Against all odds in an era of hand-held devices and the addition of a second high school, Scott County’s bass fishing team continues to grow.
With an almost full complement of 11 anglers on their roster, the Cardinals hit the water at Lake Cumberland and Green River Lake several times this fall to get the motor running for their unique, split-season sport.
“It requires a lot of time,” SC senior Colton Combs said. “People think we just go out there and fish, but we spend a lot of time planning everything throughout the week. It’s always about making yourself better at fishing, and it’s a great hobby.”
Combs and boat partner Austin Taylor are seniors and teammates on the SCHS football team whose full attention will return to the non-contact, patience-is-a-virtue, alternative sport when that season is over.
They’re provided a foundation for the six-year-old program along with junior Cainaan Halsey.
He will break in a new partner, Will Stumbo, this year after he and recent graduate Tyler Sammons teamed up to make both states at Kentucky Lake last spring and the world championship over the summer.
“We went to nationals the year before that, and hearing that (worlds) was in Mississippi, watching all these pro tournaments there, it made me really want to go,” Halsey said.
Other members of the competitive club are Jonathan Berry, Jonathan Detzel, Matt Detzel, Blake Ford, Austin Moody-Phelps, Zach Sutherland and Matt Wilson.
“These two have been here from the get-go, so big things are my expectation,” SC coach Frank Crossman said. “I expect Cainaan to be at state for a third time and Colton and Austin to be there a second time. Last year it was close, from losing a fish at the boat, but it is what it is.
“They’re outdoorsmen. They all put in a lot of time outside. They’re always out fishing versus others that aren’t going out. So many kids nowadays play on phones. They’re doing video games. You see them outdoors a lot. A lot of kids aren’t into doing outdoor activities anymore.”
Work behind the scenes keeps those competitors heavily invested.
The team is self-funded with a budget of more than $5,000, not including everyone’s individual equipment expenses, so team members are expected to solicit sponsors.
Proceeds from the annual Toyota Classic silent auction also help to defray costs.
“They’re going to have to learn to do it if they’re going to go on to the next level,” Crossman said.
Graduates of the young program have expressed interest in competing in college or on the professional circuit. Combs recently was accepted at Eastern Kentucky University and plans to join the team there.
And if you think the cold-weather months are a slow season, think again. There’s still open water for hearty souls. Or at the very least, serious fishermen such as Combs and Halsey must do their homework.
“Winter is time for you to practice. You go to Lake Cumberland or Green River and you can just find fish out deep. Usually that’s time to clean our boats, make sure they’re running properly, get new fishing gear if you haven’t already. It’s like our restock time,” Combs said. “You’ve got to study all the maps of the lake. There are apps where people can go on and see the depth where they’re fishing. Knowing what depth the fish are at, at that time of year, is important, too.”
At an age when many of their classmates were gravitating to youth soccer and little league baseball, the Cardinals’ top anglers found themselves fascinated by a sport that kept them in tune with nature.
“I had a neighbor when I was in second grade. He’d always take me fishing. That’s how I got started. Then when I got to high school and heard about the high school fishing team, I was all about trying to get into tournaments and stuff, to try to get better,” Halsey said. “Just getting out and meeting new people, going to all sorts of different lakes, trying to beat other counties and stuff, it’s fun.”
“Pretty much fished all my life, going to Elkhorn Creek, starting there wading around,” Combs said. “I really started competitively fishing freshman year, because my stepdad just got a boat, and he’d take me to local lakes. I did OK freshman year with Taylor Berryman (now a men’s basketball equipment manager at UK) in the regional tournament.
“It’s just progressive. I can see myself getting better at it. I like the competitiveness of it. You meet other people and you see how good you are compared to them.”
The team gains support from a wide spectrum of local sponsors, including ByPass Bait and Tackle, Duckett Rods, The Gathering Place, Sportsmen’s Warehouse, Orthopedic and Sports Medicine, OT Wear and Cabin Creek.
Crossman said he’s seeking more, and also wants to branch out and find more seventh- and eighth-graders to join the program.
It requires a certain personality, the coach acknowledged, and it takes two.
“The teamwork is critical,” he said. “The only way you’re going to learn is by being on the water and practicing with your partner. That’s why we have a few that do really well.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.