary school, Noah and Andrew joined Dixie’s fledgling team this year.
“We saw it as a huge opportunity,” said Andrew, who also plays lacrosse. “We both love sports, but we also love the outdoors. Joining the team allows us to tie those two things together.”
From Dixie Athletic Director Matt Wilhoite’s point of view, their decision was a good one. The boys placed sixth out of 117 teams at the regional bass fishing tournament on April 23 at Lake Cumberland. That made them a shoo-in for the state championship, which requires a top-16, regional-level finish to qualify.
“Their five-bass-limit catch of all smallmouth bass netted them 13-pounds, 1-ounce, with Bernard's ‘Big Bass’ weighing 3-pounds, 11-ounces,” Wilhoite wrote on Dixie’s website in a post that included a photo of the boys proudly displaying their winning catches of the day from the regional event.
For classmates who know the boys well, seeing the two of them pictured together on the school’s homepage is fitting: The fisherman have been best friends since the third grade.
“That connection makes us a better team,” Andrew said. “If you’re going to be fishing together in a boat all day, there is no better teammate to have than one of your best friends.”
Noah and Andrew will use that connection — and all the knowledge they have gained from being on the fishing team this year — at the state championship. The pair has been researching Kentucky Lake, planning out their strategy and studying up on bait, according to Andrew.
Win or lose, both said they’re thrilled to end their high school athletic careers on a high note. The opportunity to compete for a state title is a memorable experience in itself, Andrew said. Spending the weekend fishing with like-minded teams is icing on the cake.
“It’s an awesome experience to get out on the water at 7 a.m.,” Noah said. “There’s something special about being surrounded by people who love fishing as much as you do. It’s hard to put into words.”
The 2016 KHSAA Bass Fishing State Championship will start with a boat launch at 7 a.m. on May 13 at the Kentucky Dam Marina at Kentucky Lake in Gilbertsville. Click here for details about the event, or the state’s competitive high school bass fishing program.